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Moving Side Show to Broadway

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We just announced that Side Show, a revival that the Kennedy Center produced in association with La Jolla Playhouse, will be moving to Broadway this autumn. We will begin previews this October at the St. James Theater.

Whenever a show makes this big move it is a cause for celebration. It suggests that the producing theaters created something of value, something that for-profit producers believe will be of interest to a far wider audience than any single regional theater can reach.

One is also excited for members of the cast and creative team who worked so hard to create the production and will now have a far greater employment opportunity since the Broadway run should be many times longer than that at the regional theaters.

But the transfer also has tangible benefits for the producing theaters.

Ideally, of course, the show has a successful Broadway run and returns profits to the not-for-profit theaters where it was born; this provides extra, unanticipated resources that can be used to invest in other works.

But even if the run is not financially successful, the move has great benefits. The Kennedy Center moved revivals of both Ragtime and Follies to Broadway over the past several years. Neither run earned a profit but both had important implications for the Kennedy Center.

First, moving a show to Broadway suggests to directors, writers, designers and actors that the producing theater company creates work with Broadway potential. This has proven to be a big draw. I am convinced that moving Ragtime to Broadway, and garnering six Tony nominations, was the reason we could attract Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige and others to star in our production of Follies. And the eight Tony nominations for Follies played a role in the choice of the Kennedy Center when the Side Show creative team was searching for a producing home.

Second, moving a show to Broadway gives a remarkable boost to the institutional marketing efforts of a theater. When Follies and Ragtime played Broadway, the Kennedy Center was featured in advertisements, brochures, posters and, especially, reviews and feature stories in too many publications to name. We were also featured on the theaters' marquees and on signs and billboards across the city.

Our audience members and donors realized that participating in our projects could be extremely exciting and visible and could even win national awards. Our board members gained confidence in the organization's ability to produce important work.

And the parties, rehearsals, opening nights, etc. that attended a Broadway run gave us ample family-building opportunities.

Indeed, the most potent institutional marketing vehicle is art-making itself. When it is big, bold, exciting and generates buzz it has more impact than any announcement, party or exhibition. Donors, audience members, and board members all want to participate with 'winning' arts institutions.

Not every show will move to Broadway, and that certainly cannot be the measure of success for any production, but it clearly benefits the producing organizations that took a risk and produced well.