The Playgoer: Azenberg Speaks

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Azenberg Speaks

Last weekend's NY1 "On Stage" program (local cable TV for you non-New Yorkers) got Brighton Beach producer Manny Azenberg to sit down for what seems like his only post-debacle interview. Unfortunately, it's not archived on their site, but here's a transcript of the highlights.

We got a hint early on. We sold no groups, no theatre parties. There was no interest. And then you assume that the word of mouth will improve it, it didn’t. Then you assume that the reviews will improve it, and the reviews by and large were kind of wonderful—better certainly than what we did originally.
And nothing happened. The numbers were so appalling that…last Friday [October 30], the accountant and the manager came into the office and said, “Manny, you have to close this.”

There used to be an audience that just went to the theatre, and the word of mouth would achieve that audience. You didn’t have to get a good notice in the Times either, because Brighton Beach didn’t get a good notice in the Times originally. That audience doesn’t seem to be there [today]. There probably are many reasons why—some sociological, and some economic, tickets are expensive. I think the audience is still there in the subscription at Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Roundabout. But that’s an audience that has grey hair. I’m not sure we’ve nurtured subsequent generations.

[Asked what he would have done differently]

I wouldn’t have done anything differently because I was educated in the old theatre. This is what you did. I was really proud of what was on that stage. […]

[But] the commercial answer to your question is: you need a star. I think it’s apparent that you can’t do a revival today without a star. If you have to use a star, then everything changes. Then you only run for 3 months, and it affects the other economics as well.
Amidst everything else, that bit about the theatre parties and group sales not coming through is indeed surprising, and makes me wonder what's up with that part of the biz these days.

Also note that Azenberg basically identifies the current subscriber base of the Big 3 nonprofits as the same people who used to make up the middlebrow NYC-area Broadway audience of yore.

And people ask why our big subsidized theatres aren't more adventurous?

On the same program, by the way, actor Josh Grisetti confirms that Broadway Bound (the sequel, in which he was to play the older Eugene) was just about to go into Tech rehearsals. Meaning it had basically been fully rehearsed by the actors.

If the earlier anonymous comment here about the backstage story is true, it would be a shame if the cast and director David Cromer are no longer on good terms, since I was hoping some other theatre (a nonprofit) might be able take up the Broadway Bound at some later date, considering how ready it was. Be nice for all that work not to have gone to waste.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

regarding group sales, the membership organization i work for used to do a broadway benefit. we would buy discounted tix, then resale them for a profit, which we'd keep. but tix are so high now, what we have to charge just to make it worthwhile is too high. that's why we have stopped doing a broadway benefit. sample size of one, but for small groups, I bet this is a common problem.

Azenberg's honesty, however, about his old school mentality is slightly refreshing. at least he isn't blaming audiences or critics out right.