Advice from an Expert: Vol. IX. A Damn Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

I got a bunch o’ emails after my blog about my experience in the UK a few weeks ago.  One of them was from an actual expat American living and working in London.  Since he has such a unique perspective on what and why things are different in the land of fish and chips, I thought we might all learn from letting him have a post.  So here’s Jason Ferguson . . .

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There is so much to say about the
differences in British and American theatre (such as how to spell theater!), but
for my first topic I will respond to a posting Ken did on the popularity of
jukebox musicals in the UK. His opinion was that jukebox musicals thrive in the
West End because of the influx of international tourists that speak different
languages coming from Europe (I should say ‘continental Europe’ but the Brits
don’t consider themselves European). I agree with Ken that this is an important
element to British theatre and the international language of pop music or
anything non-verbal (see Stomp) keeps shows running here that would die a
fast death in New York at the hand of Brantley and company. But there is another
factor less talked about and that I think it takes an American living here to

I admit that on my arrival to London almost three years
ago I picked up a copy of the local trade rag, The Stage, and noticed article
after article about pantomimes. Castings, backstage profiles, interviews with
elder panto stars, and an entire feedback page filled with letters about this
strange theatrical art form. According to Wikipedia, ‘pantomime’ is:

musical-comedy theatrical production traditionally found in Great Britain,
Canada, Jamaica, Australia, South Africa, America, Japan, Ireland, Gibraltar and
Malta, and is usually performed during the Christmas and New Year

I don’t know how America made that list; I grew up attending
theatre regularly in Florida, with the occassional NYC family trip, and I never
came across a panto! I encourage you to read the full Wikipedia article to fully
research this phenomenon. The closest you have come to a panto is probably going
with your Aunt Mavis to see Peter Pan. Or some could argue that Into
the Woods
is as much a play on pantomime as it is on children’s literature
(I have heard a couple Brits claim the show didn’t work well here because they
played it too ‘panto-like’).

In short, modern British pantomimes are
generally large expensive shows that play over the Christmas season in most
producing theatres and touring venues. They are usually titles like Peter
Pan, Dick Whittington, Snow White, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk
, etc.
The scripts can change from year-to-year, but usually include standard gimmicks.
For example, every time the villain walks out (and you won’t miss him as he will
be wearing black or some other villain-like clothing) the kids in the audience
will hiss. That’s right…hiss. Like when your more annoying nephew tries to act
like a snake to scare you. Another key element to panto are the celebrity
guests. Your average panto will feature between 3-6 celebrities in just that one
show. I don’t want to offend anyone that I know who perform in pantos, but let’s
just say the level of celebrity is not Jude Law. The big deal last year is that
Steve Guttenberg came over to perform in Cinderella at a theatre in
Bromley, England.

So back to my point. Panto is huge in the UK. Almost
everyone has been to see a panto when they were a child. It is a Christmas
tradition. In America we have A Christmas Carol in various forms, but it
doesn’t come close to the holiday theatrical monopoly that panto holds over the
public. But while many on the snootier side of the theatre industry will roll
their eyes at the mention of panto, it is an important part of the theatrical
tradition here. It has brought children into the theatre in mass and, unlike in
America, if you were to stop the average person on the street in Ipswich (think
Peoria) and ask if they have been to the theatre in the last two years, the
chances are probably good they have. Now you don’t find that in

In conclusion, pantomimes have a large effect on UK theatre
audiences and one of those is that very British thing called ‘class’. By opening
theatre up to everyone at an early age and to people of all socio-economic
backgrounds, the UK theatre is often able to attract a more populist audience to
shows. The discussion over how class background effects theatre is for a whole
other posting, but PC or not these are the facts. The Royal Court may always
fight hard to expose working and lower middle class audiences to the plays of
Wallace Shawn, but the producers of Dirty Dancing seem to have had a much
easier time. In the UK at least.


Jason Ferguson is a theatre general manager/tour booker/producer in London. He formerly worked for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Manny Azenberg and Clear Channel before moving to London where he has been a consultant for general manager Arden Entertainment (Dirty Dancing, Old Vic’s Tunnel 228) and is currently working as an independent tour booker and producer through his company Jason Ferguson Ltd.

You can contact Jason at

Advice from an expert: Vol. VIII. Founder of the Fringe (and Tony Nominator) tells how to get involved! When I think of summer in the city, I think of sweatin’ while waiting (and waiting) on a subway platform for a 1 train, that strange smell from sun-soaked garbage . . . and The Fringe Festival!

Today, on The Producer’s Perspective, I give you Elena Holy, the founder of The Fringe; that all-you-can-eat buffet for theater lovers!  Elena is going to share a few words with you on how The Fringe got started, and how you can polish your Producing skills by producing a show at the Fringe this summer!

Oh, and yes, it is true.  Elena was a Tony Nominator this year.  But don’t waste your time asking her why 9 to 5 wasn’t nominated.  She won’t answer.

I know, because I already tried.

Heeeeeeeeeere’s Elena!

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As you may have heard,

the shows accepted to be a part of FringeNYC 2009 have been posted. This marks the end of a very busy, wonderful, excruciating adjudication process. But just because we’ve selected our shows, doesn’t mean that your opportunity to be a part of the largest multi-arts festival in North America has passed! 

I’m often asked what it took to start FringeNYC (and I’ve been quoted as answering “youth and ignorance”), but to keep FringeNYC growing, it takes a village – seriously. You see, FringeNYC continues to operate as a Great Inverted Pyramid:

75,000 Audience Members
..5,000 Artists
..1,500 Volunteers
..1,100 Performances
..1,000 Applications
…..200 Shows
…… 20 Venues
…….16 Days
…….15 Dollar Tickets

…….13 Years 

………2 Full-time Staff Members


If you’re curious as to how this is possible, you can get further information here (or watch me try to describe it here). Simply put, we couldn’t do this without our audience and our artists. But the third necessary (and beloved) component is definitely our volunteer staff (who do everything from writing for our newspaper to building sql databases to pulling industry comps to printing tickets). If you’d like to join the FringeNYC Volunteer Staff, the first step is to attend a NEWBIE MEETING.

If you don’t have the time to join the staff, you’re also welcome to be a short-term volunteer. And the best part is, volunteering at FringeNYC is “work a shift, see a show” – for each two hour shift you volunteer, you receive a voucher good for a ticket to any performance at FringeNYC. All you have to do is register here.

If, on the other hand, you can devote all the time in the world to FringeNYC from August 14th – 30th, we also have stipended staff positions available – and interviews are happening now!

And for those of you who are DIRECTORS or PRODUCERS, we have two new opportunities for more project-specific work this year. Read on!


Have you ever wanted to direct or produce a show presented as a part of The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)? Have you wondered how to get in touch with the shows that need a Director or a Producer? And how do you know which projects you might be a good fit for?

Now is your chance to meet up with FringeNYC 2009 shows that are in search of a director or producer.


On Saturday, June 6th, representatives of FringeNYC shows will gather for our annual Town Meeting, and then those in search of a Director for their project will split off into a separate area, ready to meet you! FringeNYC’s Speed Dates are an opportunity to spend three minutes with representatives of dozens of shows, exchange information, and decide which projects are of interest to you. Then it’s up to you to set up a time to take it to the next step.

General information you should know:

FringeNYC is August 14th – 30th, 2009. Most of our shows are produced under the AEA Showcase Code plus the FringeNYC Side Letter. FringeNYC includes 200+ shows that are: Clown / Mask, Comedy, Dance, Drama, Spoken Word / Poetry, Improv / Sketch / Stand-up, Multi-media, Musical, Performance Art, Puppetry, Solo Shows, and every possible combination thereof!

*An ACR is an “Authorized Company Re
presentative”. Each FringeNYC show needs one – and they function as the show’s representative at the box office, often handle marketing, contracts, some management and producing. The ACRs job description will vary greatly by show – but if you’re looking for a project or want to gain actual producing experience, this is a great place for you!

If you are interested in attending, all you need to do is REGISTER for the event. PLEASE NOTE: Only those who have REGISTERED will be able to attend, due to limited capacity.

Here are the basics:

WHAT: FringeNYC’s Director / ACR Speed Dates

WHEN: Saturday, June 6th at 3pm

WHERE: Location will be announced to those who register.

REGISTRATION: To register, simply click the appropriate link below:



GENERAL INFORMATION: About FringeNYC is available at

Advice from an Expert: Vol. VII. She sold her show on MySpace. Here’s how you can too.

At a New Producer’s Panel of The Broadway League last night, the topic was social networking and just what it could do for shows already running and those still trying to get out of the starting blocks.

No one knows more about starting their show off with some social networking than my own Ryann “Fergie” Ferguson, who works in my office by day and writes musicals by night.

Here’s what happened to VOTE! The Musical, thanks to Web 2.0, in Fergie’s own words.

One of the biggest questions we faced once our musical, VOTE!, was “done” and we had put on our first private industry only reading, was how we would be able to continue in our process of refining/work shopping it.  Our answer came in the form of a new model of both getting shows produced, as well as finding material to produce.

From the beginning, we wanted to utilize the internet to reach a young audience that was right for our show.  We started with a MySpace page.  We posted songs and even made a music video.  One of our fav cast members, Andrew Keenan Bolger, vloged about it.  We made an effort to put out as much material from the show as we possibly could for critique and to build a fan base.

And we got critique.  And we got a fan base.  And you know what else we got?  We got several offers from young aspiring producers who wanted to premiere the show at their college, community theatre or Fringe Festival!  We had offers from as far as Australia and London, but ultimately, we decided to stay a little closer to home when got an offer from a young producer in Indiana named Eric Anderson, who really seemed to get what we were all about.

Eric contacted us directly about premiering the work regionally with students and creative team from the Indiana University Theatre Department.  My co-writer and I saw it as a great opportunity to workshop the show during a five week rehearsal period (five weeks of rehearsal in NYC is a luxury almost no young writers/producers can afford).  And we even got them to use our director!

I had a bit of separation anxiety turning over the show at this stage in its young life, but knowing that our director would be there to oversee made the process easier.  And, the internet and social networks have kept us closer than we could have been just a few short years ago.  We helped cast the show by watching videos of the auditions, and we’ve tracked progress and any script changes by watching frequent YouTube video postings of rehearsals.

I’m headed out there for the final two rehearsals and openings and, so far, I would recommend the experience to anyone with a show . . . and a social network.

Fergie hit the developmental lottery here.  Remember her first two goals:  build a fan base and get critique?  She just found a way to get both of those on a bigger scale . . . while someone else is paying for it . . . while it’s all under the watchful eye of her trusted director.

The lesson?  There are people out there that want to do your show, if it’s what their audience is looking for, and if it’s good.  You’ve got to find them . . . and make sure they can find you.  And, surprise, surprise, social networking is a great way to get discovered.

It’s happened for many a musician.  It can happen to musicals.

If you’re going to be in Indiana on March 6,7 or 8th, check out VOTE!  Here’s how.  And look for Ferg . . . she’ll be the one that looks like a mom the day her baby quits crawling, and takes that first little step.

If any of you have sold your show on MySpace or the web, comment away and share your strategy.

Advice from an expert: Vol. VI. New technology is like new toys

Last week I had lunch with an exec. at PRG (the go-to shop for all lighting rentals for Broadway, car shows and the rest of the free world).  PRG was the original supplier of the lights in Phantom, the longest running show in Broadway history, which means it first installed the rental package 21 years ago.

As you can imagine, technology has changed a “watt” (sorry) over the last couple of decades.  So, Phantom had to change out all of their instruments, right?


Despite all of the advancements the lighting industry has made, the bulk of the Phantom package has stayed the same. They’ve swapped out the board, made some tweaks, changed some instruments and cabling (some changes were made for safety’s sake), but basically the same technology that thrilled audiences 21 years ago is still thrilling them today.

So what was the advice this expert imparted to me over burgers at Joe Allen’s?

Be careful of the new lighting technology companies that come out with new toys every year, making designers drool like 12 year old boys over the latest video game system.

It’s a Producer’s (and a parent’s) job to tell your designers (and your kids) that when times are tough, you have to play with the toys you have.  Because if toys from twenty years ago can still be effective, then last year’s toys can still be a lot of fun, and they are a lot less expensive.

Some designers/kids may cry if they don’t get the newest thing.  But the good ones will get creative.

I’d add that if your story is a good one, the audience won’t care what you’re playing with.

Advice from an expert: Vol. V. Let’s search together

One on the industry’s up-and-coming marketers, Leslie Barrett, joins us today.  Leslie is on loan from her position as the Director of Integrated Marketing at one of our industry’s heavyweight advertising agencies.  As the Dir. of Integrated Marketing, Leslie insures that marketing and advertising campaigns are working well together.

Leslie and I recently got into a conversation about exactly that, “working well together”, and she shared an idea with me on how to combat one of the our biggest online marketing challenges: how do we compete with ticket brokers who can spend a lot more money on online advertising, most specifically Adwords.

Here’s Leslie’s expert opinion:

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Search has become such an important part of our everyday lives, it’s hard to imagine what we did before the world’s information was available at our fingertips.

So, I’ve been tossing around the idea of cooperative search, where all Broadway shows would bid on the generic terms as a group, ultimately sending the customer to a page that lists every Broadway show (and off-Broadway for that matter) with face-value ticket prices.  But I did some rough math, and it just seems too expensive ($3K – $5K per show per week).

Since the secondary market is so highly motivated to sell our tickets (mainly through search), why can’t we make a deal, or several deals?  The secondary market is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s here to stay.  Let’s figure out how to partner with these companies, keep our customers happy, and share in some of this revenue.

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Leslie’s on to something here.  I like her co-oped search idea, and would go further as to distribute the cost of the program based on its results.  Give each show in the program a specific code, and charge the shows that sell the most tickets the bulk of the costs of the program, thereby distributing the costs more fairly.

But Leslie’s most radical idea is the one we all have to remember.  Reaching across the aisle takes courage, but sometimes our biggest enemies can be our biggest allies.  Godfather fans will remember that Don Corleone brought all the members of the five families together to talk first.

Then, his son killed them all.