because price was a million percent right

I’m avoiding making a too-obvious “Great White Way” joke here, but it seems these observations track with Broadway audiences in general; according to The Broadway League, the trade association for the Broadway theater industry, nearly 8 in 10 people who saw Broadway shows in 2014-2015 were white and in their mid-40s. (That’s more diverse and a decade younger than NPR’s audience, for the record.) About 80 percent had college degrees and about 40 percent had graduate degrees.

Now, I’m not arguing that black and brown folks “should” go to Broadway shows, and there is, of course, lots of theater, far from Broadway, that caters to audiences of color. But it’s worth asking why this ostensibly uber-POC-friendly phenomenon isn’t consistently pulling a notably black and brown audience.

A bunch of folks in the Twitter conversation yesterday suggested that who goes to Broadway shows is a simple matter of dollars and cents. James McMaster at HowlRound recently made a similar assertion about Hamilton, which you pretty much can’t see without parting with a couple of hundred bucks:

“The exorbitantly high ticket prices coupled with the perpetually sold-out status of the production prohibit most working class people of color from attending the show. Given that the production’s audience, then, is overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class, one wonders about the reception of the show’s racial performance. How many one-percenters walk away from Hamilton thinking that they are on the right side of history simply because they exchanged hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to sit through a racialized song and dance? My guess: too many.”

This is a compelling argument, but then again, nearly half a million folks book flights and hotels and tickets for EssenceFest in New Orleans each year. Then there’s the mad rush a few weeks back for tickets for Beyoncé’s surprise tour. That is to say, there’s a whole lot of pricey entertainment that people of color are willing to drop serious dough on, but Broadway shows like Hamilton don’t seem to rate. Money matters, of course, but it’s not the whole story.

When it comes to race and Broadway audiences, a big part of the story seems to be acculturation. Theater has a long history of segregated seating and plays chock full of racist caricatures that meant black folks, in particular, never warmed to Broadway. “Theatergoing on Broadway is supported by families who collected programs going back 50 or 80 years,” James Hatch, the co-author of A History of African American Theatre, told WNYC in 2012. “Blacks did not have that tradition, and apparently still don’t.”

That plays out today in the important, subtle social cues about who belongs. It’s hard enough getting comfortable in a social space when you’re unfamiliar with its rules and conventions. It’s even harder when you’re aware of how much you stand out. At Broadway shows like Hamilton, you get the honor of having that experience for a few hundred dollars. Even as Hamilton exceeded my impossibly high expectations, I felt a vague unease sitting there that night, like I was at a hip-hop show where my favorite group was performing, but I might get shushed for rapping along too loudly. (But c'mon, y'all: HERCULES MULLIGAN!)

Not being a regular theatergoer or a Broadway vet meant I didn’t know exactly how to be in the audience. I was unfamiliar enough with the ritual and customs of that space to be worried that I might be doing it wrong somehow. Could that disconnect be keeping folks who might shell out comparable cash for Bey, even if it means traveling to another city, from doing the same for Hamilton?


Watching A Brown ‘Hamilton’ With A White Audience (NPR Code Switch)

I know that “don’t read the comments” is general wisdom, but for serious, don’t be lulled into some false sense of security by the fact that it’s on NPR Code Switch

On the Minimum Wage And Inflation

“If we increase the minimum wage inflation will go into the MILLIONS OF POINTS”

Point 1: Why is it that these companies can pay their CEOs hundreds millions of dollars without inflation increasing (maybe it’s because inflation is often tautologically defined by the price of labor)

Point 2: You are right, the study I pointed to (and others talking specifically about pricing) pointed out that a minimum wage increase of 10% would lead to a price increase of… point 4 percent, and a food price increase of 4%.

Point 3: We are in one of the highest periods of consumer debt this country has seen, I don’t see any issue with a slightly higher inflation rate.

Mod R