The blockbuster “Hamilton” will gross an eight-figure sum during its six-week Minneapolis run through Oct. 7. But does that come at the expense of local theaters?
Alok Gupta, associate dean of faculty and research at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, says entertainment spending is a zero-sum game, meaning the millions plunked down on the show won’t be spent elsewhere.
Gupta said he expects “the dollar spending on entertainment as a whole to go down a bit in the next few weeks. It is similar to having a movie release against a blockbuster, where the other movies’ collections go down.”
Others are not so sure. Some hope “Hamilton” is attracting first-time theatergoers who will develop a passion for the art form. Others say “Hamilton” is competing with other big-ticket events in the Twin Cities, including concerts and sports, rather than smaller theaters.
“I see ‘Hamilton’ as a special event. I think special events create their own type of energy and I don’t see it as something that takes away from what we’re doing,” said Adam Thurman, Children’s Theatre Company’s director of marketing and communications. “We haven’t seen any impact that we could tie to ‘Hamilton.’ It does draw a lot of mainstream attention and press attention, so you have to work a little harder to get your work seen, but we’re getting our fair share of publicity.”
Thurman said CTC and other theaters practiced dealing with a blockbuster earlier this year, when another entertainment monolith, the Super Bowl, swung into town.
“We were doing ‘The Wiz’ at the time. It turned out to be a fantastic event that sold very well, and we followed it up with ‘Corduroy’ and ‘The Lorax,’ which sold well in that same window,” he said. “I really don’t think people make those kinds of choices: ‘I will see either “Hamilton” or “Last Stop on Market Street.” ’ [CTC’s current production].’ For one thing, ‘Last Stop’s’ average ticket price is 25 bucks, so a family of four could see it for less than one ‘Hamilton’ ticket.”
Actually, you could buy a subscription to the entire CTC season — or to any other theater in town — for less than one “Hamilton” seat, which currently goes for $300 and up.
Expanding the audience?
Mixed Blood Theatre artistic director Jack Reuler recently met with Jim Sheeley, president of the group that manages the Orpheum Theatre, where “Hamilton” is playing, to talk about how enthusiasm for the musical could be translated into local theater attendance.
Competitor or not, he’s a fan. Reuler stood in line for more than five hours when single tickets went on sale.
“ ‘Hamilton’ does more to create first-time theatergoers who are having a fantastic experience than any piece of theater I’ve seen,” said Reuler.
He believes the only enemy of theater is bad theater: “ ‘Hamilton’ is allowing people to look at history through a different lens and to experience what theater can be.”
Promoters won’t release numbers for “Hamilton” here but there is evidence that the show’s popularity drives up ticket prices but does not drive down attendance at other shows.
From 2011 to 2016, total grosses of touring theater shows in the U.S. increased about 2 percent each year, according to the Broadway League. Then in 2017, the year “Hamilton” began touring, grosses leapt 40 percent, from $1 billion to $1.4 billion, but that doesn’t seem to have taken anything away from other shows. In fact, overall attendance, which had been steady at about 14 million a season on the road, jumped to 17 million.
As for Broadway, the results are not as dramatic but there, too, “Hamilton’s” skyrocketing ticket prices have not led theatergoers to purchase fewer tickets. In fact, overall attendance has risen steadily since “Hamilton” opened in 2015. (One additional factor is that Broadway capacity increased in that time because of the addition of a theater, the Hudson.)
‘Once’ is not falling softly
Minneapolis’ Theater Latté Da, which opened the musical “Once” right in the middle of “Hamilton’s” reign, doesn’t “see any slowdown at all,” said Andrew Leshovsky, the theater’s marketing director. In fact, Latté Da added five performances to the run.
“We’re exceeding our goals for both subscriptions and single tickets,” said Leshovsky. “When we think about a big show coming to town like ‘Hamilton,’ it’s competition but not direct competition. It feels more like on the same level as a big concert.”
Leshovsky thinks touring shows such as “Hamilton” bring more awareness to theater, which works in Latté Da’s favor: “In this market, people are saying they saw ‘Once’ on Broadway or when it came here on tour and that made them want to see it again, Theater Latté Da-style.”
Who knows? The current tour — and undoubtedly, future tours — could build an audience for “Hamilton” at Latté Da at some distant future date when the bio-musical becomes available for regional productions. 2033, anyone?
CTC’s Thurman, meanwhile, is thinking about the here and now: moving “Last Stop on Market Street” tickets.
“People tend to buy our tickets not at the last minute but closer to the week of the show, but no one is going to decide just this week to see ‘Hamilton,’ ” said Thurman. “If people do take a look at it and see that it’s sold out forever, though, we are here with ‘Last Stop,’ at an acceptable price point and with incredible music. We had a patron yesterday [at a ‘Last Stop’ preview performance] say this show is even better than ‘Hamilton.’ ”