In the Wake of Manchester, Do Broadway Theatres Need to Beef Up Security?

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief 

An Updated Piece from Oct 5th, 2015. 

Over the past couple of years we've seen incidents where the metaphorical, and sometimes literal, barrier between Broadway actors and the audience is being broken. 

While some of the stories are comical, such as the cell phone charger incident at Hand to God, some are downright scary. 

For instance the incident that occurred at Thérèse Raquin with its star Keira Knightley last fall. Here is what happened, according to composer-lyricist Matthew Martin, who was in the audience that day,

"Suddenly we saw a young man enter, house left, the aisle between the front and rear mezzanine. He was carrying a bouquet of roses and began spouting off about both Jesus and Keira Knightley. He proposed marriage and kept saying things like, 'You have five seconds, Keira!' He seemed very fanatical and very disturbed.

"He went down the steps to the rail at the front of the mezzanine and kept shouting. Because of the timing of when it happened, we in the audience thought at first that it was part of the show. But then an usher tentatively came over and whispered to him. He didn't pay any attention at first, but eventually backed up and sat in a seat in the fourth row of the front mezzanine. He kept shouting, 'You have five seconds left, Keira! That's not a long time!'

"We were all very freaked out at that point. Security didn't come right away. I think the ushers didn't want to do anything because the man seemed very dangerous.

"Eventually two male security people and a male usher came and spoke to him. Then they tried to forcibly eject him. At first he seemed to go along with them, but then, in one fluid motion, he tossed the bouquet, which spiraled down to the stage. We all gasped. It looked like a bouquet, but who knew what was in there? It landed on the stage, stage right, with a thud.

What is most disturbing about this situation is incredibly slow response time by theatre security. What if he was carrying a weapon? What if he put the people near him in danger? What if there was an explosive device inside the rose bouquet that he was given enough time to throw on stage at the actors? 

And before you think that sounds ridiculous, just remember, people have tried to blow up planes with bombs in their shoes and underwear. 

So this begs the question, do Broadway theatres need to beef up their security? 

Take the Thérèse Raquin incident for example. If the security response had been immediate rather than "eventual" as Mr. Martin described, than this man would have been escorted out of the theatre right away. If there were bag checks and metal detectors at the entrance doors, had there been a device in the bouquet, it would have been discovered before being brought into the theatre. 

What's even more disturbing, in addition to the pure evil of it all, is that the attacks in Paris, Orlando and now Manchester, are further proof that these attacks can happen anywhere. 

I'm not calling for body scanners in the lobby. But what I am calling for is a consistent security policy at all Broadway and Off-Broadway theatres. I'm also calling for theatres to hire specific security personnel. In the event of an emergency, there needs to be house staff in the theatre trained to handle the situation. With all due respect to many of the ushers in these houses, but most of them couldn't stop a wily bunch of teenagers let alone someone intent on hurting others. 

It's also not a bad idea to have police presence either on the streets outside or inside these lobbies. Yes it would cost money but it would be money well spent. 

While I understand that some might be offended or upset about having their bags searched or walking through a metal detector before taking their seat to see a show. But if there is a way to greatly deter or entirely remove the possibility of an Aurora, CO happening on 42nd St, wouldn't adding security measures to protect the cast, crew and fellow audience members be worth it? 

Many times, added security measures are installed in response or reaction to specific incidents, why not be proactive when it comes to protecting the Broadway community? 

Performing On Broadway: It Ain't for the Money, Or Is It?

Chris Peterson

Recently, a friend of mine was complaining about the high cost of tickets for a particular Broadway show.  "Don't these people make enough money as it is?", she exclaimed. 

And while I somewhat agree that $410.40 is a bit much for two mid-mezzanine tickets for Something Rotten! , I started to think about how much Broadway performers actually make. 

There's the old saying, "no one's in it for the money", and while Broadway performers today are certainly paid better than they used to, let's not start assuming they're now part of the 1%. There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at the reality of wages for actors these days, especially in NYC. 

As of August 2010, the minimum salary for an actor on Broadway is $1,605 per week. This is the minimum rate regardless of name, experience or celebrity though an actor and her agent are free to attempt to negotiate a higher rate if the producer will pay it.

Now while some of you might be thinking that sounds like a sweet deal. Consider a couple of things, the first being taxes. 

Working in New York City is expensive and it will take a toll on every paycheck. When entering $1,605 into a tax calculator for an employee in New York City, after deductions from not only Federal and State but also New York City(also without any allowances/withholdings added), you're looking at a net paycheck of $1,030. That's quite a hit. But we're not done yet. 

Then you have to figure in dues to Actors Equity. According to their website, Equity's dues structure has two components: Basic Dues, $118 per year, billed at $59 semi-annually each May and November. Working Dues, 2.25% of gross earnings under Equity contract, which are collected via weekly payroll deductions. So while not a huge deduction, its still a deduction from what you take home. 

And let's talk about home for a moment. If you're performing on Broadway, chances are you're living either in New York City or nearby. Right now the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in NYC is just over $3,000 a month. There goes your pay for the month. And unless you're planning on walking to the theater everyday, then you have to think about subway/train/taxi fares as well. At some point you also plan on eating right?

Oh, and remember there is no guarantee that you're going to be making this money for long, a show can close at anytime, with very little notice and there's no telling when you're going to get another gig. 

So the next time you think the reason tickets to these shows are so high, is because the actors are raking in high six-figure salaries, think again. Unless its Julia Roberts,  who reportedly  earned $150,000 per week for her role in Three Days of Rain.

What is the Definitive Musical of the 21st Century So Far?

Chris Peterson

Interesting question right? This was asked of me the other day by a reader of this blog. It's one of the few times I actually replied with, I Don't Know. 

We're only a decade an a half into the new century, yes we've already seen some of the best pieces of work of all time come out since 2000. 

So if you had to pick one, what would it be? Here are some candidates and the cases for and against them being the definitive musical of the 21st Century so far. 

Wicked

Case For It:  Wicked has been a titan on Broadway since it opened 12 years ago. Financially, it's become one of the most successful musicals in history. The success of the Broadway production has spawned several other productions worldwide, including various North American productions, a long-running Laurence Olivier Award–nominated West End production and a series of international productions. Since its 2003 debut, Wicked has broken box office records around the world, currently holding weekly-gross-takings records in Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and London. In the week ending January 2, 2011, the London, Broadway, and both North American touring productions simultaneously broke their respective records for the highest weekly gross.  In the final week of 2013, the Broadway production broke this record again, earning $3.2 million. The West End production and the North American tour have each been seen by over two million patrons.

Beyond the financials, you could argue that no musical since 2000 has had a larger impact on pop culture. Songs like "Defying Gravity" and "For Good" have become anthems and no musical has appealed more young women more than this one.  

Case Against It: The truth is, Wicked isn't a great musical. The score is poppy, inconsistent, hardly compelling and generic. The choreography is borderline non-existent and the book is ironically colorless. Wicked also failed to win many of the big Tony Awards that year, getting dominated by the smaller Avenue Q. here is an argument also that Wicked represents everything wrong with 21st Century musical theatre where shows rely on big budgets and special effects, rather than the content of the material. 

Spring Awakening

ase For It: The original Broadway production won 8 Tony Awards, including Tonys for Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor. The production also garnered 4 Drama Desk Awards while its original cast album received a Grammy Award. The success of the Broadway production has spawned several other productions worldwide, including various US productions, a short West End production that won 4 Laurence Olivier Awards including Best Musical, and a series of international productions.

Its original cast is now a who's who in the entertainment industry with Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, Skylar Astin, John Gallagher, Jr., Jennifer Damiano  and Krysta Rodriguez. 

Since its closing, it has become a staple among colleges, high schools and community groups. A much heralded production from Deaf West Theatre is making the move to Broadway in the fall and talks of a movie adaptation are moving closer to confirmation as well. It's also one of the few pieces ever to tackle the subject of teenage sexuality. 

Case Against It: While the score is overall excellent, you could argue that there isn't a single iconic song in the entire show. It ran on Broadway for less than three years and most importantly, there have been better dramatic musicals than this in the same decade. 

The Producers

Case For It: The first big hit of the 21st Century. After the opening, The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box-office ticket sales in theatre history, taking in more than $3 million. At the 2001 Tony Awards, it won 12 out of its 15 nominations, becoming one of the few musicals to win in every category for which it was nominated. It was also the first comedy to win Best Musical in nearly a decade. 

Case Against It: The Producers' success largely rested on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's shoulders. The loss of the original stars had a detrimental effect on the success of the production, prompting the return of Lane and Broderick for a limited run from December 2003 to April 2004. You could also say that its impact has been largely forgotten, especially after a more and lackluster film adaptation. And while its humor certainly opened the door for many more outrageous comedies to come after, its music was more of an homage to golden age of musical theatre rather than showing us anything new. 

In The Heights

ase for It: What musical has done a more effective job of reaching new audiences and introducing hip hop to Broadway? In addition to its popularity among the younger generation, it proved to be a financial hit as well. The producers announced on January 8, 2009 that the show had recouped its $10 million investment after 10 months. 

It would go onto win 4 Tonys including Best Score and Best Musical thus launching composer Lin-Manual Miranda's rise to become a Broadway icon. Will we be talking about Hamilton in the same regard? We shall see. 

Regardless, In The Heights has become one of the most produced shows by colleges, high schools and community theaters. Especially in more urban areas where musical theatre is not often successfully produced.

Cast Against It: If we're being honest, the book of the show is downright terrible. It's a shame Miranda didn't take more a control with that. And while there is certainly a mix of musical styles, the piece relies on its hip hop infused roots, does that make it the defining musical of the past 15 years? 

Next to Normal

Case for It: The most iconic piece of musical theatre to properly address the effects of Bipolar Disorder, Next to Normal has been a culture smash. Reviews for the original Broadway production were more and favorable.  Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote that the Broadway production is "A brave, breathtaking musical. It is something much more than a feel-good musical: it is a feel-everything musical." Rolling Stone Magazine called it "The best new musical of the season – by a mile." Next to Normal was on the Ten Best of the Year list for 2009 of "Curtain Up". 

Next to Normal was also one of the first shows to utilize Twitter to boost its popularity. n May 2009, about six weeks into the Broadway run, Next to Normal began publishing an adapted version of the script over Twitter, the social media network. Over 35 days, the serialized version of the show was published, a single line from a character at a time. The Twitter promotion ended the morning of June 7, 2009, the morning of the 2009 Tony Awards. The initiative earned the musical the 2009 OMMA Award for Best in Show Situation Interactive.

Since then its become a community theatre staple as well as colleges. 

Case Against It: It didn't run on Broadway that long, clocking in just over 733 performances. It's also one of the only musicals on this list that didn't win Best Musical(inexplicably losing to Billy Elliot). It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama even though it had not been on the list of three candidates submitted to the twenty-member Pulitzer Prize board by the five-member Drama jury which caused a lot of controversy at the time. 

So which do you think is the defining musical of the past 15 years? Is it one not even on this list? What about Hairspray? Thoroughly Modern Millie? Spamalot? American Idiot? 

As you can see, it's a very hard, but fun, question to answer.