Seeing a Broadway show can be expensive. This isn't exactly a mystery. With the costs of producing these shows, ticket prices surely are on the rise. Also, with the emergence of the third party buying/selling, it's not rare to see tickets for shows like Hamilton, Dear Even Hansen and Hello Dolly! reach close to $1,000 for two tickets. With mega-spectacle shows on the way like Frozen, this trend of raising ticket prices isn't going to end anytime soon.
With prices these high, Broadway theatres are starting to see less diversity in their seats. Not only when it comes to the racial backgrounds of their audiences but in their wallets as well. Recently, The Broadway League released their annual audience report. Here are some of the interesting facts they found out about Broadway audiences:
1. 77% of all tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatregoers.
2. The average annual household income of the Broadway theatregoer was $194,940.
3. 66% of theatregoers were female.
4. The average age of the Broadway theatregoer was 41.7 years old.
From a business standpoint, there isn't an issue here. Tickets are being bought, butts are in the seats, producers are making money. So changing anything to make it more affordable and their audiences more diverse isn't top on their priority list or even on the list at all. I know a couple of theatre owners who could care less who is sitting in their theatre as long as they paid to be there.
But Broadway should be striving to make seeing a show easier for those who might not normally be able to afford it. While seeing a show on 42nd Street isn't a right, it's also not something to be enjoyed by only the rich.....and white.
According to the study, the median income of a theatregoer was $194,940. With the prices of tickets being what they are, that methodically ensures that only one race of people will likely be able to go to the theatre. According to the latest four-year study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2014, only 11% of black families earned that level of income, with 1.6% being 200K or over.
While Broadway is striving to make their audiences more diverse, their pricing is systematically cutting out large portions of the population.
So how can we fix that? Well, I have three solutions that are somewhat realistic. They would not only make it more affordable to see Broadway shows but by doing so, make it easier for people from different ethnic backgrounds attend as well. Here they are...bear with me....I promise you these are possible.
1. Cap the price of balcony tickets at $100 each.
For the record, in most cases there is nothing wrong with sitting in the balcony or rear mezzanine. Depending on the theatre and show, you could have a great seat where you can see the entire stage or feel right on top of it.
However, one shouldn't be paying exorbitant prices to sit up there either. Normally one would hope that these would be the cheapest option but in cases like Hamilton, you're paying $293 per ticket....seriously...that's the cost of a ticket for a January 2019 matinee for the LAST ROW. By capping the price of these tickets at $100, at both face value and verified resale, it would allow for a more affordable option for less affluent ticket buyers and potentially allow them to see more shows during the year.
Would theatres make less on these seats? Yes. But would a price cap at this level ensure the section would be always sold out? Most likely. Could they make it up by raising the costs on their more valuable orchestra seats whose patrons wouldn't mind paying a little more? Definitely. Not for nothing but if you are willing to spend $800 to see Hello Dolly!, you probably don't have a problem spending $900.
2. Make Wednesday matinees completely free or pay-what-you-can with tickets being awarded via lotteries.
What an insane idea right? But think of it, what if Wednesday matinees were completely free or "pay what you can" performances where tickets were awarded to those who entered a lottery to get them. Imagine getting to sit front row at The Lion King for free or whatever was in your pocket?
Now, being realistic, an idea like this would have to clear massive legal/union hurdles, permissions, etc. Also, with the cost of producing these shows, every penny is important. So something like this would need to have thorough budgeting to make sure everyone gets paid properly.
But it would also ensure that certain populations who normally can't afford theatre tickets would have a shot at seeing a show for next to nothing. It would also certainly allow the potential for a very diverse crowd as well. Ticket lotteries are already a popular option for folks to purchase tickets, this is just taking that concept a massive step further.
3. Live-Stream every show for one night only.
There is no doubt that live-streaming Broadway shows is something that is going to emerge as more of a need than a gimmick. Some shows have had taped performances aired on PBS or live on BroadwayHD. More than not these are shows that are usually on their last leg before closing, so it's more of a last ditch effort to drum up buzz or to support a forthcoming tour.
But what if every show had to do this just once during their run? Live-stream it on social media or a movie theatre or on-demand TV? It would bring Broadway theatre to those who can't afford it and certainly reach wider audiences.
Would it be giving away a performance for free? Potentially yes. It would also put itself in a position to be pirated, which is always a risk. There are also a lot of union regulations and red tape to make this a reality but it would certainly change the game.
Regardless of this plan or not, I do think the entertainment industry is lending itself more towards home entertainment. But while nothing can replace the sensation of live theatre, for those who might not be able to afford it, seeing it in their home or a movie theatre is the next best option.
Will Broadway producers ever consider these ideas? I'm 99.9% sure they won't. Like I said before, as long as tickets are being bought, at the prices they are, nothing is going to change. With all due respect to those owners and producers who are saying they want to make it more affordable and diverse, I don't believe them for a second and neither should you unless they start making drastic changes. For instance like the changes above. Which, by the way, aren't perfect solutions. But they are innovative and drastic, which is what needs to happen if we truly want to make theatre more accessible for all to see it.