Advice from an expert: Vol. VI. New technology is like new toys

Last week I had lunch with an exec. at PRG (the go-to shop for all lighting rentals for Broadway, car shows and the rest of the free world).  PRG was the original supplier of the lights in Phantom, the longest running show in Broadway history, which means it first installed the rental package 21 years ago.

As you can imagine, technology has changed a “watt” (sorry) over the last couple of decades.  So, Phantom had to change out all of their instruments, right?


Despite all of the advancements the lighting industry has made, the bulk of the Phantom package has stayed the same. They’ve swapped out the board, made some tweaks, changed some instruments and cabling (some changes were made for safety’s sake), but basically the same technology that thrilled audiences 21 years ago is still thrilling them today.

So what was the advice this expert imparted to me over burgers at Joe Allen’s?

Be careful of the new lighting technology companies that come out with new toys every year, making designers drool like 12 year old boys over the latest video game system.

It’s a Producer’s (and a parent’s) job to tell your designers (and your kids) that when times are tough, you have to play with the toys you have.  Because if toys from twenty years ago can still be effective, then last year’s toys can still be a lot of fun, and they are a lot less expensive.

Some designers/kids may cry if they don’t get the newest thing.  But the good ones will get creative.

I’d add that if your story is a good one, the audience won’t care what you’re playing with.

Advice from an expert: Vol. V. Let’s search together

One on the industry’s up-and-coming marketers, Leslie Barrett, joins us today.  Leslie is on loan from her position as the Director of Integrated Marketing at one of our industry’s heavyweight advertising agencies.  As the Dir. of Integrated Marketing, Leslie insures that marketing and advertising campaigns are working well together.

Leslie and I recently got into a conversation about exactly that, “working well together”, and she shared an idea with me on how to combat one of the our biggest online marketing challenges: how do we compete with ticket brokers who can spend a lot more money on online advertising, most specifically Adwords.

Here’s Leslie’s expert opinion:

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Search has become such an important part of our everyday lives, it’s hard to imagine what we did before the world’s information was available at our fingertips.

So, I’ve been tossing around the idea of cooperative search, where all Broadway shows would bid on the generic terms as a group, ultimately sending the customer to a page that lists every Broadway show (and off-Broadway for that matter) with face-value ticket prices.  But I did some rough math, and it just seems too expensive ($3K – $5K per show per week).

Since the secondary market is so highly motivated to sell our tickets (mainly through search), why can’t we make a deal, or several deals?  The secondary market is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s here to stay.  Let’s figure out how to partner with these companies, keep our customers happy, and share in some of this revenue.

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Leslie’s on to something here.  I like her co-oped search idea, and would go further as to distribute the cost of the program based on its results.  Give each show in the program a specific code, and charge the shows that sell the most tickets the bulk of the costs of the program, thereby distributing the costs more fairly.

But Leslie’s most radical idea is the one we all have to remember.  Reaching across the aisle takes courage, but sometimes our biggest enemies can be our biggest allies.  Godfather fans will remember that Don Corleone brought all the members of the five families together to talk first.

Then, his son killed them all.

Advice from an expert: Vol. IV. A ‘wicked’ good investor speaks

Do you ever find yourself cruising the Bway grosses and
trying to calculate the weekly profit of Wicked? And then do you ever wonder who the lucky
Mother Ozers are that invested in The Green Machine?

Well, I found one sitting in the corner of Angus, waiting
for his helicopter to take him to the Hamptons and trying to decide between a
new Ferrari or a yacht.

Ok, I exaggerate. He wasn’t at Angus.

When I asked him what it was like to be in in such a
monster, he said, not surprisingly, that before he started receiving his
almost-set-your- rolex-by-them monthly profit distributions on Wicked, he had
lost a lot of money in quite a few flops.

He was a reader of my blog, so he knew my affinity for
baseball analogies, which is why he
smiled when be said . . .

“But investing in the theater isn’t about having a
high batting average. It’s about having
a high slugging percentage. I would much rather strike out
twice and then hit a home run, than get three base hits.”

He paid for dinner.

Advice From An Expert: Vol III. Listen to those who can’t.

Volume three in this series started out as a “Question From A Reader”, but as you’ll see, this reader has a lot more answers than I do on this issue, so we turned Jay Alan Zimmerman into an expert!

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I’m an author/composer, so guess how many Tony nominated shows I saw this year.

Answer: zero.

Obies? : zero.

I used to see shows in previews and opening night, but can’t anymore because I’ve become deaf.

Which totally s*@#!s for me AND producers.

There are over 30 million Americans with hearing loss and millions more with other disabilities, and this group is growing daily due to aging, overuse of amplification, and unnecessary wars.  Add to that the millions who speak languages other than English, and you’re missing out on a lot of potential customers by not having your show accessible to all.

What we need is something as simple as the 3-foot-wide door.

You may not have noticed the widening of doors since Bush 1 signed the ADA, but now wheelchair users can go through them just like you.  Currently the deaf are shut out from most shows (all the fringe festivals, events like NYMF, one-night concerts) or forced to wait years until the producers decide to have a captioned night via the TDF TAP program (which also requires that I be free that night and buy a ticket 3 months in advance.)

Sound Associates has developed one promising system called the “i-caption.”  Basically, a handheld PDA shows a powerpoint slide show of lyrics and dialog, which is synced to the show via a wireless connection.  Supposedly four Broadway shows use this system, but when I took my family to Hairspray for Christmas it was broken and we had to leave and get a refund.

It’s so easy to convert a script into Powerpoint.  Why not make scripts or caption slide shows downloadable from show websites?  Then I can print it out to read with a flashlight, or bring it on my laptop, or on the new iphone I’m going to win from this site (without seeing the shows).  Eventually every theater should have a wireless sync via bluetooth, which could be used both by your crew and for captioning.

Becoming deaf made me so mad I wrote a musical about it.  The producer of the DC production, Commit Media, made it accessible not only to people with hearing loss but to wheelchair users and the blind.

Including this audience made a big difference in filling the house.  You can sell-out too.

Just make your doors a little wider.

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Only 3 days left to play The Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool!  You can win an iPhone!  Play today!


Advice From An Expert: Vol II. A Gamblin’ GM speaks

I jokingly twittered from a casino in Palm Springs last week wondering if the odds on the craps table were better than the odds of investing in a Broadway show.

Well, craps and Broadway are no joking matter to my good friend and uber-General Manager, Mark Shacket, who is currently in office at Alan Wasser Associates, one of the largest General Management firms on Broadway.

Mark worked it out . . . so I thought I’d include his musings on the subject as volume II of our Advice From An Expert series!  Enjoy!

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If we assume the following things:

– that a typical craps table rolls the dice every 30 seconds
– that the point or seven hits every 5 rolls (meaning each “cycle”
from the coming out roll to the end of the session is 5 rolls on average)
– that you play the pass line bet with maximum allowed odds every time, with
max odds 3X-4X-5X (House edge: 0.37%)
– that you make 2 place bets every “cycle” (Average House edge:
– that you make a hard way bet every other “cycle” (Average House
edge: 10.10%)
– that you make 2 prop bets every “cycle” (Average House edge: 12%)
– that your craps session lasts 2 hours

then the expected loss for your 2-hour session is 37.48%.


If we assume that for every 10 Broadway musicals produced, the following
results are achieved:
– 0.25 musicals are HUGE hits (Wicked, Phantom): 1000% return
– 0.75 musicals are big hits: 250% return
– 1 musical is a hit: 130% return
– 5 musicals lose some money: 60% loss
– 3 musicals loss everything: 100% loss

And we assume for every 10 Broadway plays produced, the following results are

– 0.25 plays are HUGE hits: 250% return
– 0.75 plays are big hits: 150% return
– 1 play is a hit: 120% return
– 5 plays lose some money: 60% loss
– 3 plays lose everything: 100% loss

then the expected loss for your average Broadway investment is 36.88%.

(It should be noted that the above assumptions are based on little more than my

Therefore, Broadway has a slightly better expected return than craps (36.88%
loss for Broadway vs. 37.48% loss for craps).  Ken’s question was which
has “better odds”, and these figures suggest Broadway investing has
better odds.  But not so fast!  Broadway investing may have a better
average return, but the mean return is far lower.  What does that
mean?  Let’s look at an easy-to-understand example:

The New York State Lottery paid out 54.7% of their receipts in prize
money.  Does that mean that if you play the lottery regularly that you can
expect to make a return of $0.547 on each dollar?  No!  In fact, your
return will almost certainly be far less than that.  Consider how much of
that 54.7% payout is paid to the small handful of multi-million dollar jackpot
winners.  That will most likely not be you.  So playing the lottery
may have an average return of 54.7%, but the mean return (what
the majority of people experience) will be much lower, since they don’t share
in the big payouts.

The Broadway investment analysis above assumes you can invest in every Broadway
show evenly, which you can’t.  Broadway’s average loss is mitigated in
large part by being able to invest in the huge hit.  In fact, if you
remove only the huge hits from the equation, the expected loss on Broadway
jumps to 52.50%!  But because investors can only put their money in select
shows, there is a good chance that they will never find the very rare, huge
hit.  Note that 8 out 10 times you invest, you will lose 60% or
more.  So the average return on Broadway may be slightly higher
than on craps, but the expected return (ie, the mean return; what most
investors will experience) is much lower.  Broadway is therefore a far
RISKIER investment than craps, even though the overall average expected loss
rate is lower.

What can we learn from this?  Well, first, only invest in hits.  But
there’s another important thing to remember: When you’re rolling the dice on
the felt, you have absolutely no information about what the next number rolled
will be.  But when you’re rolling the dice on a Broadway investment or
producing opportunity, you have plenty of information to consider.  Who is
the producer and what is their reputation and track record?  How does the
budget look to you?  What does the current marketplace look like?
Are there other similar shows on the boards and how have they performed?
Who is in the cast or on the design team?  Is the script well-structured?
Is the show marketable?  Read, learn, and study everything you can about
your investing or producing opportunity and you will be sure have more than
your share of the success.

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Thanks, Mark!  See you at the tables!