I love the theatre. I love plays, and I love musicals, and I love the fact that a medium that has been around for millennia continues to be a staple of our entertainment industry even to this day. And like many other people who love theatre, I've always dreamed of being able, someday, to see a Broadway show in New York City.
But the thing is, it's very unlikely that I'll be able to do that. Or at least any time soon. Broadway shows, even excluding the price of a drive or a flight to New York and hotel and dining fare once you get there, are prohibitively expensive and beyond the budget of anyone that doesn't come from an upper-middle-class background or higher. I mean, let's just calculate how much it costs one person to see a Broadway show if they live out of town.
In 2016, the average cost for a Broadway ticket was $109, and keep in mind, that's lumping lower-grossing straight plays together with the more popular musicals. Getting a high-end ticket to a show like "Hamilton" with critical acclaim can often cost as much as $1,000. Even the cheapest tickets for Hamilton right now sell at $285, and unless you're looking to see "The Phantom of the Opera" or "SpongeBob Squarepants," you're going to have to fork over at least 50 bucks for even the worst seats in the house. And this is per person. But let's be generous and say that you have decided to see a run of the mill play at average price, and estimate the cost of the ticket at $115.
But of course, you have to actually get to the show before you can see it, and for someone out of town, that means either driving or flying to New York. If you live in the Midwest, the average ticket price for a flight to JFK Airport costs around $230. If you choose to drive, it still won't be cheap, with a car trip from Cincinnati to New York in a 2010 Honda Accord (aka the most average car I could think of) costing $61.40. And if you drive, you'll have to pay for city parking, which can be upwards of $40 a night. Now double those travel prices and add on parking if you're driving for a round trip, and you get your travel cost at either $460 or $162.80.
And then once you get to New York, you're probably going to want to spend at least one night there to justify your expensive and lengthy trip, which means paying for a hotel room, which is notoriously expensive in New York City. The average New York hotel room for just one night costs $257 in the cheapest quarter. And while things like Airbnb can make cheaper, you're likely not going to be able to find accommodation that costs less than $200 a night.
Without even calculating the cost of food or transportation within the city (let's just assume you're walking everywhere and are subsisting on nothing but street hot dogs for your entire trip), so far you're spending between $534.80 and $832 to see a Broadway show. And that is not a reasonable price for anyone who doesn't have an abundance of money to throw around.
And yes, I recognize that actors and directors and crew work incredibly hard to make theatre as good as it can get and deserve every penny of what they get, but much of the ticket money goes directly to the theatre itself and other paper pushers who don't directly contribute to the work you're seeing.
The extraordinarily elevated prices for theatre are corrupting what made theatre special as an art form in the first place. Theatre was originally the art of the masses. It was designed to be cheap so that the middle class or even the working poor could afford to see a show. Until the 20th century, seeing a play, even in many New York theatres, was one of the prime sources of entertainment for people who couldn't afford to go to the elegant, expensive events that the upper classes frequented. Now, theatre is viewed as one of the most highbrow forms of entertainment.
Theatre actors and playwrights often complain about how film and television have replaced theatre or made it vestigial as an art form, but theatre has done that to itself. With its overpriced tickets and refusal to sell filmed copies of shows as a lesser, but cheaper, alternative, more people are forced to turn to bootlegs of shows that nobody can make money on or eschew Broadway entirely. If theatre wants to resume its place in the heart and culture of America, it must rid itself of its pretentious and classist ideals of what it should be and begin recognizing how things actually are.