EXCLUSIVE: Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres majority owner and president Jordan Roth talk about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: The Tony Administration Committee declared Shuffle Along a new show, a decision I can’t imagine anyone getting exercised over. The nominations are out and they present the voters, who include you and me, with a number of difficult choices. It’s been a first-rate season in the new and revival categories for both plays and musicals. Happily, most of the nominated shows are running, which also means there’s a better chance that the 850-odd Tony voters will actually have seen the shows they’re voting for, which isn’t always the case. But since the Tonys are a derby and only one winner can emerge in each category (there have been rare instances of ties), the larger question arises: How do you measure, say, Jessica Lange’s nearly four hours of exquisitely addled rage in Long Day’s Journey Into Night against Sophie Okonedo’s wounded enduring wife in The Crucible or Danny Burstein’s poignant Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof against Alex Brightman’s nuclear-fission Dewey in School of Rock? What’s the point of pitting one against the other except to sate our lust for this blood sport? We ought to at least follow the example of the Oliviers and separate comedies from dramas,.
ROTH: It’s a really good question. Though once we buy into the notion of competitive category awards — regardless of how narrowly we define that category — we’re buying into the notion of one winner. Do we need competitive categories at all in order to give awards? Maybe not. The Obies for instance give awards for excellence to as many artists and shows as they deem excellent. But I do sadly wonder whether the Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, Grammys would carry as much weight as they do if winning one didn’t mean everyone else lost. Of course, we don’t have to give ourselves awards at all. But somewhere between the human nature to compete, compare and judge and the business nature to market, all industries — more like all groups of 3 or more people — end up giving themselves some kind of award.
And speaking of awards and the complications of competitive categories, the Drama Desk heard us and so many others and reinstated its Outstanding Book of a Musical category. Congratulations to nominees John Caird, Michael John LaChiusa, Jessie Nelson and the Drama Desk committee.
GERARD: One thing struck me as I looked through the roster of producers of this year’s nominees is that while your friends at the Shubert and Nederlander organizations backed several shows — some even in partnership — Jujamcyn is absent. Are you out of the producing end of the business?
ROTH: We’re in the very fortunate position this season of having all but one of our theaters filled with shows still running from past seasons, so we could only have one new show open and eligible — The Crucible — which we happen to not be a producer on. Of our current shows, we are producers on Kinky Boots and Something Rotten! and next season we’re joining with Lincoln Center to produce the revival of Falsettos at the Kerr, a particular passion project of mine. You and I will be the 5th and 6th Jews in the room bitching!
Next topic: Last week you brought up a concern about critics’ reviews influencing the committee’s decisions on Tony Award categories. It got me thinking: Do critics influence each other? Do you ever talk out opinions with a colleague before you both publish reviews? What about after — do you ever say “How could you think that?!”
GERARD: One of the reasons we became critics is so that we would never have to talk to anyone about our opinions! Certainly not to each other. Actually, I’m addressing this question on the eve of the one time during the year when my colleagues in the New York Drama Critics’ Circle gather to stamp a play (sometimes two, one American, one foreign) and a musical with our crusty escutcheon. Otherwise, however, no, we never discuss shows before writing our reviews and I’m pretty sure we all follow the same strict etiquette, which is the opposite of the restaurant reviewers’ code. Their guests share every dish and exchange views, while anyone who accompanies me to a show agrees beforehand that conversation about the show is verboten. The weather? Fine. Donald Trump? If you must. Never the play. Violators don’t get a second invite. (The exception is my wife, and if that bothers you, live with it.)
ROTH: A couple weeks ago in our discussion of the Pulitzer Prizes expanding eligibility to include magazines, I brought up content vs distribution as the criteria for many awards, including the Emmys which years ago expanded to include cable TV. I recently saw an ad in Variety (am I allowed to say Variety on Deadline?) for Netflix’ Daytime Emmy nominations and it got me thinking: Is it time to change the name of the Daytime Emmys? If the criterion is content not distribution, distribution means both how and when. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu are anytime not just daytime.
GERARD: Sure you can name-check Variety here. It was my home for an extremely happy part of the ‘90s. I’ll agree to rename the Daytime Emmys when you and your colleagues agree to include Off-Broadway in the Tonys, and on the same grounds: Content is content. Or as you guys have been known say, product is product.
ROTH: Not quite the same thing. The Tonys’ eligibility is necessarily both content (live theater) and distribution (on Broadway), different from the Emmys, which have decided to be content and not distribution. If off-Broadway were to be included, the Tonys would still be content and distribution, since off-off Broadway and all non-NYC would still be excluded. What makes theater special is you have to be there live to see it. That’s also what makes an all-theater-everywhere award all but impossible to judge.
GERARD: I’ll have to let that answer speak for itself. But speaking of product, here’s an interesting blast from across the pond via The Stage, that invaluable publication. Young director Jamie Lloyd took aim at a subject dear to my heart, one that used to separate Broadway and the West End but apparently no longer does:
“[W]e are creating a divide in the audience between the rich and the poor,” Lloyd told The Stage after the recent opening of his production of Doctor Faustus. “You cannot let your ticket prices soar to an astronomical place just because people will pay for them. People will pay for them, but that does not mean it is right.” He said that in a smaller house, he uses slightly higher prices to subsidize Monday night performances when all tickets are £15. “But if you are a bigger house and you don’t do any scheme like that, and you don’t have cheaper tickets, why are you then allowing tickets to go up to £140 or more and then announce you are recouping after eight or nine weeks? It’s corrupt and it needs to be addressed,” he said.
ROTH: Well it’s not corrupt, but it’s also not a good strategy for long-term audience growth. And I don’t know any theater that does that. They all have a range of prices creating a range of access points for audiences. Just as Jamie said, the very high prices subsidize the much lower prices. But regardless, to impact the average price people pay to come to the theatre — and presumably by extension, the socio-economic make-up of the audience — it’s not enough to just charge less. As we’ve discussed here before, if people are willing to pay £140 for a ticket and the show chooses to charge less, then brokers will rightfully step in to buy low and sell high. The person who ultimately comes to the theater will have still paid the £140, but now the show will share its money with the broker. To change the price actual patrons pay, it’s not enough to arbitrarily depress prices, you’d have to also restrict the transfer of tickets.