Broadway Stagehands Talk Back

I recently discovered a website (thanks to another tip from one of my loyal readers) that allows Broadway stagehands to voice their opinions about issues facing them.  It’s called a “member’s website” . . . a kind of social networking for stagehands. 

It’s another example that proves that  online water coolers are the future of the proliferation of ideas.

Check it out at  www.BroadwayLocalOne.com and click on the “Stagehands Talk Back”  section to read all about their thoughts on the Broadway Strike, the WGA strike, their leaders, the producers, and much, much more. 

I read it for hours.

What’s Grosser Than Gross?

Not knowing what your industry’s grosses are.

At the first meeting of the Off-Broadway Brainstormers,, founded by the Executive Director of New World Stages,  Beverley D. Mac Keen (who is one of the most foreword thinkers I know), a proposal was made by now president of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, George Forbes, to collect grosses from all currently running Off-Broadway shows, in an effort to truly understand our own economic impact.

It was one of those very simple proposals that made perfect sense.  How can we formulate budgets, contemplate theater sizes, etc. without knowing what our market bears.  Right?

Well, believe it or not, this idea met (and still meets) with resistance from some of my fellow producers.

The League and The Brainstormers came up with a great policy to address some very valid concerns:

– We made agreements with the ticketing companies so grosses would be sent directly to the League so no additional work would be required on behalf of the production.

– The grosses would be sent to one person at the League, and only three high-ranking individuals would have access to the show’s individual data, and would sign confidentiality agreements never to share the information.

– No show’s individual grosses would ever be released to any party.

– The aggregated data would also never be released unless a committee at the League approved of its use.

Despite all of these efforts to keep the data confidential and to install safeguards so that it was only used for the good of the industry, many producers still refused to allow their grosses to be reported.

Most simply say that they don’t want their grosses getting out to their competition.
I kind of understand this, but, uhhhh, remember the confidentiality agreements and the fact that only 3 people can access the data???  And that we’re not releasing an individual show’s data, but only looking at the combined results? 
Oh, and this is my favorite part . . . do these producers remember that these numbers are sent to unions every week?  ATPAM has a sliding scale compensation that is based on gross so they have to send them the numbers.  Most likely their show has an SSDC director on a royalty pool, which means that union is getting their information (and the director and the director’s agent, and his assistant, etc.).  If there was “competition”, wouldn’t the unions be the competition more than The League?  Add the advertising agencies (which we already know leak like the Titanic), box office personnel, managers, etc. to the list of people that already get grosses, and you’ve got more people who know your business than a public company!

I mean, really, are three more people who sign confidentiality agreements and work for the League going to all of a sudden open up your show to attention from the National Enquirer?  (If only!)

Sorry, but no one, other than the people trying to figure out how to solve the Off-Broadway problem, cares that much.

Sharing your grosses publicly (like Broadway shows do in Variety) is up for debate, and I’m not sure where I stand on that just yet, but sharing numbers in a private, protected environment for study and analysis is not only smart, it’s essential.  And just like your mom told you, it’s just plain selfish not to share.

What are people afraid of?  That we might see some low numbers?  Guess what, with all the Off-Broadway shows that come and go, I think we have a clue that you’re not doing so well.

And besides, we learn from the bad ones.  It’s just like learning to ride a bike. You learn more when you fall off than you do when you don’t.

So why do some of these very smart people choose not to opt-in to this program?  Look, I’m a control freak.  As an Off-Broadway producer, I’m not in control very often.  I think that most producers are just like me.  And they are refusing to release their numbers (even though they are released other ways), because it is one of the few things that they can control. 

If any Producers out there are struggling with this issue, let me know.  I see a therapist once a week to help me get over it and would be happy to give you a recommendation.  The industry will be better off as a result.

P.S.  What do you think of Broadway shows publicly sharing numbers in Variety?  I’ve turned my comments on, so comment away if you’d like (yes, even you Mom).

Long Runners on Broadway vs. Long Runners Off-Broadway

The top three longest running Broadway shows according to Playbill.com are:

Phantom of the Opera                 8279 performances and counting.
Cats                                          7485 performances
Les Misérables                           6680 performances

 

The top three longest running Off-Broadway shows are:

The Fantasticks                          17,162 performances
Perfect Crime                              8,421 performances and counting.
Blue Man Group: Tubes               8,406 performances and counting.

Hmmm.  Interesting.  The #3 long runner Off-Broadway has performed more shows than the #1 marathoner on Broadway. 

Let’s keep going and look at the top ten long runners.

The combined number of performances for the top ten long runners on Broadway is 57,764 performances with four shows still going.

The combined number of performances for the top ten long runners Off-Broadway is approximately 65,145 performances with six shows still going.

I say “approximately” because if you’ll notice in that Playbill article, the data from the Off-Broadway shows is almost a year older than the Broadway shows.  Oh, and they stopped counting Forbidden Broadway in 1987.   Um, that’s right, 1987.  2 years BEFORE  The Awesome 80s Prom even takes place.  Oh, and they also decided not to include Tony ‘n Tina’s since 2004.  So I made some educated assumptions to get to the total.

What’s the takeaway here?

Surprise, surprise, it’s good news for Off-Broadway!

Off-Broadway hits have a greater stamina than Broadway hits.  Once you break on through to the other side (penetrate the tourist market), you’ll just run and run and run, and not even The Phantom of the Opera will catch up.  That’s right, I’m betting another $100 that both Perfect Crime and Blue Man Group run longer than The Masked Man.  And that no Broadway show ever catches The Fantasticks.

Oh, and you know what else these numbers teach us?

That the Off-Broadway community has got to come together more to aggregate their data.  How can we say what we are . . . without knowing what we are?  More on a specific example of this problem in the Off-Broadway community tomorrow.

Trivia Time: Who Has Produced the Most Broadway Shows In The Last 20 Years?

Cameron Macintosh?  Disney?  The Weisslers?

Nope.

The Roundabout.

They’ve produced more Broadway shows than anyone.  More in one SEASON that most producers produce over two decades.

And they are a non-profit.  Coincidence?  Or evidence that a different economic model is what is needed to be a prolific producer.

Off-Broadway Shows Are Like Rowboats . . .

Ok, it’s time to announce the answer to the Off-Broadway  rowboat riddle!

Unfortunately there were no winners to my $100 challenge.  A couple came close, but here’s a longer version of what I was going for.

The analogy actually starts like this: Broadway shows are like giant steamships, kind of like the Titanic. They are so big, so cumbersome and require so much energy to get going, that once you actually get them in the water . . . there’s not much you can do to veer them from their destination. 

They are either going to hit the iceberg, or they won’t. Off-Broadway shows are more like rowboats.  You can turn them a lot quicker and with a lot less effort.  One quick row of an oar and you’re headed in a new direction. Unfortunately, they also sink a lot faster.  (In fact, 89% of all commercial Off-Broadway shows close within 6 months). Here are a couple of my favorite entries from some of the readers out there:

– “Off-Broadway is like a rowboat.  You only get somewhere after working hard to move yourself.”

– “Off-Broadway is like a rowboat.  The more people you have rowing in the same direction, the faster and farther you go.”

Thanks, guys.  And for being a runner up, I’m giving both of you iTunes gift cards!  Keep your eye on your inbox.

And I suggest you get this song with your first purchase.

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