As Broadway faces the unprecedented challenge of reopening after at least 18 dark months, producers have proposed cutting back the standard eight-performance week while demand for tickets ramps up.
“One of the ideas that’s being thrown around is instead of doing eight performances a week, doing four performances a week for a while as things get started again — and prorating everything,” said Carl Pasbjerg, the general manager of the musical Come From Away and the upcoming Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster.
In a Zoom panel Monday night organized by the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, a 98-year-old charitable group, Pasbjerg conceded that the proposal isn’t a panacea. “Your nut gets cut in half but also then your ability to create revenue is cut in half too.”
The Broadway League, which negotiates labor contracts for producers and theater owners, recently proposed cutting the number of weekly performances temporarily, a person familiar with the situation said. Details of the trade association’s plan weren’t available and it’s unclear how receptive unions that service the industry will be. Brandon Lorenz, a spokesman for Actors’ Equity Association, didn’t return an email for comment. James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents stagehands, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the League.
In November, Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said that there’ve been conversations with unions “about what the contracts might look like, what might be changed” for Broadway to restart. Most producers expect the industry to return gradually, with established hits among the first to resume.
On Saturday, Music Man lead producer Scott Rudin issued a statement promising to “step back” from the industry — following a widely-read Hollywood Reporter story detailing his abuse of assistants. Margot Astrachan, a co-producer on the upcoming musical Diana, about the Princess of Wales, asked about the reaction to the Rudin scandal during the Zoom panel.
“With the news over the weekend, that was something that was symptomatic of behaviors that are not going to be tolerated any longer,” said Pasbjerg, who heads Alchemy Production Group and manages a second Rudin show, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Pasbjerg said The Music Man is on schedule — to begin previews on Dec. 20 and open on Feb. 10, 2022. “You make plans and then those plans evolve over time depending on what happens. But we’re all hopeful that those dates will stick for the fall,” he said.
He and another general manager, Ryan Conway of Architect Theatrical, lamented the possibility of tepid ticket demand as international tourists remain scarce and working-from-home commuters are slow to return to midtown. “Something that will be reconsidered is how we spend advertising dollars,” Conway said. “As general managers we’re doing what we do when the show is in trouble generally. We just look at every cost. We take a microscope to our weekly budgets and say, ‘how can we look at things differently?'”
Weekly expenses can exceed $1 million for a Broadway musical with a large cast and multiple sets. For Rudin’s 2017 hit revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, expenses in some weeks exceeded $1.3 million, according to financial statements filed with New York state. Astrachan asked whether it’s possible to limit expenses for an eight-performance week for a big Broadway musical to $500,000.
“Ah, no,” Pasbjerg said.
“I don’t think so either,” Astrachan said.
Pasbjerg is hopeful that domestic tourism will buoy the industry, as it did following the 2001 terrorist attacks. “After 9-11, international tourism died down pretty drastically but domestic tourism really picked up,” he said. For Americans who weren’t traveling abroad, “New York seemed like an exotic location. ”
But he doesn’t foresee a rapid return to show business as usual. “The days where you’re going to see 15 Broadway shows grossing over $1 million a week, and some grossing $2 million and even higher — those aren’t going to come back for a while.”