2008/2009 was a damned season for the economy. Wrapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy of recession, many industries hunkered down and prepared for the worst. The entertainment and theater industry was no exception. When January 2009 wrapped around, news and media outlet cried out to the closing of more Broadway shows than ever before. While not exactly the apocalyptic scenario that the media wanted to paint, it’s been a bit of a rougher season, with lots of great shows closing, and the usual suspects rounding up all the theater goers.
The Broadway Theater industry is a strange animal: it’s entertainment, so people do seek comfort in a laugh or the magic of a beautifully told story in times of hardship, but it’s also expensive entertainment, and when people’s disposable income shrinks, so do ticket sales. What really happens is that the market on Broadway compresses. The top-selling shows do just as well, or better, than in previous seasons – as people don’t completely give up on theater, but pick fewer and ‘safer’ choices, and everyone else suffers, sometimes to the premature demise of an otherwise potentially successful show.
But one interesting thing happens whenever the Great White Way smells crisis. Change comes in waves, and industry cycles are as unavoidable as they are an essential part of the creative process at the core of Broadway. Not unlike what happens when unemployment swells and school enrollment grows accordingly, whenever a crisis hit, it’s a great time to develop new stories, write new music, look for new inspiration and up and coming authors.
So while we emerge from a slow but solid season with few surprises and fewer risks being taken (I mean, what’s safer than a West Side Story revival?), the upcoming seasons ready up to be full, rich, original and – hopefully – a success with audiences. So whenever, we hit a bump in the road and things seem to look meager, we go back to what makes this industry great: the creative process. And we remind ourselves: it’s not over until the fat, gray, lady sings.