To keep ’em coming in the front, you should let them in the back.

I got an email from my high school English teacher last week asking if I could help a group of students she knew get a backstage tour at a Broadway show.

She didn’t ask me which show they should see or if I could help them score some tickets to Kinky Boots.  She just wanted to know how to get them to see backstage. You know, “where the magic happens.”

I’m trying to help them out, of course, because I know what most of you already know, but it is worth blog-peating . . . allowing your audience to see how it all happens makes them even more interested in watching it all happen.

So this is one of those simple, duh-like, blogs that should just, um, happen.

Every single theater on Broadway . . . and dare I say, every single theater across the country theater-loving world should offer a public backstage tour right with their orchestra tickets.  That’s right, put it out in the open.  Don’t make English teachers track down their former troublemaking students (oh, I caused some trouble in that English class – not lighting off firecrackers in the back row trouble, but (nerd alert) debates over the genius and sexuality of Ernest Hemingway type of trouble).

A simple back stage tour can do so much for every show/institution.  It can:

  • Generate interest in the show currently running.
  • Generate revenue (yep, I’m saying charge for it, if you wanna).
  • Give our “avids” something else to keep their interest.
  • Allow the theater an up-close-and-personal chance to upsell things like a subscription, or solicit donations.
  • And more.

I’m not sure what Broadway is waiting for.  This should just be a thing already.  We probably have some labor issue (that’s usually the problem with things that are oh so simple), but we should find a way around it, or find a way through it.

Because The Wizard of Oz was on to something.  Seeing what goes on beyond the curtain is when the (marketing) magic really happens.

 

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Comments
  • Brad says:

    I agree completely. As a theater nerd and actor I still love to see how it all works and how small those Broadway wings actually are. Where does it all go?

    One thing to note though, if producers wanted to do this, they should make sure the actors are aware and OK with it. Backstage is a private, protected areas and it can feel intrusive if not done right.

  • Michele Favaro-Campbell says:

    I would LOVE to be able to take my daughter and son behind the scenes of a Broadway play. I think they would both be fascinated. And more importantly, they would learn how many people it actually takes to stage a show. They would learn about all the jobs other than “actor” that are involved and how much fun so many of those jobs are to do. Imagine how wonderful it would be to see a Jr. High school student who wants to be a lighting designer, costume designer or something other than the “famous person” on stage because they got to see first hand all that is involved in putting on a show.

  • Kristi R-C says:

    My caveat is there are MANY dangerous, even potentially fatal, things backstage(and on) so to give tours and keep it safe, the groups must be very small and conducted by people who know that equipment intimately. I could see the IA encouraging their members to do it, with appropriate compensation. If the producers charge for it, they would have the money to pay the IA members – win/win is usually a good thing in business!

  • Becky says:

    Love Wicked’s Behind the curtain tour! I happily shell out the money every time I bring a new person to see the show. I got to go back stage at The Addams Family to meet Nathan Lane. I had to give a BIG donation to BCEFA for the privilege but it was worth every penny! I wish more shows would do it.

  • Samuel Gelman says:

    I was lucky enough to get 2 backstage tours of Billy Elliot for free from two different cast members. The company had no issue with various cast taking people on tours backstage. I think I made up for the free part by giving back when they had the equity/broadway cares drives.

  • Lynn Manuell says:

    I think it sometimes has to do with liability insurance

  • CJ Scott says:

    Behind the scenes video blog!

  • Rick Reynolds says:

    While visiting friends in Massachusetts, 2 of them took me on a backstage tour of The Footlights Club, Jamaica Plain’s community theatre. They are currently building sets and rehearsing for their production of “August, Osage County.” I was thrilled! I’m already a theatre junkie but have never been part of the production side – just an audience member. I was fascinated by the set plans, wardrobe room, costumes, and the theatre’s history. By all means offer backstage tours – I don’t see how it could miss.

  • Lisa Pratt says:

    Hi Ken. This is an idea long overdue. I write this as I stand outside of a broadway show with two daughters “stage-dooring” it. The crowd is six or eight deep at least. How excited and willing to pay most likely, would that grateful crowd be right now if the security guards pushing them back actually welcomed them in. They’d be back buying a second ticket to see the show again for $ure.

  • Andrea W says:

    Legally Blonde’s MTV backstage tour during the recording was really cool. Especially the costume changes and the exclusive interviews.

    I think there’s a lot more to a theater experience than just sitting in a seat. You’ve already pointed out a few ways to get the audience more involved: having open auditions, giving backstage tours. I think that you could even have people watch practices, which would help them in learning how the actors learn (obviously not early practices, you want them to come to the actual show!), have pre-show singing events, etc.

    I did marketing for my steel band in college, and we doubled our attendance by playing outside as people walked to class.

    Getting people excited: that’s how you increase sales.

    Awesome post!

  • Susan says:

    Check out Wicked’s Behind the Emerald Curtain tour. Select Saturday mornings at 10 am. http://www.emeraldcurtain.com

    A big hit for 8 years, showing fans of Broadway how a show gets put together. 90 minutes long.

  • Esther says:

    I would love to take a backstage tour of a Broadway theater. The Metropolitan Opera does them without any problem. I was in Minneapolis last weekend and on Sunday I spent a terrific day at the Guthrie Theater. I took a backstage tour, ate lunch at one of its restaurants, saw a play and browsed in the gift shop afterward. The Guthrie made about $60 on my visit above the cost of my ticket.

  • Aaron Loo says:

    Back stage access and an open rehearsal would be a great way to allow students into a world they can aspire to and motivate for. Drama teachers and chorus teachers will have students begging to stay after school once they can see how high the bar is to be a professional.

    Going to school in Waipahu, Hawaii was a world of nothing to look forward to. But when I got to NYC to go to Manhattan School of Music I knew I wasn’t in the cane fields anymore and had to step my game up quickly.

    When you are surrounded by the best, you get it!

    So open up the gates and let the wannabes see how far up they got to climb. Some of us just didn’t know which mountain to climb.

    Another great topic to chew upon.

  • Sam says:

    Hey Ken!

    As an actress who has been on Broadway in both plays and musicals; I have to disagree.

    Backstage to me is a sacred place; much like an athlete has his or her locker room where they prep for a game.
    And yes I know TV crews come and go from them at major league games but the actual place where a team congregates and staff manage a venue are locked off.

    I feel it would be like letting people know the secrets of a magician. We want to keep the illusion going and the audience in wonder.

    Closed rehearsal happen for a reason; we are artists and we need space to grow, create and make mistakes in a safe environment.

  • Critique says:

    A great idea, Ken. I went backstage for both The Lion King and Sister Act as part of the fund raising efforts for Broadway Cares.
    It was thrilling! A wonderful experience for anyone who loves theater.

  • Carlos Mendoza says:

    100% right. The Yankees do it. Radio City does it. So why not? As much as I would love to do it, I can’t even imagine what a bus load of people from out of town would pay for this as part of a tour package. Midday tour followed by dinner and finally the show at the theatre they toured hours earlier. BRILLIANT!

  • Esther says:

    I understand that Sam feels a tour would violate her space but it can be done with respect for performers.

    The example she gives of athletes proves my point. I’ve been on a tour of Fenway Park in Boston and I bet other Major League ballparks also do them. They’re usually on a non-game day or early in the morning when the players aren’t around. I don’t remember whether we visited a locker room but we sat in the dugout, went onto the field, saw the pressbox and the luxury seats.

    At the Metropolitan Opera tour, we even listened outside a rehearsal room. The singers inside didn’t even know we were there.

    The Guthrie tour was on a Sunday morning. We heard about the history of the theatre, walked through the lobby, sat in two of the auditoriums, walked through the set and costume shops. There was no one around to disturb. We didn’t go into a dressing room or anything like that.

    So I think there are ways to conduct tours without impacting the actors or crew. And rather than ruin the magic, the tour gave me a greater understanding of what it takes to put on a show.

    And it’s funny that she should mention rehearsals. A theatre just sent me an invitation to attend a rehearsal as one of the perks of being a subscriber. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m assuming the actors are comfortable with it.

  • PattyK says:

    Absolutely agree! I was able to get a backstage tour of Phantom The Las Vegas Spectacular because I knew one of the cast members. It was fascinating! Will never forget it. Patty

  • robert winthrop talmage says:

    Robert W.
    Yes, yes! I also think that producers need to fine tune and micro-plan every experience for the audience member-long before the time they hit their seats.
    The lobby, for example, is so under utilized and could be so thematically tied into the show-it’s not even funny.
    RW

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