- Artistic Success makes it continue to be attractive if not lucrative: Sweeney Todd, Company, La Cage aux Folles (2010), Finian’s Rainbow, A Little Night Music, Spring Awakening. Smaller to medium casts, unit sets and unique staging.
- Small Casts: From 1 person: I Am My Own Wife; 2 people: The Story of My Life, A Steady Rain, RED; 4 people: God of Carnage, Glory Days, [title of show], 6 people: next to normal, less than a dozen: Avenue Q, The 39 Steps, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Xanadu. All but two of these were critically acclaimed and more than half returned their investment.
- Limited Runs with the Stars: Not a new reality show, but still a great source of fast, almost guaranteed profit: Fences, Three Days of Rain, A Steady Rain, A Behanding in Spokane, and many others. Of those 4, three made a significant profit.
- Down-size your theatre: Avenue Q and The 39 Steps continue to thrive going in the opposite direction: from Broadway to Off-Broadway.
- Shorten Your Show: Both The Lion King and Les Miserables shortened the length of their performances. Les Miz did it twice! Towards the end of its original run, the show trimmed several minutes so that it could reduce the cost of paying over time. Somewhere between the original, the continued London run, and the Broadway revival, the time was shortened again slightly, and the cast got a bit smaller, too.
- Have a Short Show to Start With: Xanadu, Glory Days, The Story of My Life, A Steady Rain, Spelling Bee, God of Carnage, RED, Art, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?... all 2 hours or less, no intermission.
- Make Your Actors Do Double-Duty: It was an artistic choice, born out of necessity. John Doyle wanted to do bigger shows in his native England, but the cost of an orchestra was prohibitive. His resolution to the problem? Make the actors play the instruments, too! And so we have had two excellently re-envisioned masterpieces where the orchestrations took their place right up there with the casts of Sweeney Todd and Company.
- Have a Producing Company Whose Mission is to Do It Small No Matter What: 3 words: Menier Chocolate Factory. 3 shows: Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage aux Folles and A Little Night Music. Say what you want about each show individually, but there is no mistaking that their less-is-more approach begs creatives to be just that: creative.
- And one particularly troubling trend-within-a-trend: Smaller Orchestras. While the notion of shows like Sweeney Todd and Company are interesting and artistically sound, I think we can say that these are exceptions to the rule. (As it is, the casts were required to join the musician’s union.) A strike by Broadway musicians in 2003 had the effect of guaranteeing minimum sized orchestras per theatre, which was a definite victory for the union, but also, I think, for the theatre going public. The increased popularity of such computerized machines as the Receptor and others like it which create a virtual orchestra sound good, but they are not even close to the real thing. Current shows like American Idiot and next to normal are more rock oriented and are orchestrated purposely for fewer instruments. But older shows - the current La Cage aux Folles, in my opinion - suffer at the hands of a smaller orchestra. And the recent pink-slipping of 5 violinists at West Side Story have stirred this volatile subject up yet again. Just think how a smaller orchestra would have hurt the recent South Pacific revival.
This is the final blog in my series about the Trends in Theatre: The First Decade of the 21st Century. Click on the tab at the top of the page to see the full list of blogs and links to them.
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