The Ensemblist co-creator Mo Brady dives into the demographics of performers from the 2016-2017 Broadway season.
Here we are, theatre lovers. Welcome to life post-Awards Season. We made it. Done are the hurried months of opening nights, nominations and ceremonies to keep track of. During the summer, both theatre artists and theatre lovers can turn off their brains and coast for a couple of months.
Unless you're like me, of course. I can spend approximately 35 minutes turning my brain off before it starts brewing grandiose plans. For example, on my recent vacation to Washington State it didn't take more than an hour of looking at idyllic mountains before I started thinking "I wonder what percentage of Broadway ensemble contracts are given to swings..."
So as I sat on a balcony overlooking the rugged wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, I compiled some analytics about ensemblists in the 2016-2017 Broadway season. And if you're like me, you'll enjoy reading these insights as much as I enjoyed compiling them.
Before we begin, a few caveats:
1. These statistics are for performers in a Broadway show between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. I know that's not actually the official time period of the Broadway season, but it was easier for me to keep track of.
2. These metrics don't include Paramour, because they didn't use a Playbill in their theatre and, therefore, weren't supplying information to Playbill on their cast. It's not fair, I know.
3. THESE ARE NOT EXACT STATISTICS. This is just me, Google Sheets and Playbill Vault after a glass of bourbon. I'm sure I've made mistakes. I'm sure I left somebody out. So rather than using these metrics as precise facts, let's view them as "informed generalizations."
And, with that, let's dive in:
There were 878 people working as Broadway Ensemblists between July 2016 and June 2017. That's not the number of contracts, but the number of real humans that worked as ensemblists or swings. It doesn't include standbys, and it doesn't include people on principal contracts that work as an ensemble. So while that number includes the ensemble of Amélie, it does not include the cast of Come From Away.
To be honest: 878 is a larger number than I had imagined. I have often thrown around the number 500 in referring to the size of the theatre community currently employed on Broadway, both leads and ensemblists. So by that standard, I was off. Way off.
Broadway musicals opening between July and June provided 330 jobs for ensemblists, while "existing shows" (ones that opened before July 2016) provided 647 jobs for ensemblists. Now that number doesn't equal 874, and I'll tell you why. Because some people worked more than one ensemble job on Broadway this year. I'll dive into that in my next blog post.
330 jobs in new shows vs. 647 in existing shows. That ratio also surprised me. With so many musicals opening on Broadway each year, I figured the split would be closer to 50/50. But it turns out that 66% of Broadway ensemblists weren't part of these new productions.
Which shows employed the most ensemblists? Let's look at the new musicals first. Again, in this case "new musicals" refers to both revivals and new shows that opened between July and June. Of the 15 new musicals, Cats employed more ensemblists than any new production on Broadway hands down. 43 individuals worked as ensemblists in Cats this year. And that makes sense if you've noticed how many swings the production employs. Plus, since it has been open for almost a full calendar year, many original cast members have already left the show and/or moved on to other jobs.
Second place goes to Miss Saigon, which employed 34 ensemblists this season. Beyond that, many shows had rosters in the high 20s, but none close to the numbers employed at the Neil Simon and Broadway Theatres.
All that being said, it's the 22 long running musicals that employ the largest rosters of ensemblists. The Lion King had an impressive 47 ensemblists grace its stage this year, followed by Wicked (44) and The Phantom of the Opera (41). Turns out those long running musicals are a big part of what keep working ensemblists working.