3 Reasons Why Crowdfunding Did NOT Take Off on Broadway

It has been 10 years (!) since I crowdfunded Godspell. It remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in this business.
It took two years to put together. It took three law firms. I had to pass a securities exam. Oh, and let me tell you when this SEC slaps your wrist in the midst of your offering, you lose some sleep.
But, like most difficult things, it was also one of the best things I ever did for my business. And my life.
Not only did we fund the production, and help launch the careers of some superstars, but I’m also still friends with many of “People of Godspell”, which is what we called our Producers and Investors (we had over 730 of them!).
We created a family. And it still exists. (That’s pretty common with Godspell, actually, as anyone in it can attest.)
After we successfully crowdfunded the show, using an old regulation called a “Reg A,” Congress passed The Jobs Act . . . which made it MUCH easier for businesses to crowdfund. (Bad timing on my part!)
Everyone predicted an explosion of this type of microfinancing in all industries . . . Broadway and Off-Broadway included.
And it didn’t happen.
I don’t know of ONE Broadway or Off-Broadway production to utilize the new “Regulation CF” since it was passed.
Why?
There are three reasons why.
1. The max money you can raise
Regulation CF was designed for small businesses, so there’s a $5mm cap on how much you can raise. That immediately knocks out 99% of Broadway musicals, leaving only Broadway plays.
Now, ALL Off-Broadway shows are (or should be) well under $5mm. So, this regulation should be in “play” for any commercial producer looking to crowdfund an Off-Broadway show. Still, I don’t know of anyone who has done it. Yet. See below for why.
2. It ain’t cheap to raise small amounts of money.
In our business, there are a limited # of vendors in each area of expertise. There are 3-4 advertising agencies. 2-3 accounting firms. And there are more, but still a limited number of lawyers.
And our lawyers don’t specialize in this . . . which means you’ll need to hire another attorney who does. And that adds to your budget. And smaller businesses don’t want to add to a budget that they were concerned about raising in the first place.
3. You have to work even harder to raise less money.
I remember a consulting session I had once with a writer who launched a Kickstarter campaign. He wondered why he hadn’t raised all this money in the first five days. When I asked him what he had (added) done to promote it, he said, “Nothing. Don’t people just find it in Kickstarter?”
Like anything, just because you build it, doesn’t mean ANYONE will come. You have to spread the word about your offering. And when you’re raising small amounts of money at a time, you have to spread the word every further. We spent a ton of time and money marketing the Godspell offering. That, plus the press we get (that’s where the SEC got saucy), plus my own network, is what led to a successful raise.
Most people don’t want to work that hard. Because it’s true, it IS easier to raise bigger money from fewer people. (That’s why the point of crowdfunding shouldn’t be to raise the money – it should be to raise a marketing army – because all those investors with skin in the game, will shout your show’s name from their e-rooftops!)
(By the way – I gave Kickstarter guys some marketing nuggets and the good news is – he reached his total with three days to spare.)
Wait. Was that three reasons already? But I’m not done. So here’s a BONUS reason why crowdfunding hasn’t taken off on or Off-Broadway.
4. Producers think it makes them look desperate.

This is the one that we need to get over. By not allowing the small investor to participate in the making of theater, we’re ignoring a huge portion of the theatergoing population. Small donors are what got Barack Obama elected. Small investors are what brought down giant hedge funds with the GameStop saga.

And by embracing small investors, whether through crowdfunding or by Producers dividing up $50,000 units into more reasonable numbers, we could launch more new shows, more new voices . . . and market them as well.
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If you’re looking for tips on crowdfunding, check out our 8 Tips for a Kick A$$ Kickstarter here, or get my book on How To Raise Money For The Arts Or For Anything.

I got great advice from this tech billionaire.

It’s not a secret that one of the places I look to learn the secrets of theater-making . . . is outside the theater biz.

First, by examining what other industries do, I get a perspective that I don’t have.

Second, a product is a product is a product. And even though our product is an art, we build it, market it, and sell it in the same way as everything else.

Here’s a story that reminded me of that basic truth . . . from the tech space.

In February, Whitney Wolfe Herd became the youngest female billionaire on the planet.

And she did it by breaking into one of the most competitive markets around . . . online dating.

Whitney invented Bumble, the dating app where women get to make the first move.

Now, whenever anyone breaks through ceilings like Whitney, the first thing I do is jump up and down for them and tell as many people as I can. (Purpose of this blog #1.)

Second, I try to learn from them, and how they bust through the barrier. . .  and then tell as many people about that so they can learn from it too. (Purpose of this blog #2).

And what I learned from the many articles I read about her success is all in this perfect little quote. When a reporter asked her why she made Bumble, she said . . .

“I’ve truly just always tried to build what I wish existed,”

Whitney didn’t follow some fancy business plan. She didn’t pay attention to algorithms. She didn’t listen to focus groups.

She thought about what would she would like to use, and what her friends would also like to use, and she built it.

And she made a billion dollars.

To put this in theatermakin’ terms?  Whitney’s quote is the same as saying . . .

I produce shows I want to see.

I write shows I want to see.

I direct shows I want to see.

I act in shows that I want to see.

Etc.

The cool thing about following this mission is two-fold:

1. You can’t go wrong. If the show doesn’t work? You got to see it. And you wanted to see it. I hang all the posters of my shows on my office wall, even the ones that didn’t “succeed.”  And they ALL make me smile. Because I wanted to see them.

2.  You have good instincts. If YOU want to see something. Odds are other people do too. You are your OWN focus group. This is derivative of the Peter Lynch philosophy of investing . . . investing in what you use every day. You are investing your time, creativity, money . . . into something you WANT to use every day. And I’d be if you want to see that show, there are a lot more people where you come from

So take heed to the tech billionaire’s advice when you’re making theater. And I look forward to hearing how you break through your barrier.

And if you want to see more about what other TheaterMakers think about this, click here!

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If you want help breakin’ through, watch one of the masterclasses on everything from producing to writing to directing and more.

 

The new reality TV show about producing . . . that I’m producing!

That’s it.  I’ve had enough of people telling me I should . . .

1 – Produce television

2 – Produce a reality television show about producing a Broadway show.

So, during the pandemic, I started pitching TV networks like crazy.  And wouldn’t you know it, Netflix bought it!

The show follows the days and nights and late nights of three Broadway Producers (yes, I’m one of them) starting as we get Broadway up and running again.  Think a live version of William Goldman’s The Season . . . but about the most important season EVER – the first season back for Broadway after the pandemic!

They won’t let me say any more than this right now but stay tuned, because I’ll spill more soon.  (I’m just glad that today, I can finally leak this!)

If you want to read the official announcement from Netflix, including WHO THE OTHER TWO PRODUCERS ARE, click here.  (Guess first!)

OH, and we still don’t have a title, so if you want to suggest one, click here.

 

The shortcut to mastering theatermaking is . . .

Well, the truth is there IS no shortcut to mastering theatermaking or anything.

Sorry for the blog and switch, but there is no microwave-like answer to success in this industry (or any industry).

Jonathan Larson’s sister said it best when she accepted his Rent Tony Award on his behalf . . .

“It took Johnnie 15 years of really hard work to become an overnight sensation.”

Here’s the good news.  There are ways to speed up that success.

So, I should have said . . . the short-EST cut to mastering theater is . . .

Well?

Did you guess yet?  🙂

The shortest cut to mastering theater is learning from other people who have mastered it.

Listen and learn from those who have come before.  They have experimented and succeed (and probably failed too – which offers more lessons than success sometimes).

Devour biographies, interviews, classes, and more to learn from the theatermakers careers you want, or just from the artists you admire.

Why do you think I started my podcast?

And why do you think one of the core components of The TheaterMakers Studio is Master Classes.

(Speaking of, we just added a slate of new masterclasses including:

  • Actor/Author Mandy Gonzalez (Hamilton, In The Heights),
  • Actor/Writer Telly Leung (Allegiance, Godspell, Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway),
  • Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman: (The Producers, Crazy for You), 
  • Producer Mara Isaacs (Hadestown, The Inheritance), and more!
Click here to check out the full slate of Master Classes the studio offers, and use the code TMSFREE30.)

Wherever you get your access, make sure learning and listening to the masters of what you want is part of your daily routine.  In 2011, it wasn’t possible to get these people to teach you while you’re in the comfort of your own home.  Now, thanks to the good ol’ interwebs, they can.

And just promise me one thing . . . when you do achieve the success you want, you’ll help the next set get to where YOU are.

Click here and use the code TMSFREE30 to learn more about the Master Classes on TheaterMakers Studio, including the classes coming up!

There has never been a way to practice this. Until NOW.

You know the cliche . . . how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

You practice.

But that’s about performers or musicians.

What about if you want to write a play that gets put on at Carnegie Hall? Or better, a few blocks away . . . on Broadway?

How DO you get to Broadway if you’re a writer?

The answer is the same.

Practice.

Every profession practices. If you want to stay at the top of your “game,” you put in time off-the-court, sharpening your skills, so that when the pressure is on, you perform.

For writers, practicing is . . . well . . . writing.

And that didn’t seem like enough to me. I think writers are their own kind of athlete. They need to strengthen certain muscles. They need to become more flexible. They need to know how to hit a jump shot and a layup.

That’s why I asked Eric C. Webb, my Director of Creative Development, with fellow TheaterMaker Christopher Holoyda and my team at The TheaterMakers Studio, to put together the ONLY practice book for playwrights available anywhere.

And AS OF TODAY, it’s available on Amazon.com for a whopping $2.99. (Only through April 19th). And of which, I think Jeff Bezos gets like 90%.

It’s called 100 Playwriting Challenges. And it’s just that. 100 practice exercises for playwrights.

There are exercises for character building, writing better dialogue, etc.

And here’s the promise. You do one of these 5-10 minute exercises a day over the next 100 days, and you will have strong playwriting muscles at the end. You will be a better playwright. Period.

Think of it like doing a set of push-ups for the day. But this strength is going to do oh so much more for you.

I use them. It’s my warm-up. Gets my juices flowing. And then I dig in.

So get it here. It’s $2.99 until April 19th only. And I think Jeff Bezos gets like 90%.

Why did we do it?  Because we believe the world is a better place if there is more theater in it. And that’s why we’ll do anything to help you make more theater and better theater.

Get it here. Gift it to the writer in your life.  But spread the exercises and let’s all get theatrically healthier!

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