Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Defending The Indefensible, Part 2

In order to keep my contrarian status intact, I've got to lob a few spitballs once in a while. I got street cred to keep up. And so...maybe we should lay off the Roundabout.

I know. I know. Trust me. I know. Hear me out.

So Bye Bye Birdie opens. That, shall we say, does not go well. Not at all. And, all over town, little sighs of glee can be heard. The Roundabout hasn't done much to ingratiate itself in the NYC theatre community of late with, to be honest, largely good reasons. The Off-Broadway community resents that it's basically a Broadway producing company, but reaps the benefits (and the breaks in fees) for being a "non-profit." The Broadway producers feel...well, the same way. It's one of the big symbols of star-fuckery, crass selling out, and corporate theatre making on the scene.

And I'm gonna say: good on 'em. No, really. Because I think they're doing what every producer says they want to do but never actually do, because it's too risky: using the sell-outs to finance the art.

I've become a fan and a regular reader of Ken Davenport's Producer's Perspective blog. Very good stuff. And weekly, he posts the B'way grosses. I've been following them and I noticed something. Bye Bye Birdie is one of the most successful shows on Broadway right now. I know. Week in and week out, it's playing to 95% capacity, and at a lower ticket price than most. There are probably a ton of structural reasons that, as a non-producer, I'm unfamiliar with. But...the numbers look pretty good. It's a B-rate show with a C-rate cast (apparently) and D-rated reviews. It's a symbol of all that's wrong with the great holy halls of Broadway, and's finding an audience and keeping it. I do wonder how much, if any money, it's making the Roundabout, but unless they're total idiots (which I doubt) it must be turning them something. Which allows them to do this. To take some chances on unheralded plays and playwrights. Isn't that what we should be applauding?

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a huge fan of Joe Papp. One of the things about him that I always find fascinating was his willingness to make money and then burn through it. When money came in from A Chorus Line, rather than hoard it, or even turn it into architecture, he used it to put plays like Dennis Reardon's The Leaf People on Broadway. For all of six days. It's crazy, maybe short-sighted and probably deeply self-destructive, but that's theatre.

Okay, the Roundabout isn't exactly doing that, but it does seem like they're selling out for a purpose. If somehow, John Stamos is putting butts in the seats in a mediocre musical, then at least the people who are reaping the benefits are putting them to good use, in production. When was the last time a commercial producer did that? I don't mean to single them out like that, but the needs of the business are set up against it. There's never enough money made, always something that needs more than you have, always a scramble. The Roundabout is lucky in that they have the cushion of being a "non-profit" theatre to fall back on, to take advantage of in order to do more. Yes, it's a bit unseemly and probably unfair. But it's show business, not show fair, right?

So, I say: cut 'em a little slack. And, no, they're not considering a play of mine and no, I wasn't hired by them. Like I said, my contrarian hat is on.

Now, Wishful Drinking? Being produced by a non-profit on Broadway? That's indefensible.


isaac butler said...

Really? You don't think they could create Roundabout Underground while also doing good work with some integrity? Lincoln Center pulls it off.

I don't see why we can't call them a bunch of starfucking whores incapable of producing a good show on Broadway while also saying that Roundabout Underground is pretty cool.

99 said...

I guess I'm just saying they're no more star-fucking whores than your average Broadway producer, but they actually use the funds to do something good. It's a business model we rag on, but it seems like it's working. Maybe we cut them a little slack for it. LCT certainly has a similar model, and does it with more integrity, but they also do it on a smaller scale.