Average Broadway
Abstract

Abstract:

More than 9,300 productions have opened on Broadway during the past century. Of the vast majority, theatre historians have had little or nothing to say. This essay recuperates those forgotten productions with a quantitative, digital methodology that approaches Broadway as what Pierre Bourdieu calls a “field of cultural production.” Within the Broadway field, shows compete for dominance by differentiating themselves from their peers. We can quantify some of those differences in discrete variables, such as cast size or genre. By tracing trends in those variables over time, we glimpse the changing background against which individual productions appear. The essay considers how quantitative history can inflect other analytic methods, demonstrate what three different variables teach us about Broadway in the past century, and critique theatre history’s tendency to focus on successful exceptions at the expense of normal mediocrities. Through this quantitative method the essay captures the dynamic interactions among all productions on Broadway—interactions that shape how people make and consume theatre.