“Theater is a business and we do it to make money, and I’m a producer and I have to make a living, and we have a director who needs to make a living, and we have actors who act to make a living.”

August 7th, 2011

Funny, I always thought actors did it for the art. It seems that the show Rent is coming back as an off-broadway show only 3 years after it closed on Broadway. According to the Times, the motivation to bring it back so soon “were profit and their own sentimentality.” Amen. Rational self-interest hits the great White Way. Didn’t George M. Cohan write a song about this?

“There’s integrity in that,” Mr. Seller continued. “We’re providing something of use to society, not just employment but a piece of art that I’ve heard over and over people say they wish they could see again in New York or take their kids to see.”

So why did the previous production end? Well, the same reason the new one will start–money (really, the reason for almost all decisions).

The producers ended the Broadway run in 2008 when weekly operating costs — about $350,000 — were exceeding weekly revenues, Mr. Seller said. The show had been profitable for years, but Mr. Seller said that the producers neither wanted to eat into those profits to keep the show going nor to subject the cast to the depressing experience of performing in half-empty theaters.

Fittingly, perhaps, given the show’s title, the sharpest difference between the latest Off Broadway production and the one on Broadway is money. The new Off Broadway production cost $1.5 million to mount compared with $3.5 million for the Broadway production in 1996. The weekly running costs of “Rent” in its current 499-seat theater at New World Stages are $115,000, or about one-third of the nut on Broadway. The potential gross, meanwhile, is in the mid-$200,000 range each week (depending on ticket pricing). “Rent” has been earning weekly profits since preview performances began in July and has $400,000 in advance ticket sales, Mr. Seller said.

Why 499 seats? It is the upper-limit for an Off-Broadway show. Once you go north of 500 seats, you have to deal with various union and other related issued which can’t possibly be cheap. So by cutting the number of people who can see the show–and thereby cutting out unions–the producers will increase their revenues. Going galt, maybe?

I never saw Rent, though I did see Team America: World Police.