Why I enjoyed Broadway shows more as a kid.

Arthur Bartow, the Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts when I was a student, said this to me when I was a freshman . . .

As a theater pro, I know I’m enjoying a show when I’m not thinking about what went in to making it.

I’m sure you can relate.  I know I can.  During most of my theater-going experiences I play a little game with myself called . . . “What’s the nut?!?”  (If you’re not sure what a “nut” is, click here).  That’s right, during the show I start counting cast members, musicians, even moving lights to try and figure out what the operating costs are.  And when I’m really not sucked in to what’s happening on stage, I’ll even try to “guess the gross” based on the butts I see in seats.

That’s certainly not the same romantic emotional roller coaster that shows took me on as a kid, now is it?

But that’s an occupational hazard.

But there’s another reason I enjoyed shows more as a kid that might even be affecting non theater pros out there, which means it could be affecting those grosses I’m trying to guess.

I know way more about those shows than I ever did before.

As an out-of-the-tri-state teenage theater fan, I got my theater news once a year . . . watching the Tony Awards.  Maybe my Dad showed me the ads in the Sunday Times every so often, but frankly, the sight of the Old Gray Lady as a trying-to-be-cool teenager made me throw up in my mouth just like the sight of . . . well, an old gray lady.

And even when I got to NYU, I wasn’t inundated with seventy four dot-com Broadway news sites, or Twitter accounts, or Broadway gossip columns that get emailed out faster than John Travolta can say, “Adela Dazeem.”

So what did this information dark age mean to me, a theater consumer?

  • I didn’t know if shows were received poorly out of town.
  • I didn’t know if shows weren’t selling well.
  • I didn’t know if chat rooms thought shows were destined for the wall at Joe Allen.

And that blissful ignorance let me go and experience a show fresh faced . . . to have my own experience and judge it based solely on what was before me.  Not on some info-induced predisposition.

In the age of all of us drowning in information (much of which we don’t even want but ends up in our inboxes anyway), we can’t help but walk into a theater . . . or any experience . . . a movie, a restaurant, a date (you google him or her first, don’t you?) . . . without some feeling of how it might go.

And if our minds are already traveling down one road towards one conclusion, well, Newton’s First Law of Motion says an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  If you think something is going to be “bad,” how hard is it going to be for that show, movie, or date to reverse that opinion?

You know what’s worse than theater goers being prejudiced by all negative pre-opening news on new Broadway shows?

Reviewers being prejudiced as well.

You don’t think they have their ears to the ground to pick up all the chatter?  I have it on good account that many even troll those chat sites.  And there is no doubt that this has an influence on their final verdict on shows that they review.

What do we do?

Well, as a Producer, you and your press rep can try as hard as you can to control the flow of info about your show, but the fact is we live in the information age and, as a society, we can’t go back.

But as an individual, you can.

Try this . . . is there a show you’re excited to see?  Something you heard about or saw an ad for and want to buy a ticket to?

Buy that ticket.

Then don’t read or look at anything else until you see it.

Experiencing a show without the editorial color of a zillion other sources may just make you enjoy it that much more.

And isn’t that why you go to the theater?  To enjoy it?

I know that’s why I did.  And I’m going to work hard to try to again.

 

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Comments
  • Jared says:

    I completely agree. If there is a show that I am interested in, I try to avoid as much press as possible so that I can experience a show fresh. It is so much more enjoyable to be surprised by a show. I think one of the major contributing factors for me adoring “The Book of Mormon” so much is that I saw the show in previews before any production footage or music samples were released. There wasn’t even a song list in the program, so everything was truly a surprise.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    i just had a really bad idea and the fact that Im saying that means I know it’s unworkable. But being from the TV/Film world, I have been subject to and angered by test audiences. I know we cant do that in theatre, but if there were a way to have some regular humans see an early rehearsal of a show and GOD FORBID maybe even a respected critic or two to give an opinion, maybe that might tweek (not twerk) things to a more favorable box office. I know. BAD IDEA!!!

  • I must confess I enjoyed theatre a lot more when it was a source of entertainment rather than an investment. I guess my expectations were a bit lower when it didn’t cost two weeks’ pay.

  • Jeremy Gerard says:

    Aw come on, Ken. If you didn’t know more now than you did as a college freshman, you wouldn’t be much of a producer. Broadway’s always been a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Long before Michael Riedel and the Web, Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan and Sam Zolotow were dishing shows. (“No legs, no jokes, no chance!” Winchell reported on the opening night of “Away We Go!” in New Haven — a few weeks before it rolled into the St. James as “Oklahoma!”) And if you think the major critics back then were removed from the chatter, you’re naive (though they’d never admit it in print, as some do today).

  • Hype cuts both ways and may turn off as many people as not. Something to think about at the next ad meeting.

  • A Contrarian says:

    I read the Times review of “Sweeney Todd” sitting in the Uris just before the whistle blew. Saw “42nd Street” the day after it opened, but was running late to the train and didn’t pick up a copy until after the show on the way home — and only then found out about Gower Champion’s death.

    Stopped reading reviews the night “Merrily” closed. If I want to see something, it’s usually late in previews, opening week, or at the very end of the run. Then I might read a few of the critics’ ramblings just for fun — or for outrage.

  • Joe says:

    OK that is a deal. I have tickets for April 3rd for LADY DAY and will not read any pre press. In fact I got the tickets on a whim.
    I rarely do that. OMG and impulse buy!!! Now I know that your must love that. Will update this when I see the show.

  • janis says:

    Not to ramble on, but…
    I wonder if you are missing the innocence you experienced at the shows you saw when you were young. Before a lot of life experience and becoming a producer, you may have brought your own innocence to the theater and added to the innocence in shows at that time, experienced the magic that lead you to fall in love with the art form.
    Today, innocence is ridiculed and its value is misjudged both on Broadway and in Hollywood (including your favorite Uncle Walt’s shows). Far too often sensation is substituted for sensitivity and cynicism for innocence.
    It’s much easier to produce cynicism and sensation, but maybe if Broadway set itself apart again by producing shows that embrace innocence rather than ridiculing it, you would again fall in love with Broadway enough to be distracted from the facts of production.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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