The commercial and nonprofit arms of the New York theatre community this week stated, in words and actions, that they didn't expect the chilly economic wind emanating from Ground Zero to die down any time soon. The League of American Theatres and Producers released a study, conducted since mid-September, stating what many long suspected—tourist attendance is down 55 percent compared to a similar time period last year. Meanwhile, the Public Theater—suffering from a 15 percent cut in city funds and with an eye toward a potentially cash-lean future—announced it was laying off roughly 15 percent of its staff. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, another theatre housed in a city-owned building, is in the same boat, counting itself suddenly $1 million in the hole. One production, from South African, has already been sacrificed with more belt-tightening to come.
Nonprofits like the Public and BAM are finding that the financial dominoes first toppled on Sept. 11 are cascading to their doorsteps by a variety of routes. Number one, the World Trade Center disaster has drained city and state funds. Government has been forced to make up for the loss by slashing the budgets of a variety of agencies, including those that feed the arts. Thus, the Department of Cultural Affairs' 15 percent reduction in cash to the Cultural Institutions Group, a collection of 34 museums, theatres and other loci of art and culture which are housed in city-owned buildings across the metropolis. Also pummeled by the terrorist attacks were many corporations, who can no longer afford to be so generous in their contributions to the theatre. And then, of course, their are the tourists and everyday New Yorker theatregoers, who are still hunkering down and staying home in large numbers.
The latter two groups were the focus of the League's report. The study found that New York theatre patronage is up 50 percent; and that while Manhattan tourism from the rest of the country is down 13 percent, the bridge and tunnel crowd has increased by 16 percent. More, when it came to ticket sales in October, impulse buying generally won out over long term planning. Roughly 50 percent of audiences bought their tickets within a week of attendance.
Since the target audience for Broadway has now shifted back home, at least temporarily, the League is making an extra effort to reach metro area and driving-distance tourists. Phase II of the League's "I [Love] NY Theatre" will feature ads geared towards the five boroughs and northeast corridor states. Also, Loews Cineplex theatres will now screen the 30 second public service announcement that features fully-costumed Broadway stars singing "New York, New York" as part of its pre-movie trailers.
But you can't please everybody, and certainly Dodger Theatricals was not happy with the way the League handled its dealing with the theatrical unions shortly after Sept. 11. The Dodgers said this week it had withdrawn from League membership. It is thought the withdrawal stems from the Dodgers not being included in labor concession talks following the WWC tragedy (though The Music Man eventually won concessions). Like Disney, Dodger Theatricals will now negotiate union contracts and other deals independently from the League. Despite all the gloom and doom, producers continued to book Broadway houses like crazy. The aforementioned Dodgers will bring in Frank Wildhorn's Dracula in fall 2002. The show is currently a hit at La Jolla Playhouse. Another California success, Flower Drum Song, is being prepped for Broadway, the Mark Taper Forum admitted.
For the current season, Circle in the Square will likely soon welcome Chicago wunderkind director Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Ovid's myths, Metamorphoses, an extended hit at Second Stage and very possibly the most praised production of the fall. The Williamstown Theatre Festival 2001 Main Stage season opener, the Vernel Bagneris musical One Mo' Time, will strut into the Longacre Theatre on March 6. And the Araca Group (Urinetown) intends to revive Terrence McNally's 1987 hit, Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, with Stanley Tucci and Edie Falco as the unlikely lovers, for a limited run at the Belasco.
And one for the holidays: Boldly going where he has gone three times before, Patrick Stewart will return to Broadway for a week at holiday time to revive his solo, A Christmas Carol. He'll do eight performances, Dec. 24-30, at Broadway's Marriott Marquis Theatre.
Finally, a mystery. Off-Broadway's Tribeca-based Bat Theatre Company, which has suffered greatly from reduced audiences since Sept. 11, should have no trouble attracting ticket-buyers for its next offering: a new play called The Guys starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray. The play is something about Ground Zero. But who wrote it? The theatre won't say. Why won't they say? The theatre can't say. Is it a name we'd recognize? Maybe we would, maybe we wouldn't, comes the answer. Oh well. With Weaver and Murray in the cast, perhaps it doesn't even matter if it's been written at all.
—By Robert Simonson