Theater festival spurs business during summer doldrums

Posted on September 6th, 2011 by Brett Essler in Arts, Business

Midtown International Theatre Festival

Theatergoers congregate on West 36th Street during the 12th annual Midtown International Theatre Festival. Photo: Brett Essler

Reported on Aug. 13, 2011

Summer is the slowest time of year for off-Broadway theater but not for neighbors of the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

For 12 consecutive years, the month-long celebration of drama from around the world on West 36th Street in Manhattan has brought thousands to this gritty fashion district block, to the delight of local business owners.

The Midtown festival draws about 10,000 theatergoers annually, says executive producer John Chatterton. But, the economic benefits extend beyond just foot traffic. The event employs 22 staff and crewmembers, while each of the 52 plays staged can bring as many as 10 cast and crewmembers to the city. It also rents performance spaces from two small not-for-profit theater companies for $40,000 a month. With this influx of people and their spending power, theater professionals and local business owners say they get a much-needed business boost to this off-Broadway neighborhood during July, a month when there is a lull in the theater industry.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” says David Pincus, director of outreach at the local WorkShop Theater Company and a member of Community Board 4. “There’s a direct correlation between the arts and other businesses. It attracts other commercial entities.”

According to research from the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, a group representing the city’s not-for-profit theaters, member theaters accounted for an estimated economic impact of nearly $198 million in 2009. The Alliance’s Zach Hollwedel says that figure includes not only theater-related dining and parking but also a wide range of expenditures including printing, advertising, maintenance and rents.

For the Abington Theatre Company, host to a handful of the festival’s productions, four weeks of rent during the summer months is an economic boon of $26,000 in rent. “The rental income helps keep our cash flow moving,” says Kim T. Sharp, Abington’s associate artistic director. “I can say it is highly unlikely we would have rented both theaters for the entire month.”

On the afternoon of the festival’s closing, dozens of theatergoers milled in front of the theater between matinees. Actors dressed as pirates carried sets out to a waiting van near side streets populated primarily by garment production businesses.

“The festival had a huge impact,” Sharp says. “The sidewalks were jammed every day for the entire month.”

The foot traffic also helps out the local restaurant and bar scene. Teddy Daniil says he’s seen a bump in business from diners who brought in playbills advertising discounts for the two restaurants he manages, Tick Tock Diner and Cooper’s Tavern, both on 8th Avenue near the festival site.

The wide reach of the festival also brings actors and crewmembers from around the world to the theater district. Chatterton says this year there were three international plays, and among the remaining 49 productions, just under half came from outside of New York City.

“Everybody has two things on their mind: the show and where are they going to eat?” Chatterton says. “We are a great source of business for diners and restaurants. They’re happy to see us every year.”

One Comment on “Theater festival spurs business during summer doldrums”

  1. Austin Dance

    It’s so wonderful to see a booming theatre scene during the summer despite the current economic climate. We can’t wait to make the trip next year!

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