Friday, August 25, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: 1983 vs 2023 - The Good Stuff I

40 Years of Broadway:
1983 vs 2023 - The Good Stuff

Things change. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not so much. It's true in every aspect of life, and it is definitely true of Broadway (the business) and theater (the artform). Lately, I've been thinking a lot about both of those things. Reflecting on four decades of shows and New York experiences, I've been thinking a lot about change. 

I've narrowed it down to a few things that are better in 2023 than they were in 1983. Today, we'll look at two of those:

1983: In 1983, there were three ways to get tickets and they were very limiting. One, was directly from the box office, which meant you had to be in the city or pretty close by to get regular access that way. Living several hundred miles away made that method nearly impossible. Second, there were two or three ticket services via phone - Telecharge, Ticketron and Ticket Master. And even then, you had to keep calling back until the line wasn't busy. When you got through, you'd say "2 orchestra seats for La Cage aux Folles at the Palace Theatre, please." They'd tell you if they had them, but not where they were. You could be on the aisle or center, sure, but you could also be on the extreme sides. You wouldn't know until they arrived in the mail weeks later. Finally, there was mail order, where you write a letter with several possible dates and preferred location, attach a check and pray that it got there and that you'd get tickets back weeks later. (A fourth way was through a broker &/or group sales agent, but I can't speak to that.)

2023: You probably read the above and said to yourself, "that's pretty much how it is now." And it's true in the case of box office ticketing. But, as with most things in our lives, the advent of the Internet was a game-changer. Now, you are the ticket agent with Telecharge, Ticket Master, Seat Geek, etc. The gratification is instant. No waiting for snail mail. Heck, not even actual tickets to wait for!

Back in the day, discount tickets required patience and connections. Sure there was TKTS, but standing in long lines in Times Square wasn't the same then as it is now - not a lot of space between you and the heavy traffic - not a Jersey wall in sight - and the neighborhood wasn't it is now. The other way was to find "two-fers," small tickets that you could exchange at the box office for a discount, though rarely two-for-one as the name implies.

2023: These days, TKTS offers a much smoother, if still time consuming, experience. And TDF is now available to a wider range of patrons. Thanks to RENT and Jonathan Larson, rush tickets and lotteries are available for most shows for tickets for those of us on a more frugal budget. There are also several discount ticket sites and services, like Stub Hub, NYTix, and Today Tix. Many more options now than then, many from the comfort of your own home.

Non-Profits on Broadway
1983: Long before I started attending shows, subsidized and not-for-profit theater existed on Broadway from the WPA and the USO to companies like Lincoln Center Theater and The Public, both of which are still a presence today. But back then they were pretty much the only game in town. Thanks to the Public, Broadway had A Chorus Line and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and not a few plays. Lincoln Center offered a blockbuster revival of Anything Goes, followed by a string of successes with plays, new musicals and amazing revivals. 

Lincoln Center still has the Beaumont, and frequently produces shows at other main stem theaters, and the Public has given us Fun Home and a little show called Hamilton
Today, and in recent decades, other non-profit companies have established a  permanent presence on Broadway. The Manhattan Theater Club has the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, and Roundabout has Studio 54, the American Airlines, and the Sondheim at its disposal. It allows for (most of the time, anyway) more daring productions - new playwrights, atypical subject matter, and even a fair amount of star power.

Both of these things, in my experience are examples of positive growth. In the coming days, I'll share a couple more. And, yes, I'll also share some thoughts on things that were definitely better in 1983 than they are now!

P.S.: Keep following these 40 Years of Broadway articles! There is going to be a contest...

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