Podcast Episode 28 Transcript – Victoria Bailey
Ken: Hey guys, it’s Ken Davenport here. Before we get into this week’s podcast I wanted to remind you that I’m hosting my “Get Your Show Off the Ground” webinar this Wednesday at 7 o’clock. It’s a chance for you to call in and listen to me talk to other people just like you that have shows they want to get off the ground. Check out the blog at TheProducersPerspective.com for more details. Now, on with the podcast!
Ken: Greetings, listeners. This is Ken Davenport. Welcome back to the Producer’s Perspective Podcast, where every week I get to sit down and talk with a Broadway mover and shaker, and this week is certainly no exception. I’m lucky enough to be across the table from and sitting with the executive director of the Theatre Development Fund, or TDF, Victoria “Tory” Bailey. Welcome Tory!
Victoria: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Ken: I’ll bet money that just about every single one of you listening to this podcast right now has seen a show thanks to TDF and the work that Tory does. You see, if you didn’t know, they’re the ones that run the TKTS booth. I won the bet, didn’t I? But that’s only one little piece of what TDF does. From providing inexpensive costume rentals to non-profit theaters around the country to providing access to theater for people with disabilities, what they do stretches so far beyond selling tickets for half price. So that’s where I want to start, Tory. Tell me a little bit about the mission of TDF.
Victoria: TDF was founded on the belief that the performing arts are essential to one’s life experience and that you really, in order to lead a full life, people need to have exposure to theater and to dance. Our founders believed that and they were worried . . . it sounds funny now because, once every five or ten years, people are worried about the future of the American play . . . but they were worried about the future of the American play and they were trying to figure out how best to sustain the arts, with this belief that the arts are really important . . . and stick a pin in that because we’ll circle back to that in terms of things going forward. They decided that the best way to do that was to build audiences and so, from the very beginning, we have been a service organization that’s been about audiences and that’s what sets us apart from almost any other performing arts service organization or trade association, because you have ART/New York, which works with Off-Broadway theaters and off-Off-Broadway theaters, they’re their members, the Broadway League, the producers, the theater owners, they’re the members. Our members are audience members, and so we really exist to fulfil the belief that people should go to the theater, and to remove a whole host of different kinds of barriers, whether it’s economic, whether it’s accessibility, whether it’s kids who are in school who don’t know anything about the theater because there’s less and less arts in education that’s actually bringing kids to the theater, whether it’s less and less people in the country who know about theater altogether. We’ve reached a point where, if you go back and look at it in the ’50s, Arthur Miller was on the cover of Life magazine, playwrights were on the covers of magazines. There are studies now where you ask people to name a playwright and they can’t name a playwright. A few people will come up with Neil Simon, if you ask them to come up with a living playwright. Shakespeare resonates a little bit. The tendency of the theater overall in this country, which the National Endowment for the Arts measures every four years, continues to decline. So we’re about making that people who want to go to the theater, and something gets in their way, can go. We’re about helping people learn about the theater who don’t know that it’s there or don’t know that it’s for them or they’re scared of it, or they think you have to dress up and it’s fancy and you have to have to have a post-graduate degree or whatever to appreciate going to the theater. We’re about creating appetite and trying to get people in the door and, once we get them there, we’re about trying to sustain them there. So that’s the thread through all of the programs. It manifests itself in different ways but everything we do is rooted in this belief that people should be able to go to theater and go to dance and that’s what we do.
Ken: When was it founded?
Victoria: TDF was founded in either 1967 or 1968. The papers were filed in 1967 and we were incorporated in 1968. And the very first program at TDF was the program that has become our membership program. So the first program . . . what the founders did was originally their theory was they would buy tickets for shows that were opening, that were in previews, that they thought were meritorious. And they would buy tickets and they would give them to people who could not afford them. Tickets at that point were $8-9 full price, and so they would buy them for $5. There was a play selector, a committee of one. That was Harold Clurman. Clurman decided.
Ken: That was a good guy.
Victoria: It was a good guy to have do it. They would buy the tickets and they would give them to teachers or retirees, diverse audiences way back at the beginning, and they figured out really early on that was not going to be sustainable, because they were going to keep raising money to buy tickets to give them away. So they said, “Okay, Mr. Producer, if we approve you, will you make tickets available to us at $5 in previews, which we will then sell to the members?” which was the beginning of the membership program as it exists today. We now have over 100,000 members, primarily in the tristate area, but we have members in every state of the union except, I think Montana is the one place we haven’t reached.
Ken: Okay, Montana, sign up!
Victoria: It might be Utah, it’s one of those two. But we have 100,000 members. And you’re a producer, you understand that shows, productions, can choose to make available tickets to TDF, generally in previews. Sometimes it’s at the end of the run, a weekend like we’ve just had, the 4th July . . . I always say that holiday weekends are TDF members’ or a producer’s gift because our members are middle class folks, modest means, and they don’t tend to go away on holiday weekends and we can actually fill seats with people because they’re here and it’s a holiday. But the idea is we have 100,000 members and, as you know, to qualify to be a member it’s a bunch of things which are a way of saying you’re not rich, you don’t have enough money to pay full price. An off-Off-Broadway ticket is $5 and the most a member will pay, the ticket price for a Broadway musical, is $40. That was the first program. The second program was the booth. And the booth was 1972 and you know how it is. If a show is hugely successful it was 12 million different people’s idea, and the booth was many people’s idea. I wasn’t there. So the key players . . . Anna Crouse was TDF’s board chair at that point. The city was very involved. The Shubert organization was very involved because theater owners were worried about their real estate. It was the nadir of Times Square. People weren’t coming, people weren’t going to the theater. Tourists weren’t coming to Times Square. Do you know about Gray’s Drug Store? You must, no?
Ken: I don’t.
Victoria: Okay, so in the ’30s there was a drug store, I think in Times Square . . . and there was a drawing of this for the booth’s 40th anniversary . . . called Gray’s Drug store and at half hour, the guy who ran the soda fountain, treasurers would bring him tickets and people knew they could come and get a half-price ticket. So the model goes all the way back. Nothing is ever new, right? So between the theater owners, TDF and the city, the idea was see what would happen if you put a legitimate business in Times Square, selling day-of discount tickets. It was an experiment at the beginning. Duffy Square is a New York City park, so that’s how it ended up on Duffy. Phil Smith and Ken Patton, who was on our board, and Anna went to Central Park and went to the parks commission. There was an empty trailer and they said she could have the trailer for the summer and they brought the trailer down to Duffy and that’s how the booth started. We were exceedingly lucky because, for not-for-profit organizations, it’s unusual to have two key programs at the beginning that are on-mission . . . because both of them were. The idea of making affordable tickets available to folks was completely what we were about. At the same time it was really helping shows that needed it, because you don’t have to commit ahead of time. Both the membership program and the booth were on-mission, and they generated enough net revenue to, down the line, be able to then create programs that were not going to generate revenue but were going to be absolutely outwardly service-driven, and the first one of those programs, the next thing that came along, was the access program. We started with providing sign interpreting, and then option captioning as well, and it’s expanded and grown since then. The latest initiative there is our autism-friendly performances for kids on the spectrum and their families. It’s quite powerful and exciting and there’s a lot of stuff that’s really fabulous to watch. What happens is families come back, because we’re really building theatergoers. Then our education program started in the ’90s, and then there’s the Costume Collection which is very much a part of TDF and is somewhat mission-tangential. I like to say that, in the ’70s, as the regional theater movement was exploding, service organizations did whatever they could to be useful, and the Metropolitan Opera was retiring a bunch of productions and they gave the costumes to the New York State Council of the Arts, and NYSCA opened a warehouse upstate somewhere, where those recently escaped prisoners were, and nobody came to rent costumes because they had to drive update so they said, “Okay, we’d better move it to the city.” And the idea was to make them available to non-profits, and they came to TDF and said, “Would you like to run it?” and we said, “Sure.” So we ended up with a Costume Collection which is now about 90,000 clothes in a warehouse in Astoria. The thing that’s wonderful about the Costume Collection, among many things, is that we rent to not-for-profits around the country, as well as commercial folks. At a different rate, but commercial folks when they need it. Some kid wherever is doing a musical or doing amateur opera and Beverly Sills’ name is in the dress. It’s about sparking passion. Anyway, that’s what we do. Sorry!
Ken: That’s a lot. I think that’s what’s interesting about TDF, is so many people associate you with the booths.
Victoria: We say if they had known then, in 1972, what the booth was going to become, we would have called it TDF and not worried about why. So we have, in marketing speak, a huge double brand problem. The TKTS brand is obviously really strong, and we wrestle with this and, one of the things that we deal with as an organization that is continuing to grow and is now much more focused on audience development, building audiences . . . there’s no revenue generation in building audiences, certainly not for us because one of the great misperceptions about the booth is lots of people think that we keep part of the ticket price. Of course we don’t. You get the ticket price. We add the service charge, but there are people who think we get part of the ticket too, but we don’t. So the programs that we’re doing now and starting on now, which are audience development programs, we have to raise money to do that. And in order to hit more kids we have to get to more schools and be involved in more schools and we have to raise more money and in order to raise more money, there’s a lot of internal conversation now about how do you reconcile TKTS, TDF. And how do you explain who we are in a way that makes sense to someone, maybe two sentences longer than the elevator speech? But it can’t be much more than two sentences longer.
Ken: Has there ever been a conversation about renaming the TKTS booths the “TDF booth?”
Victoria: That one doesn’t come up as often as people saying, “What about putting TKTS in the mother name?” Our charge right now is that we get the sentences right, and I think if we can get the sentences right then we’ll have some further inkling about how to deal with the name. We get scripts periodically because people assume from our name that we produce, and I’ll pass them on if you would like.
Ken: Only if they’re great.
Victoria: Right. But this idea of development is actually, I think, coming back into my mind, because what we’re doing is, in fact, developing audiences. When I started in the theater . . . I’ve worked pretty much exclusively in the not-for-profit . . . when I started in the theater, theaters had audience development directors. Somewhere along the line they stopped having audience development directors and they started having marketing directors. And I think the underlying supposition was that there were plenty of people to go. They just had to come to my show before they went to your show. So I had to market my brand, my theater, and we lost the idea that we actually have to develop audiences. One of the things . . . I don’t know what you think but I certainly hear this a lot in conversation around the city . . . one of the things that I think is going on right now is I’m worried about the New York audience on Broadway. I’m worried about are the New Yorkers getting there in the strength and in the numbers that we need them? Because, after all, that’s part of why you live in New York, right? Why would you put up with exploding manhole covers if you can’t also go to the theater? So how are we getting those people into the theater? That’s the kind of development work that we need to be doing now so this idea of the name . . . it may well be that, in the end, we are developing. I don’t know if that makes sense but development piece is central.
Ken: It makes perfect sense. I’ve certainly noticed, from being an outside observer, the shift in focus on developing audiences in your reign as the executive director, which, I will also tell you . . . you are so synonymous with TDF it feels like you were a founder, frankly, from the first time I heard you speak about it. And the fact is you weren’t a founder, and you haven’t even been there that long.
Victoria: I’ve been there 14 years now. I like to say I’m really lucky because I always knew I wanted to work in the theater, and I started hanging around in theaters when I was 12 years old. I lived in Washington DC, then we moved to Minneapolis when I was 16 and I was at the Children’s Theatre Company school in Minneapolis. I went to regular school in the morning and performance school in the afternoon. I applied for several conservatory programs, and they were smart enough to not take me because I wasn’t good enough, so I kept doing extracurricular theater through college and I stage managed and I figured out when I was graduating that I loved stage managing, but the part of stage managing that I liked the most was in the rehearsal hall and through opening. And then I realized that the way you actually made a living was figuring out the show that was going to keep you working after opening and I thought, “Well that’s not going to make me happy because that part’s boring.” Obviously it’s not, there’s a whole other skillset, but it wasn’t the one that was interesting to me. My first job was actually in New York, working for a now deceased service organization called the Foundation for the Extension and Development of the American Professional Theatre, or FEDAPT, which was run by Fred Vogel. And FEDAPT provided technical assistance for emerging not-for-profits around the country. It was a fabulous first job because the consultants were all the leading folks working in the sector, so I got to meet them all . . . well I answered the phone. And after that I sold tickets at the Yale Rep for two years. I ran the box office up there. I always say you have to work in the box office, and so I was lucky that, in my first job, I got to meet a bunch of people and I was lucky that, in my second job, I had the audience thrown in my face every night, all of the time, and realized it was actually about the people who come. And then I went to the Manhattan Theatre Club, where I stayed for 19 years. So I had a whole producing life, which was rich and fulfilling and hard and all of the things that it is, and then I knew I wanted to do something different. I didn’t really know what it was. I knew I wanted to stay in New York and I knew one of the things about doing non-profit in New York is, as you know, you move back and forth. I had done a lot of stuff and then I ended up at this service organization, and so now I get to think about things and I get to think about bigger issues, and I thought I would miss producing way too much to be there. I never imagined being there more than five years. I just thought this would be an interesting thing to do, and then I got there and I realized A) how much the place did, B) I got there in the spring of 2001, so right about when I figured . . . so you know how, six months into a gig, you think, “I think I know what this is now?” That was Labor Day weekend of 2001, and right after that was September 11th so that year had a whole different flavor that it might otherwise. Then we built the booth, and that was its own thing. And when that’s done you think, “Okay, so now it really is about what should TDF be doing moving forward?” And at the same time I think there were huge shifts going on, not only in the institutional sector, on the non-profit side, and we’ve got some very big issues. I think the commercial sector . . . I think there’s some big things we have to think about, and so I feel kind of blessed that I actually get paid to think about some of these things. I remember I’d been at TDF for about a year and I realized that, if I wanted to read something, I could do that. I was supposed to do that. I was actually supposed to read what people were saying and writing. When I was at MTC we did nine shows a year. There wasn’t a lot of reading time unless it was a script.
Ken: I think what you just said is why I’m so thankful we have institutions like TDF and people like you there. Because my job . . . of course I’m going to do this for the rest of my life and produce lots of shows, so I always have a long term goal or mission statement, but at the same time, when I produce a show . . .
Victoria: It’s that show.
Ken: It’s only that show, that’s it.
Victoria: We do a lot of stuff in theaters. I could not do this job in a service organization where I didn’t get to be in the theater. We’re a big part of the economic picture so we’re making a difference, but I don’t have to worry anymore about the tech on Tuesday in stage one, and the final dress here, and the closing performance here and the auditions here. Look, one of the differences between what you do as a commercial producer and what a not-for-profit producer does is there are playwrights . . . you talk about all the care and relationship building in the world in the institutional sector, but when a commercial producer is producing your play, they’re not thinking about anything else, and when you’re working in a large institutional theater, they are thinking about something else. They’ve got five other ones to think about and it’s a very different kind of focus. We did a study on the economics of new plays and Todd London, who was running New Dramatists, directed the study, and it was very interesting in conversation with producers about the difference between talking to commercial producers and talking to some of the not-for-profit producers about their relationships with their writers. It didn’t surprise me because I’ve been on both sides of the fence, but Todd was deeply moved by the extent to which the commercial producers really care about the projects. I always say to people, when someone will say to me, “I don’t understand, how could anyone have thought that was a good idea?” And I go, “You don’t understand. When you produce something, you think it’s a good idea, in the commercial sector.” In the not-for-profit sector the producing choices are so different. “I have a relationship with this writer that I need to sustain.” You don’t have that. You do it because you want to do it, and at that moment in time you’re sure that it’s the best thing you ever did, and then you close that and then you love the next show just as much.
Ken: Always just a little bit more.
Victoria: Always a little bit more.
Ken: You’re so right and I’ve learned that about the non-profit. I’ve seen many a non-profit play and wondered, “Why the heck are they doing this right now?” And then, in talking to people like you and learning, it’s about so many other things.
Victoria: There was one season at MTC, it nearly killed us internally, but you know, it was just a string of shows that met their mark. I try really hard to use words like “succeeded” and “met what their potential was,” as opposed to “hits” and “flops” because I don’t think that way as much. And I remember someone saying, “God, that was really lucky,” and I said, “No, look at the list of writers and let’s talk about the history with these writers. We’re lucky that it all happened to come home to bear fruit this year, but there isn’t anything new.” And that’s always, of course, the tricky part. A lot of institutional theaters get stuff lobbed at them because it’s like, “Why do you always work with the same people?” That’s a really hard one to call because you have relationships and you’re building on relationships. “Why does Theater X not have new designers?” Well, when you hire a director don’t you let them talk to you about who you want to work with? And no one ever says, “Why does a commercial producer use this team over and over?” The question is, where is the place where the new people get a chance? You look at this past spring on Broadway . . . I would challenge any institutional in the theater anywhere in the country to come up with what we managed to come up with on Broadway last spring.
Ken: One of the things I’ve been so impressed by is how quickly the booth has changed over the last decade or so while you’ve been there. Accepting credit cards, the play line, lots of innovation . . . of course the redesign of the booth itself. Anything else planned for the future?
Victoria: The thing about the booth is that you have to figure out, moving forward, what’s the booth’s place? Where are we in the ecosystem? Because we’re not the only place to get a discount ticket anymore, right? When the booth started, we were the only place to get a discounted ticket. The last time we looked at it, over 30% of the people on line were going to their first Broadway show. We are the place that encourages people to ask questions. It makes it safe to go, and I think part of the future of the booth as we think about it is how do you educate people? I was talking to someone about this the other day. I so wanted to be able to put screens further down on the plaza but they wouldn’t let us. That’s not our property. But to find ways to use technology to make that experience not just buying a ticket, but reinforcing the learning. How do we get all of those people on the steps, many of whom have no idea you can buy a ticket there, to buy a ticket? How do we use that as a development tool which is different than most of the rest of the marketing? You know this . . . who do you mail to first?
Ken: Musical multi-buyers.
Victoria: Multi-buyers, right. You mail the people who have gone before. And you have to, right? It’s kind of career-ending, as a general manager, to say, “I have an idea that’s really interesting. Why don’t we try it?” I used to say, “If someone would just give us $1 million to try a bunch of stuff so that it can fail, that’s what I’m supposed to do for you.” What TDF is supposed to do for you guys is try things, see if they work. If they work, good going! So what are the things we should be saying to people who don’t go to the theater or who have never been to a play? The future is a lot about building on the brand and the gathering place to actually expand the audience.
Ken: I love this idea that you’re supposed to experiment for us. Thank God you’re there to do that! As crazy as it may sound . . . I only hear about your successes, in a way.
Victoria: Well here’s a failure . . . and we’re trying to revamp it. Here’s a challenge. We got funding three or four years back from the Subdistrict Council to create a program that was kind of marrying the structure of our education program, Stage Doors . . . which are eight classroom sessions around going to the theater, four before, four after. A teacher of ours goes into the school, works with a teacher, links the whole activity to the curriculum . . . because you have to do that because if it’s not linked to the common core curriculum they’re not going to give you the time. And so we thought, “Okay, what if we were moving to a population of adults?” It was a year when I was looking at the League’s statistics. The percentage of New Yorkers from outer boroughs that come to Broadway is very, very low and the outer borough folks who come to Broadway . . . you and I can guess, it tends to be Park Slope, it tends to be Brooklyn Heights, it’s neighborhoods that mirror Manhattan neighborhoods. And that’s not just economics. That’s about, “Am I welcome?” That’s about, “Do I think about it?” It’s a whole host of things. And so we created a program, working with groups, with tickets at $50-55, and the group would have a pre-performance meeting, and then they’d go to the theater and have a post-performance meeting and reflection. And we had 20 or 30 groups the first year and the whole idea was they had to be able to pay at least $50 for a ticket because if they couldn’t pay that it wasn’t sustainable. So there were 500 to 600 people. Everyone went to two shows and the idea was we would do it for two or three years. And it didn’t work. Now we’ve morphed it into . . . our director of education and engagement, who’s been with us two or three years now, Daniel, came in and said, “This isn’t working, Tory.” And I loved that program, and it was a good year before I finally said, “You’re right, it’s not working.” And now the pilot we’re doing next year is we’ve identified not a group, like a sorority group . . . we’re working with the Harlem Dreams Center, which is part of the First Corinthian Baptists. A pilot program with 20 adults . . . we’re getting rid of the part where we bring in the teaching artist. Nobody’s got that kind of time. We’re working with a community leader and a teaching artist, crafting a different kind of conversation based in the community, coming to Broadway but also going to theater in their community, also going to see something else in the city, and seeing if that works. We’re going to build it as a pilot over three years and maybe in the second year add a group that’s structured differently, smaller. But this could be a different way of engaging with people. One of the other realities is, what are we going to do about how much it costs to go to the theater? That’s a huge theme for us. For our programs, even at the booth, we know that, in general, you folks don’t like to hear this, but people walk away. There is a price point, and we think it’s about, for most of the booth’s customers, I think it’s about $100. Say you have a family of four visiting from wherever. It’s going to be $375 for the four of them to go to the theater. It doesn’t cost that where they come from. It doesn’t cost a third of that where they come from. Thank God we take credit cards. But, as we create those programs, one of the challenges is how do we create programs that continue to keep Broadway important? Because I think everybody in the city ought to think they can go to Broadway. But we also have to find other things and other places. We don’t want going to the theater to be a bucket list item, something you do on a birthday that ends in a 5 or a 0. So we’ve done some research. We did some stuff about five years ago about barriers to attendance and one of the questions was, “Do you think Broadway is too expensive?” And people were like, “No,” and I’m like, “Hmm.” And then they go, “Why do you go to Broadway?” “For a special event.” So it’s fine if you’re going to do it on your 60th birthday, but if you want people to actually go to the theater four or five times a year, which is what you want, they can’t. And I don’t know how we figure that out.
Ken: You obviously work with and talk to a lot of producers throughout the course of a year. Name your favorites. I’m just kidding, I won’t. Name your least favorites!
Victoria: You can’t do that. This is TDF, we love everyone equally!
Ken: I’ll turn the mic off, then you can tell me. For the modern day producer . . . the ones that you do admire the most that you think really get it, short term and long term . . . what are the characteristics that they have?
Victoria: You’re talking to me, so the truth of the matter is that, first and foremost, they are producers who have an appetite for, a nose for, an understanding of, real artistry. It’s producers who are doing work. It doesn’t have to be cutting edge. I think the art form allows us an opportunity to tell stories that can serve any variety of purposes, all of which are valid. Sometimes, in the worst of times, the most important thing is to be entertained. But we can tell stories. I admire the people the most who have a piece that they want to produce because they love the artists involved, they love the story, they understand the power of the story in ways that other people may not necessarily see, and not just because, “This vehicle landed in my lap with this actor.” All of stuff still doesn’t guarantee a good experience. And what I worry about is the person who goes to the booth and doesn’t buy the tickets because they were too expensive. When they come to New York the next time, I think they go to Bowlmor. I don’t think they come to the booth because they’ve just decided not to do that. The person who spends $400 on a premium ticket and goes, “Oh, that was all?” That’s not helping us either. It’s producers who are open to new ideas. But the main thing is you’ve got to love the work. You’ve got to love the work, and there’s got to be some external logic that says, “I’m doing this because.”
Ken: What’s your favorite show you’ve seen over the last several years? Have you got something that stands out?
Victoria: There isn’t any one. I’m not being coy. I just think we all go to the theater for so many different reasons. I’m interested in shows that are trying to find a way to inject an awareness of technology into linear storytelling, so I think some of that is interesting. Look at the past season. There was some stuff that was wonderful. Incredibly moving for us was bringing kids to Hamilton at the Public. It was incredibly moving on a thousand levels. There’s an interview in the Journal today with one of the actors about what it was like to do that show when they were watching the audience and the audience was high school kids who never understood, until they went, that the founding fathers were immigrants. So that’s one kind of story. I can say all I want about new plays and things people believe in, and then you sit and look at The King and I, and I have never heard that the way I heard it. It’s not fair to ask me.
Ken: TDF in 20 years . . . where do you see it going or how it influences Broadway?
Victoria: I really hope that what we’re able to do is continue to develop programs that ensure conversation and audiences. So what’s the programmatic equivalent of a brownstone somewhere around here in the West 50s? Where anyone who goes to the theater anywhere in New York knows that they could go there at 10 o’clock and have a coffee or a glass of wine or whatever and there will be other people there who went and saw it, who were also theatergoers or dancegoers, that night and they just talk about it. It’s how do we put this in the conversation? There is something essential about what we’re creating when we create going to the theater but we are, all of us . . . you, me, all of us . . . doing a really bad job of communicating what that is to people who don’t go. People who go get it, and they come back. But people who don’t go . . . all of the things that contemporary society represents in terms of how we get our entertainment? We’re the opposite of that. I don’t think we should change that. I think we have to embrace that. Some of the best futurist work is actually done by the American Museum Association. They do this report every year on five trends and one of them was, “What’s the importance of public spaces as people’s houses and apartments get smaller and smaller?” So what should our theaters be? Can we open our doors at 4 o’clock? 2 o’clock in the afternoon? We’re doing a whole project on playwrights and putting playwrights and theaters and audiences in more direct conversation. One of the things that came up at a meeting was, why do all our subscription offices work 10-6? We should work until 8. And then you can put them in the lobby and you wouldn’t even have to pay for someone. The lobby doors would be open.
Ken: That’s such a simple fix.
Victoria: So those are the kinds of things we’re doing, and I hope we’re surfacing and unpacking and demonstrating some of that stuff, because we know how hard what you do is. What you do is virtually impossible. It’s close to impossible, what you do. Our job is to worry about that stuff and think about that stuff and to continue to be in conversation enough to know what’s important for us to be looking at. Because it doesn’t do any good for TDF to live in a bubble and say, “Well we think this is important.” No, what’s important is, “What can we do to help you?” Because that’s what we do. We’re all in this together and we all have our different pieces to do, and I think it’s helpful when we are seen as more than just people selling tickets that a lot of producers wish they could be selling at full price. People sometimes say to me, “What do you think about shows that don’t come to the booth?” And my answer to that is really simple. Any show that closes without coming to the booth was either a limited engaging with a superstar and they didn’t need us, or they didn’t do their job very well. But I use that as a metaphor for, “We’re in it together.”
Ken: Okay, last question. I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes down to your office and knocks on your door and thanks you profusely for the development of new audiences and all of the work you’ve done and for keeping Aladdin off the booth.
Victoria: They’ll get there.
Ken: They will, I’m sure they will.
Victoria: And they’ve been great partners. We’ve done an autism-friendly performance.
Ken: I want you to imagine that the genie says to you, “I want to thank you and give you one wish. I’m going to give you a wish to change anything about the Broadway theater scene that you’d like. The one thing that drives you crazy, that keeps you up at night, that makes you so angry you just can’t stop talking about it.” What is the one thing that you would ask this genie to change?
Victoria: I would love for the Broadway community to feel secure enough in its long term viability to be more generous in the short run, whether that’s a certain number of goof seats at a consistent price point, whether that’s putting students in the production in the run consistently throughout, whether it’s allowing producers to bolster each other up better. But something that says it’s safe to be generous for the long term wellbeing.
Ken: I think that’s a great answer. Take a little bit of a hit today for the future of our business, for sure.
Victoria: Not even a hit. I mean here’s the best example . . . it’s the whole multi buyer idea. If you can create a fund to cover a strike, which you had to do . . . create a fund so that every tenth ticket someone buys over a period of time is free and gets paid for by the fund.
Ken: Now that is an idea.
Victoria: Charlotte had multi buyer on the list very early on.
Ken: I love that. We prepare for disaster . . .
Victoria: Really well.
Ken: For those of you who don’t know what Tory is talking about, the Broadway League . . . we have a reserve fund for strikes that, of course, we have to have in case something goes down so that we can pay for legal and we can distribute to the shows. But the world . . . not only Broadway . . . the world seems to prepare for disaster.
Victoria: Very well for disaster, and we do so little that says, “Let’s invest in the belief that we’re going to still be here tomorrow.”
Ken: Because of course we are.
Victoria: Because we are.
Ken: As challenged as our industry is, we’re going to be here for a long time. We’ve survived the radio, the television, we’ll survive the internet. We’ll be around.
Victoria: We will. Thank you.
Ken: Tory, thank you so much for doing this. Everyone out there, please join me in thanking Tory. TDF is not just a part of the Broadway machine. It is part of the foundation of Broadway itself. Sure, without the TKTS booth shows would have a lot of dead seats but, more importantly, without TDF and all of its initiatives, so many young people and people who couldn’t afford it wouldn’t be able to experience Broadway. Tory and TDF are helping to develop the audience of the future and we’re so thankful for it. Thanks again for being here. Thanks to all of you for tuning in. If you’re one of those people that says, “Theater is too expensive!” check out TDF. They have a way for you to get in. Tune in next time. Thanks so much, we’ll see you soon.
Ken: Hey, before you go, don’t forget to check out my Get Your Show Off the Ground webinar this Wednesday, 7 o’clock eastern time. Check out the blog for more details. This Wednesday, 7 o’clock.