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The state of Broadway with Charlotte St. Martin: government relations and preparing for the next crisis

At the end of January 2023, Broadway News sat down for an in-depth interview with the president of the Broadway League, Charlotte St. Martin.

Charlotte St. Martin (Photo credit: Courtesy of The Broadway League)

At the end of January 2023, Broadway News sat down for an in-depth interview with the president of the Broadway League, Charlotte St. Martin.

As Broadway continues to fight back to its pre-shutdown strength in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, an economy rebounding from inflation and the public’s perception of New York City, Broadway News wanted to hear from one of the industry’s few visible leaders — a woman who is often considered the spokesperson for Broadway itself.

St. Martin has served as president of the League since 2015. She first joined the organization as executive director in 2006.

In the final segment of this three-part series, St. Martin delves into specifics about the League’s government relations and how she and her colleagues are preparing for future obstacles to ensure the sustained success of Broadway.

Read part 1 in the series: St. Martin’s perspective on the successes and pain points of Broadway right now.

Read part 2 in the series: St. Martin’s explanation of the League’s role and its scope of current priorities.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

You mentioned that the League advocates for the industry via governmental affairs. Are there any particular policies that the League is thinking about right now and actively advocating for — whether at the city or state level — in order to help rebuild the industry?

St. Martin: We have the New York State downstate tax incentive that we got due to Broadway [which provides qualified production companies a tax credit of 25 percent on qualified production expenses]. We’re working and advocating now to make sure that it continues because it was a short-term tax incentive. We have good feelings that it will continue because we’ve continued to show return on investment.

They’ve seen that we deliver with the downstate tax incentive. We actually proposed that we would provide a certain number of tickets to the underserved community and provide internships and fellowships for the underserved community and we did it. [The state] came back to us and said, You did everything you said you would do. So we believe for that reason, we will continue this.

What else is a top priority with regards to government and policy?

St. Martin: We are constantly looking for ways — not only in New York because we work with our members from around the country — to educate the elected officials. I think out of every crisis, sometimes you have a silver lining. The silver lining for us is that we have an educated Congress and State Houses all over the country; it’s why we got 100 bipartisan co-signers to the SVOG because they understood that we weren’t asking for a handout. We were asking to put people back to work.

We also fight against the fraudulent ticket brokers; and we fought against the bots (and are still fighting) fairly successfully at the federal level and state level. There’s not much we don’t touch.

In terms of city government: Mayor Eric Adams, when he first campaigned, talked a lot about revitalizing the arts throughout the five boroughs. Broadway was a focus of his. What is the League’s relationship with him? Is there anything specific you’re hoping for from City Hall to reinvigorate the industry?

St. Martin: We work with him on a lot of issues. We certainly work with him to keep his support for NYC & Co. strong. They bring the tourists and we need those tourists. We just had a meeting with Mayor Adams and maybe 25 [members] of our leadership a few weeks ago to talk about crime and safety in Times Square. Now, we have 75 new police officers that have been added to the ones that were already there because we presented some research and a lot of documentation. He said, The crossroads of the world have to be safe.

He’s a good proponent for what we do. He gets that it’s good for New York. I met him after he’d been elected — but before he had taken office — at a very small breakfast. And I introduced myself and said, “Look, I know you’re going to have your hands full, your first six months … but I’d love to sit down with you and some of my leadership to talk about Broadway and our needs.” He said, “Charlotte, Broadway is the economic engine of New York. It is the face of New York. I want to sit down with you before I take office.” And I’ll be darned if he didn’t do it. I think he’s the real deal.

I’d be remiss talking about the crossroads of the world and the economic engine if I didn’t ask about the proposed casino in Times Square. The League has come out against it. If a casino attracts locals and we’re struggling to attract locals right now, what’s the reasoning to be against something like that?

St. Martin: I haven’t talked about it publicly. We’re doing research. What I have said publicly, I mean, honestly, do you think we need more people in Times Square? A congested place? One of the things that all of the casino [bids] will have to do is prove that they’re going to have to do a traffic study, a congestion study, an economic impact study. We’re doing research that will be empirical data that can be checked out. Most every article I’ve read says: Why would you put one in Times Square? It would just displace revenue. It wouldn’t add new revenue. Why wouldn’t you put it in locations that need the revenue, that will create the new jobs and that will give new tax base to that city? We’re not opposed to the casino. We’re just opposed to it being in Times Square and more congestion and exploiting the people that are already there, versus adding benefits to the city.

You’ve said that Broadway is healthier at this point than people think it is. How do we keep it that way? What are the challenges you’re preparing for or the emergency plan?

St Martin: We’re working with our members to, hopefully, provide them with tax incentives if they need them. All of the programs we talk about — whether it’s Broadway Week or Black to Broadway or any of those programs. We’re working on branding Broadway so that people know what’s coming. The truth is: People vote with their feet. If you’ve got good product, they go. If you don’t, I don’t care whether the economy is good or it’s not good. If the economy’s good and we have bad shows, they still don’t go, right? If the economy’s bad and we have great shows, they go.

And I don’t subscribe to “Our tickets are too expensive.” Because on any given day, 50 percent of our tickets are less than $100. And on that same day, more than 75 percent of our tickets are $125. Look at what the sports team tickets are. Look at what the concert tickets are. At the end of the day, depending on the time of year and the shows that are there, 3 to 5 percent of our tickets are premium and the rest are regular price. I can’t get anybody to say that.

It just makes me crazy. All you have to do is look at the weekly grosses and you see the average ticket price. You can’t have a $59 ticket [available] and an average ticket price of $89 and say, “All of the tickets are expensive” — and half or more of [the shows with tickets at these prices] are Tony Award winners.

What do you think about the resilience of Broadway should a crisis come up again in the future?

St. Martin: People need theater. They’ve needed it for 4,000 years. Broadway will always come back. I’ve read 10 or 12 articles that “Broadway’s dead” because we had 16 shows close in January. Well, guess what? They close every January. We have more limited runs than we’ve ever had. It tells you we have more limited runs opening, which most people don’t understand. When a show opens with an announced closing date, which many of the shows that opened did, it isn’t a sign that Broadway isn’t doing well. It is the way the business works.