When Broadway returns: 5 ways the pandemic will transform the live theater industry

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The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the global theater industry. But 2020 is not the first time that the industry has faced an existential crisis. The theater community has been confronted with acts of terror such as September 11 or the London Blitz which put an end to cultural activity; disruptive technologies that have changed consumer behavior, such as movies and television; and even earlier pandemics dating back to Shakespeare, including AIDS, which ravaged a generation of artists.

In each case, the industry cried, innovated and came out stronger. Make no mistake about it: world theater is suffering right now, with its darkest days to come. Yet the challenges faced during this year, as well as the pivots and adjustments they triggered, allow us to infer what might be around the corner.

Broadway actors at a rally to support New York City’s entertainment industry following the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 28, 2001.
David Lefranc – Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Here are five predictions:

Broadway programming will change his goal

According to the Broadway League, the professional organization that represents theater owners and producers, Broadway audiences for the past full season were 35% local residents and 65% tourists. According to the league’s estimates, Broadway will not fully regain its tourist audience until 2025. Thus, Broadway will have to develop and produce content more suited to the 35% of audiences originating in New York and its suburbs and less dependent on France. international tourists (19%) and domestic tourists (46%) who made up the majority of its pre-pandemic audience.

This likely means the closure of some long-running, tourist-friendly musical productions that may have exhausted their tri-state audiences in favor of recently opened musicals, star plays and limited-release specials. and concerts. Producers will also try to reduce their cost structure, which currently requires near-capacity ticket sales to turn a profit. Expect to see tight budgets leading to smaller businesses and scale of production. London’s West End, the other traditional global hotspot for theatrical tourism, will most likely experience similar changes.

Viable alternatives in New York and London will emerge

Where will theater fans go for their solution until they can safely return to New York and London? They will search and find high quality professional productions closer to home.

Expect the existing circuits of regional non-profit theaters in the US and subsidized theaters in the UK to lead the recovery. Since ticket sales are only a part of their annual budget, these theaters can better withstand lower capacities while still thriving. Once audiences experience the high-quality professional theater they produce, these patrons are more likely to become permanent. In terms of recovery, the regions will be followed by the commercial touring circuits in the US and UK which transport productions from town to town and are presented by local venues, often with large subscriber bases.

Theater tourists from outside the US and UK will also be looking closer to home. Germany, Spain, Australia, Japan and even emerging theatrical powers like China will become the global versions of regional theaters, and audiences who had previously traveled to London or New York will travel shorter distances to find what is likely to improve the quality and quantity of top theater.

The “creative class” will migrate

During the pandemic, many actors, directors, writers and others left urban cultural centers for places with more space and affordability. During their absence, they learned to work better and collaborate remotely; from submitting video auditions to development or pre-production work via Zoom.

In the new reality, many creatives will find that they can continue to work in this way without harming their careers. Producers and casting directors can no longer expect creatives to live in the most expensive cities when they can easily walk in when paid to do so. Additionally, if the geographic displacement of theatrical work mentioned in my previous prediction turns out to be true, artists will tend to migrate to where the work is and gravitate to cities with thriving theater stages and a cost of living. further down (I’m looking at you, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Cleveland).

Cinematic content will appear more and more on screens – largeandsmall

With the recent successes of Hamilton on Disney +, American Utopia on HBO Max, and What the Constitution means to me sure Amazon Prime, a business model of streaming currently or recently aired theatrical productions is now established.

With streaming platforms still needing programming and producers increasingly needing to reduce risk and maximize revenue, you have an alignment of interests that cannot be denied. Certainly, contractual standards with writers will have to be revised to allow the screening of live theatrical productions that still take place on stage, but the existence of a clear mutual benefit should prevail.

David Lee – HBO

At the same time, cinemas have experienced their own upheaval. As the exclusive ‘theatrical’ showcase for film exhibit has been tightening for years, the recent announcement from Warner Bros. Wonder Woman 1984 will debut on Christmas Day at both theaters and simultaneously on its sister platform HBO Max may turn out to be the end of the practice. Cinema will remain the preferred choice of consumers for “event viewing” – those viewing experiences that are enhanced by shared sharing. But with production from theatrical studios likely to decline, opportunities for others may arise for theatrical content, both filmed and broadcast live.

Imagine a mix of programming where at any given time a movie multiplex can show the latest Marvel superhero movie, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, a new season of a Netflix series, and the live broadcast of a Broadway or West End production. These local viewing opportunities could even increase the global audience for global theater. This would make his product accessible to those who may have previously been excluded from the theater, whether by economy (the average ticket price for Broadway is $ 145, according to the Broadway League), by geography (the most prominent productions focus mainly on New York or London), or linguistically (these productions are staged almost exclusively in English).

Carry outers’ unions will consolidate

As recently as 2012, the darkening of the jurisdictional boundaries between what was considered film and television resulted in the merger of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA ). The pandemic has precipitated a similar blurring of jurisdictional boundaries between the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and SAG / AFTRA with respect to filmed and broadcast live theater.

The two unions wereinvolved in a jurisdictional dispute all summer, the two unions signing contracts for live broadcasting and / or cinema.A temporary compromise has emerged, but the reality is that when filming and live theater broadcasting becomes the norm, every production will have to hire its performers under contracts from two unions. With many AEA members also belonging to SAG / AFTRA and vice versa, a merger of these two unions seems very plausible, although not imminent.

Although no one can predict the future, whatisindisputable is that the best way to ensure that the theaterwill havea bright future is for governments around the world to recognize that the sector has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and will be among the last to fully recover. In the United States, that should mean going through another round of small business relief;ensure the law Save Our Stages—Which aims to protect independent theaters – is included in the next recovery plan; and most importantly, provide health benefits and economic harms to independent artists.

If artists get the support they need, the world just needs to sit down and watch world theater do what it has been doing for centuries; cry, innovate and come out stronger than ever.

Michael Barra is the CEO of Lively McCabe Entertainment, a global packaging and live stage production company.

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