New Ways To Slice The Old Broadway Pie? Gerard & Roth Take On Conventional Wisdom

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 conventional wisdom used to be that there’s a finite Broadway audience comprising the 23 million people living in the Tri-State Area and tourists, and that only a given number of shows can survive on those numbers. And a corollary was that shows that weren’t The Book of Mormon or Hamilton benefited from the spillover effect: If you couldn’t get into the blockbuster on a given night, you’d settle for a well-reviewed also-ran. I think that will all be tested this season for two reasons: One is Hamilton, which is simply dominating demand for the foreseeable future, and the other is the fact that the also-rans are looking pretty good, with one of the most varied seasons I’ve seen in awhile. I’m certain Broadway could support more hits – meaning more theatergoers — if (here comes my soap box) ticket prices weren’t so crazy.

ROTH: You present an interesting conundrum: More hits, less money? The thing is, the way all of us in our industry — especially you and your colleagues in the press — define a hit is money. A show that’s a creative and critical success but not a big ticket seller isn’t deemed a hit, unfortunately for all of us. And even a show that’s at 100% capacity but with a relatively low average ticket price and therefore lower gross isn’t celebrated for its wide appeal, but rather written about as if on death watch for its mass discounting. So: No, as long as we define a big hit as big money, you can’t have more hits for less money. And since we’re soap boxing, I’ll get back on mine to remind you that for every premium ticket sold there are many more sold in the lower range — thousands across Broadway every night.

I do subscribe to the rising-hits-lift-all-boats school, but for a different reason. Yes, some people will choose another show if they can’t get a ticket to their first choice. But just as important is being part of the national and international conversation. A big hit is written about and talked about so much and in so many places that theater isn’t often written and talked about. (Remember Rent on the cover of Newsweek?) As the profile of the show grows, so too does the profile of Broadway. Talking about Hamilton or The Book of Mormon on Broadway means talking about Broadway. Theater-going becomes top-of-mind, relevant, urgent. And that grows the size of the pie for all shows to divide.

GERARD: Let’s challenge Scott Rudin and Jeffrey Seller, the lead producers, respectively, of The Book Of Mormon and Hamilton, to show our readers a breakdown of their ticket sales – how many tickets were sold at each price point over the course of a week.

Next subject, but related: I’m looking forward to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet tomorrow night. Since I can’t afford the flight, let alone what scalpers are getting for those tickets, I have a great alternative: NT Live. I’ll be watching the live performance with my wife at the Beekman Theatre on the Upper East Side. Broadway – by which I mean not only producers, but the unions representing Broadway talent and muscle – still seem chained to the Old Think mindset that presentations like this kill the Golden Goose of the Broadway box office. NT Live (not to mention those great Metropolitan Opera telecasts) prove inarguably otherwise: Seeing a show, like seeing a sports event, increases the appetite for the live performance.

ROTH: I totally agree, and while some are still skeptical, I think by now many on Broadway would agree too. So why then aren’t more shows broadcast? A big factor is cost. These are quite expensive to film, and given our cost structures on Broadway, they’re even more expensive to film in New York than in London. The few companies that are trying to do this have to be quite selective and/or look to the shows themselves to finance. And while the idea of playing in movie theaters may imply millions of tickets sold, the reality is that the number of people who see these in the tri-state area would only fill a Broadway house for a few performances. That helps those concerned about that Golden Goose, but also makes the high cost that much harder to cover.

Benedict Cumberbatch as HamletNT Live and the Met have become early leaders in this space because they have figured out how to produce a high-quality experience that captures and celebrates the artists’ vision and because they have leveraged their brands, databases and organizational strengths to create the momentum and audience relationship of a series. As they continue to grow their offerings (NT Live has broadcast one Broadway show, the revival of Of Mice and Men) and as other companies build similar expertise, the market will expand, allowing the risk to come down, allowing more Broadway shows to be seen. Each one that succeeds — both financially as a broadcast and by stimulating show sales — makes it easier for the next.

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