Broadway is making unusual changes in response to a sluggish economy and theatergoers’ preferences.
In a developing trend, a number of Broadway productions have moved up their start times or added weekday matinees, all in the hopes of giving theater fans a more compelling reason to visit the Great White Way.
In late May, the ’80’s themed musical “Rock of Ages” at the Helen Hayes Theatre replaced its Sunday evening performance with a Friday matinee. Others have made similar alterations in schedule, such as “Chicago” at the Ambassador adding a Thursday daytime show and “Baby, It’s You!” at the Broadhurst running a Friday matinee.
The new scheduling angle seems to be working, at least for some shows. Since “Rock of Ages” installed its Summer Fun Fridays matinee running from July 8 to September 4, ticket sales have shown a marked increase, from a total of $282,327 (filling 78.8 percent of capacity) for the week of April 4-10 to an impressive $377,204 (at 94.8 percent capacity) by mid-July. The show continues to see solid receipts this month, with the figures from August 8-14 showing revenue at $347,092 (at a slightly less impressive 86.1 percent of capacity). But “Baby’s” Friday matinee, added in June, did little to stop the bleeding for the show, which is set to close September 4. Numbers from the week of April 4-10, which predate the Friday addition, totaled $370,845 (81.5 percent capacity) and only fell further this summer, with percent capacity no better than the high 70’s and figures for the week of August 8-14 at $338,814, or 67.8 percent.
Matinees are not the only scheduling changes with which Broadway is experimenting. Some shows are changing their start times to earlier in the evening to accommodate city dwellers who want to hit the show after work, as well as suburbanites who want to take an earlier train home.
Once only occurring on Tuesdays, 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. start times became more common last season, with roughly half of the running plays and musicals making the change. Shows making the change included “Billy Elliot” at the Imperial, “The Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill, Foxwoods Theatre’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and the play “Master Class” at the Friedman. All four shows are performing extremely well, with their percentage of capacity running from lows of the mid-eighties to over 100 percent, and all but “Master Class” regularly appearing in TicketNews’ exclusive Top Theater and Top Broadway Events rankings.
“I think that the industry as a whole has been looking at all kinds of ways to customize the theatergoing experience for the modern consumer, getting away from the archaic notion that every show has to do the exact same thing as every other show,” Davenport told TicketNews. “London theater [starts] at all times of the day.”
Indeed, no shows but “Billy Elliot” have changed to earlier start times across the week, some have made minor changes, and some are not changing at all. Bloomberg reports that the musical’s producer Eric Fellner explained why he believes an earlier start time fits his production. “‘Billy Elliot’ prides itself on being a family show and it made sense to specifically cater to a family audience with an earlier evening curtain time. Since making the change, response from our audience has been unanimously positive.”
Davenport agrees that one size does not fit all when it comes to theater start times. “Each show has to find its own best time. For some people that may be 8 p.m., that may be 7 p.m, it may be Friday at 5 p.m.”