Broadway means big business for the city of New York, as this past season brought in nearly $10 billion for the local economy, grossing upwards of a billion dollars for the theatrical community. When you look outside of Times Square, around the country, Broadway means even bigger business for local communities. According to the Broadway League, touring Broadway shows contributed $3.4 billion to the cities they traveled through last year while nearly 16 million people around the country saw a production during the 2009-2010 season.
Getting those big business shows to cities across America falls to a select few organizations, including the Nederlander Producing Company of America, and inside of that company, it’s one man’s business sense, mixed with a gut instinct, that builds a master schedule for the touring season.
The plays and musicals that make up a particular season at theaters owned by Nederlander – this includes Broadway/L.A. in Los Angeles, Broadway In Chicago, Sun Trust Broadway Series in Durham, Best of Broadway Series in North Charleston, South Carolina, Broadway San Diego, Broadway San Jose and Broadway in Tucson – are scheduled by Jack Meyer, vice president of programming. Jack is charged with seeking out the latest Broadway hits and slotting them in each of the theatres across the country, basically creating a master schedule for the touring productions.
“It’s about a 50% financial decision and 50% gut instinct when it comes to figuring out what shows to book in our theatres,” Meyer said of his process for booking shows. He’s been doing this for Nederlander throughout the last decade. Currently in the middle of planning the touring schedule for next season, he already has his sights set on Broadway hits like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Sister Act the Musical, Catch Me If You Can, Anything Goes, and Book of Mormon as potential musicals for 2012-2013.
Some things he looks at when analyzing a Broadway show include how strong each city’s subscriber base already is, what the projected number of single tickets sales are in each market, and what kind of pricing would work best for the various demographics. All of this number crunching is done collaboratively with the general managers of various theatres.
On occasion, something never seen elsewhere lands in one of Nederlander’s national markets, like when The Addams Family made its world premiere and pre-Broadway run in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre. It will return on national tour beginning this December at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. “Chicago has a great track record of launching productions in the pre-Broadway vein, where shows tryout before they come to New York,” Meyer said.
Once the schedules are booked, it falls to the local theatres to build up a loyal patron base, and the best way for that relationship to be nurtured is through subscriptions. Cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Durham, North Carolina, just to name a few, have major theatres offering subscription plans. Essentially, somebody living near Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre can sign up for a full season of touring Broadway productions, and know that their seats will be ready and waiting come show time, and that their entire year will be filled with a carefully selected block of productions.
“In this day and age, people are busy, and a lot of times, remembering to line up tickets to a musical or play might slip away,” said Wayne McWorter, Vice President of Marketing at Broadway/L.A., the group running the Pantages Theatre. “Knowing that there are seven times throughout the year that are already set aside can make things a lot easier,” he added, referring to the typical seven show season at the Pantages.
Beyond the planning ahead mentality that comes along with season subscriptions to theatres across the country, an added benefit to joining the program is a sense of belonging. The theatrical community is often referred to as a family, having close-knit groups and long-standing traditions, and theatergoers around Broadway tend to connect with that feeling. When you leave New York City, the theatres themselves step in and create a sense of community amongst its subscribers.
“If you really value Broadway, becoming a subscriber is just like that of joining a symphony, there is a sense of ownership that comes along with it,” McWorter said. “Saying ‘I’m a Broadway/L.A. Season Ticket Holder’ becomes part of how you identify yourself. A sense of belonging comes with it, just as people define themselves as Yankee or Dodger fans.”
Specifically, what a season subscriber is getting at most theatres is access to great seats before tickets go on sale to the general public. Unlike tickets purchased for a single show through outlets like Ticketmaster, a season ticket can be exchanged for another night, should a situation arise that causes a subscriber to miss a show.
Broadway In Chicago programs five theatres throughout the year and with over 30 shows annually, there is always something for everyone. “In Chicago, we program subscriptions two times per year, so our subscribers are like family,” says Eileen LaCario, Vice President of Broadway In Chicago. “Our subscribers own us, and why shouldn’t they? After all they commit to seeing 12 shows per year, and that is more than most people see their grown children! But they are also among the luckiest theatregoers in the country because they see shows before they go to Broadway and before they tour other places in the country.”
“We want to communicate the value of being a subscriber and tell our customers how much they mean to us,” McWorter admitted. “It’s very easy for a business to take advantage of a relationship, so we strive for consistent communication throughout the year, including touching base with people before each engagement begins and making sure they’re offered the best seats for any added events.”
To find out more information on how to become a season subscriber in markets around the country, visit the website for your nearest theatre.
I originally wrote this article for BroadwayDirect.com.