You make the call: would you take the group and change your show?

The fight between Art and Commerce is like the fight between Cats and Dogs, Republicans and Democrats, Lindsay Lohan and the law.

As a Producer you may be faced with tough decisions all the time.  You’ll have artists who want to add more scenery to a scene that you know won’t result in more ticket sales . . . but you’ll want to do it, because it will make the show’s statement stronger.  You’ll have marketers that want your star to appear on Howard Stern . . . even though your star hates Howard like Lindsay Lohan hates paying for expensive jewelry.  And you’ll want your star to do it because maybe Howard reaches an audience that is right for your show.

Or . . . you’ll be faced with the real-life decision that came across our desk here at DTE last week.

Here’s what happened.  And pay close attention, because just like my favorite part of watching football when I was a kid, I’m going to give you the chance to “Make the call!”

I have a division at my office that sells group tickets to Broadway shows.  A few weeks ago we got an inquiry from a group of 500 people that was looking for a show.  Yep, 500!  That’s 1/3 of a big Broadway house, which means quite an impact on a weekly gross.  We suggested a few shows to the group leader that we thought were appropriate for this group, and the leader went off to scout them.

The group came back and said there was one show that they specifically interested in.  “Great,” we said and started to place they order.

There was just one problem.

The group explained that there were a few moments in the show that they thought were objectionable, and unfortunately, because of the mission statement of the organization, they would not be able to book their group (of 500!) if those moments were in the show.

Insert dramatic chords here.

The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.

But would the show make the alterations to satisfy this group?

Insert more dramatic chords here.

Obviously there are a lot factors that would be involved in this decision, like when the group is looking to come (what time of year and what performance during the week), how well the show is doing, how much the group is paying, etc.

But if you’re a commercial theater producer, the question is whether you would be willing to ask your creative team to make the changes to their work to accomodate this bonus to the bottom line?

And that’s the question I’m asking you!

You make the call.  Would you change the show for the group?

Comment below!  (Email subscribers, click here to add your comment).

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Comments
  • Matt says:

    Very cool post…
    Granted, it’s not my money (yet…though ONE day…) on the line, but I’d be very hesitant to make the change. First, while I usually try to avoid referring to a slippery slope, hoping to take each issue on a case by case basis, I do worry what kind of precedent this would set not only in my office/organization, but the industry as a whole.
    However, I think the more important reason is answered in your question, “whether you would be willing to ask your creative team to make the changes to their work to accomodate this bonus to the bottom line?” Regardless of how hands-on a producer is (or allowed to be) I think it is very dangerous territory when ARTISTIC creative control becomes “dictated” rather than growing from the creators themselves. I’d worry that the one time financial gain would be more than offset by a potential (though basically immeasurable) loss of “value” to the production felt among the team.

  • MissPinkKate says:

    When the First Family saw Memphis, they took out the F-word. I might be willing to do that once, maybe twice. Beyond that, you have to take a show as is.

  • Tamra says:

    My first thought was yes I would, but then I thought about different factors and in the end I would say no. What is my usual gross each week? How are my advance sales doing? Is my show just squeaking by or is it doing quite well for itself.
    500 tickets to one performance is certainly a lot of guaranteed ticket sales but it is just one performance. I doubt those 500 tickets would be the defining moment of will my show recoup or not. Plus if you were to change the show for them what would that say about the faith you have in your show? If the group will find it offensive as is then they are not your target audience and what happens if any of those 500 people recommend the show to a friend who buys a ticket and then views the show in its entirety and then makes a big deal about the offensive material? Yes that would be a ticket sale but how hard would they push for a refund. What if they say they would not have seen it if they had known but “xyz” saw the show with “abc” and they did not experience that. Then you have someone spreading negativity. Also they only know what they read online, what if there are other elements that they would find objectionable but have no idea about. IF those weren’t changed and they saw the show would they also demand refunds and say “we only came to this show on the promise that you would remove offensive moments, and you left in this, which is a breech of our agreement” It is a big mess of a situation with so many variables, and legality, that could influence either way. Stick to your show that you have and don’t cheat the rest of the audience out of what they were looking for when they decided to purchase tickets.

  • Jennifer says:

    Absolutely, positively NOT! Unless you are doing “you pick the story line theatre”, this undermines what it means to be an artist. Once you start giving into the dollar, then it isn’t art anymore. It is a sterile environment where, whoever has the fattest wallet, dictates what you perform.
    Not every show is for every person. And while I would respect the wishes of the group to see a show that doesn’t go against their mission, I would ask the same of them. Respect the artistic endeavors of the creative team that have put their heart and soul into creating THIS show AS IT IS.
    That’s like the theatre in Florida that decided to change “The Vagina Monologues” to “The Hoohaa Monologues” http://www.news4jax.com/news/10965683/detail.html
    Yes, it offends some, but it doesn’t to others. We have become a society so worried about being politically correct that we are loosing all originality.
    Being in the arts means responding to the world around us—good, bad, ugly and yes, even vaginas.

  • Duncan says:

    Definitely not, though I would consider making a special performance (perhaps in a smaller venue) for them.

  • Michael says:

    Since a standard Dramatist Guild contract requires changes to come with the consent of the playwright, I see no harm in explaining the situation to the author in a non-pressured way and leaving it to him/her/them. Same thing if it applies to a design or staging element. Go ahead and ask, and if they say no, so be it.

  • Catherine says:

    I vote no. I think that the creative team’s work should be respected and asking them to change a show that will also be seen by more than just that specific group is wrong. If this was a private showing for the group alone, I would say change whatever they want.

  • Kevin says:

    Absolutely not. A show is not a democracy. The audience does not get to decide what is in a show. Period.

  • Joe says:

    There’s another angle here that’s not touched on: can the changes requested be implemented without extra costs, in terms of rehearsing those changes so that the flow is natural, changes in lighting/sound/etc. cues that may result, and how that would affect the week’s take. Might be that this’ll show that no change is more economical, and the leader can be told this.
    If the question posed is only about asking/mentioning this to the creative team, there are certainly ways of doing that just to see what they’d say, if they were curious to find out the changes requested, etc. Then it goes back to the paragraph above, if they were willing to consider it.
    Meanwhile, I hope you’ll post how this turned out.

  • RLewis says:

    It would have to be up to the artist-stakeholders, and I hope they’d say “no”, but if the artists agreed to the changes, the group would have to buy out the entire theater for that performance.

  • Matt says:

    So…Ken…when do we get to ask what call was made”on the field?”

  • Bert says:

    I have been faced with this exact problem. While Artistic Director for a theatre for young audiences in Connecticut, we were performing “Treasure Island.” We had an upcoming performance for a local elementary school—250 tickets (basically the entire theatre). A few days before the performance, the principal of the school called. A parent had seen the show and told him that in the show, the pirate characters drink rum and become inebriated. He said, if the scene was not deleted or altered, he would cancel the class trip and all 250 tickets. Pirates drinking rum is not a new idea. And deleting the scene would leave a hole in the plot. The producer of the theatre made the decision to change the word ‘rum’ to ‘punch.’ The principal found this acceptable. Still, this made no sense as the pirates now got drunk on punch. Apparently, someone spiked the punch. With rum.

  • Randi says:

    I agree with the poster above that the group would have to buy out the entire theatre. The other audience members do not buy tickets to see an amended version. I would be really upset if I was in the audience and saw a less objectionable changed version.

  • I would gladly offer to make the simple changes they have requested, should they opt to buy the entire house. Otherwise, I’d have to decline, my reason being that I am left with potentially 1,000 ticket holders who will be expecting the show as-is. It’s good customer service to keep the show in the same form it in which it was originally viewed. (Though I’m suddenly quite amused imagining what an Ave Q audience would think it if the internet were ‘forlorn’ or ‘for corn’ …)

  • Frayne McCarthy says:

    Changing a show to suit this one particular audience would seem to put you on a slippery slope, where the whims of the uptight can become dictates for the production of Art.
    It’s sad that you must consider this issue at all. Some production companies basically specialize in the creation of very “safe” quality entertainments, and I think that if you want this particular show to have that same degree squeeky-cleanliness, then perhaps your production needs permanent changes. Otherwise, if your show ain’t broke… let ’em go to a theme park instead of risking their sensibilities on Broadway.
    By the way… great stuff, always!

  • Bruce L. says:

    All things considered I would call a conference with the creatives (presumably we’re all in a healthy professional relationship) and present the information as matter of fact as you’ve presented here then open the table to conversation. It would be understood that consensus must be reached prior to adjourning. I would make the argument that we make concessions for all types of people groups consciously or subconsciously all the time. I would further point out that it is not expected to be a permanent change (or even publicized change). If we can all agree to accommodate a group of this size then we should. If it is untenable to the creatives I would follow their insistence but I would also make a mental note as it relates to future projects. It could factor into my decision to work with them again.

  • RMc says:

    Absolutely not. No self-respecting playwright would ever agree to this (per Michael’s Dramatist Guild post), and neither should any producer. It’s one thing for a creative team to entertain input via financial sources or considerations pre-production, e.g., to facilitate staging, but never following a play’s launch.

  • Nancy Paris says:

    Companies make similar demands of the entertainment presented at corporate events.
    What chuptzah…let them buy the show for their next corporate gala dinner, put their CEO in the show for a cameo appearance, and make sure the servers use their “inside voices” when they ask, “Who ordered the veal?”
    AAAARRRRGGGG!!!

  • Becca says:

    As a writer of musicals, scenarios like this put me on the verge of a pain attack.
    A musical is almost never written on commission. It’s something a person or group of people get together and decide to write. They painstakingly outline and invent. They plan out each and every syllable to be uttered. They express emotion in poetry and music. They focus on developing exciting, watchable characters, and they almost rip their hair out making 100% certain they remain true to the whims and sensibilities of those characters throughout the process.
    It does NOT happen over night. Most musicals incubate for four or five years or MORE before they are produced and staged for paying audiences.
    In those years, the writers are working on their musical [their baby] free of charge. They have to pay rent and utility bills just like everyone else, though, so the writing they pour their hearts, souls, sweat, and tears into must be done in their free time. Evenings after full days at work. Weekends. Holidays.
    Because of the value of their time, I am confident that the majority of musical theatre writers do not arbitrarily choose their scenes or simply toss in words or plot points that could be deemed offensive. Each and every idea presented on the stage was chosen for a reason.
    Yes, audiences are necessary to make theatre a living and breathing experience. I don’t argue that we do not need audiences. However, if something offends an audience, it also makes them think. It forces them to acknowledge their own viewpoints and to see counterpoints. Audiences learn and grow by hearing and seeing people they can identify with having to deal with things that aren’t always comfortable. If we only watched theatre full of people exactly like us, doing things that in no way challenge our day to day thoughts, we would be warped into automatons incapable for making difficult decisions or adapting to change when time, society, or mother nature usher it into our lives.
    It seems downright audacious to think that anyone would ask the authors who have completed the brave and daunting task of putting into words and songs a story they passionately believe should be told to change that story for the sake of 4% of the week’s potential ticket sales.

  • Julia says:

    Content (language, nudity, etc) is the obvious elephant here, and I’m inclined to say no because it veers too close to censorship. However, I think another important and more interesting question is that of whether the art of the creative staff and cast, and by extension their hard work, aesthetics, and visions, can be changed to accommodate certain audience needs. The same questions of the cost and impact of changes apply, without the muddying influence of audience taste.
    For instance, imagine this circumstance is a large group from a school that specializes in helping kids on the autistic spectrum. Epilepsy is highly associated with autism, and some epilepsy is photosensitive. Would it be acceptable to ask the lighting designer to not use the strobe lighting effects for this one night, so these kids could have access to a show they otherwise couldn’t watch? How many instances of strobe would be too many to remove: 1? 10? 50? Does it matter if the effect is necessary to illuminate a slow motion battle scene, versus just used to mimic a dance club? How much effort can be requested on the part of the lighting designer or board op to bypass those cues or program new ones to provide the necessary light? Would it require rehearsal time for the cast and crew to adapt to the new lighting? What if music or entrance cues are taken off the strobe effect? Or if, in some uber modernistic philosophical way, the lighting is a metaphor for the intransigence of human emotion and deliberately integrated with a character’s arc?
    Remember, some accommodations are common- ASL interpretation, audio description, hearing aids, closed captioning. It’s not unheard of for the non-targeted audience members to be distracted by and complain about those “changes”. And the ASL and audio descriptions are not exact transliterations of the script and visual experience, so arguably the artists’ work IS affected. While these examples, along with wheelchair ramps and accessible seating, are intended to adhere to ADA (which epilepsy may or may not qualify for Title III protection under), the ultimate point is expanding the audience.
    Great discussion, by the way. Looking forward to hearing how this case was resolved.

  • Wouldn’t it take more money to make those changes happen? To pay off the writer. To pay for rehearsals for the changes (including actors and pianist). To pay for the printing changes in the playbill? ETC……. Tell the coordinator of 500 people ……*insert explicative* if they can’t handle a little profanity…..
    I mean I totally understand if times are hard, “you gotta do what chu gotta do”…
    PLUS! if they’re this wonky as to pulling out at this point in the game, just think when its time for them to swipe the credit card to pay for those 500 seats….

  • evalfie@yahoo.com says:

    I was at a Fringe show with Orthodox Jews in the audience because it was a show about a very important historic Rabbi. They weren’t allowed to hear women sing so they talked the song or cut it. An announcement was made beforehand so you could either stay with the changes or leave to see it done properly. Suppose you were to make this announcement Would more than 500 people walk out so in the end you might lose more money making the changes.
    There’s a lot to consider but you want to go with the bottom line m,ore than the creative one.
    Curious what you decide.

  • LizG says:

    No, I would not. I realize the potential money loss is (might be) significant, but if you don’t have integrity in your programming (and vision), what else are you skirting on? I would happily suggest other shows their organisation would be more comfortable with.

  • Malini says:

    Absolutely not. If you bend for one person, you are now in a compromising position for more people.
    It’s unfair for the artists, the production team and the audience who didn’t pay for an altered show.
    When we did Torch Song Trilogy, we had a group of parishioners from one of actors’ church come to see Act I. For those of you not familiar, there’s a scene where Arnold is in the backroom of a gay bar and let’s just say there’s simulated compromising positions.
    Oh well.

  • David C Neal says:

    Are you kidding me?! No no no no no way. And I am not sneezing at the ability to sell 500 seats quickly. But the show is the show. If you don’t like what it is, happy trails finding another show that will meet your group’s specialized (see how nice I am?) needs.
    I’m reminded of when I learned that certain music CDs sold by Wal-Mart are specially made for Wal-Mart, complete with Wal-Mart requested content changes. I stopped buying CDs at Wal-Mart. I hope no one buys them there, but I can’t control that. And I sure do wonder what the artists must think of all that…scratch that, I think I know what they think of all that.

  • I’m a playwright with an MBA, and the answer to this case study, as it were, is: I don’t know. The parameters are too vague. Specifics are needed to answer a question like this one. Instinctively, the creative in me says “HELL NO”. But the other part of me says: “Well, what exactly are they asking for?”
    Say it’s a school group and a student named Alice in that group had recently died in a gruesome accident, and in the play there’s some throw-off line like “Alice deserved to die” in which it would do nothing to harm the play to change that name for a single performance to Vivian or Sally or whatever.
    In that scenario, change the line.
    But I don’t think that’s what’s being proposed. What’s being proposed has whiffs of religious censorship, in which case the creatives will almost always and rightfully say: “Sod off. Choose another show.”
    But without the specifics, I daresay this question cannot be answered properly. But that in itself gives the real response: It’s case by case.

  • You talk with the group’s representative. You explain the artistic choices that went into those moments in the show. You listen to their concerns. But change it due to the sway of their wallets? No.

  • You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube! Once you approve something like this, others groups of ticket buyers will be asking for the same consideration! Do we really want to walk through that door?
    I am a playwright/producing artist. A theatre had courted me for a year after seeing a production of my play in a festival in NC. The contracts were signed, the royalty agreed upon, the show cast, and rehearsals underway when the producer called me to the office. She told me that her audiences were church-going, Christian audiences and would be offended by some of the content of my show. She then proceeded to lay out her suggestions of what should be cut from the show… basically anything that had to do with sex or sexual organs or acts.
    Now, this is a play with music about family, church, sex and HIV. How can you talk about HIV without taking about sex? I was stunned by her request. I said, “But you read the play, you saw it in the festival, you’ve had it for a year. Why are you asking me to make these changes NOW?” She insisted that her audiences would be offended and it would hurt her bottom line.
    My jaw was on the floor. I felt that this was a discussion should have taken place MONTHS ago, and besides the show “as is” has a track record of success. I called the Dramatists Guild and they said absolutely not, I did not have to change a word of my show.
    So with that amunition, I told her “No, thank you,” and guess what? Her precious church-going audiences were selling out the house almost every show!!! They were leaving the theatre humming the theme song, starting HIV ministries, getting tested and confronting the difficult questions that challenge the church to accept that their congregations are made up of sexual beings with varied sexual appetites and behaviors… all while being entertained!
    The show swept the AUDELCO Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre, winning seven out of eight nominations including the AUGUST WILSON PLAYWRIGHT Award for yours truly, and DRAMATIC PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR for the procucer!!!
    Having been through this experience and come out on the other side, my recommendation is to stand your ground or else be standing in dry sticky toothpaste. We can’t have audiences dictating our message and vision. As producers we have to stand by our product, stand by the playwright, and creative team.
    Let these groups commission a playwright, book writer or lyricist to write the kind of show they want to see. They could do that. At least the writer would have a little money in his/her pocket to pay some bills, put food on the table and work on the kind of plays that tug at his/her heart–that play/musical s/he was born to write. This is my recommendation.

  • Ed from Connecticut says:

    Good discussion!
    Generally I agree that, once the show has opened, no changes. The show is the show.
    But you made a key point, Ken, saying:
    “The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.”
    Now consider what Harvey Weinstein did with the film “The King’s Speech”- it had a great run as an R-rated movie (R-rating was strictly for language). After selling ~$100 million in tickets, Harvey contended it was worth making slight changes to the film to get a PG-13 so younger audiences could also see it. And he did. So there are now 2 versions of the movie “The King’s Speech.”
    If the author agreed, I’d suggest a special performance- separate from the regular schedule- just for certain audiences who may more easily be offended. And you can sell it to similar groups as this one. Perhaps the group of 500 needs to (at least help) find audiences to fill the theater- or you can hold the performance in a separate, smaller venue just for them. But I am not sure logistics would make that very cost effective to deal with a new venue for one 500-seat performance (unless it was a scaled down- perhaps concert version- presentation).
    I want to stress, though, that if the author objected then this is a moot discussion but, if the changes are as minor as you say, and the cast and crew can handle them with minimal effort- then this is the way I’d suggest handling it.
    Curious to hear what actually happened.

  • Ed from Connecticut says:

    Good discussion!
    Generally I agree that, once the show has opened, no changes. The show is the show.
    But you made a key point, Ken, saying:
    “The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.”
    Now consider what Harvey Weinstein did with the film “The King’s Speech”- it had a great run as an R-rated movie (R-rating was strictly for language). After selling ~$100 million in tickets, Harvey contended it was worth making slight changes to the film to get a PG-13 so younger audiences could also see it. And he did. So there are now 2 versions of the movie “The King’s Speech.”
    If the author agreed, I’d suggest a special performance- separate from the regular schedule- just for certain audiences who may more easily be offended. And you can sell it to similar groups as this one. Perhaps the group of 500 needs to (at least help) find audiences to fill the theater- or you can hold the performance in a separate, smaller venue just for them. But I am not sure logistics would make that very cost effective to deal with a new venue for one 500-seat performance (unless it was a scaled down- perhaps concert version- presentation).
    I want to stress, though, that if the author objected then this is a moot discussion but, if the changes are as minor as you say, and the cast and crew can handle them with minimal effort- then this is the way I’d suggest handling it.
    Curious to hear what actually happened.

  • Michael says:

    Of course not! Have some dignity!

  • Michael Busby says:

    Ken wrote, “The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related…”
    My question is why were those ‘moments’ in the show anyway? If it doesn’t move the plot or give me more about the characters it should be cut anyway…

  • amnyc says:

    As a writer & composer, I’m usually inclined to say ‘no’ to requests like this, but one of your caveats caught my eye:
    “The group explained that there were a few moments in the show that they thought were objectionable…the “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.”
    If I wrote something that had the potential to alienate my audience, and it wasn’t crucial to the show, and it could be removed without any significant problems, then I would certainly consider removing the offending passage. In fact, I would hope that my producer would have brought that concern up with me in previews!
    So in this case, I think it is fine to bring up your concern with the artists involved. If they say ‘no’, so be it: after all, the artists may have a different conception than the producers as to what is integral to the show.
    Of course, we all know from recent Broadway history that even the greatest of artists may not be serving their show’s best interest by ignoring producer’s requests…

  • Lisa says:

    NO NO NO – Don’t pander! If you do this for one group of 500 people (and honestly, how often do you get that request?) then why wouldn’t you do it for 300 people, 20 people or 1,000 people? Where do you draw the line? Are you suggesting that people need to write a new show for every group that buys tickets?
    That idea is horrifying. And it is not what art – or producing, in my humble opinion – is about.
    If you believe in a show, and are willing to put your money, reputation, and other people’s money behind it – then I’m hoping you do not feel that the show needs to change its focus every performance based on who buys tickets.

  • Lisa says:

    Let me add to my comment – you do say in your blog that “The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.” If that is the case, then, honestly, why would they be a problem to this group at all? If they don’t change the plot, why would any changes be needed? I don’t get it.

  • Thaaat is a tough call but I would ask the following to clarify?
    If they’re paying $100/ticket that’s $50,000 – $50/ticket that’s $25,000
    As you said, what are tickets sales for the show without the group? Is the show doing well or would “bonus” buy the show time to find it’s feet/audience?
    How much rehearsal time would be required and what would be the cost of that time?
    If those moments “weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them” what purpose do they serve? I mean that sincerely as moments can deepen relationships, be comic relief, create atmosphere, be gratuitous, etc.
    Do the changes make the show stronger and should they be permanent? or do the changes come with a long term cost of alienating artistic talent connected to the show that would cost more in the end?
    Overall, I’m not in favor of changing a show to meet the whims of one large group, even though this group is nothing to sneeze at, if the long term cost in morale and artistic integrity is high. In some ways, I would think those decisions would and should be made before the show gets to Broadway. However, if the show is still trying to find it’s feet, voice, audience, etc. and needs this $ to stay open – I would lean towards doing it. How’s that for fence sitting?

  • Great exchange of ideas! I am most in agreement with the poster, Pamela Vanderway. If they want to buy out the entire house for a special performance, sure I’d take their money. Otherwise, no. But either way, I’d have the show’s publicist send out a press release and contact the media to build up the controversy…which would probably get people buying tickets just to see what the fuss was about. WINNING!!!

  • Patsy says:

    Absolutely not. For several reasons.
    1) What about the other 2/3’s of the audience who are coming to see the show as it was originally written and performed? If it’s a work in progress, possibly, but if it’s an established show, every audience member should be able to come see it as it was meant to be seen.
    2) When one group wants to censor a show for their “mission statement”, does that not stifle the creative statement the show intended?
    3) If you gave into the group, it would just promote the idea of conforming for any other group that may come in. Theatre is not about conformity.
    4) So, it’s a group of 500? What if it were 300? 200? What is the cut-off – and why would it be all right to change the show for 500, but not smaller groups? Even if it’s originally a money question, it could become a principle question to other groups.
    5) I know that the bottom line is very important and making money is ultimately the desired result. But not when it compromises the production and the artists’ intent. Besides, if the show is selling well, the seats may be purchased anyway.
    Bottom line, I do not like the idea of any group, large or small, trying to change a production for their sensibilities. If those moments in the show are that offensive, they can go to another show. And if the profit margin is so narrow for the production that changing it for a specific group would be considered, then maybe the production staff should look at their marketing or even their product. But not because one group “told” them to. I’m not advocating that all shows should offend people, there are plenty of great ones out there that probably won’t. I just don’t like it when one group wants to push their ideas on others – no matter which side of the fence they are on. No group should have that kind of power.
    I’m sure if I had more time to think about it before I sent this, I could come up with even more reasons not to do it. But I’m off to see Dog Sees God at a community theatre – they are headed to state competition with a show that I’m sure would offend this group!

  • Kevin G Shinnick says:

    No. You as a producer backed the show as is and supported the
    Artistic decisions made . The show is doing well enough or
    500 people wouldn’t want to book .
    They take it as is or see another show .
    Will they object to Michalangelo’s David ?
    (Then again we have had Congressman have a
    Figure of Blind Justice Draped in the Capital.)
    The money is nice but if it is just for money invest
    In stocks.

  • Mary Ann says:

    I agree. I could make a call and take a stand, but I don’t have enough facts. I would bend, or not, depending on who was asking for what, and why…I HATE religios censorship. Go see another show! The money vs artistic integrity debate is always fascinating. Give us specifics, and I will take a stand. Until then, I have to agree with Randall…it is a case by case thing. Impossible to say without knowing the exact details.

  • As a performer I say “No way”.
    As a producer I say “Listen,if you want an edited version for your huge group that is fine and we would offer you the option to have the whole theatre for yourself. Obviously this altered version would require us to rehearse the cast and charge you more for your special version.”
    Point is, if they can’t understand that the censorship their group requires is not just a cut and paste operation, then they are not really in “live theatre” mode. It’s a chance to educate here.
    Hey for that extra cost, invite them to see some of the reh or process of changing light cues, or calls, or actors cues. Let them in on the effort of producing their very own modified version
    Granted, this may set a precident most theatres don’t want… but what about the good marketing attached to encouraging big groups to feel a part of your “tribe.
    I am starting a new prof regional theatre 45 min outside of NYC and this just gave me a great idea.

  • Marc G. says:

    $25,000 is $25,000.
    As the owner of a large touring variety attraction, I can tell you that 500 tix for one show is a producers best friend, and I would consider it.
    The final decision would be based on exactly what they wanted taken out.
    However, my answer to your specific question would depend on the show.
    If it is a book show, no way!
    Not only would you get into problem areas with equity, etc., but you will be compromising the piece itself.
    If however, it is a personality performance (i.e. review show, comedy or personal appearance) then I would absolutely consider it, from the producer’s perspective of course.
    Just my $25,000 worth.

  • Hillary says:

    I’d have to agree with some previous comments, that the only way I’d even consider changing the show is if the group was buying out the entire show, not just 500 tickets. That way no other paying audience members would be affected by the changes. However, I think it is dangerous territory to change a show based on the feelings of one group, and the artistic and producing team would have to think long and hard about this before making a decision.
    Even if the “The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them” it doesn’t mean they aren’t important to the message and identity of the show. While changes a couple of choice words might not seem to make a lot of difference, think about the impact it would have on certain plays (Mamet, “Motherf**ker”, etc.) The playwright chose that language for a reason, and it is crucial in some way to the play.

  • Joe Klein says:

    No as this is a very steep slippery slope as this is going down the path of censorship for the almighty dollar. Art is not like selling a house. With a house you may have to paint and move some things around to make it acceptable to buyers. Art is an expression of the soul and mind. The show is up and running. This would essentially be a tweaking, would that be fair to the other 1000 people that bought tickets that day?
    To some degree this has already happened to great art showing nudes, they have been called masterpeices except for the lewdness of the human body. The artwork had been removed by saner minds then cover it up.
    It is also possible that just chainging a few things that someone does not agree to can change the tone of the entire show. If they do not agree with some of the show, let them see another one that does not offend their “sensibilities”.
    It is one thing for a artwork in the process of being made to have it’s benefactors ask for something to be toned down (which it still may not) but another for completed work of art to be changed for the few.

  • Don says:

    Great question.
    While the prospect of acquiring hundreds of new ticket buyers is highly attractive, I think the reputation a veteran producer has among the creative professionals he/she must work with for years into the future may be more important. I’d thus approach the creative team/cast, and let them know that as a producer you would love to gain this large, new audience…give them the numbers and the financial realities of why this would be good. But in the end, out of respect of their professionalism, you will leave the decision to them: Let them discuss.
    Now, are we talking about cutting up a show that’s IN the schedule already? It seems to me that this special request would entail a special performance: an additional one not previously scheduled on the calander. It wouldn’t be fair to the other, regular ticket buyers to see a surprise ‘cut and paste’ show otherwise. All the costs associated with an additional performance, therefore, would have to be paid by the group, of course — if the cast/creatives agreed to it (including additional pay for them).
    If it ends up not happening (whether the creatives say “no” or if the group doesn’t want to pay the additional cost for a personalized performance), I would still very much maintain a dialogue with the group – for example perhaps not the entire 500 would be “offended” by the parts in question; or, perhaps you could at least offer some discount for them to see the uncut, original show.
    Marginal to this…could this conversation be utilized perhaps for an after-show talk-back — including members of the group and the creative team? Anything along those lines?
    Or..perhaps…a smaller representation FROM the show coming to visit the ‘group’ if appropriate..an outreach performance or workshop which discusses the ‘controversial’ parts as a dialogue to further this relationship?
    I do see it potentially as a new relationship, new audience bridge. (Unless of course they are in Utah or something ;))
    Anyway….a 500 member group is well worth considering for any out of the box thinking…to nurture.
    Cheers, Don

  • I think it really depends on the nature and extent of the proposed changes. But, I don’t think I’d refuse to take the request to the creative team merely on principle. It can’t hurt to ask…. but I’d first explain to the group, that their request is little like asking Picasso to use a little less blue.
    There’s also the slippery slope argument. If you do it for one group, then will others start asking, too? Once it starts, how small a group is too small to accommodate? Eventually, you find your show responding every time the wind changes direction… akin to responding to audience polls.
    That’s what politicians do, not artists. I think it’s in the nature of art that it isn’t trying to please all of the people all of the time.

  • Jarlath J says:

    If kids are involved all bets are off. Otherwise…
    I’d say No! to the group. (There’s something Oleanna about this request!)
    It’s a loss of 500 people but the future people they’d bring would likely want the
    same parts taken out. Use that old “Theatah” attitude and say, “It is simply
    not done. Sniff!”
    You could do a specifial performance (if they’re really important) but I would only
    do it as an “industrial performance” and tailor even more stuff. Why? To clearly
    separate it from the real show. One time only. Just for fund. But it’s iffy.
    These 500 people are adults and ought to be able to handle the objectionable material. I’m tired of people wanting to rewrite life to it suits them. We play to them and we sell our souls. And I don’t think we’d lose our shirt. Even if we did play to them – what if word got out? How many more people/producers/politicians would make demands on shows. These 500 people are audience, not constiuents. It’s theater, not politics. In this conservative era where so many are folding to unreasonable demands, let’s not goose step along.
    But you could make it into politics. Get press on that groups are starting to ask shows be revised to suit their members. That’s one way to get a show into the press and people would come just to see what the controversy is all about. This approach might nip this kind of thing in the bud.
    Plus, as a writer, after all the work we put into our shows? Makes my blood boil.’
    Anyway…the answer short and sweet comes from my husband: Fuck No!!!!

  • gregory@gregoryfranklin.net says:

    My guess is that, although the requested scenes or dialogue to be cut were not integral to the plot, they did contribute to the style and essence of the show, otherwise they wouldn’t have been in the show to begin with.
    This group did not buy out the house, so the rest of the audience should get their money’s worth and not be deprived of the original presentation.
    The bigger issue however deals with artistic expression. Opening the door to allow a group to alter that expression takes everyone down a slippery slope in the future.
    Granting this group’s request will increase the box office for the week, but could do damage to future receipts and reputation of the producer.

  • Mary says:

    My first thought is in any business when you ask for customization of a product or service it costs you more. Second, I think we censor ourselves every day in our communications with people on insignficant items and its more style than substance. You have to make a call on what is an essential value of the show and what is ‘no one really cares.’ I’d consult the creative team and if they felt ‘okay its not that big a deal.’ Consider doing it. If they balk it’s not worth it.

  • Kim says:

    Absolutely not, I would not change it. That’s really offensive and disrespectful to everyone who worked so hard on the show’s vision. How will that make the actors, writer, director, etc, feel? Why do the show at all if you’re willing to slash and cut and water down whenever someone wants to come around and throw some money at you. It’s the principle. It’s a finished piece and if it offends their delicate sensibilities then they can see something else. Producers want to make money, yes, but if you’re willing to take your baby and cut off it’s arm just because for one night you’ll make some extra cash, why did you have the baby?? And now it won’t have an arm. Just a bloody stump that the baby will always have to live with and wonder was it worth it?
    Love this question! Got me all heated!!

  • Mac McCarthy says:

    But what if the analogy happens to be, not cut off the baby’s arm, but change the baby’s socks? They hate red socks and like white socks. Is it an affront, still?
    If you believe that *any* change — and he did posit that the changes were minor, easily made, and not central to the story or executiion — is an insult, then your judgement for such things becomes suspect.

  • It’s always about the art . . . until money is involved. It’s like rap artists. It’s so crucial to sing about @$%!& and &%$@# and *&%#$ until Walmart won’t stock your music until it’s cleaned up.

  • Merez says:

    What if those 500 seats were the difference between having a profitable week and not? What if selling those 500 seats means staying open another week? Would you close the show on this principle?
    I’d have to know more about the “changes” prescribed as well as the current financial status of the show to make a decision about the approach. If it meant keeping the show open I’d seriously consider it.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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