The Siegel Column – Summer Theater
By Barbara & Scott Siegel
The Summer is always a funky time of year for shows to open. Festivals like NYMF and The Fringe tend to get a lot of attention while Off and Off-Off Broadway productions seem to open (and close) with little fanfare. These past few months has been particularly uneventful in terms of quality shows emerging out of the Summer haze. Only two have really been a cut above, The Lion at Manhattan Theater Company’s Stage 2, and Between Riverside and Crazy at the Atlantic Theater Company’s main stage. These are shows without stars, per se, but thanks to across the board rave reviews, they have played to packed houses (The Lion, after extending, closed earlier this Summer and Between Riverside and Crazy is set to close shortly, although there is scuttlebutt about it moving to Broadway).
And speaking of Broadway, it’s surprising that new Broadway shows don’t take better advantage of July and August, opening out in the clear of other shows to get more media attention. The best example of this sort of smart marketing was Hairspray when it opened on August 15, 2002. The musical had the field entirely to itself for months and was a solidly established hit long before the competition started showing up.
You would think that some producers might wisely consider avoiding the April trial-by-fire approach and open earlier to give their shows a chance to breathe and find their audience. Even A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, though it didn’t open in the Summer, was the one show that opened far in advance of its competitors and won the big prize. There might be a lesson there.
In any event, the assumption that everybody leaves the City during the Summer is, of course, preposterous. Only the actors leave for Summer Stock jobs. And they would stay if there were jobs to be had here in New York. But even if the general population takes off for their annual vacations, most are hardly gone for three months. The only thing that really changes would be the prime theater going nights. During the hot months, Monday thru Thursday should become the equally hot tickets while Friday thru Sunday would be cool and quiet. Besides, you’ve got the tourists during the Summer to help fill the breach. For every jaded city theatergoer who heads out to the Hamptons, there is a family of four coming in from Houston (Texas, that is, not SoHo).
By the same token, there are a lot of small theater companies that open their shows in March and April, just when the big juggernaut Broadway shows are opening one right after the other. These small companies often get lost when they struggle to fight for both media and audience attention when full page ads in the New York Times shout the names of movie stars in new musicals or much-beloved revivals. How much smarter to open their smaller shows during the Summer when the competition is less fierce? And they might garner some bigger star names in their casts if major actors don’t want to leave the City. Of course, there is one hang-up in that a lot of the grants for smaller companies aren’t paid out until the Spring but rather than jump to spend the money right away, they might be wiser to wait a couple of months before going into production in order to ultimately bring more attention to their shows.
What is the impetus behind this column? Well, while it’s nice to have a modest break between the end of the season and the Fall onslaught – it would be wonderful if there was BETTER theater during the Summer, even if it were busier.