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

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A Mass for the Author of Mass Appeal, Bill C. Davis. RIP.

Several years ago, when I was on the hunt for star-driven revivals with big topics but small budgets (a strategy I have since abandoned, by the way, because of the still-high-risk, but limited-returns, including artistic), I stumbled upon Mass Appeal.

Mass Appeal was a play I knew from when I was a kid.  And my local community theater did a production.  And my non-Catholic dad showed me the movie.

And as soon as I re-read the play, I was interested in producing it.

When I met Bill, C. Davis, I definitely wanted to produce it.

Bill was a man who loved the theater.  And we would do anything to get his shows up, no matter where (he found a lot of success in Europe).  He worked the phones himself, looking for starts, and was constantly calling to check in and see what he could do to move his own production along.  (The work never stops, just because you finished writing it.)

We got all the way to a couple of readings, including one with Michael McKean and Alfred Enoch (who were both fantastic, btw).  Watching Bill watch his own play read by such terrific actors, even in a reading, was like watching a kid see a rainbow for the first time.

We lost Bill this week, which is a shame for so many reasons.  One of them being that I knew he had another great play in him.

RIP, my friend.

Read more about Bill here.

The 5 Phases Of Broadway’s Return (and what to watch for).

There are a lot of things that are unknown about our future.

Here is what I do know . . .

Broadway will not open with 24-hour notice.

It’s not like one day you’re going to be walking around Times Square and hear, “Hey!  Guess what? Six just decided to start performances tonight!  Let’s go!”

We’re not a restaurant.  We can’t just turn the stove on and start cookin’.

Why not?

First, we need time to rehearse, put in new protocols, and much, much more.

Second, people don’t decide to go to the theater on a whim.  It takes planning on our audience’s part (from commuting time to babysitters, etc.)  We need to give them enough time to book their tickets.  And we need enough time to let the word spread that our shows are open again. (Cuz spoiler alert – we’d never have enough cash to afford the advertising to spread this message fast enough to fill thousands of seats . . . 8 times a week!)

That’s why I’m looking at the Broadway re-opening in five phases.  Here’s how I break them down . . . and the stress tests of the market that will have Producers like me sweating along the way.

PHASE I:  “We’re back on sale!”

Phase I will begin the moment that some shows announce they are back on sale and have an opening date . . . for real this time!  I’m betting that this will be a group announcement, even if the opening dates for the shows aren’t the same. There are strengths and confidence in numbers.  It’ll be a sign to our audience that these dates are going to stick.

I’d guess this phase will begin at least 3 months before the first performance, but more likely 4-6.

And this will be the first BIG test.

Has there been enough pent-up demand in our audience to warrant buying as soon as they are able?  Will they believe this date?  Will they break the ticketing sites trying to snag a front-row seat for that first performance?

This will depend heavily on what shows are announced.  (I’d expect the heavyweights that people couldn’t get tickets to before to make sure Phase I is a hit.)

PHASE II:  Pre-performances

This phase starts the day after Phase I and goes all the way until the first performance.

We watch this period very closely when we have a new show . . . which, in a way, we all do!  What is the velocity of ticket sales?  How many are we moving per day?  Does it increase when we advertise?  Does it increase as we get closer to that first performance?

Typically this period looks like the front half of a bell curve.

The big question mark is what will happen to those shows that were under sales pressure before covid.  What if ticket sales for the industry aren’t what we hope?  That would mean these shows would be under greater pressure.  If some of these shows miss their Phase II projections, could they decide to not open?  (With Save Our Stages funding in place, I doubt this will happen . . . but we won’t know until we’re in Phase II.)

PHASE III:  We’re back, baby!

I’m expecting a massive spike in sales the week these shows open up again.  Who isn’t going to want to be in a theater that first night?  Or that first week?  The Weather Channel should start issuing flash flood warnings now for the Times Square area because there are going to be Noah and the Ark-like tears that are going to spill into Times Square that night.

If we don’t have full houses those first few shows?  That’ll be a sign that we’ve come back too soon.

PHASE IV:  The reviews are in.

This next phase of our return will be after that hype of our resurrection dies down.  I’ve blogged about my prediction for our return here and I’m bullish that the word-of-mouth from theater folks seeing shows again will spike sales.

But it won’t all be good news.  Provided we get going with more full steam in the fall, we’ll have a big ol’ test right after those holidays are over, as we experience our first January/February post-pandemic.

The winter is a historically challenging time for Broadway.  Will it be worse next year?   Will some shows shutter quickly if there aren’t enough of our locals to go around (since Tourism is still expected to be down?)   Or will it be better because people will still be coming out of their coronavirus hibernation?

It’s not that far away from now, believe it or not, so Producers are probably thinking about this already.

How we get through NEXT winter will ultimately tell the tale on how long it will take to get to  . . .

PHASE V:  Normalcy.

Ahhhhhhh . . . that time when we return to the normal business patterns and trends of Broadway.  That time when . . .

Whoa.

Wait a minute.

Stop.

That will NOT happen.

This pandemic changed human behavior, consumer behavior, and theater-goer behavior forever.

We will never go back to the way it was before (and in some cases that is a very good thing).

There is no more normal anything.

Phase V will be something new that we’ve never seen before.  What is it?

Got me.  It’s an unknown galaxy far, far away right now.

But I can promise you two things.

We will get there.

And it will be very dramatic.  🙂

—-

I’ve written about the recovery a few times.  If you like this post, you might like the following blogs.  And some were so long ago, I might have been super wrong with some of my predictions!

[Webinar Alert] A Top Screenwriting Guru Teaches U How To Structure That Movie U Have ALWAYS Wanted To Write.

There’s a joke that says everyone in Hollywood has an idea for a screenplay.

That joke deserves a rewrite.  Because everybody everywhere has an idea for a screenplay.

Few get their ideas out of their head and onto paper.

You know what?

 They don’t know how to structure it.

Enter Jill Chamberlain, best-selling Author of the screenwriting bible, “The Nutshell Technique.”

 Jill analyzed hundreds of films and came up with a formula that not only stress tests the story you have, but makes the writing easier.  And it works.  It goes deeper than other ‘formulas’ to make sure your screenplay does not end up as a cliche . . . and in the “round file.”

And since my goal has always been to help TheaterMakers like you reach your goals, faster than you can on your own, The TheaterMakers Studio hired Jill to teach an exclusive virtual seminar on her trademarked technique!

The Zoom seminar (but don’t worry – you won’t have to show your face) is scheduled for Wednesday, March 10th at 7 PM EST.  Click here to sign up.

If you’ve ever thought you had an idea for a movie . . . or maybe you started one and got stuck in the middle of Act II . . . or maybe you finished one but haven’t sold it yet (or even gotten an agent to read it!) . . . this seminar is for you.

Jill works with novice writers AND award-winning writers most of who she can’t name!

But it’s why the Academy Award-winning author of Parasite said . . .

 “Jill Chamberlain sets a new standard for plotting stories. Use the Nutshell Technique to crack your story!”

And why the Producer of the last Star Wars (!) movie said . . .

 “Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell Technique is like the Rosetta Stone: it cracks the code behind why we love the movies that we love. It goes way beyond tired old beat sheet formulas and instead guides you to organically write the story you want to tell.”

 

 (I hired Jill myself for a private session – and she solved a story problem I had for a screenplay AND a musical in 15 minutes.

 

And what better time to get that screenplay out of your head and onto a page?  While the theater is on pause, this is a perfect time to diversify your portfolio . . . or just start one.

Register here.  And if you’re a TheaterMakers Studio member, you save a bundle.

In the seminar, you’ll learn . . .

  1. The eight linked elements required to successfully tell a story and not just present a situation
  2. How the protagonist’s central flaw is the single best writing tool you’re not utilizing
  3. How to find that “inevitable yet unexpected” ending that both surprises and satisfies audiences
  4. And two of the participants will be able to go “Live” with Jill and have her “crack the nut” of their story during the seminar.

The rest of us can watch.  🙂

So if you’ve ever had an idea for the movies to write, produce, direct . . . sign up today.

If it doesn’t inspire you to get to work . . . and if it doesn’t help you write faster and better, let us know.   I’ll personally guarantee it.

It’s one week from tonight . . . and e-seats are limited.  (Sorry, but that was my deal with Jill!)

 

The Nutshell Technique Workshop for TheaterMakers

Wednesday, March 10th at 7 PM – 9 PM EST.

(Live “Nutshelling” from 9-9:30)

Sign up here.

What you think you want for your show. But you don’t.

In the hundreds of times I have asked TheaterMakers what they want . . . what they truly want . . . what the answer to their theater-making prayers would be . . . can you guess what the answer is?

“I want a Producer.”

If this is you . . . if you’re one of these TheaterMakers who have said “I want a Producer,” then, well, how do I say this . . .

You’re wrong.

Wait, wait, wait . . . don’t be like that.  Don’t walk away just yet.  Hear me out.

I understand why you want a Producer.

You want someone to come up with a plan to put your show on a stage.  You want someone with more connections than you have on your team.  You want someone to raise the money. 

It makes sense you’d pray for a Producer.

But I promise you don’t want A Producer.  You want the RIGHT Producer.

Wanting a Producer is like someone saying, “I want a wife.  I want a husband.”

You know what?  If you really want a spouse . . . any spouse . . . you can find it.  But do you just want anyone?

No . . . you want someone who is going to be your partner.  Someone who challenges you.  Someone who inspires you.  Someone who loves you, no matter what.

It’s the same with the search for a Producer.  And the relationship is almost as close!  (And often . . . lasts longer!)  .

For many, the search for a Producer is the search for validation.  It’s the idea that someone is telling you that you are good enough.  Good enough to get optioned  Good enough to get produced.

And I understand that desire.  Believe me.  When I started out, I was right there with you.  All that I dreamed about was someone picking up my stuff, or even partnering with me.  

And because of that, I got desperate.  And I made some big-time mistakes with some small-time Producers (who BSed about how big-time they were) that cost me money, time, and heartache.

(Now that I think about it – I did the same thing in my love life until I found the perfect mate for me.)

So, first . . . you don’t want a Producer.  You want the right one.   And just that change in your mindset will give you more power as you put your stuff out there in the world.  You’re not going to marry anyone.  I won’t let you.

Second, until you find the “right one,” there is plenty you can do on your own . . . that will make you even more attractive to the perfect partner.

And, you’ll find yourself beating off Producers with your script.

– – – – –

 

If you’re looking for more info on the strategy that I used to get a producer, or what steps you should take to get your show on a stage, click here.

 

This made me so jealous I could spit.

Forgive me for the deadly sin I’m about to commit.

I’m ENVIOUS OF AUSTRALIA!

Read this article from the NY Times . . . Broadway in Australia has re-opened with productions of Hamilton, Harry Potter, Come From Away and more!

How are they doing it?  Well, you’ll have to read the article but it involves robots and app contact tracing . . . and the hardest-piece-of-technology apparently . . . common freekin’ sense.

This should be us.  We should be back.  Not fully, maybe (our city and our theaters don’t allow for the space that Australians have to spread out – and therefore reduce the spread).  But we should have been able to get something back up by now.

Maybe had we had a mask mandate earlier?  Maybe if it wasn’t an election year?  (Although let’s all be glad that election happened!)  Maybe . . .

Ahhh, enough of that.  I can’t go there . . .

But honestly, my biggest fear . . . is do you think that this will damage the Broadway brand permanently?  Will our status as the theater capital of the world be threatened?

You tell me.  Because I’m too jealous to type.

Read the article here.

– – – – –

If you or anyone you know has ever thought about writing a movie . . . you gotta tune into this.

How To Build Your Brand For Your Next Show If You Don’t Have One.

When you open a show on Broadway, a pre-existing brand is important and essential.

Because when faced with a high-priced decision in a competitive market, a consumer will always, ALWAYS choose what they are more familiar with.

End of play.

(BIG DISCLAIMER:  a brand helps you build an advance, and gives you a head start against your competition, but it doesn’t guarantee success.  If your show doesn’t generate enough word of mouth to sell enough tickets to meet your weekly expenses, no brand, no matter how big, will survive.)

So, to mitigate your risk, you should either choose projects that have a pre-existing brand or, and here’s the much more CREATIVE APPROACH, develop that brand for your project before you open.

There are many ways to do this.

The easiest, of course, is to adapt something with a powerhouse brand that exists already.  (Think Harry PotterMean Girls, my own Neil Diamond musical, etc.)

But don’t think that’s the only way to get your show to Broadway or build an advance.

The brand could be in your creative team.  (Think Kinky Boots with Cindy Lauper or Last Ship with Sting – a perfect example of a show that built a huge advance but wasn’t something the public was interested in after the advance played off and Sting left.)

The brand could be a social media army that you build (Think Be More Chill . . . or even Ratatouille.)

The brand could be the reviews and buzz from your one, two, or three out-of-town tryouts (Think Dear Evan HansenCome From Away, etc.)

The brand could be the star or stars.  (Think Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last.)

The brand could be The Producer (Think Oprah Winfrey with The Color Purple – and notice how they stacked Oprah’s brand on top of the brand of the pre-existing material – a powerhouse parlay strategy!).

The brand can be anything you want it to be.

But there must be something?

Why?

The most important weeks of a Broadway shows lifecycle are the first few . . .  both creatively and financially.  Most new shows lose money.  The key is to minimize those losses.

A brand of any kind can do that.  How much depends on how big the brand is.

So ask yourself today . . . what does my show have that can attract an audience apart from the show itself?

If you can’t answer that . . . start building its brand today.  Because it’s never too early.  And there will definitely be “a too late.”

And if you need help identifying what yours should be . . . shoot me an email . . . I can point you in the right direction.

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.

 

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