Updates: February/March 2021

 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND RACIAL EQUITY ARE STILL THE ONLY INFLUENCES ON THEATRE ARTS THAT MATTER IN 2021.

At this point in the re-inventing of Broadway post-pandemic, I think the following three articles explain the current thinking in the theatrical community:

From American Theatre’s Rob Weinert-Kendt 

   “The cautionary if not quite bad news is that [theater] will definitely not come back all at once in all U.S. cities and venues, and Broadway … is likely to be the last to reopen. We need not only to prepare for this uncomfortable fact, but to consider what it might mean for the performing arts to reorient their priorities. Could the center of gravity in the American theatre shift from Broadway and New York City, and might that not ultimately be a healthy development?”

From Playbill.com 

   Seven months after the release of the We See You, White American Theater (WSYWAT) letter, an accountability report has been published, acknowledging over 100 theatre organizations across America that have responded to the BIPOC demands of the community. “There have been considerable actions in the industry toward equity, anti-racism, and the dismantling of white-supremacy in the American theatre,” the report finds.

   WSYWAT’s research includes a list of predominantly white institutions (such as theatres, training programs, talent organizations, PR offices, union locals) that have taken action to create more equitable spaces. Each company’s action plan is laid out within the report, with WSYWAT urging “if these institutions are in your region, keep yourself updated and keep them accountable. These are their words—hold them to it.”

   Among those listed are Manhattan Theatre Club, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, Signature Theatre, Alley Theatre, Goodman Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Trinity Repertory Company, Woolly Mammoth, The Yale School of Drama, IATSE Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 887, and William Morris Endeavor. WSYWAT acknowledged it did not have the capacity to research the entire industry, so some organizations might be left off of the list. Contact info@weseeyouwat.com to be added.

   Also of note is the original letter that was initially signed by over 300 Black, Indigenous, and people of color theatre workers now has 104,600 signatures. In addition, the collective pointed out that the Broadway League still has not responded to the demands released July 8, nor to any outreach that the collective has made since July 27, 2020.

From Broadway News’ Caitlin Huston – “Employment among New York City workers in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors fell 66% between December 2019 and December 2020, according to a new report from the New York State Comptroller. The drop to 34,100 jobs from 87,000 jobs in the year prior marks the largest employment decline out of all sectors in the city’s economy.
   “This sector is the only major employment sector in New York City that remains below half of its pre-pandemic employment levels,” the report reads. Leading up to the pandemic, employment in the sector had been growing. From 2009 to 2019, employment grew by 42%, outpacing the 30% growth rate across the total private sector. In 2019, the average salary among actors in the city was $65,756, with musicians and singers bringing in $43,966 and theater or personal services managers making an average of $98,335.”

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Updates: January 2021

An empty stage. A ghost light on a table and two chairs. The house at half. Intermission…still…

 

UPDATES FOR READERS OF “THE BUSINESS OF BROADWAY”

 

January, 2021

 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS STILL THE ONLY INFLUENCE THAT MATTERS IN 2021.

Chapter 12: Surprises

Los Angeles Times- ” In ways large and small, the theater is, quite literally, behind some of the best movies and TV shows of 2020. But even with countless venues across the country sitting dark since government-mandated shutdowns because of COVID-19, the theater industry has profoundly shaped the year in culture. Even from the comfort of my couch, I owe the theater a debt of gratitude. We all do. I’m not even counting live recordings of stage shows.”

Chapter 15: Actors / Chapter 22: Theatre Owners

“After months of development, Actors Equity has published four new worksheets detailing Covid-19 safety guidelines for live productions. … Equity’s safety team has created detailed instructions arranged according to the four types of productions commonly seen currently: outdoor with an audience, outdoor without an audience, indoor with an audience and indoor without an audience.”

Chapter 25: Summary

From the Authors: “The 2020/21 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of live performances in ways that we did not contemplate in decades past. When NYC was attacked on Sept 11, 2001, when AIDS decimated the talent pool that theatre relied on, during World Wars and with electrical blackouts and domestic protests, “normal” American life was disrupted. Broadway shows fought back, losing perhaps a few performances, but no more. After a year and a half of closures or more, it is estimated that most Broadway shows will require 3-4 months advance notice to prepare, rehearse, and more importantly, market their shows to local theatregoers, with the eventual hope of attracting tourists who may or may not return in full for a few years. Broadway can not return in a wink. Broadway is resilient and live theatre is essential to many of us. Economically, New York City relies on tourists, and many tourists come to NYC to see Broadway shows. The future is not bleak, but “the norm” is also not promised in the immediate years. Some leaders are suggesting that smaller regional theatres will return first. Jobs may move to smaller cities. The best advice right now is to “go with the flow” and follow the jobs. Ultimately, the standard will still be Broadway. It just may not feel the same until 2025-ish.”

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Updates: 2020

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The Business of Broadway is essential reading for anyone interested in producing, investing, or working in theatre. Engaging and illuminating, Mitch Weiss and Perri Gaffney explain the myriad of people and roles they play to collaborate on a show from development to opening night and beyond.


 UPDATES FOR READERS OF “THE BUSINESS OF BROADWAY”

Current Updates

DECEMBER 2020

NOVEMBER 2020

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

AUGUST 2020

JULY 2020

JUNE 2020

APRIL/MAY 2020

MARCH 2020

FEBRUARY 2020

JANUARY 2020


Archived Updates

Updates 2015

Updates 2016

Updates 2017

Updates 2018

Updates 2019

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Updates: The Business of Broadway -December 2020

December, 2020

Chapter 10: Producers / Chapter 12: Surprises

Dr. Anthony Fauci (respected spokesperson on national health protocols) in an interview with WNBC on December 1, said if people get vaccinated in the spring as the vaccine becomes available to the general public, New Yorkers and the entire country could get back to normal by the end of summer or beginning of fall 2021.  

Chapter 15: Actors

Backstage Magazine reports: “According to Actors’ Equity Association, “Hamilton” has led to a sizable increase in jobs for actors of color. This is one of the findings in Equity’s second ever diversity report … from 2016 to 2019 … contracts for BIPOC actors increased, from 15.3% to 23.3%. … White actors were represented 63.95% of the time. … In terms of gender, contracts for women increased from 43.5% to 44.9%, so more contracts still go to men (51.42%). Barely 1% of all contracts went to Equity members with a disability.”

Chapter 15: Actors

November 14: Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA reached an agreement over coverage of streamed and recorded theater. The new agreement states that during the pandemic (ending Dec 31, 2021) Actors’ Equity may sign contracts with theaters for recorded live theater and readings, so long as the work appears on restricted viewing platforms and has limits on the audience size.

The two unions reached an agreement through mediation after a bitter and public dispute. Equity had accused SAG-AFTRA of taking over its traditional contracts with theaters and negotiating lower-paying deals for streaming work. SAG-AFTRA said that any work made for broadcast fell under its jurisdiction.

Per the pandemic agreement, Equity has jurisdiction if the work will be exhibited on a platform that is only available to ticket holders or subscribers of the theater. SAG-AFTRA continues to have purview over work that is exhibited on paid streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney+.

The digital audience for the streamed or recorded work cannot exceed 200% of the size of the theater over the course of the run of the production, or 300% in theaters with fewer than 350 seats. It may only remain on the platform for three months or less.

The work under Equity contracts may include live readings, staged readings, live theater and “other performances in the general nature of theater,” according to the agreement. During the pandemic, SAG-AFTRA pledged to refer work of that nature to Equity.

Chapter 22: Theatre Owners  

The word around Broadway is that there are dozens of “committees” researching technology, hygenic safety protocols, stealing ideas from South Korea’s successful opening of theatres and London’s failed attempts at keeping theatres open. For the past 4 months, audience research shows consistently that only 41% of the sample is willing to return to Broadway with safety protocols, but that 90% are anxious to return once a vaccine and protocols are in place.

Producers have been announcing agreements to move into a Broadway theatre without any evidence of such agreements, and without naming the theatre or dates. This usually means that they are actively trying to raise money and have to get their investment base excited with the news that they “have a theatre.”

 

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Updates: The Business of Broadway – November 2020

Looks like we will be closed longer than we had thought…

 

Broadway theaters have announced that no show is expected to perform prior to Summer 2021, although the common understanding is that we may not see viable audiences on Broadway until at least the Fall, 2021. Is anyone doing anything to help? The Broadway theatre owners have created a multitude of committees trying to analyze which CDC protocols about air-flow, disinfectant rules, and backstage “adjustments” must be made to the physical plant in time for a cast, crew, and audience to be truly safe. The rules keep changing and the committees keep talking…and no one has any answers at this time.

 

CHAPTER 12: Good and Bad Surprises

The Asian American Performers Action Collection has released its annual report, “The Visibility Report: Racial Representation on New York City Stages.”” …
— “White actors occupied 66.4 percent of roles on Broadway and 60.1 percent on nonprofit stages for the 2017-18 season.”
— “White writers were produced almost four times more than writers who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) writers, with 80 percent of Broadway productions and 79.1 percent of nonprofit shows.”
— “Overall, Black writers represented at 9.6 percent, Asian American writers at 6.2 percent, Middle Eastern/North African writers at 2.8 percent, and Latinx writers at 2.3 percent. Asian American writers made gains in the 2017-18 season, with 8 percent of Broadway productions, where the previous season employed none.”
— “The study shows that 84.6 percent of productions at nonprofit theatres employed white directors. On Broadway, 100 percent of musicals and all of the shows written by BIPOC writers and/or about the BIPOC experience were helmed by white directors.”
— “For every $1 spent on BIPOC actors, theatre companies spent $1.70 on white actors.”

 

CHAPTER 12: Good and Bad Surprises

     Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Grants Record $18.1M During Fiscal Pandemic Year” by Deadline’s Greg Evans – “Last year’s $14.8 million in grants had been the previous annual record.”

 

CHAPTER 18: Managers

     Effective Sept 7, 2020, minimum salaries for Managers increased by 3%:

New Manager minimums for Broadway will be $2,321.14 per week, subject to additional 8.5% vacation pay. Also required is a health insurance contribution of $230, a pension contribution of 8% and an annuity contribution of 10.5%, payable by the producer to the union. (During the pandemic, only a handful of House Managers are employed and often for a few weeks at a time during a load-out of a pre-existing show. Almost no Company Managers are employed unless a producer invites them in to work on taxes or other administrative duties.)

CHAPTER 14: Press Agents

     Effective Sept 7, 2020, minimum salaries for Press Agents increased by 3%:

New Press Agent minimums for Broadway will be $2,482.18 per week, subject to additional 8.5% vacation pay. Also required is a health insurance contribution of $230, a pension contribution of 8% and an annuity contribution of 10.5%, payable by the producer to the union. (During the pandemic, only a handful of Press Agents are employed and most often by non-theatre-related clients which are unaffected by Union minimums.)

 

 

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UPDATES: September/October 2020

CHAPTER 12 (Surprises: the Pandemic)

Weather has never been a problem on Broadway. 41 theatres have procedures for hurricanes and blizzards, usually what’s called a “Past-dated” policy. If there’s a valid reason for not being able to attend your performance, the public may call the box office directly on the day when they can return to see the show. No guarantee of exact seating (usually “best available” in the originally-priced section of the theatre), but if there’s a seat available, you’ll be admitted without additional cost.

During the Covid-era, refunds were given, a few months at a time, but not always. With some brokers (like Today-Tix), vouchers for any future show, were promised.

As of today, they are selling tickets for Hugh Jackman in The Music Man at the Winter Garden Theatre in March 2021. This is risky for the theatre and the audience. What if the show is postponed again? More importantly, will Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster be willing to perform 8 shows a week even if a proven vaccine has not yet reached the general market. What about all of the backstage folk?

It is presumed that many new Broadway shows will use small casts and even smaller crews backstage. That is yet to be seen since almost no shows have set a return date, and no Broadway union has agreed to health guidelines of any kind.

Yet, the Broadway League and the Unions are doing a lot of research and talking…about Black Lives Matter, about employees and their health, about ventilation especially in many older theatres, about working conditions, and about the data telling us that audiences are not yet ready to return shoulder-to-shoulder to a 1000+ seat theatre with masks and hand sanitizers and feel comfortable watching an expensive entertainment.

Meanwhile, Broadway is set to lose $1.5 billion dollars of business this year, and the multi-billion dollar restaurant and hotel industry that serve its audience have been closed, struggling or in some cases, giving up their very expensive leases…permanently.

And everyone is still waiting for Congress to offer some aid, seven months after the industry shut down. But no one believes that Broadway is dead. No one. How it returns is still very much up in the air.

 

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UPDATES: August 2020

CHAPTER 12 (Surprises: the Pandemic)

Originally seen as an “intermission” during which Broadway would rebound within a few weeks or months, it is now generally agreed that the earliest Broadway shows will return is March 2021, one full year after Broadway was suddenly shut down. Audiences who have been polled are not confident that being in an audience of 1000 or more people, with masks and temperature checks, is sufficient to protect them from the Coronavirus, although New York City’s statistics are the best in the entire nation at this point: less than 3 deaths per day (from over 800 deaths per day in April) and an infection transfer rate of around 1% (one person on average will only infect one other person and not spread the virus to multiple persons). There are almost no tourists in Times Square and restaurants are experimenting with outdoor dining only, since indoor dining is still not permitted. Bars that allow crowding have had their liquor licenses suspending or revoked. And yet, many stores and offices are open for business…without crowding.

Quietly, research is being conducted about how to safely conduct backstage activities, but no official reports have been published. “Phantom of the Opera” in Seoul, Korea has been running with full houses, and with supervised sanitizing of props throughout the show…and even there, the show was shut down for three weeks after one cast member was infected.

The Broadway marquees, which are now mostly LED screens, are dark. The streets have few pedestrians, but there are signs of life. Just not theatre life.

 

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The Business of Broadway – June 2020

“No Broadway! No Broadway! No Broadway! No Broadway! If I can’t take, my Broadway break…something within me dies.”

Looks like the intermission will be long enough for everyone to use the restroom. Here’s our July 2020 update.

 

Updates: July 2020

 

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Updates: July 2020

July, 2020

CHAPTER 1 (Thinking you know more than you do)

Broadway survived shutdowns for September 11, Hurricane Sandy, and multiple city blackouts, but the COVID-19 pandemic is long-term and seemingly impossible to overcome for audiences, theatre owners and producers due to public and industry fears of the extremely tight spaces where audiences, performers, and backstage workers must congregate to experience a Broadway show. The Broadway League (producers and theatre owners) has officially declared 2020 dead in regards to box office income. They announced at the end of June 2020 that all tickets purchased for shows through the end of the year would be refunded. Tens of thousands of industry professionals are without income, even from their backup jobs: hotels, restaurants, out-of-town productions. Broadway has officially lost approximately $1.5 billion dollars while losses from tourism is, at this point, uncountable and non-recoupable. The history of Broadway is being made, but the usual optimism is wavering. New shows are tentatively rescheduling for March or later in 2021. That means no Christmas season. That means no work on stage.

In the midst of uncertainty, is the humbling realization that the “Great White Way” is way too White. Shows like Hamilton with multi-racial casts make Broadway look liberal and inclusive. But the backstage story is dismal. Union backstage positions (all 18 of them!) are notoriously colorless. Management and theatre owners have made at best feeble attempts to bring BLPOC into their work place. Some blame the internship programs which basically mean that only people-of-means can afford to apprentice. Some blame the people in charge of nonprofit arts institutions and producers who aren’t familiar with the talent pool (directors, choreographers, designers) and work with the “tried and true” faces. And it’s generally understood that this is another aspect of the systematic racism in America that has only modestly been addressed in society. 

This is a year to watch. But first we must wait…then watch.

CHAPTER 12 (Surprises: the Pandemic)

Broadway is made up of commercial (for profit) and non-profit producers. Great Britain’s West End Theatres are undergoing the same re-thinking of cultural organizations as mentioned below:

Anne Bonnar and Hilary Keenlyside, Directors of Bonnar Keenlyside write in the British publication “Arts Professional”

Some of the most powerful artistic experiences are created from disruptive ideas and processes, and as a result of Covid-19, arts organisations have been forcefully disrupted. Some previously successful artists and organisations who have enjoyed patronage and popularity may not necessarily be able to deliver in the future. Particularly, in the performing arts, scale and infrastructure have become liabilities instead of assets. 

We know that the arts will thrive and artists will create, so how can we move to a viable future which frees the arts and artists anew? What resources and working practices can we unlock? What barriers to change do we need to break down? Can arts leaders implement change themselves or are the institutional barriers too great?

Breaking free and letting go

Faced with the ongoing financial crisis, groups of arts organisations, and especially infrastructure-heavy organisations, might pool their combined resources – and anticipated budget deficits – and restructure them to meet the needs of audiences, artists, their investors and stakeholders. Looking to the long-term, this is an opportunity to break free from embedded institutional resistance to change. Old arguments that organisations require individual boards, leaders and staff because they are harnessed round a specific mission and vision may perhaps be set aside to facilitate the creation of more resilient organisations fit for the future.

For performing arts venues where a high level of public funding is invested, this may be the time to let go of the myth that somehow, a member of the audience of venue A is exclusive to that organisation and not recognised as being a potential participant in all local performing arts. Letting go of protective control over relationships with single customers and integrating sales and marketing functions – including the box office – could yield several hundreds of thousands of pounds in many areas.

A new model

One size clearly does not fit all. One example: They could recognise that the home has become an auditorium and, as part of their national remit, pledge to make all of their work available digitally, redefining what it means to be a nationwide membership organisation. The experience of the Royal National Theatre (more than 10 million views during lockdown so far) and the model of the Digital Concert Hall in Berlin since 2008, demonstrate that this is attractive to audiences and can, in the case of Berlin, be successfully monetised reaching worldwide audiences.

These suggestions – consolidating the management of infrastructure; moving from multiple managements to fewer focused on delivery and outcomes; freeing education and outreach to a locally bespoke service working with all providers; and mandatory digital engagement of all work by national companies – are just the beginning of a much wider debate for which we have precious little time and space to engage. Everyone knows that letting go of old ways can be both painful and threatening. Given where we now find ourselves, we have few choices but to develop new economic and business structures within which the arts can survive and thrive for the future.

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The Business of Broadway: June 2020

Observing the scrambling of leaders adjusting to the changes over the past few months makes clear that we always have more to learn. That is why we continue to make updates to the chapters of The Business of Broadway, even during this “Intermission”. Here’s the update for June 2020. #StayHealthy, #Stay Safe

 

Updates: June 2020

 

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