Olivia Ground is a third-year advertising major and writes “Liv, laugh, love” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
I have loved musical theater for the majority of my life.
I started my acting journey in first grade when I was in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” put on by my high school. I only had one line that was three words long.
I remember the anticipation building up inside me as I waited for my turn to speak on opening night. Before it was my turn to speak, there was a pause of silence. I said the line with as loud of a voice as a first grader could have.
There was a feeling of pride hearing the applause when I finished. The attention was on me — I was the star for that brief moment. I was obsessed.
As an adult removed from high school, I can look back on the nearly 15 different productions I’ve been a part of with various roles and levels of importance. I’ve played a chimney sweep, multiple raggedy orphans, a doll come to life and many more.
I’ve seen a small handful of touring companies as they came through Louisville, which was the nearest major city to where I grew up. The first Broadway show I saw was “The Lion King” on one of its many North American tours going through Louisville.
One of the most special moments of the show is the very beginning of “The Circle of Life.” Humans walk out with life-sized puppets fashioned after traditional African masks. They walk down the aisles of the orchestra, brushing against you in your seats.
I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Seeing that as a child showed me how beautiful live theater can be.
There is still an element of excitement I get when seeing live theater. The hair still raises on my arms when a show starts, and the feeling of excitement fills my body as the orchestra cues up and the curtains open.
My days now are filled with watching the latest theater updates on TikTok, streaming the newest cast albums and reading about what shows just started their off-Broadway previews. I make my predictions for the Tony Awards like it’s sports betting.
With my strong love for theater, it made sense that when it was time to pick a destination for my senior trip in 2021, my heart and eyes were set on Broadway. There were so many shows I wanted to see live. But two things kept me from going: the ongoing Broadway pandemic shutdown and outrageously high prices to attend a Broadway show.
While Broadway has been out of its shutdown phase for years, the prices haven’t improved by much. Even in 2024, I did some digging on websites to find affordable ticket prices.
I avoided picking current popular shows like “Hadestown” or “Hamilton” that are currently popular. I looked into shows that have been running for long enough that the demand is more moderate and consistent. Shows that aren’t the current “talk of the town,” recent Tony winners or potential Tony nominees.
I opted for a common show many know: Wicked. The show has been ongoing for almost 20 years and is the fourth-longest-running Broadway show, according to the New York Theatre Guide.
If I wanted to buy one ticket online for a show Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. — a midweek evening show, seated in the middle of a row in the farthest back orchestra level seats — I would be paying $128 to see the performance. And that’s before taxes and fees.
If I wanted to sit in the highest level seats in the mezzanine — considered nosebleed seats in the theater world — I would be paying $116 for the seat before taxes and fees.
For shows like “Hadestown” or “Hamilton,” which are still in high demand, tickets for average balcony seats are between $190 and $300. Again, that’s paying hundreds of dollars to have an obstructed view.
That isn’t even factoring in the cost of getting to New York, as well as the cost of food, lodging and transportation in the city.
To be frank, prices like this make it nearly impossible for young Broadway fans to see shows and engage in the professional theater community. It is contributing to the unfortunate slow death of both the profession and live arts entertainment in general.
In the theater community, there has been ample discourse over the prices of Broadway, with some arguing that these high prices are to accommodate theaters, actors and to keep the lights on.
But I can’t help but disagree. These prices are not accessible for the average theater fan.
I don’t think by any means that there need to be tickets as low as $50 for a seat in the front row. But there is no reason I should pay hundreds of dollars for obstructed views and the inability to see the small details that often make shows special.
This kind of inaccessible pricing is what is contributing to the decrease in attendance at theater productions, which is particularly troubling when people already couldn’t go to shows for a couple of years.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), attendance at the arts has hit levels that were lower than the pre-COVID average. Just under half — 48 percent, to be exact — of all adults attended at least one arts event in person. This is 6 percentage points less than what was reported in 2017.
Additionally, a separate survey by the NEA shows that 82 percent of respondents watched or listened to performing arts activities through digital media between 2021 and 2022.
There is a demand for engaging with the arts. People were engaging in the arts virtually when the option was provided during the pandemic. The box office numbers reflected this when the recently shot version of Waitress was in theaters. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the film — which only ran for two weekends — brought in $2.8 million on its first weekend, ending its run with $5.8 million in box office profits.
“Hamilton” resulted in a 74 percent user increase in the Disney+ app after going up in July 2020, according to analytics from Apptopia. People were downloading the app and getting subscriptions and trials just to have the chance to watch a professionally filmed version of “Hamilton” in place of not being able to see it live.
As someone lucky enough to see a touring production of “Hamilton,” I understand that watching it from your couch is not the same as seeing it live. However, for people who can’t afford to see it live or physically cannot go to the theater, watching it from your couch is the next best thing.
But in a post-pandemic world, there aren’t as many accessible ways to view performing arts digitally, making the steep ticket prices even more frustrating.
One of my favorite stage shows this season is “How to Dance in Ohio,” a musical based on the documentary of the same title. It tells the story of autistic adults, played by autistic adults, run by a neurodivergent creative team.
Beyond a beautiful cast and incredible score, this show recognized its audience and knew that prices had to be low to reach them. The audience for this show was not wealthy New Yorkers with money to spend and all the free time in the world, it was parents of autistic children and autistic adults — many of whom don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on tickets.
It would serve Broadway to continue to release digital versions of shows. It won’t result in less ticket sales. Shows that have released pro-shots, such as “Hamilton,” are still on Broadway and selling millions of tickets.
Providing theater fans — or those just curious about theater — access to these pro-shots will only spark the desire for more people to make their way to New York to see these shows live rather than on a screen. It reminds people of how incredible theater can be.
As for theater fans like me, while we wait for the next pro-shot or the Wicked Movie to release, please support your local community theaters and high school theater programs. Go see a show in your community, and support your local artists. Theater is for everybody, and I hope Broadway will someday be for everybody again.
Contact Olivia Ground with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X @liv_ground_25.