7 Things Broadway can learn from the Olympics.

I miss it already.  Don’t you?

I didn’t even watch much of the Games but man, the buzz of the Olympics just can’t be beat.  And every Olympic Games seems to get more and more exciting (thanks in part to technology making it more and more accessible).

I learned a lot from these games . . . and not just that the athletes hook up more than a Time Warner cable guy (to the tune of 150,000 condoms) . . . so I thought I’d share some of what I learned, and how it can be applied to making great theater and/or marketing Broadway.

1.  You gotta open and close with a bang.

Did you know that the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics cost about $42 million smackaroos?  That’s half a freekin’ Spider-Man for goodness sake.  But those planners know what they’re doing.  You gotta light people up at the beginning of an event so they know they made the right decision to tune in (or pay $150 for a ticket).  And at the end of the day/play, send ’em up with something to talk about.  And yes, that can be spectacle (that’s what’s easy), but it can also be emotion.  The opening and closing numbers of a show are two of the three most important moments in a show.  The third?  The end of Act I.

2.  Reinvent and redefine who/what you are. 

Did you know that synchronized diving was a thing?  Or trampolining?  Every set of Games seems to bring on a new sport or two, and an old one that gets a little more media attention than the last time.  It’s as if the Games are saying, “You think you know what the Olympics are?   Well, take this!”  And then they throw race-walking at us.  Theater is a broad term.  And I encourage us all to push the boundaries of what it actually means.  Blue Man Group?  O?  Even shows like Once?  They aren’t what you’d expect . . . which is why they stand out.

3.  Give us someone to root for.

You gotta love that 14 year old girl that gave up her home and her friends to pursue her Olympic Dream.  Or the fastest man in the world who lives in Jamaica and has the whole nation pushing him to go even faster.  You gotta love your hero, and you gotta want them to succeed, in the Olympics and in your show.  I’ve seen two musicals over the past six months where I just didn’t like the protagonist.  At all.  And in both cases, I liked a secondary character even more.  Find a way for us to root for them, no matter what they do or where they are from.

4.  Let us show our pride, with merch!

Despite the ridiculousness of the presidential race that hasn’t even really got started yet, I was feeling some good ‘ol 4th of July American pride over the past few weeks . . . and I showed it off by buying a USA t-shirt.  Sure, we’ve got lots of merch for shows, but what about some good ol’ Official Broadway merch.  Maybe some exists, but I certainly don’t know about it.  You know, tees that say things like, “There’s no place like Broadway” or “I’d rather be on Broadway.”  New York City added some buckets of cash to its coffers with its official merch line (especially after 9/11), so why not some Official Broadway merch to add to ours?

5.  Give us 140 different ways to get access.

For the mainstreamers like me, there was NBC.  For the super fans, there was MSNBC.  And for the super obsessed folks who stayed up 24 hours a day waiting for the latest results from skeet shooting, there was some crazy cable channel with a Twitter feed to give you the fix you needed.  The point is there was constant information, and a lot of ways to get it . . . on video.  We could use more coverage for Broadway, and more television coverage specifically.  I know the Nightly News isn’t going to pay much more attention to us (especially since so many aren’t even reviewing us anymore), but what about some more public access shows for those super fans?  More internet talk shows.  More, more, more.  We’ll stay up 24 hours too, you know.

6.  Put your stars in the spotlight.

Calls from Obama.  National commercials.  These athletes will have it made.  We should be pushing our big stars more into the spotlight as well.  Maybe not national, but certainly local.  I want to see our folks around town at more non-industry events . . . at Gracie Mansion . . . at the opening of the latest Danny Meyer restaurant.  For the most part, the responsibility for getting the actors to these events has fallen to the actors themselves (and their press reps, if they can afford one).  Maybe we as an industry can help them along . . . and they’ll help us when they’re big in Hollywood in return.

7.  Nothing beats live.

There was a lot of controversy over delayed telecasts of events that took place earlier in the day because of the time difference (thanks to Twitter, this is a bigger issue than it has ever been before), proving again that nothing beats live . . . even when it’s televised.  Maybe we’ll see a few of our events televised live as well?  Will it be the same experience as in the theater?  No.  Will it drive more people to want to go to the theater?  I’d bet all of Michael Phelps medals that the answer is yes.

The Olympics are over.  We have to wait four years to see it again.  Thankfully, the new Broadway season is right around the corner.

Wait a minute . . . We all love the Olympics.  We all love Broadway.

If only we could put them together?  The Broadway Olympics!  The highest belt!  The most pirouettes!  Who can scream at a patron the loudest for not turning off their cell phone?

Who wants in on the planning committee???

 

(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
  • Haha, I LOVE the idea of Broadway Olympics!

    How about the actor who went the most shows in a row without missing a performance that season? The set design with the lowest budget? Longest note held?

    So many possibilities…

  • pG says:

    Count me in for the planning and creative committee! I especially like the idea of expanding boundaries and stretching them. I was @ your seminar in May on “Getting your show off the ground”: I haven’t given up on my idea of Pink Floyd meets Bejart! 🙂

    Let’s keep in touch!
    Paola

  • Lisa B says:

    Hi Ken – i always enjoy your blog. Here is something that I have been thinking about that was controversy at the beginning of the Olympics. The fact that team USA was wearing uniforms made in China struck a nerve with many Americans in this tough economy. I just got back from a vacation in Maine, and wanted a sweat shirt from York Beach, and I bought one, but it was also made in China. I have nothing against buying mass produced cheap goods, but what an opportunity for an all American industry to help another. There are American businesses that can print show shirts, mugs key rings etc that are %100 American made. My very own Godspell mug was made in Thailand. I looked up some companies on line to see if we indeed were making anything like this and sure enough we are. How wonderful it could be if something so simple could be incorporated into the Broadway merchandising market. An example of one site is USpromos.com. Broadway is an American industry that is proudly unionized. How awesome would it be to influence other areas of our nations economy other than in the hospitality industry. I know Local 1 makes sure it’s swag is from American union shops. It saddens/ maddens me that the gigantic sports franchises, with unionized players, have their shirts and Jerseys made in so many other countries. If a person is willing to Spend $25 on a t-shirt made in thailand, i bet they would spend $30 if it were made here. Just a thought.

  • Jon Mann says:

    Thinking of Broadway in relation to the Olympics is inspiring.

    What comes to my mind would be to create a competitive, international performing arts festival, that could, like the Olympics, happen in a limited time window (perhaps 2-4 week runs) every four years.

    To some extent Broadway already is where the world’s best performers and performing arts companies come to prove it. But, for most the opportunity to show their stuff in this world center for great performance is unattainable.

    So, like the Olympics the competition would have to be sponsored by represented countries, world bodies and international companies.

    We could start with regional qualifying competitions in 4-6 locations around the world. Using an unbiased panel of judges following standardized criteria and with some weight given to public input via social media a fair process for determining which companies belong in the “finals” on Broadway would be achievable.

    A limited number of available/reserved Broadway theaters would be home to these performances. Ticket prices could be high like they are for the Olympics, or possibly subsidized by sponsor dollars and special arrangements to make them more accessible to the general public.

    These events would generate national pride. Presenting humanity’s best performing arts achievements on the stage would expand Broadway’s international reputation and create a greater sense of world community, mutual respect and equal access.

    “Winning” shows may develop adequate audience to sustain a run on Broadway, plus international touring.

    Media buy-in would be necessary to build awareness, audiences and to broadcast events or segments to the world.

  • Here’s three events I would LOVE to watch at the Broadway Olympics:

    1. Here’s your starting note, here’s your ending note in the key of E. How many different notes can you hit in between in 30 seconds? Bonus points for mellismas; penalty points if any of the notes are off pitch.

    2. Name That Chord/Name That Show: Here’s the chord: _____. Name a Broadway Show where that chord is played. Bonus points for naming the actual song. Even more bonus points for identifying the singer who sang the song in the original production.

    3. Tap: Here’s a one minute musical piece. You each have 10 minutes to choreograph a solo dance number to it, and you must write and sing a lyric to the last 10 seconds of the song. (While they are working on their presentation you keep the audience entertained with clips of the new reality TV hit show, “Broadway Dance Moms”).

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