The Playgoer: Movin' on Down?

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Movin' on Down?

Avenue Q next month becomes the first ever show to transfer from Broadway to Off Broadway.

Or, to be more precise, from Off Broadway to Broadway and back again--having started life at the nonprofit Vineyard Theatre downtown (in a co-production with The New Group.)

As you may recall, earlier this summer the show had posted a September 13 closing notice, after a very successful 6-year run. Well, close it did last night--but then:

At the final B'way performance of the long-running tuner, producer Kevin McCollum took the stage after the curtain call and announced that the show would transfer to New World Stages, where it would begin performances Oct. 9.

"It's a smaller theater, so the tickets will be $1000 each," McCollum quipped.

Joking aside, Kevin, it seems you will indeed be offering your new "Off Broadway" show at Rialto prices: $66.50 to $86.50! Which is probably more than anyone really paid for the show on Broadway after the 3rd or 4th year of the run...

New World Stages is one of our Off Broadway "multiplexes." But unlike Theatre Row and 59E59 (who both serve the nonprofit community) New World caters to commercial producers with "sit-down," sometimes open-ended, productions. Avenue Q will play in its flagship 499-seat venue.

And in case you don't immediately spot the significance of that 499 number, it is one seat short of the magical dividing line between Off Broadway and "On"...

So this will be a very interesting experiment in producing, to see if Off Broadway is once again commercially viable--after a decade that has seen many smaller venues shutter as well as production & marketing costs rise while income potential fell. The conventional wisdom in producing lately has been that since it costs almost as much to open on Broadway than "Off" these days, why not reap the potential of 1000 seats at $75-$100 rather than 300 seats at $50-$75. Especially when you consider that New York Times advertising rates don't charge any less for Off Broadway product and a Broadway opening already comes with so much free publicity (much of it from, ahem, the New York Times.)

Avenue Q is uniquely positioned to make this work, though, since it already has name recognition and therefore can keep the marketing budget low.

My big question, though, is about casting, about which the announcements say nothing so far. There is a little known clause in Actors Equity contracts that if a production "moves" to a smaller venue, actors must still be paid their original salaries. Broadway AEA salary-minimums are indeed higher than those Off-Broadway. So any of the actors who performed in the Broadway run (and I believe at any time in that run) are legally entitled to that same salary if the show transfers whole to New World Stages.

Note this would not be true in the case of a "revival", in other words a whole new production built from scratch. But if the "new" Avenue Q is judged by AEA to be the same production merely "transferred" then the rule should apply.

Of course, if the Q producers simply hire an all new cast...then I assume they can hire them at Off Broadway rates.

Let's see what they do.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://nytimes.com/2009/09/15/theater/15avenue.html?8dpc

Discusses the salary drop from 1600 to 1100 (minimum) per week and other financial benefits to the move.

Sallie Weaver said...

AEA allowed the show to close the B'way show under B'way contract and open an Off-broadway show under an Off-broadway contract within 6 weeks instead of longer as required by the Production Contract.

The current performers have to be offered a contract (under the Off-B'way contract) or be bought out.

A. Scott said...

I'm really late to the table, but $66.50 - $86.50 are extremely reasonable prices for a commercial off-Broadway musical these days.

I was actually surprised the prices were going so low.