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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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 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

 

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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!”.

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Ben Bailey is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at TheatreNerds.com, and head of swag at thespianswag.com. He recently made his producing debut with the Off-Broadway musical Daddy Long Legs. He’s created numerous Broadway-Themed products that have been featured in Huffington PostPopsugar & CNBC.

Broadway Grosses w/e 6/17/2018: What happens the week after The Tonys.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending June 17, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Why I’m predicting a revolution in the theater “space.”

The theater is always about 10 years behind other industries . . . including our sisters in the entertainment sectors film and music.

That’s not a slam, really.  The primary consuming demographic in those other mediums are younger than ours, so of course it takes us a beat to catch up.

And something tells me, in one way, we’re about to.

First, let’s look at what happened in the film and music scene.

In the early 2000s, the entire Hollywood model was disrupted when independent film found its groove, and over half of Hollywood releases were made by indie studios and cost between $5mm and $10mm.

What brought down these costs and empowered the indie movie maker?  Suddenly, everyone could make a movie as digital cameras and eventually even smartphones democratized the production process.  Give a kid a couple hundred bucks and a camera bought at Walmart, and he could make a movie and then edit it on his Mac.  (See Paranormal Activity, made in 2007 for a whopping $15k but grossed $200mm.)

Then, the same thing happened in music.  As the cost of making music came down, so came the rise of the independent musician.  In fact, in the past decade, there has been a 510% increase in independent musicians making their full time living from music in just the past decade.

First comes film, then comes music, next comes theater in its own revolutionary carriage!

Theater has always been an expensive art form. Unlike the creation of film and music, the basic tenet of the theater is that people have to show up in front of a live audience in order for it to happen.  Any labor-intensive industry like ours is going to be expensive.

So how can technology disrupt it?

It can’t.

But the “showing up” isn’t where I predict the revolution in our industry is going to occur, because the labor isn’t even the most expensive part of our production budget.

It’s the space.

The theater itself.

And the revolution that’s coming is . . . who’s to say we need a theater anymore anyway?

The “tech” disruption that is going to take our business through the same cycle that the film and music business went through is rooted in the same principle . . . the democratization of production . . . but in our case it’s going to be because the theater makers of tomorrow are going to stage their theater in places no one ever thought to stage theater.

They’re not going to sit back and not make plays or musicals just because a proscenium stage costs too much or because they are all booked.  This generation doesn’t stand for that.  This is where being the “entitlement” generation is a good thing.

Because they’re going to feel entitled to make.  And make it they will,  anywhere they can, just like their predecessors in the other industries made their art, with whatever equipment they had.  Those folks proved they didn’t need the best cameras in the world or the best studios in the world to make their art.  And our artists will prove they don’t need the biggest or best theaters to do it either.

We’ve seen the start of this already, with shows like Sleep No More and other site-specific productions.

But these are just the prelude to what I believe is coming around the bend.

With Broadway theaters becoming more difficult to book, the squeeze of the artist is on to find different places to show off his or her wares.

So don’t be surprised if you hear that in 10 years there has been a 500% increase in the number of theater artists who make their living in the theater . . . they just may not be performing in a theater.

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Want my book, How to Succeed In The Arts . . . or in Anything, for free?  Click here to learn how to get it.

GUEST BLOG: How Do I Work With A Dramaturg? by Natasha Sinha

Are you a playwright or other generative artist who is considering working with a dramaturg, but questioning how to start? Here’s one possible starting point!

When I was asked to talk about the development of new theatrical work via collaboration with a dramaturg, I did what I do when I’m developing new theatrical work dramaturgically… I took my cues from the brilliant folks making the work! In this case, I asked some of my favorite generative artists what they want to know.

Many of the subsequent conversations hovered around how and when to work with a dramaturg. The role of a new work dramaturg is a highly customizable one that shifts from dramaturg to dramaturg, and from project to project. What’s reflected here is only my take, shaped by many experiences working at an institutional theatre as well as freelancing.

First off, want to demystify “dramaturgy”? Fellow dramaturgs Jeremy Stoller, Molly Marinik, and I co-founded Beehive Dramaturgy Studio to help do that. Beehive collectively defines dramaturgy as an exploration of the world of the play—both the text itself and how the text engages with the world in which we live (whereby “text” means whatever mode of storytelling is being used—language, movement, etc.).

Since each piece of theater is unique, the role of a dramaturg is further defined on a project-by-project basis. Each process requires a customized approach that begins with a deep understanding of the play and of the generative artist’s goals. I’m so grateful for what has been amassed by traditional dramaturgical studies, Aristotle, Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” the Liz Lerman method (a favorite of mine), etc. But particularly in thinking about how to best support work that functions separately from Eurocentric perspectives and the male gaze, I’m curious about additional ways to build a theatrical piece, other systems of logic, the queering of experience, and how to shape the visceral arc of a story. These can be built from scratch by knowing the history and intentionally proceeding differently with the tools we have.

Generally, dramaturgs ask key questions, start conversations, research, provide context, and sharpen intent. Working with a dramaturg may bring up conversations with character maps, timelines, Post-It sequencing, big-picture structural questions, analysis of theatrical devices, world rules, logic policing, etc. For guiding principles that could steer your dramaturgical process, examples of what specifically a dramaturg can do, and varying definitions of “dramaturgy” by a handful of active dramaturgs, click around on our website at www.BeehiveDramaturgy.com.

When should I start working with a dramaturg?

So you want a smart-sounding board, a storytelling collaborator, the perspective of someone who knows your goals yet will continually re-calibrate as you make new discoveries, in order to make it stronger and stronger? Sounds like you want to work with a dramaturg!

Dramaturgs can come on board at many different points in the process– perhaps to help flesh out a conceptual premise, to weigh in on an outline or treatment, to respond with questions after reading a first draft, to join in as the dedicated person keeping an eye on core storytelling needs as a production begins, etc. I tend to prefer being brought onboard once there is some sort of draft in place so that I can start exploring how the execution is serving the premise.

But are you at the right point in your process to start working with a dramaturg? Are you ready to invite someone new into the process? You may feel extremely vulnerable in allowing someone in, which is why you want to find someone appropriately sensitive to how you want to set the tone to talk about your work. Because at the end of the day, it is truly always your work.

How do I find the right dramaturg for me?

A feeling of emotional safety when talking about your work is important. Dramaturgical approach, past experience, and a generally shared perspective on the work are also elements to consider. If you like talking to this person about your work, I often suggest having a conversation (perhaps a phone meeting) to ask how they initially approach new work and what they’ve worked on in the past (and you may want to then more specifically ask if they’ve worked on the type of work that you’re developing).

(A more practical answer to this is that there are lots of great dramaturgs! Beehive is one place you could start. We have bios and testimonials for each of ours, plus we’re also happy to help folks find dramaturgs who aren’t part of Beehive.)

How might the process of working with a dramaturg begin?

From my end of it, when I’m having this conversation with someone new to me, I want to soak in as much from the generative artist about inspiration, concept, goals, and concerns. If I’m naturally aligning with much of that and excited about working on the piece, that feels like a good fit! Then I want to start figuring out what the main goals are– whether that’s toward an upcoming reading, a submission deadline, or something else. A loose timeline should emerge as well, which is helpful in guiding the pacing of the conversation.

Personally, I then start the process by saying what I love about the piece, and what I find most resonant. Because that’s why I chose to work on it! This naturally segues into continued excitement via a ton of questions about the work– both the birds-eye-view questions and the nitty-gritty– as I organically also get to know the artist as a person and learn how they respond to what I pose about their work. The approach I take after the beginning steps depends on what feels most productive for the artist– that could mean continued questions, suggestions of scenes or elements to look at that respond to what they’re grappling with most, tough questions to ask in order to honor a full exploration of what’s at hand, pointing out two or more places in the storytelling that could be connected more (or be differentiated more), etc. Rooting the conversation in questions is always part of my approach (since it’s always the generative artists who have the “answers” anyway), as is avoiding prescriptive feedback unless explicitly asked for by the generative artist.

 

How should I receive and process my dramaturg’s thoughts?

It’s always your play, first and foremost! Ideally, whatever the dramaturg presents to you creates a prism of ways to further explore your piece. You receive these thoughts, and then it’s up to you regarding what you want to work into your piece, discuss further, or simply not use.

I am a big proponent of generative artists always knowing that any feedback they receive (whether from a dramaturg, director, actor, designer, producer, audience member, etc.) should be taken with a grain of salt. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored– as long as the piece is created for humans, anyone’s response is of interest! But, you may need to translate these responses, particularly if that respondent is not aware of your goals and/or not someone who uses your storytelling devices the way you do.

For example, if someone expresses confusion about something in the fourth scene, what that may really be telling you is that the questions you have about the dispensation of information in the second scene lead-up could use a look. Or, if six people are telling you how to “fix” that third scene in a particular way, it may not mean huge rewrites– it might just be how everyone is communicating to you that their eye was drawn to something unintended that is distracting and maybe just needs to be taken out so as to not beg the question.

Hopefully, your dramaturg does get to know your goals and how you’re building the piece– and therefore can translate their thoughts (and translate others’) as they relate to your goals. Divergent opinions absolutely may and likely will happen between with your dramaturg– these can be helpful! But if you’re not on the same planet of discussion, the opinions may be too far away for it to be a helpful path to go down. Collaborating is an act of trust after all.

How do I know if the collaboration with my dramaturg was successful?

There’s no black-or-white answer to this. That said, if you feel that the conversations you had with your dramaturg deepened your exploration of the piece, that feels like a successful collaboration. If you want to work with that person again, that feels like a successful collaboration. If your audience is now following storytelling threads that they weren’t before (whether or not they can identify why), that feels like a successful collaboration. And hopefully, your work is closer to your vision than before.

 

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Natasha Sinha is a producer and dramaturg, focusing on new plays and new musical work. She is the Associate Director of LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater which exclusively produces premieres (including Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, Dave Malloy’s Preludes, War by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Martyna Majok’s queens, and Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over). Natasha is a co-founder of Beehive Dramaturgy Studio, which works with individual generative artists as well as organizations such as Page 73, Musical Theatre Factory, Astoria Performing Arts Center, and New York Musical Theatre Festival. Prior to joining LCT3, she was the Associate Producer at Barrington Stage Company. Natasha is on the Advisory Boards of Musical Theatre Factory and SPACE on Ryder Farm. She has served as a judge on award committees, taught classes, and curated events focused on inclusivity.

Broadway Grosses w/e 6/10/2018: A Pre-Tonys Pick-Me-Up

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending June 10, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

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