As I read all of the sentimental, worry-loaded reports from New York about "Black Sunday," yesterday's closing of nine Broadway shows, with four more scheduled to shutter this month (today's report from Patrick Healy and Dave Itzkoff is a good example), I keep feeling an emotion I can't quite put a name to. It isn't schadenfreude—I'm certainly not joyful about the actors, stage managers and run crews wondering where their next paychecks will come from—but it's something like a cousin twice-removed of it.
Maybe it's easy to say from our non-profit oriented scene, where few plays run longer than six weeks and I'm constantly scrambling to fit in highly-recommended shows before they're gone for good. I know the Great White Commercial Way is big business in New York, and a crucial part of the tourist trade, but there's a voice in the back of my head screaming that this is, in fact, a good thing.
Isn't theater meant to be an ephemeral and transient art form? In a way, this just feels like a market correction. Plays aren't supposed to run for five, ten, 15 years; if Spamalot and Hairspray and Boeing Boeing are shutting down, isn't it possible that it was actually time for them to? Wasn't it just within the last year or two that we were reading stories about there not being enough open Broadway houses for new shows to go into? Isn't this kind of a ray of light for those of us who lamented Broadway turning into a series of stationary theme park rides?
I love Hairspray's composer Marc Shaiman for many reasons, but after reading his stock line about the show's closing after 6 1/2 years (the line he helpfully gave to both Time Out New York and the Times), the one about having to put his healthy dog to sleep because he couldn't afford pet food, I couldn't help thinking that Shaiman wasn't the one buying the Puppy Chow for the last several years; the ticketbuyers were. And if they weren't ponying up, that means the dog is in fact terminally ill.
I don't mean to be glib. I hate that we're entering a difficult time on Broadway—both because I want Broadway workers to have work, and because so many writers lazily equate Broadway's health with the health of theater worldwide—and I do worry about what this economy will mean for Chicago's theater (read Christopher Piatt's essay on that in last week's TOC for more). But if this economic shitstorm could serve as a return to reality on Broadway—things like lower ticket prices, lower capitalizations, recouping in shorter runs, and generally acting more like theater than WallyWorld—then bring on the recession.