What is Broadway?

“The center of the English-speaking theatre universe is a dazzling piece of real estate called Manhattan.”

So says the Theatre Development Fund – America’s largest performing arts non-profit.

Is Manhattan really the centre of the English-speaking theatre universe? By what measure? Tickets sold? Profits made? Standing ovations given?

21 thoughts on “What is Broadway?

  1. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with this statement: theatre in New York, on Broadway, is the theatre that people know about and attend. I’m not going to pass any kind of qualitative judgement on whether that makes it the best, most legitimate theatre in the English-speaking world, but…if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

    Speaking of which, Tony Awards in a couple of weeks! I still have the heart of a fourteen year old at this time of year.

  2. Yeah, there’s a real “sour-grape” tone to this post, Praxis; you need to chill. I’m sure you could concoct some sort of logic allowing you to say Bathurst & Queen (or anywhere in Canada) is the centre of the English-speaking theatre universe, but this would be self-deluding in the extreme.

  3. Well, this is exactly the kind of declarative rhetoric that I would expect from a New York-based organization, I would imagine you would find the same kind of boasting in all the big American theatre cities. More than likely a bunch of small towns in the States with thriving community theatre walk around calling themselves the “center of the theatre universe”. It’s amazing to me that TDF qualified it with “english-speaking”.

    To me, this really spotlights a difference between Canada and the US, they have that entrenched cockiness that lets them walk around saying “we’re the best there is at what we do, you’d be crazy to spend your time and money somewhere else.” The American theatre blog community was built on defending this.

    I never hear that kind of confidence in Canada. I hear a lot of “hey, you know, we’re doing this thing, if you’re not too busy you should come, no big deal if you don’t, but it’s pretty good…” Shit, I do it too. Is this part of being Canadian?

    Maybe we should try saying that we’re the centre of the theatre universe, and you’d be crazy to miss this show, because it’s the only one in town.

  4. Umm. Hi, Simon. You & I obviously posted simultaneously (but I beat you!)

    Yes, you could go around saying Vancouver is the centre of the English-lang theatre universe, but I would advise you to have at least an 80-year canon of great plays to back this claim up.

    Otherwise … duuuh.

  5. First, I agree. The tone of this post is off.

    That said, to argue against Manhattan being the centre of the theatre universe is not the same as saying Queen & Bathurst is.

    There is no centre of the theatre universe. It’s a ego-centric statement, and an example of outdated marketing pimp that puts down the competition to make its product look better.

    Lots of theatre in NYC. I get it. Tell me something new.

  6. Anon…

    Oh, totally, that’s another great point too, like no matter how bad the leafs are on any given year they sell out every game because they have a dynasty worth of banners hanging from the rafters. Claims like TDF’s are pretty subjective, in all likelihood the centre of the English-speaking theatre universe is London. (Again, a fair bit of history to back up such a claim there.)

    I just think it would go a long way towards starting down the road to developing a rich history in your town if we started talking like it’s inevitable.

  7. Would you expect any other sales pitch from the Yanks? If they spoke different, they wouldn’t be Yanks.

  8. Do you really think that NYC theatre looks at other American cities as competition?

    Isn’t it explicit in the positioning? When you say you’re the best in the world, you’re also saying that other people aren’t as good as you.

    It’s a bit like how Walmart works. Even though it’s in an entirely different league as mom and pop retail, it nonetheless positions itself competitively as the better option and pushes the smaller operations into oblivion.

    I prefer the “rich history” positioning because it doesn’t undermine and devalue all the other great work going on in the “theatre universe.”

  9. “When you say you’re the best in the world, you’re also saying that other people aren’t as good as you.”

    Absolutely, but this just reads as solid marketing copy to me, which seems to be its intent. It’s not selling American theatre, or theatre in general, it’s selling the theatre of its community. This is a marketing equation, not a comparative bias. I’m saying NYC is at the centre of the centralization debate because it markets itself extremely well, and a nation has bought into it.

    There’s got to be some lessons in there for us as marketers. We don’t have to really believe that we’re the greatest theatre city in the universe (do all NY theatre artists think they’re superior to all Chicago theatre artists? Probably not), but branding ourselves as such is a step in the right direction.

  10. What jumps out at me reading back over this thread is the real divide between us as artists and us as business-heads (something that you and I talk about quite a bit on our respective blogs, Ian). Of course, as artists, the idea of claiming your stuff as better or more valid than anyone else’s is reprehensible, but what tack do you set to sell it?

    How important is it to you that your artistic sensibilities be reflected in your packaging?

  11. How important is it to you that your artistic sensibilities be reflected in your packaging?

    This is hugely important. With all this talk of what artists need to learn from marketers, it’s worth mentioning that marketers have a lot to learn from artists (as if the two are somehow separable, but, maybe that’s for another day . . . ).

    I guess if I had any point to test here it would be that this “my product is better than your product” positioning is outdated. Provided your product is good (and this is a big provision) you should be able to find plenty of assets to shill without attacking the competition. Attack positioning is the low-hanging fruit. Positive messaging is better – and comes with a host of competitive advantages.

    Manhattan as center of the theatre universe? Where’s the frickin’ humility?

    I’m all over the map here.

  12. “..marketers have a lot to learn from artists”

    Well put. Balance, you’re talking about. I get it, and I guess what I’m saying is that we would do well to start nudging a bit closer down the scale towards American braggadocio in our audience building efforts. Maybe not saying “we’re the best there is” but something more like “we’re as good as anything else out there, let us prove it”.

    Having this tactic work is, of course, conditional on actually being that good once we get them in the doors…

  13. Fuggeddaboudit! The center of the English-speaking theatre universe is a dazzling piece of real estate called Brooklyn.

  14. is there anyone from that island where english speaking peoples developed that has anything to say about this? they had this fantastic playwright who used the theatre to create the english language almost singlehandedly in the first place in a town called LON-DON, (well just outside the city limits, but you know what i mean). i hear they put plays on there too.

    separately – As a canadian who went to theatre school in the states, i respect the american bravado – when it comes to theatre. it makes for good actors, but bad foreign policy.

  15. I think if that Manhattan-centric statement had appeared in Wikipedia or some such place, it would be worth taking issue with. But seeing as it appeared on a NY-based promotional web page, it’s really not worth getting too huffy about.

  16. I wouldn’t get nearly enough theatre if Manhattan was the center of my theatre universe. Plenty of theatre (that’s just as rewarding) is much closer at hand!

    If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

  17. Two quotations from Joseph Campbell:

    Quotation 1: “I like that passage very much in the Black Elk speech in John Neihardt’s book [Black Elk Speaks] where he’s telling about his vision. He says that he found himself on the central mountain of the world. And the central mountain of the world was Harney Peak in South Dsakota. ‘But anywhere,’ he says, ‘is the center of the world.’”

    Quotation 2: “One of the problems in our tradition is that the land – the Holy Land – is somewhere else.”

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