At the end of January 2023, Broadway News sat down for an in-depth interview with the president of the Broadway League, Charlotte St. Martin.
As Broadway continues to fight back to its pre-shutdown strength in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, an economy rebounding from inflation and the public’s perception of New York City, Broadway News wanted to hear from one of the industry’s few visible leaders — a woman who is often considered the spokesperson for Broadway itself.
St. Martin has served as president of the League since 2015. She first joined the organization as executive director in 2006, when it was known as the League of American Theaters and Producers. Under St. Martin’s tenure, the organization changed its name to the Broadway League. Prior to her work with the League, St. Martin spent nearly 30 years with Loews Hotels and became one of the highest-ranking women in the hospitality industry. Currently, St. Martin is on the executive committees of NYC & Co. as well as the Times Square Alliance. She also serves on the boards of the Entertainment Community Fund, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Women’s Forum of NYC.
In this three-part series, St. Martin shares her perspectives on the current state of Broadway: what’s going well and what needs improvement, the priorities of the League, where the industry is with regards to COVID-19, the health of Times Square and New York City overall, government relations to the theater industry and how St. Martin and her colleagues are preparing for future obstacles to ensure Broadway’s sustained success.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Broadway News: How would you describe the state of Broadway at this moment, the beginning of 2023?
Charlotte St. Martin: What I would say is we are well on our way to recovery. We’re not at 100 percent yet, but we haven’t had to close down. We’ve kept everybody employed since September of ’21, and things are looking pretty good. There’s some really positive markers and some that are disturbing, and we’re dealing with them. But, for example, nobody predicted that domestic tourism would come back as fast as it has. It’s really made up for a lot of the loss in international tourism. In any given year, 15 to 20 percent of our business is international. Well, the same thing for New York City.
Right, makes sense.
I’m pretty darn happy to have to be at 88 percent of seats filled, season-to-date. Of course, international tourists, the loss of them is significant because they are the ones that stay longer, buy more tickets. So you have to make up for somebody that buys five tickets with five different people that buy one ticket. That’s one of the reasons why domestic tourism is really very helpful. So I feel very good about it.
Right now we’ve had 21 shows open and we have 17 announced new shows coming this spring before the Tony Awards cut-off as of today. And I hear rumors there’s a few more about to announce, but that’s 38 new shows for the 2022-2023 season. And the biggest year [during my tenure] was 45 shows — and it hasn’t been 45 for a long time because you have so many long-running shows. So, you have to have theaters [for them] and we have had two theaters out for several years in renovation and we just got the Jones back. The Palace has been out for [about] three years. Soon the Majestic [home of “Phantom of the Opera”] will be out because they’re going to be renovating that theater since it’s been booked for so long. So I think the number of shows and the brands of the shows coming are very exciting.
People always call me Pollyanna or a cheerleader when I use this phrase: There really is something for everybody on Broadway. It hasn’t always been that way. When I moved to New York in 1995, there were really three kinds of shows — and Disney was just coming. There was the big musical, the small serious play or the comedic play, and then Disney kind of back over here making a little noise. [Back then,] 8 percent of our audience was under 25; now 15 to 20 percent is under 25. So that clearly means we’ve done more family shows. We’ve got a lot of new material that hopefully will continue to grow the BIPOC audience. I think the rebound has been, especially for tourism, faster than people thought.
What’s the flip side of that coin? Where are your concerns?
St. Martin: Certainly, I don’t think the suburban market is back yet — some are — and we hear different reasons for why. We know that part of that [is] they do tend to go to plays. We’ve had our share of plays, but a lot of [our offerings have] been new material without brands. When times are tough, people — and they proved it to us since we reopened — want something familiar. Look at the success of “Lion King” and “Wicked” and “Phantom” and “Book of Mormon.” When the world was saying, “Those shows are going to fail because people are going to want new material”? Just the opposite. They wanted something they knew and understood. Look at “Piano Lesson.” Did great. Look at “Death of a Salesman.” Did great. So those are revivals that people know.
What is the League’s role in addressing an issue like suburbanites and locals not coming back yet? Where does the League fit into the equation of actually bringing those people back and helping to improve that?
St. Martin: I think if you talk to our members [theater owners and operators, producers, presenters and general managers], they don’t believe that is our role. If they expect anything from us with regard to selling tickets, it is to continue to make the brand of Broadway important and to be out there talking about what is happening on Broadway and doing programs like Broadway Bridges and Viva Broadway that build future audiences. Programs like what we’ve going got going right now: Broadway Week. Kids Night on Broadway is not really about selling tickets ’cause it’s a one-night thing, but it’s about reminding everyone with kids what shows are on Broadway that are good for kids. So far, we’ve brought in over 182,000 kids to Kids Night on Broadway. And, of that, over 60 percent were new kids. So I think it is identifying where we can touch new audiences and doing things that introduce them to Broadway.
Stay tuned to Broadway News for Parts Two and Three of this series.