The 'Us' Opportunity on Broadway in the Year Ahead

6 Questions To Start Off 2024

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As we enter 2024, I feel energized when speaking about the future of Broadway. Despite the headwinds and ill will of some of the mainstream media outlets that I’ve recently crossed paths with, which are choosing to push a narrative for the demise of Broadway and New York City, I remain as energized as ever in supporting our collective growth.

While I’m deeply optimistic, I find myself frequently contemplating my perspective on the Broadway industry and where I think it’s going. As the founder of a business that is reliant on the health and prosperity of the Broadway industry, it captures a significant amount of room in my headspace.

But aside from my business interests, I have a personal interest in this kind of thinking because I care deeply about the industry that has been so remarkably good to me. I’ve built friendships and memories that will live on with me forever. But what I love most about this industry  is that  I know I’m not alone in caring deeply about the people who are making it a reality today—their hard work and their legacies paved the way for the opportunities I have.

One great part of my job is getting space and time to share conversations about topics relating to where the industry is and where it’s going. What continues to be most amazing to me is the wide spectrum of perspectives so many people in this relatively small tent have on some very foundational questions. I often turn to Morgan Housel’s fantastic quote,  “It’s as though we are all standing on the same soccer pitch, but we are each playing a different game.” It’s so true.

There are many people who are very bullish on Broadway’s future and opportunity for success.

There are also many people who are deeply pessimistic about the future of Broadway and their role in it.

It’s reasonable to believe they are both right—it all depends on which game you’re playing and which part of the “us” you are in within the Broadway community.

Consider your own answers to the following:

What does success look like for the Broadway community?

Money? Accolades? Impact? Inclusion? Sustainability?

What does success look and feel like when you rest your head on your pillow at night? Equally importantly, what are the inevitable costs of that success? You can’t have all of the above with equal impact — but could you have all of the above in moderation? If so, in what priority order would you rank the attributes of success? Do you think there is consensus across the Broadway ecosystem with your ranking, or are you the outlier?

Who is included in your definition of the Broadway community? Who is not? Is the word “community” even a reality anymore?

When you look at the sprawling ecosystem that pulls together a Broadway show, it’s abundantly clear that the wants, needs, and desires of its people are ultimately quite different and often at odds with each other. Producers, venue owners, artists, union members, stagehands, investors —obviously,  they all have different needs, yet they all identify as part of the “us” on Broadway. 

In driving for success as an industry, should some voices have more weight than others in charting our path forward? Is that weight based on money invested? Is that weight based on time invested? Is that weight based on the size of the labor force representation? Is that weight based on the size of the potential impact? Who should define this? Should we all know how much weight we actually hold? Should I even be included in the “us” — I’m just a marketing schmo who stands in awe at the actual practitioners who produce the magic of theatre!

What are the actions that the Broadway community needs to take to reach success?

While there may be a few differences how we envision the industry’s future success, there’s plenty that we can agree on. For example, developing a talent pool representative of the populations we serve. It’s great to see programs aimed at diversifying the workforce at the Broadway League along with programs like Black Theatre United, Broadway United, the Black Theatre Coalition & Broadway Across America Fellowship, and Broadway Women’s Alliance. Real action; real progress. Or, another example, is the agreement on access to fair ticket prices to make shows accessible to the widest group of patrons. It’s great to see how Broadway Bridges and TDF continue to make investments in bringing new audiences into theatres, which is also something we aim to do through Situation Project. Real action; real progress. And let’s not forget Disney Musicals in Schools, the Jimmy Awards, and Broadway Green Alliance. Real action; real progress. Did I mention that the Shubert Foundation gave $37 million in 2023 to nonprofit arts, theatre, and dance organizations?

These are alignments in the industry that bring out the best in “us.” Where else might there be agreement and action on change happening and how can we support their success? Where else might there be agreement but a lack of action due to any number of hurdles?

What are the forces that are standing in the way of that success?

There’s a Benedict Evans quote that goes something like, “What are we ignoring today that will be shockingly obvious a year from now?” When I see headlines of the top ticket price continuing to move north and production budgets for Broadway exceeding 3X the cost of producing in the UK against the macro backdrop of a forever-changed urban workweek and rising fears of the NYC quality of life, I can’t help but wonder: what conversations might we be unable to ignore as a collective “us” much longer? 

Issues in the fairness of finances, working conditions, representation, and content curation — are the solutions to these kinds of issues the headwinds to our success, or is our reluctance to engage in conversation around them with a collective definition of “success” the more concerning obstacle? How does one define “fair” without a unified definition of “success”?

What are the sacrifices that need to be made for these forces to be defeated? Who should make them? At what cost will success come with?

No matter your definition of success—and no matter your definition of the actions needed to reach that success—everybody will have a different perspective. This is the beauty of the intersectionality of life. Assume, in some way, shape, or form,  that  everybody believes that their idea of success in our industry is correct. All of these different perspectives drive towards one very challenging reality — compromise. The dirty word. What would you be willing to sacrifice today that would contribute towards the future of success you hope for in this industry? What do you believe others around you should sacrifice? What’s stopping you from speaking up to make that sacrifice today? Do you believe a sacrifice needs to be made by all?

For example, if you are among the group that believes that the rising cost of mounting a show on Broadway is a problem , what are the sacrifices you are prepared to accept for the betterment of Broadway’s future success?

If you are among the group that believes that rising ticket prices are becoming a problem on Broadway, what are the sacrifices you are prepared to accept to ensure fair ticket prices can be sustained in the Broadway economic model?

And lastly, are we ready to put in the work?

For my part, I believe it is all worth it and I am in, 100%. Broadway is a people-first business. It’s full of talented, kind, caring, beautiful people with incredible talents who choose to bring their gifts to the industry of Broadway — that is part of why I believe in it so much. People work in this industry and take pride in being a central part of the “us” — it’s a sense of pride and belonging. But as the stakes of the business rise, economic forces make complex conversations even more complex and ultimately redefine who the real “us” is in crafting the future of the business.

I think the single biggest opportunity and threat for the Broadway community moving forward sits in those powerful two letters: “u-s.” Maintaining a healthy “us” will require complex, collaborative work as an industry as we navigate the realities of new economic forces. That work may require significant structural and policy decisions, made together as an industry if we expect to thrive in a post-pandemic world. The deeper the respect of a healthy “us” as we aim to address those challenges, the further we collectively sail into the future.

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