War Horse

(editor’s note – this column is published every other month. It is written by the executive director of the Palace Theater in downtown Waterbury, Frank Tavara. It’s mission is to provide readers with a peek behind the curtain to see how the theater operates)

  This year truly flew by (again) and I can’t believe we are already at the end of another successful theater season. It seems like we were just getting ready to raise the curtain on our first season and here it is the end of the seventh.

   As I write this I have recently returned from the Broadway League Spring Road conference in NYC that I attend annually along with Palace Marketing Officer, Sheree Marcucci. The Broadway League is the organization that represents and includes among its membership both the Broadway producers (and by association their product – the shows on Broadway and the touring Broadway shows) and the management teams from the presenters/venues, such as the Palace. You may know of the Broadway League as the entity that also produces the Tony Awards.

   The League conference is a place for the shows’ producers and the presenters, to come together and learn from each other’s unique vantage point, how to make the touring Broadway shows successful.  Both are dependant on the other’s expertise to make certain there are available programs and that these programs can ultimately go out on tour and be successful financially.  The producers conceive of the show idea and then raise the capital to produce the show and the presenters sell the product at their venues around the country and the world. And in spite of the economic challenges over the past few years, the theatrical industry is thriving.

   One of the indicators that the economy is indeed rebounding, is in the types of new shows being produced – riskier from a content standpoint and therefore from an investment standpoint.
While producers want to fund projects that are a sure thing from a financial standpoint and that will continue attracting their traditional Broadway audience member (forty plus years of age), they also want to create exciting theater that breaks new ground and work toward developing the audience members of the future. Developing future audiences is critical to Broadway’s survival. To that end shows are being created that will appeal to that younger and much coveted by advertisers age demographic of 25- 54. For instance think of shows that either feature contemporary music  – American Idiot based on the music of Green Day and  Spiderman Turn Off the Dark with music by Bono and the Edge or shows that push the envelope on traditional mores and cultural norms, like the wildly popular new show Book of Mormon  that has garnered several Tony Award nominations and is a pretty sure bet to take home most of them. What these shows all have in common is they all reflect the desires of those who create  Broadway theater to come up with the next big idea or hit show while broadening its brand by appealing to a younger audience demographic base, thereby establishing itself deeper into the collective psyche and  range of experiences of the potential audience member. 

   The Broadway League has also created promotions that seek to cultivate an even younger aged theater aficionado like Kids Night on Broadway, a discount ticket incentive.  The goal is to make shows more accessible and affordable and expand the number of children and youth who are exposed to live theater in New York as well as for the Touring Broadway productions that criss-cross the nation at venues like the Palace, with the hope of sparking a child’s interest and enthusiasm so they become life-long theater-goers.

   The other reality and benefit of giving children more access to theater other than pure entertainment and enrichment, is that children who are exposed to and participate in the arts generally have higher academic test scores.

   Another example that the economy is turning the corner is that of producers willing to invest in the artistically beautiful show in spite of the costs to mount it and the chance it may be a creative but not necessarily a commercial success.  The play War Horse is such a show. It is the simple yet emotionally charged story about a boy and his beloved horse that is sold to an Officer for service in WWI. The play is made extraordinary by its magnificent use of puppetry that makes the seven foot high horses in the story so life-like it is goose-bump and tear inducing.  The fascinating part here is that this show that began in London and opened on Broadway as a limited run, has now become such a critical success, the run has been extended and is now open-ended.

   And a final not surprising trend is the increasing use of Social Media as a new tool to use in the marketing of Broadway shows. Broadway shows have long depended on the more traditional media outlets of newspaper or print mediums, television, and radio.   The advent of Social Media in the past five years has caused the Broadway producers and their marketing teams to take notice and begin to use the medium as another prong in its approach to get the word out on its shows. Not only is this efficient from a dollars and cents perspective, it’s also speaking directly to that new younger audience it is trying to attract in the way they communicate, and that is smart business.

   Attending the Broadway League conference in New York is always an interesting and valuable experience – learning what’s new in the industry, networking with colleagues, and making your case to the producers for bringing their show to your venue. Even now, with just having announced our 11- 12 Broadway season, I have been negotiating to book one of the big blockbuster shows for the 2013 season…so stay tuned!