To move or not to move: You Make The Call!

There’s never a dull moment on Broadway . . . even when you have a hit!

In case you haven’t heard, my pinch-me-so-I-know-I’m-not-dreaming, hopefully-this-happens-more-than-once-in-a-lifetime production of It’s Only A Play announced that it’s extending!

Rather than close our doors on January 4th, we’re adding another 10 weeks to the run, all the way through March 29th!

And, pinch-me-yet-again, but we were lucky enough to get one my favorite “amigos,” Martin “Marty” Short, to join the company!

I’d see anything Martin Short does, never mind be lucky enough to produce it (he attended the opening night of Godspell, and watching him take-in the show that helped launch his career was a show in itself!).

But man, to get him for this?  Talk about the “stars” aligning.

Except for one thing.

You would think that extending a show would be easy-breezy. But not in modern theatrical times.

I talk a lot about how the current theater crunch is affecting a ton of shows waiting to land on Broadway, and now it’s affecting those already here. You see, our little show slipped into this season late in the game.  And our theater, the Schoenfeld, had a tenant (the import of The Audience starring Dame Helen Mirren) already lined up to open after the end of our previously announced limited run. And then, of course, our box office blew up even more than my partners and I could ever have imagined.

Then what happens?

Well, Patrick Healy of the NY Times wrote a story about our request to The Audience  to allow us to stay put, and all the internal back-channel chatter of such a deal.  Read it here.

But to cut to the end of the tale . . . The Audience is opening at the Schoenfeld as originally planned and we’re making the move.

But that’s not where this blog ends.

The article in the Times is a fascinating one, because it asks the primal producer question . . . art or commerce?  As you’ll read, it’s no secret that we offered to make it worth The Audience‘s while to make the move (we’d save money by not moving so why not pass some of them on to them to entice them – simple business, right?).  The Audience believed that a different theater might affect the audience’s response to the show, as well as require some redesigns, etc.  They had to balance that with an immediate return of capitalization to their investors.

Decisions, decisions, and honestly, I’m glad I was not the one making it.

Which is why I’m going to ask you to!

Balancing the desires of your creative team along with your fiduciary responsibilities to your investors is one of the hardest things we have to do as Producers.  And this was a tough, tough choice.

We know which way the team of The Audience chose (and I have an incredible amount of respect for that choice).  But in the spirit of those old football commercials that allowed you to play ref and “make the call,” I want you to tell me in the comments below . . . what would you have done?  Would you have taken the money and moved, lowering the risk to your investors?  Or would you have stayed put, and put the show in what you thought was the best artistic home for it?

Can’t wait to read what you think, because honestly, I’m still not sure what I would have done . . . except stay up at night anxious about it.


(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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  • Ilene Argento says:

    If I were offered the deal, and had a few months to tweak, and would be moving to a house that wouldn’t have effected the show’s exposure, marketability or box office, I’d have moved. Not only in the spirit of fiduciary duty to investors, but in the spirit if theatre. To have a smash hit like It’s Only A Play is a rarity in this day in age. They should help celebrate that. Good karma begets good karma. As for hurting the artistic expression of the show bring asked to open elsewhere, if the show had aspirations for success, wouldn’t they, also, hope for a tour? If their designers were unable to tweak for a different theatre, it would be a sad review of their designers’ abilities.

    Obviously, IMHO. That said, new theatre + Marty Short = longest running play on Broadway history! Fingers crossed!

  • Summer says:

    If I had confidence in my show, I would have taken the $ and moved. Of course after I got you to up your offer a little bit, just a 100k or so : ) A little curious as to what “etc” included.


  • David Abramson says:

    Take the money and run. In this case, the theater itself would not haver had a large influence on whether the The Audience succeeds. It’s more about the material and the cast and creatives. The theater does not matter IN THIS CASE because the locations were nearly identical and the seating capacity and configuration (for pricing) were nearly identical. In my opinion, the producers of The Audience made a mistake and did a disservice to it’s investors.

  • Jared W says:

    It’s a tough call, but I think I ultimately would have stayed put. Financially, I think $400k is ultimately negligible in the grand scheme of things. I think the play will do well regardless; they have an Oscar winner essentially reprising her Oscar winning performance onstage for heaven’s sake! The fact that the play wasn’t just a hit but a record-breaking one in London obviously increases their confidence in turning a profit. So while the $400k would have been nice to have now, I really don’t think that will be the difference between recouping or not.

    Ultimately, they have no reason to move. They booked the theatre first, feel passionately about it, and have already done design work with the Schoenfeld in mind. Furthermore, while I’m sure the producers would like to make more money, I think everyone involved primarily considers this a prestige piece and is much more concerned about the play’s artistic integrity than how much money they can make.

  • June says:

    You must have known this would happen when you had the biggest advance on Bwy history. Moving seems a small price to pay.

  • Robert Greeley says:

    Whatever would make everything more profitable for everyone. When some of my 9 musicals (so far) reach Broadway, I plan to contribute about 50% back to that theatre, from the producer down to the performers singing their hearts out and dancing their feet off. I wrote the original story or adaptation, music and lyrics, so I would become a multi-millionaire quickly. On my next 9, I hope to collaborate with great known or unknown composers and/or librettists. .

  • Michael says:

    Hi Ken,
    When you are a producer of a show like It’s Only a Play, but not the lead producer (I assume you are mostly a fundraiser I imagine), how much work on a daily basis do you do on a show like this versus on one where you are the lead producer? I’d love it if you wrote a blog about this! I always wonder how much work is required of a non-lead producer.

    • Ken Davenport says:

      Hey Michael, I am actually one of the Leads on Only A Play. Tom Kirdahy, Roy Furman and myself. But I’ll try and do a post on what you suggest soon. It’s a good idea!

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    If The Audience believe IOAP was a limited run and that the house would be theirs afterward, then it’s theirs.

  • Nancy says:

    Michael DiG said it all in one short sentence.

  • JM says:

    It is important to match the piece to the space whenever possible. The Schoenfeld goes to The Audience.

  • Since i feel they are relatively safe with Helen Mirren and a great word-of-mouth for THIS Show, and…since I feel the “story” of this move/don’t move saga has even HELPED that word-of-mouth, I would stick to the “creative” side and stay at the Schoenfeld. The rest balances out I feel!

  • Damien says:

    As I’m London based I saw this wonderful production last year in The West End. Although the set is being adapted for Broadway the look of The Schoenfeld is far better suited to the show. Also as great an incentive as $400,000 is when you factor in the redesign of Lighting and set and the work and inevitable cost involved in contacting those already booked I understand the decision. As an investor i would question my producer turning down $400,000 but the run was incredibly successful in London with the investors making a decent profit and I imagine Broadway will follow suit.

  • Dana Vance says:

    I think decisions like this come down to a gut reaction. Will moving the show to another building put a damper on the overall “feel” of the show? A show comes with the right time, and the right place, and I can see how moving a show might make a producer skeptical…a true story…in my family,, we had a tradition every Grandmother made this wonderful round bread where she baked a half dollar in it…all the men in the family would put one hand on the bread and pull, whoever got the half dollar meant their family would be prosperous for the year…my father won 3 years in a row…there were about 10 hands on the bread. That year, my Uncle Joe was not happy when my father put his hand on the bread, and asked my other Uncle Tony, who never participated, to put his hand in where my father’s hand was placed. He did, they all pulled, and my father had the half dollar in his hunk of bread. So the move didn’t hurt at all, in fact, it saved him! So, my point….ha! It’s a tough one!

  • Randy Zeese says:

    The producers of The Audience had the opportunity to get some fast cash AND demonstrate extreme confidence that their production will do well no matter where it opens…kinda fits with the show’s theme! They hadn’t opened yet, and have a slam-dunk actress, so I think that should have taken the money and run!

  • Michael Landman says:

    The Audience’s designs were redone/tweaked specifically for the spruced-up Schoenfeld, the perfect “palace” for their show, so it makes sense artistically for them to stay put. And if it makes sense artistically, then it will ultimately make sense financially. $400K (10% of budget MOL) just isn’t enough to take a risk on artistic compromise, especially for a known quantity (TA’s a hit in London, anyway), and a superstar actor who will draw crowds (and between IOAP, TA, and The Elephant Man, what extraordinary star-power in that corner of the world there will be!)

  • Kevin Davis says:

    It it were my choice, I would have taken the sure thing ( the dough)! With the recoupment rate as low as it is, it would be nice to have some upfront cash. I think a good creative team could adept another space to satisfy the artistic vision.

  • Joanne says:

    I suspect Helen Mirren had something to do with this decision.. She is a MAJOR star, mostly likely she wishes to be presented in the best light, and certainly does not need to travel with a play at this stage in her career. I would think she had more of a say then we can ever know.
    That being said… a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!

  • Paul L says:

    Well, first, let’s look at the additional costs that Audience might incur. Like, for instance; Have they spent any money already on advertising/promotion, or has any buzz for their show been created for their show. Do they have any advance sales that have to be changed. Would they think there might be customer confusion and/or questioning the why of the change. Are there any major cast members who like the Schoenfeld, and how would they feel. Would it delay the Audience opening. In other words, there are many things that would have to be at least massaged before one would agree to such a move. Are any of these things, and I bet their are a bunch more, of great importance. Maybe not, but when you are making a long complicated list, there’s always something that you miss.

    Then there are the physical things like sets that have to be altered printed materials that have to be replaced, and you could go on and on.

    So, here’s the point. why bother. Only money, and a lot of it would have to change hands to cover the real costs or the worry about what you missed.

  • David Merrick Jr says:

    It was the director’s call so you want to keep him happy. They made the right call, since this play will sell out and make money.

  • Gary says:

    Agree with Paul L- so many other details to consider. $400k probably would not even help as much as we think. Besides “The Audience” booked the theater way ahead of time- it’s their space!
    Whatever Mirren wants, Mirren should get!

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