Kelly Burke is a Journalism student at New York University. She comes all the way from Colorado and raising hell in the big city is what she does best! She loves to laugh, explore and diary her ridiculous experiences in the best city on Earth: the Big Apple.

Local New York Theater Fights Off Economic Disease!
How local theater companies are surviving during the recession
By Kelly Burke

Lately, it seems like no one is immune from this economic disease. Banks, stores, newspapers. Everyone is infected.

At least, that is the impression I got from the nightly news pieces on ways to save money and the continual headlines in the New York Times reporting yet another company filing for bankruptcy. But all this economic strife seemed to disappear on the stage of the Winter Garden Theatre near Times Square when I saw Mamma Mia! a few weeks ago. I expected a pretty large crowd but when I looked down at my ticket and saw the $116.50 price stamp, I figured the theatre would look less like a popular pub and more like a ghost town.

There was not an empty seat in the house. You wouldn’t even know that there was a recession by the looks of that jam-packed theater. Maybe the people there that night haven’t been as affected by the economic recession, or maybe they used that night as an escape from their financial troubles. But whatever it is, it makes you wonder what the theater businesses are doing right in order to keep themselves vaccinated against the virulent strain of economic hardship.

Puppetworks, a marionette theater for children in Brooklyn and New York, experienced similar results. A spokesman for the theater department says “as the economy has worsened, our business has increased notably.” The fact that any business is announcing growth in a period of economic decline is a strange phenomenon by itself, but the Puppetworks source provides a simply and logical solution. “Why take the kids to Lion King at $121.50 per ticket, when they will enjoy Sleeping Beauty just as much with us for $7?”

Bob Wachewski, Treasurer of the Heights Players Theater since 1991, notes a five year decline in ticket sales, reporting a drop from 66.3% in 2004 – 2005 to 55.5% of capacity in 2007 – 2008. Although this particular year, Wachewski saw the four year declining trend reverse to 63.2%.

“It’s impossible to say if the reversal is due to the economy,” Wachewski says. “Over the past 18 years, we have had good years and bad without the presence of an economic collapse. And if I could say exactly what causes a profitable season, I would give up my day job and produce for Broadway.”

Although, Wachewski speculates the poor economy may have something to do with this reversal of a five year decline in numbers. “Given the prices of our tickets compared to Broadway, people may be seeking a more economical alternative, while still getting quality live entertainment.”

While many local theater companies are trying to stay healthy and reporting sale increases, many of those paying for the shows don’t share the same sentiments.

Nadia Vasquez, 21, a junior in the Tisch Theater Department at New York University says she hasn’t been going to shows as much as she used to, blaming the sky-high Broadway ticket prices. She takes advantage of student rush tickets and free shows throughout the city in an effort to save a little cash. Vasquez also is using cheaper, off-Broadway options to her advantage, although she understands why many people are still flooding to Broadway shows. “Things not as mainstream as Broadway are considered not as good, even though it’s those shows that have a meaningful message.”

In an attempt to make up for this notion, local theater companies need to do a better job of advertising their content.

“Off-Broadway and community theatres could better advertise the quality-for-the-money fact and perhaps draw greater audiences,” Wachewski says.

Vasquez blames the small budgets as hurdles for local theater advertisements. “Small companies can’t publicize which is why they have to settle for tiny blurbs in the backs of magazines instead of a huge billboard around Central Park.”

But it’s still undetermined why people still seem to be shelling out the big bucks at a time when people don’t have much money to spare.

Xana McCrea, 20, a sophomore at New York University thinks the glitz and glamour of Broadway in New York is the main appeal. “Fame alone draws huge crowds. And because of this, people are going to sacrifice to go to the theater.”