Stage Fright: Hurricane Sandy Was Just What Broadway Didn’t Need

 @christopherzarac.zara@ibtimes.com on November 08 2012 2:45 PM

Things were not so great along the Great White Way last week.

Ticket sales for the 28 Broadway shows running in New York during the week of Nov. 4 are revealing the harsh economic impact of Hurricane Sandy on the city’s theater industry. According to figures released Tuesday by the Broadway League, the trade association that oversees the industry, almost every Broadway show suffered serious box-office declines last week, with some down by as much as 50 percent. The total loss amounts to about $8.5 million in ticket sales, a big hit for an industry whose profit margin is slim.

Compared with figures from the previous week, Broadway ticket sales were off $6.5 million for the week ending Nov. 4. Moreover, the New York Times’ ArtsBeat blog reports that ticket sales were also lost on Sunday, Oct. 28, because of canceled performances as the storm made its way north. In all, the Broadway ticket sales grossed $13.7 million for the week, a decline of more than 30 percent.

Some shows were hit harder than others. The Gershwin musical “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” which stars Matthew Broderick, saw its box-office gross cut in half, as did “Grace,” a Craig Wright drama playing at the Cort Theatre.  

According to TicketNews.com, “The Performers,” “Rock of Ages,” “Annie,” “An Enemy of the People” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” suffered the smallest losses -- less than $100,000 each.

The dip in Broadway attendance was attributed both to direct cancellations as well as travel disruptions. Even as theaters reopened, downed subways prevented locals from getting around the city, while flight cancellations interrupted the Broadway plans of countless out-of-towners. More than 60 percent of Broadway tickets are purchased by tourists.  

Sandy’s impact on Broadway’s bottom line is particularly distressing to producers, considering how slim that line is. Even in the best of times, only about 20 to 30 percent of Broadway shows ever turn a profit. Most are lucky if they break even, despite the fact that Broadway producers potentially have more to lose than producers who work in other areas of entertainment. Unlike, say, corporate-backed Hollywood films, Broadway shows are often funded piecemeal by individual investors who back shows with their own personal money.

All told, however, New York’s Broadway theaters escaped Sandy’s wrath with relatively little collateral damage. All the city’s 40 Broadway venues are located well above Manhattan’s 30th Street, and none were affected by long-term power outages or flood damage.

Some of the city’s scrappier downtown and Brooklyn theaters were not so lucky, however. Downtown’s Three-Legged Dog theater group, which is located just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, suffered severe damage to its electrical that is still being assessed. New York’s Innovative Theatre Foundation has set up a page on its website asking for volunteers and letting people know what they can do to help the off-off-Broadway community.     

As of Nov. 1, the Broadway League announced that every Broadway show is back up and running on their regular schedules. 

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