Somethings Are Down, But Overall Broadway Is Looking Up

Broadway Producer Ken Davenport posted last week about The Broadway League’s attendance report for the 2022-2023 season.  The 2022-2023 season was the first period in which a full season of shows was able to run so being able to compare it against the 2018-2019 benchmark season is valuable. Overall, the numbers are pretty good. Compared with the record breaking 2018-2019 season, however, things are still down.

There were  12.3 million admissions in 2022-2023 compared with 14.8 million in 2018-2019. Attendance by NYC audiences is up percentage-wise, but there is a corresponding decrease in attendance by people living in the surrounding suburbs. Similarly, international attendance is down, though attendance by Canadian and European visitors was up.

On the positive side, the average age of attendees dropped to 40.4 years, the lowest it has been in about twenty years. Though the report acknowledges that this is partially attributable to the fact that attendance by those 65+ dropped significantly.

One area where things are up without a drop in a corresponding demographic was audience diversity. Broadway League President Charlotte Martin attributed that to outreach efforts, but largely to the increase in productions written/created and performed by casts that were diverse in terms of race and gender identity. Essentially, people are seeing themselves and their stories on stage.

One stat of interest to readers may be that the ticket purchase window has decreased from 47 days in 2018-2019 to 34 days. While this may be a concern to many theater operators who bite their nails as performance dates approach and tickets haven’t sold to the level of expectation, Davenport says this situation is great for those who use variable pricing because it means per ticket revenue will be higher due to people waiting (my emphasis):

Not good, but not surprising.  After every major “event” – from 9/11 to the 2008 financial crisis – the buying window shortens.  People don’t want to take the risk, because they wonder if it’ll happen.  Also, just about every show has tickets (especially since variable pricing was incorporated – shows don’t WANT to sell out too far in advance anymore for fear of leaving money on the table!)  What we need is a megahit and everyone’s windows will lengthen again.

Music Preference And Morals – Do Evil Geniuses Really Love Classical Music?

When I saw a link on to a research study on PLOS One exploring the link between music and morality, I was half expecting to discover that evil people do prefer classical music, bolstering the stereotype of movie villains who apparently love playing that music to accompany their nefarious scheming.

Alas, the researchers didn’t specifically address that highly relevant question. I did learn that there has been a lot more research into the connections between music preference and personality types than I imagined. The literature/previous research review at the start of the research findings discuss those findings if that sounds interesting.

Rather than plotting on a good/evil axis which would require judgment calls, the researchers categorized different ends of the moral spectrum as:

Individualising (Care and Fairness), indicative of a more liberal perspective, and Binding (Purity, Authority and Loyalty), indicative of a more conservative outlook.”

Looking at everything from lyrics, timbre, and audio elements. In the results section of the study they note the following correlations:

From the perspective of the lyrics’ linguistic cues, we saw that people who value more foundations related to Care and Fairness (Individualising values) prefer artists whose songs’ textual content is about care and joy. Those concerned more about Loyalty, Authority and Purity (Binding or ingroup) foundations tend to choose artists whose songs’ lyrics talk about fairness, sanctity, and love.

Also, individuals with strong ingroup values tend to prefer artists whose lyrics have positive sentiments and talk about dominance. This is intelligible as individuals who value Binding and their social groups tend to engage in group activities such as sports, religious events, and political gatherings, which often make use of music to promote messages of power, unity, and victory (e.g. sports chants, church choirs, etc.). On the other hand, participants with high Binding scores tend to dislike songs with negative valence, violent narratives and songs that resonate with sadness, fear, and disgust.

From an audio perspective, we saw that participants with Binding values preferred more artists whose songs are danceable, loud and with more positive sounds. In contrast, participants with Individualising values chose more artists whose songs are smooth, acoustic and have less dynamic sounds

In terms of timbre, people oriented to Care and Fairness preferred smoother to louder. Binding oriented people preferred the loud, but only conventional rhythmic songs. Binding oriented individuals disliked loud, distorted, rebellious songs that aligned with timbres common in “hard rock, metal indie, pop, and electronic music.”

Like me, you may be wondering where people who enjoy loud, hard music with lyrics about struggle or darker themes. Reading through the study, it wasn’t really clear to me what sort of moral alignment those folks might have. I will confess that I didn’t quite understand some of the technical references to to things like BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) and what fell into those classifications.

One thing that amused me was the lengthy discussion of how preferred lyrics reflected moral value. As we all know, a lot of times people aren’t paying close attention to the lyrics and if they are, they may be getting some of them hilariously wrong. It may be that on the whole, lyrics and morals do track closely, but there have been a number of instances in the last few years where people loudly proclaim that an artist has betrayed the moral values they when they were popular 10-20 years ago and the general public cackles, “Were you paying attention to the lyrics?”

There is specific mention in the article about the choice of music at political rallies in the U.S. and how that often aligns with the general moral outlook of each group.

Wait, NZ Arts & Culture Sector GDP Grew At Nearly Twice The Rate Of The Whole Economy?

A couple weeks ago, New Zealand’s Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH) proudly announced that the GDP growth for the Arts and Creativity Sector was nearly double that of the economy as a whole for a 12 month period ending March 2022.  “The GDP of $14.9b is a 12-month increase of 10% – compared to total economy GDP growth of 5.3%.”

Some of the highlights from the report:

  • There are more than 115,000 people whose primary employment is in the arts and creativity – that’s a 3.8% increase from March 2021 to March 2022.
  • There are almost 36,000 businesses in the sector
  • Over 10,000 Māori hold primary employment in the Arts and Creative Sector
  • The Māori arts and creative sector contributed more than $1.3 billion to GDP in Aotearoa

As I wrote back in 2017, Maori intellectual property rights has been a point of tension, because as has been the case with many indigenous cultures, there have been differences of understanding both in the wording of treaties and with the concepts of property ownerships.

I am not sure how the ministry categorizes what falls under art and what falls under creativity, but the arts alone account for a much smaller slice of that GDP number (.8%) according to the article summarizing the report. However, that part of the sector is still seeing pretty good growth with employment at 2.8% compared with the 3% for the country as a whole. While arts workers are far more likely to be self-employed than people in other parts of the economy, it is apparently a growth area.

I was pleased to read that most New Zealanders working in the arts sector were considered to be performing highly skilled work, especially in comparison with the rest of the occupations in the country.

In news that will come as no surprise to many, the Arts Sector has 11,641 self-employed workers – accounting for 42% of the sector’s workforce and more than double the total NZ self-employment rate (16.2%).

Interestingly, that rate has increased by 8.1% over the past 15 years compared to the overall self-employment rate in New Zealand which has decreased by 0.9%.

80.7% of the Arts sector workforce are employed in what is described as highly-skilled occupations. This is higher than for all occupations in New Zealand (38.4%).

That number doesn’t look set to drop – Infometrics estimates that between 2023-2028, there will be 10,091 total job openings in the Arts sector (30.3% expected to be new job growth) with three-quarters of those positions likely to be highly-skilled jobs.

Isn’t It Better To Be Damned If You Do Try

Chad Bauman, Executive Director at Milwaukee Rep made a post on LinkedIn today where he acknowledged that making a change in a business model can threaten the existence of an organization, but that changing times and expectations often leave you no choice.  While he is talking about the current challenges performing arts organizations face, he cites a series of decisions Milwaukee Rep faced in its early years that nearly saw the end of the theater.

Milwaukee Rep had a similar crisis nearly a decade after its founding. In its earliest years, it built a large audience based on the star system bringing big stars to Milwaukee to perform. In 1961, the star system was abruptly ended and a resident acting company was founded. In less than a year, the theater lost 60,000 patrons, or two-thirds of its audience. It took seven years for the theater to rebuild its audience and it nearly went bankrupt on multiple occasions. The decision was a correct one as the theater would eventually grow to more than 150,000 patrons, but it almost collapsed along the way.

The star system was common practice in theater in the late 19th century that waned rather than something Milwaukee Rep specifically was doing and decided to end. While the star system is most frequently associated with film studios, they adopted it from theater which apparently borrowed the concept from P.T. Barnum.

I have seen stories similar to this in which arts organizations made decisions 10-15 years ago to make changes in their business models or change their programming mix to include segments of their community which were underrepresented in their audience and casting. They too came to the brink of closing.

There is obviously a bit of survivorship bias to some of these cases. Those that didn’t succeed in the shift weren’t around to talk about it later. With all the closures, downgrading, layoffs, etc that arts organizations are undergoing, we are hearing of many more stories of arts organizations who are having difficulty continuing their existence than we did 10-15 years ago. Some of them were in the middle of trying to effect change, others were trying to stick with what worked in the past so there is no clear indication about which approach may be better in these times.

Some that haven’t closed completely may reorganize and continue on as Milwaukee Rep did. I am sure no one wants to be faced with the prospect of it taking seven years and several brushes with bankruptcy to make a successful transition.   From one perspective though, it might be better to fail while trying to do better for your community rather than attempting to preserve the status quo for as long as possible.