Advice from an Expert: Vol. XII. My own (M)ad man speaks again!

Boy, you loved last Friday’s post from my reader who worked at Blaine Thompson.  I had more emails about it than I did about Piven when the fish story broke.

Since you loved it so much, I thought I’d give you some more.  This guy is like a treasure chest of theatrical lore.  Here are a few more comments from him about the infamous opening night routine at the agency:

On opening nights, producers, press agents, backers,
general managers, actors, etc would come up to our office on the 8th floor of
the Sardi’s Building to wait for the reviews to be called in by our
“friends” who worked in the press rooms of the newspapers.  The phone calls were put on speaker phones so
all could hear – good, bad, or indifferent – before they were sent to the
composing rooms to be set in type.  This
practice may still exist at the current ad agencies.

On occasion there was more drama and excitement those
nights than on the stage the previous few hours.  One night the author of a play which was very
harshly reviewed became so distraught after hearing one devastating review
after another that she tried to throw herself out of a window.  She had to be physically constrained.

Another time the star of a play that had just opened
became inebriated and chased one of our young account people threatening to
beat him up.  The show’s press agent (who
had been a boxer in his youth) actually knocked the actor out to stop him.  Just one punch.

I don’t think it appropriate to name the people involved
in an email.

I love the way that new media has exploded, but if there was ever an argument to restore the power of print and blow up the internet, it would be to experience one of those late night meetings at an agency before the papers came in.

Oh, my guy also ended that story with this:

Blaine Thompson was a very interesting place to work.  And there are
lots of stories.  Maybe a book?

Uh, yes.  Absolutely.  You guys would read it, wouldn’t you?

Aren’t you dying to know who the puncher was?

Advice from an Expert: Vol. XI. The guy who placed the Subways are for Sleeping ad speaks!

Oh how I love the internet.  It gives you the chance to speak to so many people that you would otherwise never have the chance to, and learn from them.

Perfect example . . .

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about The Balloon Boy and his dad’s stupidity.  In the same blog I referenced the infamous David Merrick Subways are for Sleeping stunt.

Today I got an email from a gentleman who was the Production Director at The Blaine Thompson Company, a powerhouse ad agency who repped Broadway shows from 1938 – 1977 including the original productions of Gypsy, Pippin, Hair, A Chorus Line, and yes, Subways are for Sleeping.

This gentleman was directly involved with the Ad Heard ‘Round The World, and with Mr. Merrick himself, and was kind enough to share his story in an email to me.

I convinced him to put the story into a comment on the blog itself for all of you to enjoy.

Here it is.  A piece of theatrical history, brought to you by the power of the internet and by people willing to share their story (which is what theater is all about, isn’t it?).

Click here to and scroll down to read the comment from Ron.

Advice from an Expert: Vol. X. A Day In The Life Of A Customer.

I’ve been lucky enough to have some great folks write “Advice from an Expert” columns over the past 2 years.  But with all due respect to each and every one of them, I don’t think anyone qualifies more as an expert in Broadway buying patterns than today’s guest columnist?

What makes Meg Walker so qualified, you ask?

She’s an actual customer.

What you’re going to read below is a word-for-word email I received last week from Meg who thought she would share her experience of a week of theatergoing with me.

Enjoy and learn . . .

I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I’ve been reading it for several months now. My family enjoys theater a lot and we see many shows locally as well as in Philadelphia and New York when we can.

Anyway, I was in the city for a week (Aug 2 – 8) because my daughter was attending Broadway Artists Alliance’s intensive. I got to spend days on my own in the city! I waited in the TKTS line 4 times in Times Square and also checked the board at the Seaport. EVERY TIME I went near those lines, I heard people in line asking questions. They had NO IDEA what any of the shows were about! These were tourists who just knew that one of the things you do when you visit New York is to get tickets from TKTS. And so they got in line!

Every time, somebody asked me what AVENUE Q was about! They hadn’t heard of it! They hadn’t heard of anything but BILLY ELLIOT, SHREK and STOMP, it seemed. They were going to buy tickets and they had budgeted the money, so they were going to spend it. It didn’t really matter on what.

The young people who walked up and down the lines were nice and informative, but a lot of the tourists didn’t seem to trust them. Are they employees of the TKTS or of the individual shows? It would make a difference to the tourists, I think, if they had official shirts that identified them as employees. Several people around me in line waited to ask questions of the ticket sellers at the windows. At that point, it was crowded and noisy and hard to hear and the sellers didn’t have the time to chat.

On Monday, a couple of hours before the booth opened, I wanted to find out what was playing that night, so I went into the Times Square Visitors Center. I asked for and was given a list of the current shows and their schedules. It made me a very popular person in the ticket line later! I also picked up a tourist booklet that had a brief description of each show, in addition to a lot of other info about the city. I passed that around the line, too. No one else had this information and they seemed surprised that it was available.

The point I want to make to you is that the vast majority of the people I heard talking around me had no idea what they wanted, and no idea how to find out the information.

Having young people walking along the lines is a very good idea, but something needs to be changed so that the tourists will trust their information. A lot of them seemed to congregate near the light boards with the availability lists–they really should be working the other ends of the lines. And really, I cannot believe that people would spend all that money to visit NYC and not do a little homework beforehand! But, apparently, they don’t. So, there’s a market segment for you to try to figure out how to reach.

And I have a question for you–why were so many of the shows doing discounts of 20, 30 and 40 percent? I thought the idea of TKTS was “half-price tickets.” When did that change?

Some of the tourists were shocked at the prices. But by the time they heard the prices, they’d invested all that time waiting in line and they were going to buy just about anything.

So, there’s my visitor’s view of TKTS.

Thanks for sharing, Meg, and for taking the time to give me and the rest of my readers this very valuable information.

Most customers aren’t like Meg.  Most customers won’t give you this kind of feedback . . . unless you ask them.

Take today to find a way to open a line of communication with your audience.

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 . . .

– – – – –

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!

– – – – –

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