The Road to Broadway, and Why It’s Harder for Playwrights than Actors

Anthony J. Piccione

A lot has been made in the theatre community about the hardships of being an actor aspiring to make his or her Broadway debut. We've heard all the talk about the highly-competitive auditions, the working as a waiter or waitress while waiting for that big break, and all they've done before to get to this point. However, it is not actors that have the most difficult time making it to Broadway, but the younger generation of playwrights – the prime artists who create new theatre for new generations – that are most likely to never see the fulfillment of their dreams of Broadway glory. In fact, the Broadway competition among those vying for success as an actor is nothing compared to the competition among playwrights.

This is not to downplay the challenges of making it to Broadway as an actor. Anyone who knows anything about Broadway theatre knows that only a select few individuals that audition get lucky enough to showcase their talents as a performer on a Broadway stage, while thousands more go on to have their lifelong dreams crushed. But when thinking about the ratio of shows that are playing on Broadway – or anywhere else, for that matter – as opposed to the actors that are needed to make that show a reality, it is clear that – as hard as it may be for aspiring Broadway actors – there is actually more demand for actors than there are for new shows. 

It doesn't help the newest generation of playwrights when a fair portion of the shows that are on Broadway right now and have been over the past five years have been revivals of past Broadway musicals, such as Les Miserables, Annie and Pippin. This is in addition to a good portion of other shows that have been open for several years and show no signs of closing at any point in the near future, such as The Lion King or The Phantom of the Opera. While many of these shows are widely considered to be classics, the fact that producers keep going back to these same shows is reflective of a major issue facing many playwrights today. While actors will continue to find work regardless of what shows are being produced, the opportunities available to playwrights become increasingly limited when there is a lack of demand for new works, and this is especially true for playwrights wanting to see their work staged on Broadway.

As it is, any playwright would be lucky to see their work produced at any professional theatre company, just as actors would be lucky to find work performing at any professional theatre company. But when it comes to getting your play produced on Broadway, it has become increasingly out of reach for many young playwrights. As a playwright, I personally would love nothing more than to be able to say that it doesn't matter where in the world your work is produced, as long as it finds an audience that appreciates it. 

But unfortunately, it does matter. It matters A LOT. 

Even in the cases of many people here in the United States that might never have to chance to visit NYC in their lives, the most likely places that they will experience live theatre is either at a local community theatre, or at a performing arts center when a national touring production comes to their city. In each of those cases, the selections of shows that are produced tend to be heavily influenced by the latest Broadway trends, which have seemingly been consistent for several years. It is for this reason why there need to be more new works that are being produced on Broadway and elsewhere in the world. But for now, it seems that getting that big break is not only just as elusive for playwrights as it is for actors, but even more so. It is a sad reality that is true in theatre across the country but is especially true in the case of Broadway theatre.

Until we confront that truth, it seems likely that a good portion of shows in NYC will continue to be revivals and continuations of the same, tired shows that all of us are used to, and that many of us are bored of. And if you ask me, that’s not a very bright vision for the future of Broadway theatre.