When I began this entire thing, I pointed out that theater as we know it is dead, but theater itself will rise.
In the short term at least, Broadway may well be the clearest example of that. But that also necessitates a clear view of acknowledging Broadway as an anomaly rather than a pinnacle.
In part two I described the finances of regional theaters and their bastard blend of box office and patronage. This model can expand even as high as off-Broadway. It also shifts higher towards the patronage side when we talk about Opera, ballet, and Symphonies. Those institutions still exist because the rich elites of those cities wanted one there. Their existence will rise and fall at the will of their patrons.
But Broadway itself, particularly today's post-Webber musical saturated Broadway, is another animal. One that works more like film than regional theater. It's a high-stakes gambling game, where producers bet millions on the hope of making billions. The potential of profits in orders of magnitude allow for early closers to not be as much of a big deal as they could be.
A Broadway show financially works like a movie. Production itself is paid for up front. Then ticket sales determine how long the show stays in theaters. It differs in two big ways.
One, Broadway has a weekly nut in addition to outright production costs. A truly successful show not only makes its nut for the week, but works towards paying off initial production costs and eventually beyond, turning a profit for the producers. A film, once finished, costs little else to make beyond residuals.
Two, a film competes against each new week of releases. Remaining in theaters is a simple matter of selling more than other films when time comes to make room for next week's inbound releases. A Broadway show, on the other hand, competes against its own unsold tickets.
Broadway's worldwide exclusivity and strong tourist attraction means a steady stream of well-heeled audience members more than willing to pay several times what they'd pay for a ticket closer to home.
The high initial outlays and plans outright for high weekly nuts also allow Broadway to act as a support system for Equity, as Broadway contracts are some of the only livable-just-for-stage-acting ones in existence.
And that mutilates everything down the line. From college student expectations to regional theater budgets, it all reinforces the idea that somehow Broadway is just better than whatever other theater you may be doing. It takes a huge commercial outlier and holds it up as the gold standard for everyone else.
It's a cruel, stupid lie that formed from smoke and mirrors everyone sees but nobody will point out.
But Broadway's current form has mutated from theater into event. Broadway is less theater and more Disneyland with worse parking and less walking. Broadway is Vegas where you're more likely to be told to go fuck yourself than have your dinner comped. The difference is in Broadway making its nut directly and weekly as opposed to from supplemental activities.
Expanding that model beyond a theme park leads to outsized problems of regional theaters. Outdoor dramas who pay in both peanuts AND housing at least have charm and often longevity going for them, while newer attempts turn into shitshow deathtraps.
(Looking right at you, Serenbe. Sink a ship into a lake on cue every night? Whoopty fucking doo. Keep your people uninjured for an entire run and pay them enough to justify the gas to keep going to a site in Cousin Grope, Georgia if you want to impress me.)
Broadway's return will rely on two things
The willingness of audiences to pay for the privilege of not only gathering in the dark again, but traveling to a place of spectacle to do so. The Broadway model lives and dies not by the wealthy resident but by the wealthy tourist constantly rotating in and out among the country and the world.
What's left of the personnel infrastructure when that comes to pass.
How much of it will be left and what shape they will be in are the big questions.
There's about 18K members of Equity in and around NYC, not sure how many IATSE members.
They have all been out of work in their profession since mid-March.
The survival job gig economy (which again, we created) was devastated in the process.
A week after I post this, the final $600 kickers from PUA are being posted.
And nothing is currently set in stone to help any of those I mentioned survive until they can practice their old vocations.
The fortunate with savings or family connections will wait it out.
Some will do as New York artists always have: hustled, scraped, and gotten by as best they could.
Some will pull up stakes and leave for greener pastures.
Equity responded to the initial hit of Covid by raising health insurance premiums on their members and has been about as useless ever since.
Surviving companies, as mentioned earlier, are congratulating themselves about how diverse their initiatives are, for what good it does when there's no actual theater to do.
Government responses have been particularly hit or miss across the board.
The social networks (another thing cultivated by artists long before they were codified and monetized) are all suffering in their own way, but aiding each other as best they can.
I don't have any guiding words for any of them.
All I could say is what they've figured out for themselves.
That relying on some nebulous other to save them is folly.
That amazing amounts of power lie in the financial stability that's been kept from too many of them for too long, by design or accident.
Some may never return.
And maybe that's for the better. For theater to find itself smaller, spread wider, but paying better.
Because Broadway is just a wide road.
But theater is people in the dark, speaking in the light.
See you at the next fire that will have us.