By Barbara & Scott Siegel
We conclude our 3-Part Series on The 2017-2018 Season with The All Important Theater Companies!
If we were to subtract the productions by New York City’s theater companies — those scores of subscription-based entities from The Roundabout to Lincoln Center and from Manhattan Theater Club to Playwrights Horizons — from the overall output of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, the shows that would be left would be paltry, indeed. And not just in number, but in quality. If the full theater season might be considered a feast, then taking the subscription theater companies out of the mix leaves nothing more than a handful of bones with a few bites of meat on them (oftentimes they are transfers from England).
Consider that many of the best-reviewed and most popular shows, both on and Off Broadway, are products of these subscription-based theater companies. This year’s likely Tony Award winner for Best Musical, The Band’s Visit, arrived on Broadway this season after transferring from Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company. Meanwhile, a strong contender for Best Musical Revival, My Fair Lady, is a product of Lincoln Center Theater. And speaking of Lincoln Center, one of this season’s most provocative, and oft-nominated Off-Broadway shows, Admissions, was at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, which is, off course, part of the Lincoln Center Theater subscription base.
The fact is, independent producing is creating a smaller, and smaller part of what we see on Broadway and Off-Broadway every year. Consider that in addition to Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Club, The Roundabout, and Second Stage all have their ownBroadway outlets (some of them more than one!!). With a built-in audience, sweetheart deals with various unions that allow them to pay less than what independent producers pay for the same services, including the pay scale for actors, they can afford to offer limited runs — and thereby attract celebrity talent — and still turn a profit.
We’re not complaining. Without these theater companies, the theater as we know it in New York, would cease to exist. They form not only the skeleton of our theatrical body, but its heart, pumping the blood of innovation, talent, and creativity throughout our always very theatrically nervous system. Who benefits? The limbs; those independent producers who put on shows that are often incubated by subscription theater companies. And certainly all of us — the audience — who have the opportunity to see an incredibly wide range of theater.
The 2017-2018 theater season was anchored by the work of these theater companies, many of them producing anywhere fro three to five productions throughout the season — some of them, like The Public Theater — even more than that. Skipping over the fact that in recent seasons, The Public was the launching pad for Hamilton and Fun Home, this season the House that Joe Papp built has given us a wealth of critically acclaimed, hit plays, including Miss You Like Hell and Mlima’s Tale.
If we are to truly judge the quality of this past season, then where we really have to look is at these robust, adventurous, companies, many of which have been the mainstays of the our theater community for decades — and they continue to thrive. In addition to the previously mentioned powerhouse producing theater companies, we’re also talking about companies like The Mint, Classic Stage Company, Transport Group, Red Bull, The Keen Company, Here, Ars Nova, Manhattan Class Company, Pan Asian Rep, TFANA, and many others. They have, collectively, given us the the richest part of this theater season.