What to do when a Hurricane comes to town.

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8 PM.  Get it?  Curtain time!

Except tonight up and down and on and off Broadway, no curtains will be going up, thanks to a little biatch known as Sandy.  (BTW, I think the authors of Grease should change the name of their female lead to Mandy out of protest.)

Ok, that’s enough of the (attempts at) jokes, because frankly, this storm is serious business.  People are in danger, which is the primary concern (if you’re in an evacuation area, get out!).  At the same time, Sandy is disrupting serious business.  Small businesses across the eastern seaboard are going to lose millions and millions of much needed dollars this week, and Broadway and Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway and improv groups and stand-up shows are no exception.

What can you do when a hurricane  (or any show canceling force that you can’t control) comes to your town?

Here are a few tips to remember:

1.  It’s ok to cancel.

The show must go on, right?  Yep.  We are a resilient industry.  But some times, when the safety of your audience and the safety of your employees is at risk, you have to check that cliche at the door and do the right thing . . . and not do a show.  Yes, if there were a couple of shows going up tonight, they’d rake in the bucks (there are a lot of stranded people in Times Square with nothing to do), but bucks are never enough to put people in harm’s way.

2.  Find out what other people are doing before you cancel.

If you noticed how the news started to break about the cancellations yesterday, it kind of came all at once.  There were a couple of small shows first, then Disney and the boom, they were all down.  Canceling is a big deal, and will cost you money in lost revenue.  One of the best lessons I learned when I was an Associate Company Manager was that when something happens that affects the whole biz, make sure you check and see what the whole biz is doing before you act.  The last thing you want to be is the ONLY show that cancels.  Imagine what your insurance company would say about that (see below).  Call fellow theaters and shows to find out where they are with their decision before you decide.

3.  Read that insurance policy.

Before doing anything, pull out that insurance policy (you do have one, don’t you?).  Do you have a one performance deductible?  Two?  Understanding how you will be compensated for loss in revenue can relieve you of some of the concern of making that call to cancel.  But it’s important you know what you’ll need to do to make that claim while you’re in the eye of the storm.

4.  Notify your customers as quick as you can.

Once you’ve made the decision, get the word out and fast.  Theater tickets are expensive, and you can bet that your audience is wondering whether they should brave the elements so they don’t lose their investment . . . and that’s one of the reasons you’re canceling, so they don’t put themselves in harm’s way.  Send an email, send a press release, call folks if you can . . . but let them know your status so they can stop worrying about the show they are supposed to see and concentrate on their own safety.

5.  Exchange first, refund second.

Once you’ve canceled, and notified, now it’s time to go to loss prevention mode.  It’s certainly easier to just refund everyone that had tickets to see your show, but once you give people their money back, it’s harder to get them to give it back to you.  That’s why you need to do everything you can to try and get them to pick another date to see your show.  I’ve even gone so far as to offer another ticket at a serious discount or even for free to entice someone who wanted a refund to exchange instead.  Unless you’re Book of Mormon, or another sell-out-show, you are going to lose some sales . . . but how much is up to your speed, creativity and salesmanship.

I hope the above helps you deal with any concerns you might be dealing with today, or may deal with in the future when your theater or your show or your small business faces a natural disruption.

But most importantly, I hope all of you in Sandy’s path are safe and sound.  Please take care of yourselves and your families first . . . and your shows second.


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



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  • Stay safe Ken. You’re among those I’m thinking about.

  • Megan says:

    6. Relocate to Vegas.

    (Stay safe over there!)

  • David Merrick Jr says:

    I’m not sure it’s the Producer’s call. If the Shuberts decide its unsafe and make the call to cancel, you’re not talking them out of it.

    Theatre Row is closed today, whether you’d like to go or not…

  • Duncan says:

    “Look at me, I’m Mandra Dee…”

  • Xak says:

    Ken, I think you meant ‘income PROTECTION’ mode and not ‘income PREVENTION’ mode. Just had to laugh at the very thought that anyone or any entity in the theater business would have such a thing as ‘INCOME PREVENTION’… Otherwise, entertaining and informative as usual.

    One more thing. You might want to check into something that’s bothered me for years: Why is it that a Shubert produced show MUST–even if every single house they own is inappropriate–be in a Shubert house? (Likewise Nederlander or Jujamcyn show). They have no reciprocal leeway the way movie studios out here in L.A. allow each other to use their backlots. Am VERY familiar with the NY houses–have my own personal favorite–and no, they are not all alike. Many people forget what theatre they saw a show in–I never do. “42nd Street” was never the same at the Majestic (or the St. James–where they used the bus-and truck sets) as it was where it opened, and where I saw it, at the Winter Garden. That unique sideways oval shaped auditorium allows for the widest (or one of the widest) stages in town.

    The best current example I know of is “Phantom of the Opera” at the Majestic. Due to the steep rake of the orchestra section, the mezzanine sweeps down so low that every seat downstairs behind row H is OBSTRUCTED VIEW. You CAN’T see the chandelier on the ceiling, nor ANY of the Phantom’s wanderings along the tippity top of the proscenium. When asked, I always recommend that people sit UPSTAIRS. When “Phantom” played Los Angeles, at the Ahmanson, (before it’s renovation), I checked and even in the last row of the orchestra, you could still see the entire proscenium AND the the chandelier on the ceiling. So what’s the “Phantom” doing at the Majestic? When it opened there weren’t many other shows open. (Of course, it hasn’t hurt business, obviously), but I think it’s a shame that the configuration of the theatre makes “Phantom” a risky proposition. (At least in NY). So, how come they can’t trade houses when a situation calls for it?

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