Friday, May 21, 2010

The Map Is Not The Territory, But Good Luck Hiking Without One

Yesterday I posted some rather random observations and a couple of theories from my trip to New York.  I went Googling for some sort of confirmation or falsification of my hypothesis:  That Broadway is theatrical tourism.  Right away I located the Broadway League, and their research report, "The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2008-2009."

"In the 2008—2009 season, approximately 63% of all Broadway tickets were purchased by tourists." That's nearly 8 million of the 12 million tickets sold. By way of comparison, Disneyland had total park attendance of about 16 million in 2009. Theatrical tourism, check.  I'm sure this point could be researched further, but I'm satisfied to move forward.

I blogged not all that long ago in response to Rick Culbertson's blog regarding "Good vs. Quality," picking out a comment someone left Rick:
A better analogy would be between Off-off-Broadway and L.A., in which case the two are comparative because of the variables. Indeed, off-off-Broadway (SMALL 99 seat theaters) provide a starting point. As shows move up the theatrical chain, and money is applied, they can transfer to off-Broadway or Broadway.
Wondering if someone had conducted a demographic survey of the OOB world, I found the New York Innovative Theatre Awards Off-Off Broadway Survey Program.  I haven't had a chance to fully process all this, but some interesting facts from their reports:
  • 84% of companies rent various locations, rather than find residence in one location (11%) or own their own place (5%).
  • A plurality of companies (22%) have production budgets of under $5,000.
  • A plurality of the companies (33%) produce 2 plays a year.  The next highest percentage (29%) produces 3 to 5 plays a year.
  • OOB plays run an average of 14 performances.
  • 56% of the shows produced are new works.
This is all very revelatory for me, and confirms both first-hand observation and sinking suspicions.

I heard an economist recently who pointed out that a wrong map is worse than no map at all. For instance, if you're lost in New York, depending on a map of Chicago to right yourself is futile, perhaps even destructive. Looking at the information provided by the New York Innovative Theatre Awards and the Broadway League, I can only half agree. If I kept my nose pressed into the statistics out of New York, oblivious to the scene in Los Angeles, yeah, I'd be screwed.

But Chicago and New York both have grid systems.  If I combine my observation on the ground with reference to a similar situation elsewhere--actually look for the similarities and differences--I may in fact better orient myself to where I am.
Friends, I've been president of a Los Angeles theatre company for two years.  We've had fantastic success, and continue to produce good shows that audiences love.  We've also (it seems) been busy reinventing the wheel.  I wonder how many other producers of Under-99 theatre in LA are in the same boat?
One last point about all of this:  It took me no time at all to locate the above information, and to confirm that the League of Off-Broadway Theaters and Producers are too stingy to share their statistical data with the world-at-large (if you have that data, I'd be much obliged if you'd drop me an email).  The fact that it took me no time at all to locate the above information, and that similar data for Los Angeles is not readily available is telling.  (May Dionysus bless the LA Stage Alliance for getting the ball rolling on a survey project of sorts as a side benefit to PatronManager.)

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