Broadway did not start out as an exclusive girls club. In fact, a night out in the theater was very well respected among the city’s most element gentlemen. Back in the day, there were no gender biases when it came to theater. There was an equal love and appreciation by both men and women. In 2014, as we trudge along to bring equality to all aspects of life, Broadway is evidently falling behind.
A New York Times article published last week, “In Audiences on Broadway, Fewer Guys Among the Dolls,” points out that only 32 percent of audience members in 2013 were men. That number is down from 40 percent in 1980. One of the reasons Patrick Healy points out is the fact that there are very few “grown-up” musicals nowadays. “Guys and Dolls,” “South Pacific” and “Ragtime” were shows that addressed adult themes and had adult humor. Most Broadway shows that are developed now, such as “Legally Blonde” and “Newsies,” are aimed at young children or mothers.
With the recent opening of “Rocky,” Broadway is hoping to wrangle in more straight men. As the article points out (a bit too blatantly, I may add), gay men are a solid, consistent demographic in the Broadway community. The show is based on the highly successful and highly masculine movie and features onstage combat. As many of the men they interviewed noted, “Rocky” gives them a chance to relate to the material. With shows like “Wicked,” which centers on female empowerment, it is harder for men to relate to.
But one must also consider the other reasons why less straight men are attending Broadway shows. At a very young age, some boys are stereotyped (albeit sometimes inadvertently) into behaving a certain way or liking certain items. For example, many boys are inclined to like the color blue, play sports and stay away from dolls.
These qualities may seem innocent, but there is no doubt in my mind that these gender stereotypes stick with boys as they develop into men. I have to raise the question: do some parents even expose their boys to theater? There is no harm in taking a child to see a musical or a play, just to see what they like. Speaking from personal experience, I attended both Philadelphia Phillies games and musicals when I was younger. Without the help from parents, how will kids ever know exactly what they like? I got to experience a lot when I was younger. And even if I don’t love everything, I at least have a profound appreciation for it.
This is what most of us should strive to be. Whether we are gay or straight, man or woman. We should be respectful and supportive. Men going to theater isn’t emasculating just like women attending sporting events does not strip them of their femininity. I firmly believe that some men would actually enjoy theater if they gave it a chance.
And let’s be honest — everyone should try to see a Broadway show once in his or her life. The same goes for seeing a professional baseball or football game. Whether we love it or not, all of these aspects make up American culture. We cannot allow biases or preconceived ideas get in the way of allowing us a unique experience. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back. But you cannot just automatically assume you won’t like something if you have never experienced it.
Broadway will always find a larger audience in women and children, and that is completely fine. I just hope that in the future, these statistics start to go up and there is more of a gender balance in the chairs of the theaters all throughout New York.