Saturday, November 21, 2009

A New Sandwich on Broadway

If you've ever been to New York City, and spend any amount of time walking either on Broadway or 8th Avenue, you know what I'm talking about in today's blog. It all started years ago, when Grey Line Tours started having pick up points what seems like every 3 blocks. You know the red double-decker buses? That's Grey Line. You know the groups of five or six guys who block the sidewalk in front of you, trying to shove a brochure in your hands and offering sighting in NYC? If they have on red jackets, that's Grey Line. If all of the above has occurred to you on every OTHER block in Manhattan, switching everything red for blue, you have their competitors, New York City Tours. Perhaps the only distinguishing feature between the two is either the color of the bus or that one company redoes the outside of a whole bus to advertise a certain show. (I don't know what they will do when Shrek closes...).

On my recent trip to the city, I became increasingly aware of something similar that I had only noticed as a minor blip previously. For years, college kids earning a few extra bucks would stand near the TKTS booth and shout out about a certain show, passing out fliers and offering "private discounts." It makes sense. Get the folks out of the really cheap discount line, and get them directly to the box office with promises of a better seat selection, no TKTS fee and a discount still. The fee-less ticket promise would have made me jump ship. Well, those people, along with the obnoxious, "I've got Billy Elliot and Gods of Carnage for today's matinee right here!" (Are those legit tix?) guys, are still hovering around the new and beautiful TKTS booth.

But now, with the pedestrian mall set up in Times Square, there are more of these hawkers spread throughout the area. On this trip, I came across a few types of these folks:
  1. The traditional "sandwich board" hawkers: They have signs hanging off their shoulders front and back, leaving their arms free to wave and distribute show fliers. My favorite of these is the cute girl hawking Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, while wearing Princess Leia tunic and cinnamon bun curl earmuffs. Adorable!

  2. The traditional "pamphlet" distributors: They simply have a handful of fliers and yell out, "Mary Poppins, Live on Stage!" or "See Disney's The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre!" What separates these folks beyond the simplicity is that now that it is colder they wear really cool (as in I'd kill for one) jackets with their show's logo fully embroidered on it. They aren't as nice as the cast jackets you see show people wear, but I'll tell you, I'd buy the Ragtime one, for sure!

  3. "The New Age Sandwich Board-ers": These hip newcomers have both hands free to hold fliers and to make contact with the people because the ad for the show they are hawking is strapped to their back like a combination backpack and wind surfing sail. These folks are brave, really, because none of them seems aware of just how much space they take up. Every time they turn, they threaten to take out everyone within their radius.
  4. The "Mini-Show" People: God Bless, em! A part on Broadway is a part on Broadway, right? Well in this case, I mean literally. I felt a little embarrassed for the Chicago girl dressed in a skimpy black jacket, bow tie and Fosse bowler. She must have been freezing. But to make it worse, she sang, "Come on babe..," struck a Fosse pose, and passed a flyer to anyone who even paused near her. Yikes! But damn, I think more people paid attention to her... And the sweet White Christmas carolers outside the Marquis Theatre where the show is playing. They are dressed just like the people in the pictures of the show and sing a mean "White Christmas." They get the crowd to gather, clap, and then they go in for the kill. I think some folks actually felt cheated that they were doing carols on the street for less than noble reasons. In my "crowd" only three of us took a flyer; five or six people left money in the BCEFA bucket on the sidewalk, while the other 2 dozen or so ran quickly away. Does this really encourage ticket sales? If not, what a shame. The carolers were good.
There are more and more of these people every time I go up there. It makes sense. It is cheap advertising and it creates contact on a personal level between a show and its audience. But I wondered, after getting thrown to the ground by the Superior Donuts guy's sign, when will they become so "normal" to see that we look right past them, like 95% of the people who walk by the Grey Line Tours people? Will the Ragtime people form a coalition with the White Christmas carolers and block our passage until we take a damn flyer? Only time will tell.


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