The Business of Broadway

Alicia Keys, Kenny Leon, Lydia Diamond and others represent the new look of Broadway

“I think one of the reasons we broke so many records is that we have such diverse offerings on Broadway,” says the Broadway League’s Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin. “There used to be three kinds of shows: musical, comedy, and serious play. Now, there’s something for every audience. The number of black productions has grown and continues to grow. This season is a strong reflection of that.”

Diversity is also reflected by a growing number of productions in recent years that aren’t traditionally black shows but cast black actors and draw black audiences, such as Race and The Motherf***er With The Hat, starring comedian Chris Rock. Even the 2011 Tony Award-winning The Book of Mormon, about Mormon missionaries in Uganda, features a significant black cast. The Tony Award-winning musical Memphis, about 1950s rock and roll and race relations, has attracted large diverse audiences.

“Any producer, general manager, or theater owner I talk to is in favor of more diversity in general, including diverse stories and audiences,” says Sharon Jensen, executive director of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, an organization that promotes diversity and inclusion in American theater, film, and television. “Things are changing, though nobody thinks we’re where we ultimately need to be. Do we need more producers who are diverse?” “Absolutely.”

Overall, about 76% of Broadway theatergoers are white, while the remaining 24% are people of color. Broadway attendance among black audiences increased between 1999 at 2.4% and 2007 at 6.7%, the highest to date with a season lineup that included The Color Purple. The percentage of black theatergoers dropped by the end of 2009, representing 2.4% of 12.2 million ticket buyers, as did overall attendance affected by the recession.

Byrd believes there is a Broadway audience out there between Tyler Perry and August Wilson that has not been addressed. Donna Walker-Kuhne, president of Walker International Communications Group, says, “People want to see shows that reflect their interests or culture. It also depends on how they’re being engaged and marketed to.” Her organization specializes in strategic marketing and audience development, and Stick Fly is one of her clients.

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