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June 22, 2010

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Eric Weiss

The name "Broadway in Chicago" is tragic? Don't be a drama queen, Penny. The name "Broadway in Chicago" signals that people interested in Broadway shows can see Broadway shows in Chicago; they don't have to go to New York. And like it or not, Broadway still has a mystique that Chicago, for all its international acclaim, can't begin to match. There is also an audience for Chicago theater (nonprofit, serious, more intimate), but tourist marketing is about numbers, and the numbers are there for Broadway shows, not Chicago theater. (And by Broadway shows I specifically mean musicals; the attendance at non-musical theater in America is significantly lower than the audience for musicals.)
So why try to compete? Do what you do as well as you can and get the audience that wants it. And -- here's an idea -- try pressuring the local nonprofit theaters (the big guys, like Goodman and Chicago Shakespeare) to pay Chicago actors a decent wage so they don't have to relocate to NY to make a living.

Eric Weiss

The name "Broadway in Chicago" is tragic? Don't be a drama queen, Penny. The name "Broadway in Chicago" signals to people who want to see Broadway shows that they don't have to go to New York to see those shows, they can see them here. And that's good for the city.
There is ALSO an audience for "Chicago theater" (smaller, more serious, nonprofit theater). But does the audience for Chicago theater come close to matching (in size) the audience for blues clubs and ballgames? I don't think so.
Marketing is about numbers. Like it or not, New York/Broadway (i.e. "Broadway") has a mystique Chicago can't begin to match. And by New York/Broadway I really mean musicals -- the audience for non-musical theater is significantly less than the audience for musicals.
So stop whining, do your work the best you can and reach the people who want what you have to offer. And -- here's a thought -- pressure the Chicago nonprofit theaters to start paying actors a living wage so they don't have to relocate to New York to sustain a career.

Eric Weiss

P.S. Eric Ziegenhagen asks "What is Blue Man Group doing right?" The answer is, they're not doing "Theatre," they're doing ENTERTAINMENT.

Monica Reida

Penny, Broadway in Chicago's name describes exactly what it is: It brings in the tours of plays and musicals to Chicago. Since Fuerza Bruta is currently running in Chicago and being presented by them, it is a bit of a misnomer because Fuerza Bruta is an off-Broadway show. I am dubious that Broadway in Chicago is what the city's theater scene is synonymous with because of the existence of Second City. I know of more people that know of Second City than of Broadway in Chicago. And how many people would know of Steppenwolf, Goodman, Lookingglass or even House Theatre because of the coverage in national publications?

Another problem is that a lot of storefronts probably don't have the money to spend on marketing.

I would also like to point out that some regional theaters are now looking to Chicago when it comes to picking their seasons because what is popular on Broadway might not work for their audience.

It would take a really long time for Chicago to become a "theater destination." I think that something that might need to be worked on is showing people outside of Chicago why people come to the city to create theater because I know a lot of people that don't understand that. They don't know what makes Chicago different.

Penny Penniston

I don't think I expressed myself well re: The Broadway in Chicago point. "Tragic" is too strong and dramatic a word, yes. And it's not my intent to sound like I'm complaining. I actually think Broadway in Chicago is a tremendous asset to the city and the local theater community. My only point is, that from a branding perspective, the name "Broadway in Chicago" advertises Chicago as a great place to see a New York Play. And because Broadway in Chicago is the biggest clearest marketing voice, an unfortunate side effect of their success is that their branding message bleeds into the branding of Chicago Theater in general. Yes, Chicago is a great place to see a New York play. And anyone who is looking for the Broadway experience should definitely go to Broadway in Chicago. I just think that the Chicago Theater community also has other experiences to offer. And we don't have a marketing vehicle to communicate that fact.

Eric, you make the point that "New York/Broadway (i.e. "Broadway") has a mystique Chicago can't begin to match." That is true. But it's partially true because, as John Pinckard mentioned in his post, Broadway spent "gazillions of dollars" supporting that mystique. Those were marketing dollars. In marketing, mystique can be bought. It's freaking expensive, but it can be bought. If we had that same kind of marketing money to spend here, we could create Chicago mystique- a mystique that's unique to us and to our community. It would never rival Broadway and New York. (I don't think it should be our community's goal to rival or imitate Broadway and New York). But it could communicate the depth, breadth and uniqueness of theater in Chicago. And it would encourage even more people to see theater- both local residents and tourists.

And Monica, you are correct. The money for such an organization couldn't come solely from theaters. Frankly, we can't even begin to afford it. (The League of Chicago Theaters does do advertising on behalf of our community, but they don't have the marketing budget to make it truly effective). It would take an alliance of business, theater, and city funds to do it right. However, if it could ever be organized, I think it would be an excellent civic investment. Look at the economic benefits NYC has received as a result of them investing in the branding of Broadway.

On a positive note: even though we don't have a marketing vehicle to communicate the depth and breadth of Chicago theater, we do have other vehicles. The most obvious is press. Whenever a particular production, actor, writer or director provokes passion and excitement among local and national arts journalists, the whole community benefits. And if each member of our community, whenever he/she has one of those successes, can take it upon themselves to mention their Chicago connection in interviews or appearances, that also helps build the Chicago brand.

If we don't have gazillions of marketing dollars, the only way to sustain ourselves is to be really really good at what we do- so good that other people want to talk about our work for us. For free. So the simple solution to our problem is for everyone to be brilliant. All the time. No pressure...

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  • Kris Vire
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