November 2, 2015

DOOLITTLE | I Hope I Get It: The Accessibility of Broadway

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At the beginning of the 65th Tony Awards ceremony, Neil Patrick Harris sang “Broadway has never been broader, it’s not just for gays anymore!” and a wave of heterosexuals suddenly flooded Manhattan, from 40th all the way up to 54th.

It was a lovely little song for “those who’ve never seen theatre before,” but who have somehow found themselves spending a Sunday evening watching the most niche awards show on broadcast television, next to the CMAs; A signal of inclusivity to come for one of the most exclusive spheres of the arts. Of course, straight folks never really need to worry about being included in anything, anyway. Broadway has never had an issue with sexual orientation to begin with, save the relative invisibility of lesbian women on and off stage (which warrants a future column at some point). No, the real divide between theatregoers and non-theatregoers has always been one of status and class.

Ask any theatre lover why they don’t see as many shows as they’d like and you’re bound to hear the same answer: It’s damn expensive. As I wrote in a column from last March, “According to the Broadway League, 80 percent of Broadway theatregoers are Caucasian, with an average age of 44 years old and an average household income of $200,000; otherwise known as old, rich white people.” Tickets to some of Broadway’s hottest shows are status symbols as much as, you know, actual tickets. A day-of orchestra seat at Hamilton can run you anywhere from $400 to $1,400 and beyond. When Ben Brantley of the New York Times said, “I am loathe to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets … but Hamilton … might just be about worth it,” he had no way of knowing that a ticket would literally cost more than the average mortgage payment/market price of a child.



While the mere notion of someone spending a month’s rent on a Broadway ticket is enough to make me throw up in my mouth, all is not awful in the theatre world. This past week, the Rockefeller Foundation and the producers of Hamilton announced their plans to make entire matinees available to low-income students in the New York City area. Tickets will be reduced to $70 each, but the Foundation will contribute $60 per student, so students will only need a #Ham4Ham — Alexander Hamilton was the Ten-Dollar Founding Father, after all. These kids have probably never seen a Broadway musical, let alone one that put on by a diverse cast whose modern musical trappings to empower the powerless. Carmen Farina, New York City Chancellor of Schools, hopes that the revolutionary program will “give a message to the arts community that the arts are for everyone.”

The other huge piece of Broadway news this past week was the introduction of BroadwayHD, a new Netflix-esque streaming service for Broadway plays and musicals available for a monthly subscription fee. The website currently has a meager collection — mostly Shakespeare and a few musicals, like Memphis and Jekyll & Hyde, to start — but promises to grow as more producers commit to bringing the art to your laptop. In the past, one of the only ways to view recordings of old shows was to go to the New York Public Library Theatre on Film Archive and claim to be doing research of some kind. If you lived in Alaska, you were up the creek if you ever dreamed of seeing a Broadway show, regardless of your income. The exclusivity of these recordings was baffling to begin with. As if video of the original production of Fiddler on the Roof is going to hurt the upcoming revival, or any other currently playing shows, for that matter. If it succeeds, BroadwayHD has the potential to democratize the medium and open it up for new generations of fans around the world. Where’s the downside in that?

Musical theatre has long been called one of the only true American arts, but most Americans have never even had a chance to see a Broadway show. Beauty and art flourish when they are widely available for everyone to admire, not when they are locked away in vaults or behind premium price walls. I believe we are witnessing the rebirth of an art form, from marginalization and inaccessibility to availability and inclusivity, regardless of class. What a time to be alive.

Not just for gays — or rich whites — anymore.

Sean Doolittle is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Pulp FictSean appears alternate Mondays this semester.