Picture: Broadway World
By Rebekah Wittman
You might have seen some threads around Twitter explaining why shows close and how we can tell if our favourites are in danger. These threads can earn over 16,000 impressions. They provide information and resources in Layman’s terms so you don’t have to be a Broadway producer to crunch some numbers.
And I wrote them all.
Each thread takes an hour or so to create – to find all the calculations and explain it in the best way possible. And they’re a little messy – it’s just a bunch of tweets, after all. They also get outdated as shows close and open, as well as allows us to predict that Tootsie will announce their final performance next. Exclusively for Curtain Call, I’ve compiled the best information from my research and threads.
The easy answer to “Why do shows close?” is “Because they don’t make money.” But what does that mean? Typically, it’s about selling tickets – but there’s more to it. If it was all about selling tickets, they could lower the prices and fill a theatre (and sometimes they do!). It’s the supply and demand of capitalism, and it all depends on which shows are in demand. It’s not about what people want to see, it’s about what people in NYC with money and an interest in seeing a Broadway musical want to see.
I use Playbill‘s website to find out capacity numbers – that’s how many tickets are bought every night. At first glance, these numbers might not make any sense, especially when shows like Dear Evan Hansen, Hadestown, and Hamilton all have capacities at over a hundred per cent. They switch to standing room tickets – they sell more than they have seats for, then the plan was. And the demand for these shows is so high, that the supply doesn’t even meet it. Obviously, these shows are not at risk for closing. Shows that have a capacity between 50-70% are the most at risk – although, admittedly, The Prom had about 80% capacity when they announced. The numbers aren’t perfect, but the 50-70% is a good general rule.
What else can impact a person’s choice as to what show to see? After all, it is the audience who decides what closes based on what they don’t see. The time of the year is huge. Looking at the average Broadway consumer, they see shows more in the summer and over the holidays (so in the periods of June-August and November-December), which is why we’ll see shows close in August, September, December, and January. Again, the numbers aren’t a perfect science, as it also depends when the show opened and what season it’s in.
Shows that close the season they opened (such as Bandstand, Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Groundhog Day, The Prom, Pretty Woman, The Cher Show, King Kong, and Be More Chill) often close at the end of a ‘tourist season’. Shows that close outside of their season (Beautiful, Anastasia, Kinky Boots) may end up closing at other times of the year, as people have had multiple ‘tourist seasons’ to see these shows.
So why can’t theatres lower their prices to sell out? They can, but shows are expensive to run. Casts can be huge, but so can all their swings and understudies, crews of people every night, ushers, merch tables, bars, the box office, social media teams, etc. In addition to paying the people, they have to pay for the theatre itself and utilities such as lighting.
How much money is enough? It obviously varies from show to show, but we can use BroadwayWorld to find out how much of the ‘potential gross’ a show is making – that’s how much of the money it could be making that it’s actually making. This can get a little hard to understand, as the potential gross is determined by those who decide how much a seat is. Shows that make over a million are usually safe, or upwards of 60% of their potential gross. Again, there are no perfect numbers used to predict any of this.
And the numbers can hurt. To see a beloved show be in the ‘danger zone’ is awful – you know what’s coming, and even if you could buy a ticket, you can’t save it. Knowing the numbers can be a burden – or when other people know them, and then your favourite show announces and everyone says things about how they knew, how they saw it coming, or worse, the dreaded “finally”. Unless a show is actively hurting or targeting someone or a community, please let the fans of the show mourn. We’re all theatre nerds here – we all connect to these shows and breathe life into them and they breathe life back.
I make a lot of these threads- it’s a huge part of why people follow me (and why I get validation). The numbers keep us prepared. But they’re stone-cold numbers. It doesn’t mean which shows can impact us the most. Measure the success of a show on how many hearts it mends rather than its capacity and gross.
Shows close so new shows can open. Shows close because they don’t sell tickets. Shows close because they can’t afford to stay open. No matter what answer I give for ‘Why do shows close?’, they still close, and they still hurt.
That’s show business.