Bringing Broadway to the Masses

by Melissa Hughes

Performing on Broadway is any actor’s dream. When people think of Broadway-caliber entertainment, they envision an expensive experience that’s exclusive to New York City. However, the performing arts industry has adapted to overcome both financial and distance barriers to deliver quality entertainment to the masses. In an ever-changing world, businesses must adapt to new innovations to keep themselves afloat. Similarly, as one of the United States’ oldest art forms, Broadway must change its approach to rely on social media and entertainment platforms to stay in business.

A History of Broadway

A Broadway performance is characterized as a performance that could qualify for a Tony award. To qualify for this prestigious honor, a performance must take place in the Theater District located in downtown New York City and hold a house of at least 500 people.[1] Any other form of performance (Off-Broadway, digital recordings, tours, etc.) is a way to extend the arts to the masses.

First established in 1750, Broadway has a history of adapting to new trends, thus making itself more available to the public.[2] In the 1950s, Off-Broadway theaters were created as an affordable alternative to On-Broadway performances. These Off-Broadway theaters permitted patrons to have access to musicals and plays for a reduced price. Greater access to smaller theaters benefitted both the consumers and the employees: the employees could put on productions and the consumers could view productions, both for a lower price.

These benefits began to bridge the gap between those who could afford to see Broadway productions and those who could not. Musical Theatre International was established in 1952, allowing local theaters to obtain the legal rights to put on productions at their own venues.[3] The company takes productions that have been successful on Broadway and sells the rights to the scripts, music, and stage directions to theater companies throughout the world. The consumer gap continues to decrease as those living outside of Manhattan now have the ability to put on to these productions. As the desire for Broadway performances continues to grow internationally, Broadway productions need to adapt to these desires by reaching out to their audiences and fan-bases.

The Broadway Fan-base

Today, the typical Broadway fan base is not much different than those of the past. Caroline Heim evaluated the differences and found that the most notable change is in how Broadway fans show their support. In the past, Broadway theatergoers would show their support by attending performances, purchasing tickets, and giving donations. In contrast, they now show their support through digital means. “While their clubhouses are now online or the Broadway auditoriums and pavements, Broadway fans still seek a sense of place and belonging.”[4] The theory behind Broadway fan practices have not changed, but the ways they show their support have.

As fans adapt their support methods, Broadway personnel, who handle the marketing or advertising of the productions, must adapt to meet the fans in the middle. While Broadway personnel could be limited to marketing managers, it has become a group effort to “spread the word” with actors, actresses, producers, writers, composers, directors, and marketing managers working together.

Broadway personnel need to shift the way they approach their marketing strategies. For decades, marketing managers and producers have relied heavily on press and marquees to advertise, and one professional review could make or break a show. However, as technology and social media platforms have increased in popularity, people have taken on the critic role for themselves. The credibility of a professional newspaper critic is decreasing while the credibility of a typical theatergoer is increasing.[5]

The Hamilton Example

Because Broadway is such a historical and established art form, it has struggled to embrace technology and social media in its marketing strategies. Some Broadway musicals have adjusted to adapt, and these musicals have surely reaped the benefits from this approach.

The famous Broadway musical Hamilton has widely embraced social media in its marketing campaign, as the show is aimed toward younger audiences more likely to have a social media presence. The writer and composer of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, began his marketing campaign when he was first inspired with the idea to write a musical about the founding father Alexander Hamilton. In 2008, six years before the premiere of his show, Miranda tweeted that he had purchased a biography about Alexander Hamilton and that “@HamiltonMusical rehearsal starts today.”[6] In the years that followed, Miranda continued to update his followers on exciting feats and achievements as he wrote the musical’s score. By the time that Hamilton had live audiences, Miranda had built a loyal fan base purely through social media. Even now, Miranda continues to respond to fans and answer their questions; he gives them that “place and belonging” that all theatergoers have desired since Broadway’s beginnings.[7]

The Broadway Adaption

Broadway personnel need to “tap into the potential of mobile platforms to extend the qualities of our art that differentiate it from other art forms [as] [i]ncreasingly, more and more individuals see digital space as the home of their truest selves.”[8] Select opera and orchestral houses have opened up this door by including “tweet seats,” which are specific sections in the theater house where phones are not only allowed but encouraged.[9] This marketing strategy opens the doors to virtual theatergoers and spreads awareness for a struggling art form that does not attract the attention of audiences like it used to.

Hamilton stands as a beacon of the successful use of social media and entertainment platforms to market to a diverse audience. In July 2020, the Tony Award-winning production was released on Disney+, allowing patrons to view a previously exclusive Broadway performance within their own homes.[10] While live-theater purists may express that video recordings of performances lack a sense of authenticity, access to these recordings allows this industry to reach those who may not have the means to attend a live performance.

Social media marketing and entertainment platforms raise awareness for productions. These forms of marketing focus most on bettering mindshare (the amount of consumer awareness for a certain product, brand, or — in this case — musical production) and heart share (emotional engagement with the product, brand, or musical production).[11] As social media presence grows, different musical productions will begin to take up the majority of what a consumer thinks about. Ask anyone off the street what one of their favorite Broadway shows is, and they will probably mention Hamilton. Why is this? Hamilton dominates the Broadway market in mindshare and heart share. People associate Broadway with Hamilton because that is what they have been exposed to through social media marketing and entertainment platforms. Greater exposure through mindshare and heart share leads to greater increase in attendance and ticket sales.

Everyday Business

In a digital-dominated age, it is more important than ever for producers and production teams to “acknowledge social media as a third audience with a vast geographic range.”[12] Take this third audience into account. When considering marketing strategies, purposefully incorporate social media and entertainment platforms into the final decision. More awareness for a production will always lead to more attendance.


[1] Dietz, Dan. “Off Broadway Musicals, 1910–2007: Casts, Credits, Songs, Critical Reception and Performance Data of More than 1,800 Shows.” Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2010.

[2] “Spotlight on Broadway.” Broadway History. The City of New York, 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

[3] Loesser, Susan (1993). “A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life.” New York: Hal Leonard Corp. pp. 228–29.

[4] Heim, Caroline (2016) “Broadway Theatre Fans: communities of narrators and translators.” Popular Entertainment Studies, 7(1 – 2), pp. 39–54.

[5] Abbott-Smith, Maya. “Everyone’s A Critic: Social Media, Participatory Fan Culture, and Postmodern Presence in Broadway Musicals,” Strategic Communications, Elon University, 2018.

[6] Miranda, Lin-Manuel (@Lin_Manuel). Twitter. June 15, 2015, 7:37 a.m.

[7] Heim, Caroline.

[8] Thomas, Kyle A. “Theatre in a Mobile World.” HowlRound Theatre Commons, June 2, 2015.

[9] Ng, David. “Poll: Are Tweet Seats in Theaters a Good Idea?” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2011.

[10] Hein, Emily. “How to Watch ‘Hamilton’ on Disney Plus.” Business Insider. Business Insider, July 6, 2020.

[11] Kenton, Will. “What Is Mindshare?” Investopedia. Investopedia, August 29, 2020.

[12] Abbott-Smith, Maya.

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