"We're asking New Yorkers to come out and see a Broadway show. And what we're asking tourists is, 'Please come to New York City! We've welcomed you for many years, and we need you right now.' We've set up a hotline to help people who want to come to New York: Call 1-888-805-4040, and we'll try to be of assistance in any way we can."
This was the plea of Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas, president and CEO of NYC & Company, the city's official tourism agency. She was speaking last night outside the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, home of The Full Monty, just prior to curtain time. Joining her for this informal, hastily arranged press conference were Tim Zagat, president of Zagat Surveys; Jed Bernstein, head of the League of American Theatres and Producers; and two stars of The Full Monty, Patrick Wilson and John Ellison Conlee. All were urging people not to let the attack on the World Trade Center keep them away from New York City shows, restaurants, and hotels.
"Mayor Giuliani has always been the strongest advocate for Broadway, but particularly over the past week," said Lategano-Nicholas. "Broadway sold 12 million tickets last year; that's $680 million dollars worth of tickets. The theater industry is responsible for pumping some $3 billion dollars into our annual economy: It supports the restaurants, it supports the hotels, and it is what makes New York so incredibly unique."
Patrick Wilson said that he and his fellow performers were doing what they could to help the city through this tragedy. "We're not welders, we're not rescue workers, we're not any of those things," he said. "We are entertainers. If we can make one person smile during a time like this, that's a remarkable feat. Laughter is a great medicine. I had people after the show today say, 'Thank you for letting us get back into it, celebrate life, and be happy.' We had a big crowd this afternoon and they were terrific. It's not about some sort of closure and moving on--that's impossible right now--but we're trying to help breathe life into the city." Conlee concurred, saying: "I think people are definitely ready to celebrate the things that make us human: our sense of humor, our passion, and all the things that are represented on the stage. That's an important part of the healing process, and I'm so glad it's happening."
Zagat made a point about security. "People should understand that the city is probably safer than ever right now," he said. "I walked through Times Square last Saturday and saw an amazing number of policemen. There were even 20 guys in uniform from Chicago! I've seen what the theater, the restaurant industry, retail, and other industries have been doing to help. I think we're going to come through this stronger than ever."
But, at least in the short term, help is sorely needed. According to Bernstein, "Broadway lost between $3 and $5 million last week. Some of the largest shows lost as much as $200,000 or $300,000. Obviously, it's hard to project that out, because we're planning for audiences to come back. The City has been enormously supportive, publicity wise and logistically. They've said to us, 'You guys have to help yourselves and see what you can do, in terms of reducing costs and in terms of marketing.' " It has been reported that, in order to get the theater through this crisis, a deal is in the works between producers and the various theatrical unions that calls for across-the board salary cuts of 25% at The Full Monty, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, and Rent. Actors' Equity Association is holding a meeting at 3pm today to make formal announcements on this subject.
Over and above these cost-cutting measures, it seems clear that major funds will have to be made available from federal and local governments in order to shore up the theater industry in New York City. "Of course," said Bernstein, "any financial support we receive has to be seen in the context of the enormous costs of trying to save lives and rebuild downtown. On the other hand, Broadway is really an icon industry in this city--it's important disproportionate to its size because of its visibility. I think the administration has bent over backwards to make it clear that they recognize that fact and are here to support us. You're going to see a big new marketing effort announced, including a television commercial that will be filmed next week. Things are definitely looking up."