Hamilton, Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, February 2023
(Ed. Note: These photographs were taken with my cellphone since cameras were not allowed at the production. The first two were taken with my old cell phone, while the last was taken with my new cellphone and its fancy camera, which should help when I’m in similar situations in the future.)
Often when we think of concerts or other productions coming to the city, we understand that the artists and venues make money. What we don’t immediately consider is that, particularly for some events, the profits extend well beyond the artists and the venue and include restaurants, hotels, and more. I spoke with Becky Hancock, Executive Director of the Tennessee Theatre to learn about the extended financial implications of the recently completed run of Hamilton.
She told me that 25,357 tickets were sold at a price of roughly $3.1 million over the course of the thirteen day, completely sold-out run. They found more demand that for any other show in the Theatre’s history. Other fun numbers include 128,000 ounces of popcorn were sold, along with 270 cases of water and 107 cases of wine. While about 80% of income from ticket sales go to the touring production, income from product sales remain local. And all of that wine, water, and popcorn is purchased from east Tennessee vendors.
Salaries flow into the hands of large numbers of local workers. Hancock said she is particularly proud of that fact. “We’re creating jobs and paying local vendors. Local stagehands worked 4,845 hours on staging the production and were paid $189,507. Ushers worked 700 hours, while security was paid $21,558.
The money that flows into the pockets of east Tennessean’s directly, however, is only part of the story. Through credit card information, staff learned that tickets were purchased from 48 counties outside Knox County, from 34 states outside of Tennessee, and from one Canadian province (Quebec). I wondered why anyone would travel from so many other states and she pointed out that we are an easy drive from about eight states, while there are direct flights to Knoxville from a number of others. Additionally, she pointed out there are rabid fans who want to see the show repeatedly.
Obviously, most people traveling from other states and many traveling from other counties (tickets were sold all across the state, including to Shelby County – Memphis) are going to spend the night either out of necessity or convenience. Maybe they spend a couple of nights while they are here. They eat out and likely shop. Hotels, restaurants and shops make money. Locals are also likely to make an evening of it and get dinner before a show or drinks afterward.
And the cast and crew is another part of the equation. The production was one of the largest to ever come to the Tennessee by several measures, including the number of cast and crew. They travel with 73 people including 40 stage actors (3 Hamiltons and 3 Burrs!). “The production we saw here in Knoxville is exactly the same as what you would see on Broadway. Lin Manuel Miranda insisted. Hancock said the travel group was about “triple what we normally get for a Broadway show.”
It is very unusual for shows not to be retrofitted and scaled down for the road. In this case, ninety-four people worked on the loadout which started the Saturday before the first Tuesday performance (they usually start the day before). Then, for 13 days, 73 people stayed in hotels or other accommodations and ate at restaurants in downtown Knoxville. That’s near 1,000 hotel nights and around 2800 meals, all bringing revenue into the city. “The people I talked to loved Knoxville and the food options.”
The successful run, with all the benefits it brought to the city and to the 25,000 people who enjoyed it, took years of work to bring to the city. Hancock said she began talking to producers and others five years ago and began saving dates before the pandemic struck. In June of 2021, twenty months before the production would finally land in Knoxville, dates were set.
She described booking Broadway shows as “somewhere between air-traffic control and the floor at the stock exchange.” She said a minimum amount of money has to be guaranteed, which is complicated in Knoxville by the size of the venue, which had a capacity of 1,585 for this show. “This was the smallest venue the production played on the road.” She was able to bring the show to the city based on fifteen years of work on the Broadway series and building connections along the way. She said selling out previous shows such as Jersey Boys and Book of Mormon “got us on the radar.”
She expects that the success of this production will serve as another boost for the city and theatre’s profile. “This success will trickle up and help us book other shows,” she said, adding, “There was so much happiness and joy in the room, which is why I enjoyed standing in the lobby and greeting people.”