Show them how your cupcakes are made.

Magnolia Bakery is a NYC landmark.

It’s known primarily for its cupcakes (and for the line outside its original West Village location).  A friend of mine used to say, “If I’m anywhere below 14th Street, I always make a trip to Magnolia.”

The Bakery recently went “chain”, and added additional locs in New York, LA, and . . . ahem . . . Dubai.  (What the?)

The shot to the right is of their window at the Rockefeller Center location on 49th and 6th.

Unfortunately, I didn’t time this shot just right.  You see, sometimes, there are bakers right behind that glass, working at the mixing bowls, and cooking up the magic that is a Magnolia cupcake.

It can cause quite a little stir on 6th Avenue as people watch some of the world’s finest cupcakes get made right in front of their eyes.

People like to see what they normally can’t, especially when it involves something extremely rare and special.

In other words, we’re all Peeping Toms.

So, how can you be like Magnolia and use that slightly disturbing fact to your marketing advantage?

Can you find a way to give your audience a sample of something that is normally hidden from view?  If I were designing a new theater complex, I’d think about putting two-way mirrors in the rehearsal studios and walk potential ticket buyers past them on the way to the box office.

But what about simpler ways . . .

Can you give backstage tours?  Can you have invited open rehearsals?  Can you have “Director for a Day” apprenticeships for big donors?

Think about it.

Because if you can get your audience salivating at your glass window, I’d bet you money they’re going to walk in sooner or later.

I know I did.

  • RLewis says:

    The very last think a director needs in a rehearsal room is actors who think they are being watched (2-way mirrors, please.). Talk about a creativity killer. It may work for marketing, but if the product sucks, then sales will die on the vine sooner rather than later. If you do not create a safe/sacred space in the rehearsal room, then you can forget any idea of ensemble, cohesion, or anything that makes the whole show better than them sum of its parts. These ideas are not only bad (director for a day? yuck.), but they’re old and discarded by every previous generation of producers.

  • Gotta something else in mind? I love criticism . . . but what I love even more is when people disagree with me and then have suggestions of their own.

  • Emily Acosta says:

    I don’t think this is such an awful idea! Everything in moderation they say. I don’t think Ken is implying that every single rehearsal will be one in which the public can watch – perhaps only once the show is cohesive and almost-complete (since live theatre is never really complete until closing night!). Just like you would never put an inexperienced Magnolia cupcake-froster in the front, because (1) they’ll probably freak out and it would affect the aesthetic quality of the cupcakes, and (2) the front window is but a small part of the whole cupcake making operation, so you would probably have them perfecting their frosting technique behind the scenes. After all, most of the cupcakes have to be frosted in the back as a simple output issue. The frosters in the front are just for show, so to speak.
    I think the whole reality TV phenomenon – whether you look down on it or not – is also evidence of this part of our human nature. We like being Peeping Toms, for sure, whether in a club on the Jersey Shore or in some housewife’s walk in closet in Beverly Hills. And I would even argue that as these kind of shows become more and more ingrained in our culture, and as we send daily updates out into the world about our lives via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. – again for better or worse – I think people are much more comfortable than previous generations regarding being watched, putting oneself out there, and perhaps even making mistakes in front of an audience. So maybe if this concept proposed by Ken didn’t work in the past, now might just be the time to try it again!

  • Amanda d. says:

    I don’t think he meant you literally need to have a 2 way mirror into show rehearsals…have you ever noticed how people fawn over backstage you-tube videos? Any chance to meet & greet with the cast? Broadway needs to start giving the fans more of what they want. Why do you think anything that has to do with “backstage” is so intriguing in the first place? chances are they probably can’t afford to come to the show, but if they feel INVOLVED enough (in any capacity they can) by what they see they’re going to give in- eventually. It’s not just about giving your audience a ‘window’. That’s still only you on one side, and them on the other…what you want is to get people talking about the show, something shareable – a video, a link, an image…get them talking.

  • Shannon D says:

    I think that having audiences witness the rehearsal process would would really take away from the cast and crew’s ability to concentrate which would be a really bad thing for the final product. Something you didn’t mention that relates to this concept is the idea of using video blogs as a way to promote a show. That way, audiences can get a taste of what the show is like from the comfort of their own desktops. That and the use of other social media tools can be a really great way to give audiences an inside look, and it’s probably far more convenient for everyone involved.

  • Tom Gavin says:

    Backstage tours for me are all about the theatre, it’s history and what it gives to the production that you can’t see from the seats. You open the rehearsal process and soon you will have hundreds of Florence Ziegfeld types (ala Funny Girl) hiding in the balcony, except these will have video cameras.
    Hard to compare an impulse buy of $4.50 per cupcake to getting buns in seats at considerably more. Magnolia is doing what Supermarkets have done for years, putting impulse items at the checkouts. Theater already has an impulse buy site … TKTS! Now if there was a way to see a scene while waiting on line at TKTS……
    Since Movie Theaters show ads and such before the film starts how about a three to five minute scene to entice the audiences for when they visit the City?
    Two way mirrors? Add a Barker out front and a tattooed lady and I’m there!

  • Its Me says:

    Hmmm what makes Magnolia a success,is it the peek behind the curtain or the excessive word of mouth that these are the best cupcakes in the world? I would venture to guess the later.

  • Michael Mooney says:

    I live just a block from the Village Magnolia Bakery, but that’s not why I’m writing. It’s this sentence: Can you find a way to give your audience a sample of something that is normally hidden from view? I do think you are on to something, but…
    Isn’t this exactly what the show itself should be doing? If the show gives us a glimpse of performers “backstage,” or teenagers in the mean streets, or an elegant couple in a penthouse, couldn’t the producer play that up? If the show doesn’t give the audience a sample of something that is normally hidden from view, why is it being produced?

  • David Belasco Jr. says:

    The Roundabout is (was?) already doing this with their donors and benefactors.
    Based on their generosity, individuals were allowed to sit in on rehearsals, etc.
    In today’s economy…whatever works, I say!

  • Caroline says:

    All of these is pretty typical of all non-profit theater donor programs (not just Roundabout).

  • Chip Klose says:

    I hold this blog and Ken in very high regard… I believe his creativity and desire to push boundaries is something to be envied. I am constantly learning from his posts. So I found it funny that he mentioned this whole idea of “showing our patrons what’s behind the curtain”. This is exactly what we’ve been doing over the past 2 months with THE EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY – a “production blog” that helps illuminate the process for our patrons and donors. I feel honored that we thought of the idea… check out the blog:

  • RLewis says:

    Sorry, Ken, I don’t check this blog enough to know that a question had been tossed back at me.
    While I believe that you got some great suggestions from others, my point is from the artistic side and the crucial need to protect the rehearsal process. Once you introduce outsiders, you open a whole can of worms: some actors close down and won’t take risks (which is vital to creativity), and other actors start trying to “perform”, which is death to the artistic process. And a variety of other bad things can happen that will ripple onto the stage – the #1 priority. Marketing can only do so much if the show sucks. And a great show (i.e. Angels in Am.) doesn’t even need advertising to sell out. As someone else mentioned, word-of-mouth is your best army.
    It’s just that someone has to stick up for the Art on this site, but if I did have to take your job, I might go first to u-tube, skype interviews, and things like the blog previously mentioned (we agree that audiences love the behind-the-scenes stuff). Maybe a dinner/lunch with the star or director as a promo, but don’t make them perform. And I have no problem with backstage tours once the show is open. Maybe a day-with-the-producer promo (do you mind someone over your shoulder all day?). I know that walk-ons are not new, but I’d rather that than anything in the rehearsal room. How about sending out your stars to different cabaret rooms (w/discount coupons) to do a number from your upcoming show and a duet with the room’s headliner? And if David Hyde Pierce walked down the tkts line and shook my hand, I would buy a ticket to his show as soon as I got to the window.
    So, those are just off the top of my head. Let me know if you need more, but please, stay out of the sacred space until after opening night. thx.

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