Early curtains become more common

Broadway experiments with shifting start times

Think curtain time is 8 p.m.? Better double-check your ticket, just to be sure.

A slew of Broadway shows are upping the number of evening perfs that begin at 7 or 7:30 p.m., rather than the traditional 8 — and it’s not just the family fare.

Take “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the emo-rock history redux whose target demo would seem to be the youthful hipsters who frequently don’t call it a night until 3 in the morning. It has 7 p.m. shows on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Another tuner, “Billy Elliot,” has 7:30 curtains on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to go along with the 7 p.m. show on Tuesdays. The Roundabout Theater Company offers two full weeks of 7 p.m. curtains for the run of each of its Rialto productions.

Those are just a few of the examples of early curtains beyond Tuesdays at 7, the 2003 initiative that saw most Main Stem fare begin offering Tuesday perfs an hour earlier than usual. It all reps a newfound willingness on the part of legit producers to experiment with what for years has been an industry standard.

“The thinking used to be that early curtains were for family shows,” says Jordan Roth, topper of Broadway theater owners Jujamcyn Theaters. “That’s not the case anymore. Our indications are that weekday early curtains are very popular.”

The appeal is obvious to those in the industry who already gravitate to early start times: The sooner the curtain goes up, the sooner it comes down, making a post-show dinner more viable and allowing commuters to get on the road earlier.

Plus, a typical 9-to-5 worker doesn’t have to kill as much time between the end of the work day and the start of a show.

“Audiences seem to love the earlier curtains, and it’s great for restaurants because you can go to dinner after,” says Jeffrey Richards, the “Bloody Bloody” producer whose play productions “A Life in the Theater” and “The Merchant of Venice” also offer a selection of earlier start times.

The 8 p.m. curtain has been a tradition since the 1970s, when it was shifted forward from 8:30. Thirty years later, Tuesdays at 7 initially grew out of research commissioned by Disney Theatrical Prods., Dodgers Theatricals and Cameron Mackintosh, the results of which indicated auds were in favor of shows starting before 8 p.m.

On the other hand, a demographic survey conducted by the Broadway League over the 2007-08 season indicated that two-thirds of theatergoers said they would not be encouraged to attend more shows if curtain times were moved up.

Still, that means 34% of respondents would think about attending more often. Back in 2003, Tuesdays were chosen for the 7 p.m. curtain because it’s traditionally the most sparsely attended night of the week along Broadway.

If the shakeup in timeframes screws up anybody, it’s likely to be habitual theatergoers — not to mention those in the industry — who at this point assume a night at the theater begins at 8, period.

If the current wave of experimentation keeps up, that may not be the case much longer.

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