ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Moving a Broadway Show

By Zachary Pincus-Roth
March 28, 2008

Playbill.com answers your (and sometimes our own) theatre-related questions.



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Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

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This week's question comes from the Playbill.com staff.

Question: This spring, August: Osage County and The 39 Steps are moving from one Broadway theatre to another, and Macbeth is moving from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to the Lyceum. What is involved in such a move?

Answer:

To answer this question, AskPlaybill.com spoke with Mary Miller, the company manager of August: Osage County, and Jeffrey Richards, one of the show's producers.

Richards and his fellow producers knew that August had to exit the Imperial Theatre in spring, since the backstage areas need to be refurbished a bit to accommodate Billy Elliot, which begins previews in September. The only problem: there wasn't a theatre available. The Seafarer was closing, but the Booth was booked with Thurgood. Rock 'n' Roll was closing, but the Jacobs was promised to The Country Girl.

'It's a very tight market," Richards says. "We went back to them" Gerald Schoenfeld and Phil Smith, the heads of the Shubert Organization, which operates the Imperial "in the beginning of the year, because we felt that August was exhibiting the kind of box office traction that would enable us to sustain a long run, and they were very supportive and they said they would put us at the top of the list" for when something became available. They were able to negotiate for a couple more weeks at the Imperial. "We hemmed and hawed and pushed and shoved," Miller says. Finally, when The Farnsworth Invention announced it was closing at the Music Box, Richards got the call.

The final performance at Imperial is April 20 and the show begins again at the Music Box on April 29. But the move starts on April 17, when, to get a head start, crew members will start installing a duplicate package of light and sound equipment into the Music Box. The show rents that equipment, so after April 20, the light and sound package from the Imperial can simply be returned.

Starting April 21, the set will be dismantled into different pieces, using a system of chains attached to motors, secured by the metal grid above the stage. The set has to be dismantled completely, starting with the top floors all the way down to the deck of the stage, before anything can be installed in the Music Box, since the deck has to be put down first. During the move, onlookers might even be able to see pieces of the set lying on the sidewalk.

The audience entrances for the two theatres are just down the block from each other, on 45th Street. But the Imperial's loading dock is on 46th Street, and the Music Box loading dock is on 45th Street. So the set parts will be put onto a truck, which will literally drive around the block to drop them off.

Both theatres are similar enough that the same set can be used. But the Music Box stage is a few feet narrower than the Imperial stage, which will affect the scenes that take place on the side edges, such as the dining room and the front porch. "Those scenes will be cheated closer to center stage, and maybe even put on a different angle, to maximize the viewing power of the audience," Miller says.

The Music Box is also not as deep as the Imperial, so the stage will lose the crossover space behind the set. To cross from one side of the stage to the other without being seen by the audience, actors will have to walk downstairs to the basement below the stage.

"There aren't too many quick entrances and exits, so people will have time to do it," Miller says. "It's just a little more of a nuisance."

The Music Box has fewer dressing rooms, so some performers who had their own room at the Imperial will now have to share.

Tech rehearsals will begin on Friday, April 25. The actors will get the week off, but they'll come back for rehearsals on Sunday, April 27 and Tuesday, April 29 to get used to working in the new space before performances begin Tuesday night.

There are, of course, the little change-of-address tasks that have to be dealt with when moving anywhere, be it between theatres or apartments. "It's silly, but we have to call Verizon and get the DSL moved, get the mail moved," Miller says. The Deer Park water bottle delivery service had to be transferred. A meal is served during the play, so the sink and dishwasher have to be hooked up, along with the venting system for the stove, and the fire department has to approve all that.

Many of the stage crew members will be new, since on Broadway, each theatre has its own house crew. But the sound board operator, a props person and the wardrobe team will move with the show, since they're employed by the production, as will the management team.

The Music Box has 400 fewer seats, which changes the gross potential from $930,000 to $725,000. The show has to hire fewer ushers and cleaning staff members, and the cost of renting the theatre is decreased a bit. But overall, the weekly operating costs only decrease by a few thousand dollars, Miller says. The actors get paid the same, and the show isn't doing less advertising because they need to sell fewer tickets.

But the producers also have to get word of the move out to the public. They put up a second marquee on the Music Box and a second set of posters and promotional materials near the entrance. For a rare photo op, you can now go to 45th Street and take a photo of two different marquees, each advertising the same show. For many of the show's posters, they'll put what's called a "snipe" a large sticker of sorts across the bottom of the poster, to change the theatre that's listed.

The show is using the same ticketing service, Telecharge, but they had to create a second listing on Telecharge's website for the Music Box performances, accompanied by special warnings letting customers know what's going on. "It is in red and it is in bold," Miller says. "I hope it hasn't caused confusion but I'm sure it's caused a little bit."

Currently, theatergoers can go to the Imperial and buy tickets for the Music Box performances. But when the Music Box's box office opens on April 7, the Imperial has to stop selling those tickets, to comply with the rules of the treasurer's union, Miller says.

Despite all the logistics, Miller calls the move "exhilarating." She's especially excited to potentially be let in on a Shubert Organization secret. "I'm told that there's some secret little alleyway" underground, between the two theatres, Miller says, through which she's hoping to move the props and costumes. Still, she'll have to inspect it first. "Jack the Ripper's probably down there," she says.