The downtown theater district is thriving—according to a recent economic impact study—but off-loop theaters don’t seem to be feeling much of the impact.
Broadway in Chicago, a cooperative venture between Live Nation and Nederlander Organization, both national commercial theater producers, conducted a study to find how theater patrons and operations might be impacting Chicago and the state’s economy.
The study, which omitted ticket sales, found some big numbers. Chicago’s Broadway is putting more than $635 million into Chicago’s and the state of Illinois’ economy.
With 1,000 performances each year at theaters like the Oriental, LaSalle Bank, Cadillac Palace, Auditorium, Drury Lane, Broadway in Chicago is drawing in an annual audience of 1.5 million.
Bringing in theater audiences is a good thing, members of Chicago theater say.
Dulcie Gilmore, director of the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place and the Skyline Stage at Navy Pier, said it’s wonderful that there has been a boom in the theater district and so many people are going to the performances. Gilmore shares the attitude with many in the city’s theater community—the more the merrier.
“It takes a lot of effort to go to the theater,” Gilmore said, particular of those who come from out of town.
“What’s special about Chicago is that the entire industry looks at what we do from a holistic point of view,” said Roche Schulfer, executive director of the Goodman Theatre. “Meaning every part of the industry is connected to another part, and when we have a high-profile theater producing life where people have good experiences, it gets more people to go. Smaller portions do find their way out of the Loop to other theaters.”
But for some, like Spike Manton, producer and co-writer of “Leaving Iowa,” which shows at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St., said he feels the study has more potential to become harmful to smaller theaters because there is no spillover benefit.
Manton worries that with the big results of the study, the city might be more prone to look at the booming downtown theater district and say, “Let’s invest here,” leaving smaller theaters with no benefit.
“100 percent of my audience hasn’t heard of the survey,” Manton said.
According to the study, 42 percent of Broadway in Chicago’s audience travel from out of state.
Manton said his show has a healthy tourist base, because his show is a comedy about family vacation. He said he has not seen any correlation between the number of those coming to the large production downtown and that of his.
With the downtown theater showing most of the bigger shows like “Wicked,” Daniel DiLuciano, operations manager at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., said the only impact it may have to the Apollo, which was home to “Menopause the Musical” three-and-a-half years ago and “The Vagina Monologues” in 2000, is possibly limiting the product available to its audience.
A lot of people who come to the city to see a show see more than one, said Vicki Quade, creator of “Late Night Catechism” and its sequel “Put the Nuns in Charge” which also plays at the Royal George.
Broadway in Chicago theatergoers occupy more than 500,000 room-nights at hotels while in town to see shows. That’s a number larger than the city’s top conventions combined, according to the study.
“They’ll go see the Broadway show, maybe one at Second City or at a storefront theater,” Quade said.
Broadway in Chicago plans to bring more large productions like “Oprah Winfrey presents: The Color Purple” and “Jersey Boys” later in the year.
“People are going to see shows while they’re here,” Quade said. “You just have to hope you marketed enough to your target audience.”
—The Columbia Chronicle, February 5, 2007