Twin Cities theaters say ‘Hamilton’ isn’t swiping fans – it may even add some

September 27, 2018

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 Minnesotas Carlson School of Management, says entertainment spending is a zero-sum game, meaning the millions plunked down on the show wont 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 dont see it as something that takes away from what were doing, said Adam Thurman, Childrens Theatre Companys director of marketing and communications. We havent 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 were 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 dont think people make those kinds of choices: I will see either Hamilton or Last Stop on Market Street.andthinsp; [CTCs current production]. For one thing, Last Stops 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, hes a fan. Reuler stood in line for more than five hours when single tickets went on sale.

andthinsp;Hamilton does more to create first-time theatergoers who are having a fantastic experience than any piece of theater Ive seen, said Reuler.

He believes the only enemy of theater is bad theater: andthinsp;Hamilton is allowing people to look at history through a different lens and to experience what theater can be.

Promoters wont release numbers for Hamilton here but there is evidence that the shows 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 doesnt 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, Hamiltons 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 Latt Da, which opened the musical Once right in the middle of Hamiltons reign, doesnt see any slowdown at all, said Andrew Leshovsky, the theaters marketing director. In fact, Latt Da added five performances to the run.

Were exceeding our goals for both subscriptions and single tickets, said Leshovsky. When we think about a big show coming to town like Hamilton, its 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 Latt Das 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 Latt Da-style.

Who knows? The current tour and undoubtedly, future tours could build an audience for Hamilton at Latt Da at some distant future date when the bio-musical becomes available for regional productions. 2033, anyone?

CTCs 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,andthinsp; said Thurman. If people do take a look at it and see that its 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.andthinsp;

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