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Ballet vs. Broadway profit

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The Wang statement said ''Boston Ballet has been, and continues to be, a valued resident company in our theatre, as we hope and expect them to be for many years into the future.''

Article on Wang Center shutting out Boston Ballet's Nutcracker next year

This is a dangerous trend. It's what killed Hartford Ballet. American ballet companies need their Nutcrackers in order to survive. Ballet Chicago could never make a go of it in the '90s because of the Chicago Tribune's Nutcracker (they used to just shut down during Nutcracker season, considering that the was the best thing they could do for their dancers, to allow them to get work in other Nutcrackers)... Joffree-Chicago must be delighted that the Tribune is no longer producing it's own Nut. Although I was sorry to Ruth Page's production cease to exist, I was glad that there was now room for another company to make some money... (The Tribune took the profits and put them into literacy charities rather than into funding dance companies) I'd like to know how exactly the Wang expects Boston Ballet to survive without a reasonable theater for their Nut.

Could someone enlighten me.... Aren't Broadway road tours "for-profit" endeavors? How do non-profit performing arts centers justify to themselves that it's ethical for them to present for-profit productions? Isn't this taking donations to subsidize profit for someone else?

(Does this topic belong in Issues or Arts Management?)


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I think that the Wang has always, at least in recent times, presented a mix of non-profit and for-profit productions. You could even imagine that the profits made from the touring Broadway shows were used to subsidize the non-profit productions. That might even be considered a good thing.... what is not a good thing is throwing out a non-profit organization that has had a long standing relationship, and on relatively short notice too. Maybe if the Wang only had for-profit shows it would lose its non-profit status. I don't know enough how that works.

Boston Ballet did reduce the number of performances this year with its compressed three week schedule instead of disbursed two week runs, but I thought that was supposed to be good for the Wang because it gave the Wang larger blocks of time for booking the Broadway shows. I don't think anyone anticipated getting the Nutcracker kicked out.

The good news is that there is a lot of community support for Boston Ballet finding a good home for its Nutcracker next year and after. It isn't only about the $$ for Boston Ballet, though that is important of course. It is also the community involvement in the production - the many children who perform, and the many children who attend. There is a lot of community outreach with Nutcracker - special performances for school children, subsidized tickets for under privileged children who wouldn't attend a ballet otherwise, special events for handicapped children, etc.

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Seems to me that I've heard that the Wang is not a very nice space to watch dance in. I can't remember why, whether it was a cavern or what... but if this move meant that Boston Ballet ended up performing in a better space, perhaps it's a good thing. However, is there actually another space in which it can present it's Nutcracker? Or does it have to re-think it's entire production and interaction with the audience? Can it's current production sets & choreography fit in another Boston theater? Or will it have to wait (can it?) until such a theater is built?

What's the buzz? Here's a link to the discussion on this site's Boston Ballet forum

No Wang for 2004 Nut

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I just heard about this today and have been reading along in the Globe -- it does sound like there's community support for the ballet's production, but the description of the other available theaters was not too cheerful -- if I understand this correctly, the Wang seats at least 500 more than the other options listed, and with a ballet as expensive as Nut those 500 seats/performance can make the difference between a financially viable run or not.

Does anyone know how long Radio City has been running a touring company of their holiday show? We're getting them here (Seattle) this year and I'm curious to see how they'll do -- the run opens in mid-November and goes for a couple weeks, but doesn't really overlap much of the local Nutcrackers.

Has anyone read "Nutcracker Nation" yet (it's on the pile to read, but I haven't yet) -- I understand that Jennifer Fisher talks about the economics of holiday productions in it.

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Just to keep this somewhat handy... here are some of the news links

Boston Globe Editorial

The Wang board ought to reconsider its decision, but if it will not, a new home must be found. This is difficult because alternative theaters lack the capacity of the 3,300-seat Wang, and without the revenue from large "Nutcracker" audiences, the Boston Ballet would be hard put to finance its other productions.


Two possibilities are the Hynes Convention Center or the larger center that will open in South Boston next year. Ballet executives will be taking a look at both next week. The Hynes is preferable, if only because it is centrally located and hosted "The Nutcracker" in 1982 when the Wang was renovated. The Hynes has been extensively remodeled since then, and Bridget Perry, spokeswoman for the Convention Center Authority, estimated that it could hold 2,200 people for the ballet.

Boston Globe: Hynes center is eyed as 'Nutcracker' home

It won't be easy, he said. "The Nutcracker" is an elaborate production and, to stage it at the Hynes, the ballet would have to build stages and create seating. Rooney said the Hynes could accommodate about 2,300 seats once a stage is built.


Jose Mateo -- whose Ballet Theatre has been performing "The Nutcracker" in Cambridge since 2000, when the managers of the Emerson Majestic sent the production packing after deciding to present something more profitable -- said the Boston Ballet appears also to be a victim of the bottom line. "The reasons appear to be clear, and they're strictly financial," Mateo said.
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Doesn't Radio City have a huge stage? So, wouldn't these touring Holiday Spectaculars be considerably scaled down? Does all the livestock tour as well? I was surprised to see Radio City referred to as a "former former Manhattan movie and stage palace". Doesn't it exist anymore? Do they not show movies there any more? My memory isn't great, but I thought seeing a movie was part of the show... I admit it's been a few decades since I've been...

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Doesn't Radio City have a huge stage? ... Does all the livestock tour as well?  ... I admit it's been a few decades since I've been...

Several decades for me too!

My understanding from the local presenter is that the livestock does indeed tour. The theater they're booked into here is not huge (the Bolshoi's Romeo and Juliet almost flew off the stage a a couple times), and I'm not sure what kind of accomodations they're making for that.

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Interestingly enough, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is NOT touring Chicago this year, for the first time in maybe five or six years. It used to be housed at the Rosemont Theater, a suburban venue that was home to the Joffrey Nutcracker before Joffrey was able to move downtown to the lovely, authentic-to-the-period Auditorium Theatre.

I think I understand now why there was a press release a few months back when the Auditorium and the Joffrey signed a multi-year contract. At the time, I thought "so what? They've been performing there for several years." Now I understand how fragile those relationships can be.

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Radio City is no longer a movie palace, although the occasional (rare) film is presented there. It is predominantly a concert venue for acts that need more space than a Broadway theater but less than, say, a stadium.

The MTV awards are televised from there, as, lately, are the Tonys.

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Radio City Music Hall in NYC is definitely live and kicking as a live venue. They advertise a variety of shows at their building throughout the year.

But that has little to do with the touring production --- which is more of a brand name. I do not know how many touring or satellite companies there are --- probably as many as they feel they can do. I know someone who danced for them for their Detroit company a few years ago.

Apparently they pay dancers very well, even better than Boston Ballet. One has to think about it. Their tickets probably aren't any more expensive than those to Boston Ballet's Nutcracker and they don't have donors (they're for-profit). So what are they doing right that they can pay their dancers so well, pay the Wang Center so well, and still end up with a profit? Makes one wonder...

Construction of new venues is VERY expensive. If BB cannot pay for the Wang Center, I cannot imagine it could put up funds for a new venue either. I suppose the hope is that maybe someone else (taxpayers?) will pay. In any case, the construction of additional holiday live entertainment assumes an expansion of the holiday entertainment market at $90/ticket. How many families of five are likely to watch Radio City AND Boston Ballet? Simply the presence of Radio City in town will probably eat into Nutcracker ticket sales.

I expect that the Wang Center has been operating just like any other business --- the price it tries to negotiate probably depends on the demand for theater space at that time of year. It would certainly be willing to provide non-profit organizations space at a lowe rate --- as long as that space is provided during lower-demand times of the year. Of course, the Holidays are peak theater season. It is no surprise the theater would want top dollar during those times.

I would not expect the Wang's non-profit status to depend on the non-profit status of its tenants. It should also be clear that the City of Boston did not send the Nutcracker packing --- the Wang Center did. That is their right. We may love ballet, but we cannot force that on others.

As for Mateo's experience with the Nutcracker at the Emerson --- actually, the show was sent packing because the Emerson underwent renovations and simply COULD NOT house the show in 2001 and 2002. Mateo's Nutcracker therefore moved "temporarily" to the company's new space in Cambridge. It involved a LOT of changes. But after two years in the new space, organizational will to move back to the Emerson waned. It will go up in Cambridge now for the third time in a row.

Why? Most fundamentally, it's probably because the "new" downsized Nutcracker was at least as good for the bottom line as the "old big" Nutcracker, even though there are only 25% as many seats to sell and actual ticket sales are down 66%. The Emerson costs a LOT of $$ to rent as do all the downtown theaters --- not to mention the logistical hassles involved. The new theater also has a bigger stage, more room to control and organize 100's of kids backstage, and is easier on everyone's nevers. Marketing is also easier --- it is VERY easy to fill the smaller number of seats that ARE available. Makes one wonder why we pay so much for the downtown theaters...

For this reason, I do not see the situation as hopeless. Will things change? Yes. Will the "new" Nutcracker be smaller, both in budget (scenery) and audience? Almost certainly. Will it destroy the organization? Probably not. There is a lot of potential. But to see that potential realized, people will need to engage in some creative problem solving and be willing to make some changes. Based on the above quotes, it seems that is exactly what Boston Ballet's executives are doing at this point.

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If there can't be tangents, what fun would conversation be?

Thanks for the Radio City history link.

Their founder and trainer, Russell Market sold the copyright to their name for one million dollars when the Music Hall went on strike.

I had no idea... always assumed the Rockefellers owned the name!

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One more link, (to keep these all in one place)...

Boston Globe: The New York Grinch Who Stole Christmas

"The first year, they just ding you," says Sherry New, executive director of Ballet Arizona, referring to the Radio City show that opened in Phoenix in 2002. "The second year, I hear, they can devastate you." After the Rockettes arrived, ticket sales for Ballet Arizona's "Nutcracker" plummeted 40 percent, New said. She's not alone. In Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and a host of other cities, the Rockettes have become a central player in the holiday season faceoff between local arts productions and deep-pocketed national touring companies.

I don't suppose it will make the newspapers, but I'm curious what the final toll will be.

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And another article, about the Rockettes impact on Denver's Colorado Ballet

Rockettes get a leg up on Ballet, CEO Fredmann fuming over DCA decision

"I know that with so much commercialism and so much greed out there, it's each man for himself," Fredmann said. "But (Weeks) has to take some responsibility, because while the Denver Center is considered a nonprofit, they have a huge for-profit wing within their nonprofit status, which as far as I am concerned is illegal anyway.
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