GUEST BLOG: 6 Lessons I Learned Growing A Theatre Blog by Ben Bailey
I’m not a very patient person. In college, I started day trading stocks in class to pass the time and ended up quitting because I was making good money. I turned to real estate shortly after and found myself with some significant money for the first time in my life. I was married but had no kids – it was the perfect time to take a risk. I was a “theatre kid” growing up and had a closeted dream of working in the Broadway industry, but it always seemed so far away from the grass seed farm I grew up on in Oregon.
Scratching the Broadway itch, I literally googled “how to be a producer.” I found Ken’s blog (yeah this one), and the next steps would change the whole course of my life. After reading a post, I responded in the comments with a question. A couple hours later, I get an email from Ken with a very thoughtful and detailed answer.
Fast forward several months, and I was a co-producer on Daddy Long Legs, moving to New York, and looking to pursue a life in Broadway producing. My wife and I sold our house, possessions, and moved here with a couple suitcases… and no idea on how we were going to survive. We had savings, but NYC is expensive… like really expensive.
Cue Theatre Nerds. The idea for Theatre Nerds began as a Facebook page that could act as a focus group for my producing ventures. What it turned into, I could’ve never predicted. Today the TN blog receives over 300,000 readers every month, and we have turned down buyout offers from well-known theatre industry players. We also have a merch division with over 25,000 customers and a staff of people from around the world.
Theatre Nerds just celebrated its 3rd anniversary! Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned on this journey:
1. Fake It Till You Make It
When I first started the community, I had no idea what I was doing. I had to figure all the pieces out, from hiring a team of writers for the blog, getting press access, managing social media, to figuring out how to speak to my audience. It’s hard not to have imposter syndrome and feel like you’re spinning your wheels. The key is to just take action. It might not be pretty at first, but the only way to learn is to do. You’d be surprised on how many so-called “experts” are just people who figured something out along the way, the only difference is they pushed through the hard part and gained experience through the actions they took. Looking back at it, that’s how I got into theatre. I didn’t have formal training – I just went to auditions. I didn’t make the cut for the very first musical I tried out for, but I gained knowledge and got a small part the next show. Following this pattern, I worked my way up to getting lead roles, and even professional theatre gigs. Don’t you wish there was someone who came out and knighted you as an expert, just so you’d know you’ve made it? That won’t happen – but eventually, you will feel much more comfortable and confident.
2. Patience + Consistency = An Overnight Success
Before you accuse me of being oxymoronic, here’s what I mean: I worked my butt off for 6 months before Theatre Nerds showed any sign of success. In the early days, I would spend hours uploading blog posts and memes on social media and paying our writing team. Day after day and I had not much to show for it, but I was determined and consistent. Then it happened, and it happened quickly. Following my usual routine, I released a blog post, but this time it went viral. Within two days we had over 100,000 visits to our site for that one post, and we never looked back. For whatever reason, the theatre gods released the floodgates and from that day on, we were on the “thespian map”. Six months of nothing and then, basically overnight, we got massive traffic, press coverage, and press offers from big industry publications. Since that post, we haven’t had less than 200K readers a month.
3. You’ve Gotta Have An Angle
Why were we this successful? We separated ourselves from the Broadway industry. There were plenty of publications covering Broadway news and events. Our angle was publishing content every theatre kid could relate to, whether you are in community theatre or on the Broadway stage. I wanted the reader to say “oh hey, that’s me!”. We didn’t want some exclusive Broadway club that they could only peek through the glass to see. At the time, no one was doing Buzzfeed-style content in the theatre space, so we saw the opportunity to make theatre cool and relevant for the younger reader.
4. Haters Gonna Hate
By the law of averages, the bigger you get, the more haters will show up at your door. Ironically, most of these people only have opinions, and not ideas. For the most part, I’ve learned that haters are just a sign you’re doing something right. We’ve had threats and hate mail from Broadway publications, people copy our ideas (to the very post title), and let’s not even talk about social media trolls. It’s hard as a business or brand owner not to take it personally, but you can’t. If you do, it will distract you from the other 99.9% who actually love what you’re doing. This was a massive challenge for me, but I’ve learned to just ignore it and stay the course. I imagine this is true for actors, producers, and any business owner.
5. Listen & Pivot
By the time a show has made it on Broadway, it has undergone many changes. A play evolves as the characters develop; the final result could be a mere shell of the original idea. Such was true with Theatre Nerds, and it’s a darn good thing. Three years later, TN looks a lot different than what I initially pictured. It’s not centered on Broadway, I’m not using it as a focus group for producing, and the merchandise division has become the core business model. Originally, I had planned on selling ads and Broadway tickets as a way to generate income. One day I put a shirt for sale on the site, thinking If I sold a couple a month that would be a little extra money to pay the writers. We immediately starting selling way more than a couple; it caught me by surprise. I threw out the idea of selling ad space and listened to my community. They wanted merch, they got merch. What had been a complete afterthought is now our primary business model.
6. Theatre People Are The Best People
Moving away from the business stuff, what really made TN work is the wonderful community. I really just wanted a positive place for theatre kids to hang out and share their common love. For most of us, theatre is a family and there’s nothing like the bond a family has. I’ve never met a more loving and accepting group of people, and that makes me very proud to work in this industry. There was always a place for Broadway fans to hang out, but we created a space for theatre kids to say “hey, that’s me!”.