A reader from San Francisco asked me why they have theaters that present Broadway shows for one or two weeks at a time and then the theaters remain dark for most of the year. Even though I am not a theater owner or presenter, I will try to answer as best I can.
Broadway theater is, in simple terms a numbers game. It's all about supply and demand. There are shows that people want to see and if many of those same people buy tickets, those shows run on Broadway. There is a financial threshold that each show has to meet to stay open, it is called the breakeven point. As an example, a play on Broadway may have weekly running costs of $300,000. Therefore, the show must sell $300,000 worth of tickets to meet those costs. Anything above that number is profit used to pay royalty participants and investors. Now just because a show is breaking even does not guarantee that it can stay open. Advance sales of tickets determine the future of any particular show. If the advance is weak many shows will burn through their reserves and end up having to close. As well, there is something called a 'stop clause' in the contract with the theater owner. The 'stop clause' says that should a show's sales drop below a certain figure for a specific length of time, i.e. blow $250,000 pre week for two weeks in a row, the theater owner has the right to ask the show to close. In this way, theater owners can maximiz their profit opportunities. If one show is barely squeaking along and a blockbuster like Billy Elliot is looking for a theater it is in the theater owners interest to bring in BE and get rid of the dog.
On Broadway, more than 60% of tickets are sold to tourists. NYC is known as THE place to see theater because of Broadway and the many off-Broadway theaters that present theater here. Aside from London, there are no other cities I know of that have that distinction. Smaller markets like San Francisco have a loyal and sophisticated audience for theater. But that audience is significantly smaller than the NYC audience. Presenters and producers of theater in SF bring in shows to their theaters, some for extended runs, others for one or two weeks. The demand for tickets determines how long those shows last in cities like SF and it appears from my readers observation that shows only stay for short periods of time, the demand is not there to sustain long runs. There are also only a handful of touring shows each year. There once were 20 plus shows touring, today it is more like 8-10 shows on tour at any one time. I refer to Equity contract shows here. Within that 8-10 there are repeats as well, Wicked, Jersey Boys, The Lion King all have more than one production touring at once. So how many times can these shows come through a city like SF and sell enough tickets to be profitable for the presenter.
I don't work for the presenters in SF so I do not know how they program their theaters. If one of you is reading this and can add anything to the subject, please comment and I will publish your replies.