If you work in the business of theatre, arts and culture, there is so much to be proud of. We facilitate experiences and stories that bring people together and make the world a better place. I believe this, and it’s what makes working in this business so satisfying. On one hand, I’d like that to be enough in terms of a legacy. It would be an easier path. But the thing that keeps me up at night is that in a few short weeks another year will be in the books where over 2 million seats have gone empty in Broadway theaters in 2019…again. This pattern of 2 million empty seats has been an annual fact since I stumbled into this amazing business.
Imagine the potential impact these 2 million empty seats represent…
For example, there are 1.25 million public school students in NYC. They’re a fundamental part of the fabric of our city — not to mention our future leaders and workforce. And approximately 74% of them qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches which is considered a common poverty marker. (Yes, you heard that right, 74%!!!) This means that a typical Broadway show experience is likely out of reach for 3 out of every 4 NYC public school students.
Theatre has the ability to have a profound impact on people’s lives. Again, it’s why most of us are in this business. But by no fault of their own — other than the zip code they were born into — these kids will likely never experience this impact. And, when you really think through it, this doesn’t have to be their reality. Consider:
- Broadway needs to fill seats at the same times of year (Jan/Feb, Sept/Oct) that schools want to send their kids to cultural experiences. “Supply, meet Demand.” A conversation is long overdue.
- Lead time in distributing tickets to large groups is an essential ingredient to success.Technology is enabling our ability to better identify empty seats further in advance and with greater sophistication.
- There are amazing programs in place like TDF, Broadway Bridges, among many others, who are ready, willing, and able to “matchmake” subsidized tickets with the right people — and protect this good deed from brokers.
So, what’s the missing piece? What’s the thing we can all do to make a difference today? One word: More.
If you’re a parent, reach out to your local school to see what conversations may already be happening but might need a nudge.
If you work in the Broadway industry, reach out to a producer to find out what ideas they may have.
If you don’t fit into any of these buckets, use your civic powers and email a local politician to see what efforts they may be considering to help connect students with the arts.
And as always, support with your wallet. Donate to a non-profit like Situation Project or one of the many others who do amazing work.
Caring is something… but now do “more.”
I’m not ashamed to say that growing up, like many, we struggled financially. Arts and cultural experiences were not a part of my life nor were they a fundamental part of my public education experience that I can remember. “The arts” felt distant and irrelevant. As an adult, I now know that kids who grow up with arts and culture in their lives perform better in every possible academic metric. Its absence is one of many key drivers of the achievement gap in this country. And, on the flip side, its presence in kids’ lives is one of only a few known drivers of closing that gap.
I get fiery on this topic because I think of all of the students who are paying the cost of our lack of urgency. I feel like I owe it to my ten-year-old self and to the 1+ million kids in the NYC public school system today to advocate for all students lacking this access.
Situation Project subsidizes tickets for NYC public school students to see Broadway shows and, just as importantly, warmly invites these students into the arts and cultural community to show them that not only are they welcome here — but that they belong here.
We are crossing 20,000 experiences as a non-profit. And though I’m deeply proud of this milestone, it’s just the start. We have plenty more to give. I hope you will join us. We have a lot of work to do, and life is short. Let’s do something amazing together.
PS. If you are looking for some inspiration to move your passion to action, take a look at the video below from our recent trip to THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL. Sometimes seeing the impact is far greater than any words alone can express.