Looks like second best won't do for the so-called Second Stage any longer. They want to play with the big boys on Broadway.
So, like the Roundabout and Manhattan Theatre Club before them (two somewhat larger institutions) they've bought themselves a Broadway house. The 596-seat Helen Hayes.
For their sake I hope they've carefully studied and learned from MTC's brief but already tumultuous history in the larger Biltmore theatre--which so far has proved inhospitable to new writing (even revivals of modern classics by established authors like Caryl Churchill).
But they're smart at least in nabbing the smallest theatre on the Rialto, the one most conducive to the work they already do. (The Hayes, in fact, just barely breaks the official 500-seat threshold to even count as "Broadway.") I'm actually not surprised the owner (a maverick outside of the Shubert-Nederlander-Jujamcyn syndicates) was willing to sell. With only 596 seats to sell, it's pretty hard these days to make a "profit" anyway--considering you're spending the same Broadway-level expenses on production, marketing, etc. So maybe only an owner with a non-profit risk factor can make a go at it.
What worries me on their behalf, though, is just how quickly and how hugely the little Second Stage is aiming to expand. They're not moving out of their current space (the very nice 2nd-floor Off Broadway 296-seater a few blocks away) and so they plan to fully program that along with the work they present at the uptown McGinn/Cazale space in addition to a full Broadway season. This seems dangerously close to the MTC plan.
The company's Executive Director Ellen Richard--formerly of the, ahem, Roundabout--puts the risks refreshingly bluntly:
“As you get bigger and more successful, the stakes go up, and everybody wants more from you,” said Ellen Richard, Second Stage’s executive director. “The artists want more — bigger shows — it’s harder. If you have a 10 percent loss on a $1 million budget, it’s $100,000. If you have it on a $15 million budget, it’s lot more.” The company’s annual budget, which is expected to double, is currently about $7.5 million.And, as the article reports, the purchase of the Hayes itself will require a $35 million fundraising campaign.
Talk about that corporate-influenced "grow or die" mentality, eh? Something that's received a lot of attention lately, through Mike Daisey's "How Theatre Failed America" as well as some recent articles reporting the "edifice complex" of our more "successful" regional theatres. I believe, in his show, Daisey even characterizes the philosophy as something like, "Nothing proves your success to the world more than building a new building." As opposed to actually producing good work, that is.
Well luckily for Second Stage, I guess, the building has already been built. And it'll be there's for just 35 mil.
Good luck, guys!
PS. The Times article gets one little fact wrong: The Roundabout owns not one, but TWO Broadway houses. Don't forget Studio 54...