Broadway in 2032 could be as grim as the Broadway of 1992 if the city endures another terror attack or the economy falls of a cliff. New technology — or an anti-advertising backlash — might force the billboards to come down. Times Square might even become so pedestrian friendly that nature might return.
"I'm convinced that in 20 years we will see some grass somehow," Davenport says.
Even whether there will still be live theater or not is up for grabs. These days, Broadway shows are captured on high definition cameras and beamed to movie theaters far from Times Square or made into DVDs. In 20 years, bandwidth improvements may allow producers to project a 3-D image of a play or musical anywhere in the world.
"It's such a fascinating question: What is live? What is considered live?" asks Bazadona. For McCarthy, seeing a Broadway show in the future may mean attending it in New York or watching a broadcast elsewhere — a movie theater, a TV, a computer or a cellphone — with gradually lower prices as the experience degrades.
Davenport sees Broadway following the live concert industry, which made the seemingly risky move years ago to broadcast concerts. That just stoked more interest in the artist, not less. Davenport thinks more Broadway will be available on cable and pay channels but live performance will still be important.
"I do not think we'll eliminate it altogether because as more and more forms of two-dimensional entertainment pop up, the three-dimensional real-live-actor-in-your-face version actually becomes more rare and therefore more valuable."
One of the most critical factors about Broadway's health will be what's on the stages. Attracting new audiences with fresh work — such as "The Book of Mormon" and "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" — will keep the industry thriving.
"This is an idea factory in the middle of the most vital city in the whole world," says McCarthy, who warns that Broadway will lose its relevance if it sticks with well-mannered works from predictable source material.
"If the content is right, the influence of it will extend past the physical space, rather than Broadway being a national park where people go to theaters because it's there, like visiting Ford's Theatre when you're in D.C."
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