Vital Signs

The Economics of the New York Theater

The cost of producing on Broadway has risen sharply, particularly in the last ten to fifteen years, and this has taken its toll on American productions. Inflation, higher priced labor and materials, theatrical union wage increases, featherbedding, and the enormous cost of advertising—a full page ad in The New York Times is upwards of $10,000, and the Times' daily alphabetical listings of shows must be paid for by producers—all are partly responsible for soaring production costs and ticket prices. These increased expenses have in turn forced a shift in who produces plays and musicals, changing the face of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theater.

It costs nearly as much to produce a revival of a musical in a not-for-profit Off-Broadway theater in New York today as it did to produce one on Broadway ten years ago. Take, for instance, Sweeney Todd. Last spring the nonprofit York Theatre, an Off-Off-Broadway company housed in a church gym, mounted a highly-acclaimed environmental restaging of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical about a murderous barber whose accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, bakes his victims into pies. The York's production, using only eight principal actors, five chorus members, and three synthesizers, was budgeted at $55,000. Fifteen thousand dollars of that was made up in ticket sales, and the other $40,000 came from corporate and individual sponsors. Under Equity showcase...

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