10 surprising things overheard at Broadway focus groups.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that I’m a big proponent of research. We’re one of the few industries on the planet that spends millions of dollars developing a project . . . but rarely test that project before going to market, or when we’re in the market.

I don’t do a show anymore without proper research to help guide me in my decision making process (and BTW, that’s the key – to let it guide you – not let it drive you. You are the one holding the wheel, and the research just acts as a GPS that gives you the short cuts to where you want to go).

From what I hear from my peers, however, more and more focus groups and audience research reports are being done, which I think is fantastic. The more we listen, the more we learn.

One of the greatest reminders you get when doing a live focus group, where you sit behind a panel of one-way glass and listen to people talk about your show or Broadway habits in general, is how much people do not know. It’s not that they are dumb, or ignorant or anything.

It’s just that . . . we live in a bubble.

Since we constantly consume Broadway info, we sometimes assume everyone knows who is starring in The Mountaintop or how many weeks Darren Criss is in How To Succeed or that Darren Criss is even IN How to Succeed.

I thought I’d illustrate this point by listing ten surprising things heard by me and my peers over the last six months at a bunch of different live Broadway focus groups.

Fasten your seat belts . . .

 

1. “Priscilla closed. Yep, in October. I heard someone on the radio say it was the last day to see it.”

2. “I heard a radio spot for Mandy Patumpkin and . . . some lady . . . I can’t remember her name . . . but it’s, you know, that lady has . . . been around.”

3. “I want to see Spider-Man.” “I want to see Spider-Man.” “I want to see Spider-Man.”

4. “I get all my tickets through Ticketron.” (Ticketron disappeared in 1991 when it was acquired by Ticketmaster.)

5. “I went to see Priscilla because I thought Bette Midler was in it.”

6. “The only show I want to see is Hugh Jackman.” “It closed.” “Really? Then forget it. I don’t want to see anything!”

7. “I’d see any show by Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

8. “I don’t like to buy tickets in the winter. Because if there’s a huge storm I can’t drive into the city and I lose my money. Bloomberg always says, ‘Despite the snow, Broadway is open!’ Well, it’s not open for me, and I don’t want to be out that money so I stay home and watch TV.”

9.  “I used to go to the theater all the time.  Then I had kids.”

10. “Wicked plays television commercials all the time.” (According to my sources, Wicked has never had a television commercial.)

 

 

Ok, now, the above comments were each said by only one person in a small group of Broadway theatergoers, so I wouldn’t take any one of them as an indication of a trend amongst theatergoers (although that snow thing does make me think we need to do a better job of articulating our snow policy to ticket-buyers).

But I post them here to remind us all that just because we know something, doesn’t mean our audience does.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard someone say about Broadway?

 

(Got a comment? I love ’em, so comment below! Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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Comments
  • Amyleigh1982 says:

    “What happens on Broadway doesn’t make any impact on the rest of theatre in America.” – my high school drama teacher. Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. M.

  • Becky says:

    When I was waiting in the lobby for one of the last performances of Bonnie and Clyde I heard a person say the the show was closing so that Jeremy Jordan could go and do Newsies. I had to laugh out loud!!! I thought of course the producers involved with B&C said “Oh sure lets just lose tons of money on this show and close it down so Jeremy can move on, no biggie!” YEAH RIGHT!

  • Eric Grunin says:

    Wicked was running ads in movie theaters a while back, so that’s not completely ridiculous.

  • Courtney says:

    Walking by TKTS, I overheard a woman asking where Cats was playing.

  • Evelyn says:

    What is Broadway’s policy on snow???? I thought I was a pretty savvy ticket buyer, but I have no idea.

  • Kevin says:

    In Los Angeles Wicked advertises all the time on TV.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    I’m guessing that person who made the comment about “Wicked” commercials was from out of town. They start advertsing a coming engagement six months in advance, which means the ads basically never stop. It’s enough to make you kick in your TV!

  • Malini says:

    Someone said to me just yesterday, “Cats is the longest running show on Broadway. It’s running right?”
    I could’ve said something but it wouldn’t have sounded right.
    That show had more commercials than Progressive.

  • Darren says:

    Some of these remind me of a call I got about twenty years ago when I was first interning in a theater office. The caller’s question was “Is Nathan Hale still playing in Guys & Dolls?”

  • janiska says:

    The snow comment reminds me of a show we once did in mid America in the midst of a flood. A woman refused a refund for husband’s ticket saying, “He wanted to come, but I wouldn’t let him. He has two artificial legs and I was afraid they might fill up with water when he waded to the car.”
    Then at intermission, the owner of the space announced a tornado was heading for the theater. Everyone applauded, but no one stood up or left so we went on. Lots of noise, sirens, thunder, etc. of a car lot next to the theater blowing away, but the show was a hit.
    Snow policy, shmo policy!

  • Jason says:

    That Bette Midler comment reminds me of someone I know who thought she was also in Priscilla too. Just goes to show what star power producers can do for a show (her name is on the marquis after all; it’s an easy mistake)
    And I have seen commercials for Wicked, but they may have been for the touring company when they were playing nearby me.

  • Owen says:

    I know Wicked has commercials for their national tours. (I live in LA and all three times the show has come into town, including the two-year sit-down productions, there were plenty of television commercials during the runs.)

  • Bruce says:

    Ken: I say #2 all the time. I live in NJ. While I buy tickets in advance during the year, I won’t for January, February and March because I’m worried about snow and losing my money. I will buy tickets a day or two in advance after I hear the forecast and know it’s not going to snow. Case in point, last Friday, I bought a ticket to see Follies (for the second time) for the Sunday matinee.

  • Jefferson says:

    I recently took a trip to NY specifically to see FOLLIES before it closes. I spent in the range of $1000 on airfare, hotel, and show tickets for me and my boyfriend. In the theatre, I overheard a lady sitting behind me say, “Wait a minute, what is this show about? Didn’t I see this already? Why are we seeing this again?” I can’t quite wrap my head around that.

  • Christine says:

    Maybe a winter policy stating that if the tri-state commmuter railroads are not operating, a theater credit will be issued, and run it with the “Season of Savings” TV and print ads.

  • Jake Meyer says:

    That’s only 9. Number 5 is missing.

  • John Kunich says:

    I heard a discussion between two young girls and their mother. In essence, the kids asked “Can we see High School Musical and High School Musical 2 on the same day?” The mom replied, “I don’t think they have afternoon performances of High School Musical except on Saturdays.”
    Ms. Darbus must be rolling over in her drama class…

  • Randy Klein says:

    I overheard someone say that their favorite opera was ‘Phantom of the Opera’. It may seem funny, but it shows how uneducated the audiences are.

  • Kari Lynn says:

    overheard while waiting in the cancelation line for Book of Mormon tickets..”the only shows I think worth seeing and paying full price for are Mamma Mia and Wicked.” Much to my daughter’s dismay, I politely turned around, smiled and said, “You really need to get out more.”

  • Wambui says:

    I overheard this in the lobby of the Broadway Theater a few evenings ago. A group of about five friends were leaving a performance of Sister Act and were saying to each other how much they enjoyed the show. Then, one woman said, “It was great, but I was disappointed that they didn’t sing ‘my’ song. I wounder why they took it out of the show.” The others asked, “What song?” She said, “You know the one I mean” — and she started singing Day by Day.

  • Cam says:

    I’ve been in a focus group before. The focus was on food products. If you remember I’m a vegetarian and I buy organic as much as possible. I can just imagine the thoughts that the Corps had that hired the conductors of the focus group. They watched us while we went through product labels, advertising etc. They had advertising pictures of people of different ethnic backgrounds, or recipe and coupons advertisments etc. Would you buy this product if this picture was displayed things like that. So I would say things like if I liked that product sure I’d buy it. One was a summer picture with a recipe to entice people to buy their products all summer long. I said I might buy it for a special occasion like the Fourth of July or something. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’d taken me off of their list. LOL

  • Those things people say — they’re a big reason why focus groups are unreliable. Studies show over and over again that people are not that good at understanding or reporting on their own motives or decision-making.

  • Elmie says:

    I work as a hotel concierge and god, I have heard A LOT of statements from tourists who wanted to see a Broadway show (and thought they were experts on the matter). When a movie Mamma Mia was just coming out a couple from Germany flew to New York specifically to see Meryl Streep live in the theater (they almost cried when I said she was only in a movie, not on Broadway). Once a woman wanted to buy 7 tickets for “Spelling Bee” and I said it would be $ 140.00 (face value + broker charge)a ticket. She was talking to the others in a group for about 20 min. and then she said that they were OK to pay $ 140.00 – $ 20.00 per person was acceptable for them ))) Two American women came to the desk and asked to see a Broadway show. When I wondered, which show they had in mind, one of them declared thoughtfully after a long pause: “A musical, for instance!” 2 Russian guys asked me: “Why did they make “Spider Man” AGAIN??” One American older gentleman DEMANDED that I get him tickets for “Lion King” in July with 50 % discount, because he is our regular client and that’s WHAT HE ALWAYS DOES IN NEW YORK! One lady called and asked if had tickets for “Lion King” for that night and I offered her “Wicked” instead for what she exclaimed: “Wicked is FOR CHILDREN!” I could go on with this forever… Last one! On December 24th I escaped from work to get general rush tickets for “How to Succeed…” (my last chance to see Daniel Radcliff) and stood in long line for about 2 hours before the box office opening. In front of me waited a French family of 3. When they finally made it to the ticket window, they were asked if they wanted $ 30.00 partial view or full view for $ 132.00? The mother answered “It’s OK” and paid $ 132.00 per ticket after freezing in 2 hour rush tickets line (I tried to stop her btw but she wouldn’t listen 🙁

  • Shannon D. says:

    GREAT Idea, Christine!

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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