A Tony Award-Winning Producer’s
Perspective on Broadway
And How You Can Get There Too

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A mentor just said THIS to me.

This one is a quickie, but I had to pass it on, because the words kind of punched me in the face.

In a good way.

I got off the phone with a mentor of mine just a little bit ago.  This is someone I call every so often for advice about the business of Broadway, on business in general (he has given me some great stock tips), and even on fatherhood.

So I called to him to ask those questions that we’re all asking right now . . . when will Broadway come back after the pandemic?  What will the business look like?  Will my prediction be right?

In other words . . . “What should I do???”

His words?  Let me quote him:

“Ken, I have two words for you . . . ready?”

“YES, please,” I pleaded.

“BE BOLD.”

Then we hung up.

I didn’t do anything for about ten minutes.

Then I started.

I hope you’ll join me.  Because this is how we make a better Broadway and a better life for others and for ourselves.

– – – – –

If you want to see a video I made of this story, click here.

 

Who I turned to when I wanted to learn this. (And how you can too.)

Last summer, in the midst of my Pandemic Productivity Phase (the other “PPP”), I vowed to finish an idea I had years ago.

And it wasn’t a show.  It was a screenplay.

I optioned the rights to a true-life story and sat down to start writing.

I have written and produced for TV and film before, just on a much smaller scale than Broadway. I actually won a screenwriting award for a pilot I wrote years ago and directed and produced an award-winning documentary and an award-winning web series.

 But a full-length screenplay?  That was new to me.

It wasn’t too long after typing the title page . . . that I realized I needed help.

And who doesn’t need help when you start something new?  Especially when you want to compete at a high level.  Olympic athletes have 27 different kinds of coaches.  Our own Broadway performers train for decades to learn to sing and dance at the highest level.

But for some reason, many people think writing is au naturel or nothing.

Not me.

That’s why I immediately drown myself in studying screenplays. From Syd Field’s classic Screenplay to the obligatory Save The Cat to Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass and more.

And they were all good.  And they all helped.

But one stood out.

And I shouldn’t have been surprised, since it’s one of the Best Selling book on Screenwriting on Amazon.com.

Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell Technique

Her book broke out the structure of the screenplay so simply, that . . . well . . . I had to meet her.

 I booked private coaching with her, told her about my story and what I wanted to do . . . and bam . . . she made my story better in about 30 minutes.

That’s when I knew YOU had to meet her.

So, in partnership with TheTheaterMakersStudio, I booked Jill for an exclusive private presentation just for you.

Jill herself will be teaching a virtual seminar on “The Nutshell Technique For Your Screenplay (Or Your Show!)” on Wednesday, March 10th at 7 PM.

You can sign up here.

In two hours, Jill is going to break down her best-selling beat-sheet for successful screenplays.  You’ll leave the Zoom Room with a map on how to tell your story.  If your screenplay is done . . . you’ll see where the weak points are that you need to bolster.

 But after my time with Jill, I can guarantee you this . . . your story will be better.  (And you’ll also be jazzed to get to work on it – because so much of how to shape these things will make so much more sense.)

And yeah, in case you’re wondering because a story is a story, The Nutshell Technique works for shows too.  (I already made three changes to a musical I’m working on as a result of my time with Jill.)

Book the seminar here.

Why we are going to need more NEW musicals when the Pandemic is over.

If theater was the stock market, I’d sell revivals short.

I know I run the risk of getting a Reddit-like backlash for this blog, but, revivals are becoming more and more a thing of the past.

Literally.

Their business model was challenged before the pandemic.  The recoupment rate for revivals of musicals was LESS than the recoupment rate for new musicals.  (See the full write-up and stats on that truth-bomb here.)

And as a business mentor of mine said to me last March, “If your business was in trouble before the pandemic, it’s going to be even more challenging after.”

It was those words that made me cut bait on two side-businesses of mine . . . and I’m so thankful I did. 

I know that from personal experience that revivals have had a tough go of it recently, having lead produced three. And none of them recouped, by the way, including two that got raves and one that won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

And now . . . after what we’ve gone through in the last year . . . they are going to be even harder to make work.

Because in one year, many of these shows have aged TEN.  Their attitudes towards racial equality, gender equality, etc, are not only out-of-touch . . . but now many of them will be uncomfortable to watch.

Which means they either won’t get done . . . or they’ll have to be re-envisioned.  (And Michael Arden can only do so many per year!)   I guess a 3rd option is that they’ll require such massive stars that the audience won’t even care what the show is.  But how long will that last?  And will the stars want to do them?

So if you’re interested in producing, investing, or performing in a revival (of a musical, especially), understand that the risks have gone up.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be brilliant ones.  But they are going to be harder to find.

 The upside?  Because there’s always an upside . . .

Theaters are going to need NEW musicals more than ever before to fill the holes left by the retired revivals.

And that’s where you come in.

If you’re a writer of new musicals, keep on writing, because the renaissance is coming.

Yep, I’m selling revivals short and issuing a STRONG BUY alert for new musicals and new musicals writers.

– – – – –

 

If you’re interested in learning more about the structure of classics and how you can use that to create something NEW, I recommend Jack Viertel’s masterclass here.

Hit The “Pandemic Wall”? You’re not alone.

A great writer reads your mind.

They articulate something you’ve been thinking.  But haven’t put it into works.  Or even admitted to yourself.

(One of the reasons for Dear Evan Hansen‘s success is because Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Steven Levinson put issues on stage that parents and kids were thinking about.  But not talking about.  Hence all those tears of release at the end.)  

This article, called “The pandemic wall is here,” by Maura Judkis in the Washington Post, read mine.

 

If you read #mymorningwhiteboardquotes or heard me speak at our summit (or anywhere), you’d guess that I’m a pretty positive person.  It’s true.  I am.  

I haven’t always been that way, though.  Took a lot of exercise, training, and constant evaluation and coaching to “always look on the bright side of life.”  (Insert Spamalot whistle here.)

If that sounds like staying positive is like an athlete for an Olympic event, it isn’t.  It’s harder.

 

Especially in the last 12 months.  And especially if you’re a TheaterMaker, like all of us.

So, yeah, I know the Pandemic Wall of which Maura speaks.  It’s that feeling that started up in January and has crept into February.  That . . . “Isn’t this over yet?  Wait – variants?  Wait – slower rollout than expected?  Wait – you still have to mask after you get vaccinated?  Wait – Broadway STILL doesn’t have a set start date?”

 

And that’s when you hit the wall.

 

And you want to move to Palm Springs, CA, and get a gig as a golf caddy. 

And eat pizza, binge watch reality TV from the 90s, and think . . . “What I wouldn’t give to go back to 1997.”

I write this to you today because I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve been up against this wall lately.

 

I keep banging on it, of course.  Because that’s what I do.  And honestly?  That’s probably not the best thing to do.  Because this wall is @#$%ing thick.  And swinging your hammer as hard as you can against something as almost impenetrable as this . . . you run the risk of injuring yourself.  

And then you won’t be ready when that wall comes down on its own.  And it will.  It effin’ will.

So, my friends, this is my full disclosure blog to you to say, I ain’t all whiteboard quotes and sweet and silly shots of my daughter.

 

This has been one of the hardest times of my life.  And more recently, when it should be a little easier because we KNOW that there is an end in sight, it has somehow gotten even harder.

If you’re feeling like you hit the wall . . . you’re not alone.

 

We can’t just give up though.  Life as a golf caddy ain’t gonna make you happy.  (My therapist told me that last week – without telling me that – because that’s not what they do.)

 

So here’s what I’m doing about the wall I run into.

 

Stop. Acknowledge the wall.  See it.  Feel it.  Touch it.  It’s real.

 

Rest.  Recover.

When you’re ready . . . do not try to go through it.

Because we will NOT get through this.

But we will get around it . . . if we take care of ourselves and each other.

 

Ok.  Just saying that made the wall look even smaller.  And . . . huh . . .will you look at that . . . I just got a very interesting idea for something I can do right now to make sure I’m better off than when this thing started.  

 

Thanks for listening.

 

Read The Pandemic Wall article here

 

– – – – –

If you’re struggling for any reason during this time, I urge you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish) or the Lifeline Crisis Chat.

 

My Dad’s EdTA Scholarship Deadline is in less than 8 weeks!

After my dad passed almost one year ago, My wife and I established a fund in his honor called The Dr. Kenny Encouragement Fund.

The goal?  To continue on with my dad’s amazing tradition of encouraging others . . . especially in the arts. 

Thanks to the generosity of his family and friends, that fund has already given away over $10,000!  (We gave away scholarships right here on this very blog – you can view the amazing winners here.)

My wife and I have committed to keeping this fund going and increasing my Dad’s impact on the arts as long as we’re around (and then, my daughter takes the reins).  We’re already partnering with some orgs like Broadway Bridges and The Situation Project – and more on that in the future.

 

Why I bring this up now is this . . .

One of the organizations that we have supported is the fantastic Educational Theater Association (you may know them as the group that runs the “Thespians”). 

We started a scholarship in my Dad’s name and the deadline is April 1st. So get thee to the application! And spread the word!

The details for the scholarship are as follows:

The Dr. Kenny D. Hasija Scholarship is a $1,000 one-time scholarship that seeks to support applicants from groups traditionally underrepresented in the theatre industry, such as those who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Applicants should be inducted members of the International Thespian Society (Thespians) who are graduating seniors or Thespian alumni who are pursuing undergraduate studies at an accredited college or university, and who plan on a career in any area of the theater, from performing to producing. Deadline: April 1.

You can learn more about it here and get all the info on how to apply.


Please do spread the word.  And keep your eyes peeled for more ways my Dad will be encouraging future TheaterMakers from his “box seat” in the sky.


Apply for the Dr. Kenny D. Hasija Scholarship here!

It was more than just a restaurant. And he was more than just a man. RIP Joe Allen: 1933-2021

The only thing more comforting than being in a business that is so shaky and unstable, that restaurant and the man behind it gave us all something solid underneath our feet.

It IS my favorite lunchtime spot.  It’s casual . . . comfortable . . . and I did more deals there than my office.

Thank you for providing us with a place to meet, a place to eat, and for putting the posters of all those flops on the wall, a place to remember that it’s only a play.

Read the full obituary for Mr. Joe Allen, here.

And I’ll see you all there soon.

What does the Bitcoin frenzy mean for Broadway?

Here’s something only a handful of people know: a few investors of mine have used Bitcoin to invest in one of my shows.

It was something we were going to release when it happened because I thought it was a sign of something to come.  Turns out it was.

We ended up not releasing the news because, well, the investment didn’t work out so well.  (sigh)

But the investments happened.  And I’m pretty sure that it was the first-ever Bitcoin investment in a Broadway show.

But it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the last.

The idea for taking the investment came from one of my investors, actually.  She also advised me to buy some.  I did.  And it dropped.  And I sold it.

(Side note . . . it turns out that “buy and hold,” which is what every savvy financial advisor since the invention of financial advisors has advised, is a decent strategy.)

Bitcoin is back in the news, especially with yesterday’s revelation that the world’s 2nd most infamous tweeter, Elon Musk, announced Tesla invested over a BILLION DOLLARS in the cryptocurrency.

What does this mean for Broadway?  And Broadway investing?

Will you be able to buy tickets for Broadway shows with Bitcoin? Could SeatGeek, the new ticketing platform on Broadway, be the first to accept this alt-coin?

If Football players can get paid in Bitcoin, will certain Broadway stars want their cash in ‘coin?

And more investors jump on the train that my investors choo-chooed and invest in Broadway shows with alt-currency?

The answer to all these questions is Yes.

But not for a while.

Broadway doesn’t move as fast as electric car companies, or national sports leagues.  We’re slower to adopt new technologies.

Which is too bad, really.

Because look what Forbes Advisor, Taylor Tepper says about investing in Bitcoin:

“But when it comes time to actually plan out your future, it is something that should be viewed as a speculative bet as opposed to one that you can really rely on. You should go into that with every pretense of ‘this money could be worth nothing tomorrow.’ So that is money that you can afford to lose.”

This is the same thing I tell my new investors before they write a check.  And it’s what I recommend new producers tell their investors as well.

So . . . there could be a crossover in risk appetite between Bitcoin investors and Broadway!

The big difference between Broadway investing and Bitcoin?  Well, you can invest ANY amount of money in Bitcoin . . .  you don’t need to buy a full coin (now over $40,000 – thanks Mr. Musk!).

While it is possible to purchase partial shares of Broadway shows, those partials very rarely go below $10,000. My crowdfunded Godspell was that rare experiment that allowed the micro investor to get involved.

That proved, and this Bitcoin phenomenon proves, that keeping your investment minimums high may not be the way to raise the most money.

What about you?  Do you own Bitcoin?  Are you considering it?  Would you also invest in a Broadway show?  Are the two similar to you?

Comment below.

– – – – –

If you’re looking to learn more about how I crowdfunded Godspell, check out the courses on investing and raising money in the TheaterMakersStudio. For less than the cost of a ticket to see a Broadway show, you can learn how to raise the total cost of that same Broadway show.

How Super Bowl LV was EXACTLY like my first acting class.

I watched Super Bowl LV last night along with close to a kajillion other people around the world.

Ok, ok, that was an exaggeration.  Only 148.5 million tuned in.  Which, by the way, is the equivalent of 90,274 performances of Phantom of the Opera on Broadway – 6.75 times more than the 13,370 performances our longest runner has already logged!

Ok, ok.  That was another exaggeration.  I had my laptop open while I watched and did some work.  So I guess I only half-watched.  Or ‘tched?  Eh?  (Sorry, Dad jokes are coming in hot this Monday morning.)

You might have already guessed, I’m not a big football guy.  But give me a Tom Brady “underdog” story (who is almost as polarizing as Jeff Bezos!) and an excuse to eat Buffalo wings, I’m in!

And wouldn’t you know it . . . but as I ‘tched, I couldn’t help but notice a theatrical metaphor that I had to share.

Like most acting students, I was taught the basic fundamentals of acting/writing in one of my first classes on the subject with a simple improvisational exercise.

It went something like this:

  • Two characters stand on a stage.

  • One character wants something.

  • The other character doesn’t want the first character to get what they want.

Poof.  Instant drama.  No matter what that “want” is, whether it’s to get the other person to go out on a date or to give them $500 dollars . . . or to score a touchdown.

See where I’m headed?

Sporting events like football, where there are two teams, are the simplest form of classic dramatic structure there is.  I want to score.  You don’t want me to score.  We clash.  Eventually, one of us will lose.

And to make it even more thrilling of an event?  There’s a ticking clock.

Sporting events and theater seem so diametrically opposed (maybe that’s because there is such little crossover between the fans), but when you take away the shoulder pads and you take away the Capezio tap shoes, they are much more similar than you think.

So if you’re looking to make your show thrilling, take a page out of a football playbook . . . and make your show a sport.

– – – – –

Interested in learning more about making a script as exciting as The Super Bowl?  Enroll in the TheaterMakers Studio “Script Mastery Course”.  For less than the price of Super Bowl Pizza and Beer, you can learn from some of Broadway’s best on how to make your script sizzle.  Learn more here. 

My visit with The King, Christopher Plummer. RIP.

I worked with Mr. Plummer for a total of about 30 minutes, while I was at Livent, and we were producing Barrymore.

We were backstage, in his dressing room of The Music Box Theater, while he waited to take the stage as the title role in this terrific play.

The dressing room was small, as are the dressing rooms of most Broadway Theaters, and simply furnished, as are the dressing rooms of most Broadway Theaters.

But I felt like I had an audience with a King.

Those 30 minutes were some of the most educational of my career.  In that half-hour, he told story after story after story (as I was told by the person who trained me he would).

I don’t think I blinked or said a word the entire time. I was so enraptured by how we wove a tale. Then he stepped on stage in front of 1,000 people and did the same thing.

The man was born to do what he did. And his audiences, on and off the stage, were richer for it.

To read more about the man, click here.

3 Things You Can Learn From Jeff Bezos To Apply To Your TheaterMaking.

Love him or hate him, Jeff Bezos is a genius.

He took an online book store in the mid 90s (before 90% of you reading this blog even had internet) to one of the biggest companies in the world. And he became the richest person in the world in the process. (He goes back and forth with Elon Musk for that top spot, by the way).

And he shocked the world 48 hours ago when he announced he was stepping down from the day-to-day operations of Amazon. (And miraculously, the stock didn’t sink – THAT’S how good the company is.)

He’s got his critics . . . for sure.  But so does Stephen Sondheim. And he has screwed up from time to time. But so has Stephen Sondheim.

There is still a ton to learn from him in how to build ANY business . . . include a business in TheaterMaking.

And wait wait wait . . . if you think, “Oh, I’m a writer, there’s nothing I can learn from Jeff Bezos,” well, to put it politely, my dear friend . . . you’re wrong.

The greatest businesspeople, from Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk to Oprah to Sara Blakely to Henry Ford to Marie Van Brittan Brown are artists. They make something where there was nothing. And then they get people to buy it.

They deserve our study just like Sondheim.

And here are five things YOU can learn from Jeff Bezos.

  1. His customers (audience) came first. Here’s the bumper sticker mission statement of Amazon: “We aim to be Earth’s most customer centric company.” Now think about what you love about Amazon and why you buy so much on Amazon. Fast delivery. Free delivery. No question returns. Every product you can imagine.He pushed and pushed and pushed, always thinking about his customer’s experience, even if it cost him money, or even if it cost him vendors.You can write, produce, direct, act or whatever for yourself . . . that’s fine . . .  just don’t be upset if people don’t buy tickets to it.
  2. Look to his first domain name for a clue on how he got to where he is. Everyone knows it takes passion to become a success in whatever it is you want to do, from creating a shopping site to making theater. But it also takes something else, and Bezos knew it from his humble beginnings. In fact, he knew it was so important that he bought a domain name for that characteristic.Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Well, here’s a hint . . . visit www.Relentless.com.  Look where it takes you.  :-)You can’t just have passion, you have to direct that passion into action. And not stop. Even when people are telling you to stop. Be as relentless as a jackhammer against concrete . . . because that’s how hard this business can be.  But eventually, you will crack it open. If you are you know what.
  3. What you think makes him money, isn’t what makes him money. You think Amazon makes all those billions from selling stuff, don’t you?  Well, that’s not it!See, they not only sell stuff.  They make stuff. They see what people buy the most of, and then they make it.  Batteries, baby wipes, emoji balls, doesn’t matter.  (This is where he gets a bad rep, by the way, because he’s squeezing other sellers out with all his data.)But that’s not even where they make the most money.They also let other people sell their stuff and act like an e-bay middle man.  That’s how my board game Be A Broadway Star is sold, and boy oh boy do I complain every month about their high fees.  But where else can I get so many customers handed to me on a silver browser?

    But THAT’S not where Bezos makes his billions either!

    A big driver of the profit at Amazon is Amazon Web Services – a boring cloud computing division that was born from the fact they had to have all these servers for themselves, so they just starting “subletting” them!

    Profit from many revenue streams is what gives Bezos a foundation to risk in other areas.

    And you should adopt a similar strategy.  I’m not just talking about a day job.  I’m talking about having a more diverse writer or director portfolio.  You should have plays and musicals and movies and pilots and so on.  But yes, I’m also talking about another business or side-hustle which pays MORE than your bills so you can dedicate more time to your theatergoing.

    Don’t know what that is yet?  Find it in 2021.  There are more ways for you to generate income based on something you’re already doing than ever before.  You just need to learn how to market it (try this company for tips.)

 

Do you know what Bezos is going to focus on next?  His space travel company. 

Something tells me he’s going to get there.

You can get to where you want to go by following the Bezos way.

For more on how he did it, read this Bezos biography.  Which, yes, you should get on Amazon.com.

 

 

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