The Importance of Ecosystem

Last week, as the host, curator and co-organizer of TEDxBroadway, I talked about the Broadway Ecosystem. I say this all the time and every year on stage at TEDxBroadway, but every year people think it’s a new idea.

It’s not a new idea, but it is a VERY important one. Theaters, restaurants, homes, academic institutions, hotels, tourist destinations, stores, public spaces, social services and everything else that people need and want exist together and affect each other. It sounds obvious, but the health of the ecosystem around a set of organizations, like theaters, has perhaps the biggest influence on success.

The Complex Hollywood on Theatre Row

The Complex Hollywood on Theatre Row

Though people probably see and hear me say that in relation to New York, it’s true everywhere. I live in and love Los Angeles, and Goldstar has its longest-standing relationships among the theater companies of Los Angeles, including dozens of small ones. That’s why my own words about “ecosystem” echo back to me when I read this piece in the Los Angeles Times Culture Monster by David Ng about the very serious challenges on Theatre Row.

Here’s a snippet from David’s nicely researched and well-written piece:

“For more than two decades, the mile-long stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood known as Theatre Row has served as home to the city’s densest plot of live theaters, drawing audiences to a diverse array of stages run by scrappy companies … But in the last several months, an array of challenges has mounted, and many observers believe Theatre Row’s existence — and the cultural viability of the larger neighborhood — is threatened.”

David talks about how increases in rent, along with the appearance of pseudo-legal marijuana dispensaries, an influx of prostitution and an uptick in crime make the environment simply less friendly to the 20 or so theaters that occupy the area.

I think it’s fair to say that no one, really, is pleased with the direction that the neighborhood has gone. In other words, the ecosystem has gotten less healthy. And it can’t be improved by a single entity or with some governmental declaration. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s a complex set of connections and sense of shared interest, backed up by a long-term commitment that has at least a chance of making things like this change for the better.

Will it happen on Theatre Row? I hope so, but it won’t be because theaters alone start to do something different. Ecosystems are complex and made of many parts, and if the vision for that ecosystem stops at “Theatre Row” banners on the street lights, that’s not going to be sufficient.

The first thing we ever showed at TEDxBroadway was street footage from 1992, when the neighborhood Broadway occupied was a lot less friendly. Many people in the room were young enough not even to remember what it was like then, and you could sense that some of them were shocked … not even sure what they were seeing until we told them. I don’t think Theatre Row is anything like Times Square in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but it also doesn’t have a very strong gravitational pull to visitors, despite the truly great onstage work.

And that’s because one thing doesn’t make an ecosystem. It might make a place that some people come to for a show and then get the hell out of as soon as possible. In the long run, that tends not to work out.

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