Phil Smith (1931-2020): The Chairman of The Shubert Org . . . and perhaps all of Broadway.

I didn’t know exactly who he was when I first met him.

But I could tell he was a titan.

It was early in my career.  I wasn’t even a Company Manager yet.  I was still an Assistant.  And I was in a Broadway box office signing the nightly performance statement for some show, when in he came.  He looked me over, smiled and said something like “Looks like this show is in good hands.”

It was all a wanna-be-theatermaker and wanna-be-mover-and-shaker needed to hear from Phillip J. Smith, the Chairman Emeritus of The Shubert Organization, who passed away yesterday, due to complications from Covid-19.  (Yeah, that nasty bug just took another one of our best.)

And here’s the thing . . . those kind of random, steroid shot affirmations didn’t stop coming from Phil over the last twenty years.

While I’d see him at opening night parties, or when I was asking/begging for a Broadway theater, it was the unplanned meetings that I’ll always remember.

And often they were what kept me going.

Like the time he got the invitation we sent to all the Tony Award Voters for Alan Cumming’s Macbeth.  Rather than sent the standard invite, we did a little something-something to the invite – made it on burnt parchment paper, dripped “blood” on it, sealed it with wax . . . you know, made it spooooky.

Two days after they went in the mail, my assistant said, “Ken, Phil Smith is on the phone!”

Honestly, my first thought was, “Oh crap, what did I do?”  🙂

I picked up the phone and heard, “Ken!  You are a Producer!”

He got the invite.  And I think he liked it.

He applauded my crowdfunding of Godspell, when others looked down on it, even telling me stories of Broadway Producers from back in the day that did something similar.

And one day, when I was in that ornate office of his, and I told him my dream was to be one of those Producers who had five shows with my name on them running at once, he bellowed, “YOU WILL BE!”

I don’t know that anyone has ever been that supportive of me in this business.  And he was the Chairman of the Mother-Effin’ Shubert Organization.

And it’s not like we were besties or anything.  And I’m sure he did this for many of us that he saw come up through the ranks from Assistant Company Manager.  Especially since he started from the bottom and worked his way to the most powerful chair on Broadway.

I’ll miss seeing him at opening nights.  I’ll miss asking him for the keys to one of his Broadway theaters for one of my shows.  Shoot, I’ll even miss him saying, “Sorry, Ken, no theaters available.”

Farewell, Mr. Smith.  And thank you.  Those doses of your support are part of the reason I’m still plugging away at that dream of mine.

And I promise, I not only won’t stop, but I’ll do what you did for me to the next generation of Assistant Company Managers.

[Zoom Strategy Session] In case you did NOT get what you wanted from Santa.

I’m not surprised.
 
Whenever I talk to TheaterMakers about what they want . . . money never comes up.  No one talks about royalties and selling the movie rights or their share of the merch.
 
All writers, producers, directors want for Christmas (and every other time of year) is to see their shows on a stage. 
Sound like you?
 
You want to hear the actors delivering the lines. You want to hear singers singing your songs. 
 
And you want to hear the applause, laughter, or tears that follow.
 
And I get it. Because that’s all I want too.
 
It’s all I ever wanted.
 
When I was starting out, I pursued a lot of the “traditional” ways to get produced. And . . . they didn’t work. (I’m sure you can relate.)
 
And boy was I frustrated.
 
Then Hal Prince took me to task.
 
Yep, I got a talking-to from the 21-time Tony Award . . . who also shared with me his secrets of seeing your shows on a stage.
 
And, well, when you get advice from a guy like that, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that the stuff worked.
 
In fact, every single thing I’ve done in my career so far (and every thing I WILL do) is because of what he taught me that day.
 
The moment his advice started to work, I vowed to share it. To help other TheaterMakers like me see their shows on stage.
 
That’s why I started blogging, podcasting, and it’s why I’m reviving a webinar I did earlier this year . . . with a twist.
 
This Wednesday, December 30th at 8 PM Eastern, join me for a free Zoom Strategy Session entitled, “Get Produced in 2021!” I’ll share the “key” that Hal gave me almost twenty years ago, and the formula that I use to see my shows on stage today.
 
 
And I hope you’ll join, whether you are a TheaterMaker just starting out and have a script (or two!) in a drawer. Or if you’re a veteran who knows your stuff is great, and you can’t understand why it hasn’t received the visibility it deserves. (I’ll explain the issue – which has nothing to do with you.)
 
 
2021 is right around the corner. And there is no question there WILL be shows on stages this year.
 
The only question is . . . will yours be one of them?
So if you haven’t gotten what you REALLY wanted from Santa, join me for this session.
 
Get Produced in 2021
Free Zoom Strategy Session
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
8 PM ET
 
 
– – – – –
 
P.S. Full disclosure . . . at the end of this free training session, I am going to share a very special offer for you to join The TheaterMakers Studio. Something The Studio doesn’t advertise but I asked them to come up with.
 
See, after almost ten years of running training for TheaterMakers, we now KNOW for a fact what works. We analyzed our success stories and cross referenced what they have in common. Then, we took those things and put them in this offer. Because we know TheaterMakers need more resources now that EVER. Oh, and if you’re already a member, you’ll get the same opportunity. Because this is about getting as many people produced in 2021 as possible. We’ve got some ground to make up!
 
If you don’t want the offer, no worries, the Strategy Session is free. But I didn’t want you to be surprised about the offer.
 

The two.

I’ve never been so happy that the last month of this year is flying by so fast.

“December, already,” someone said.

“Yes,” I said.  “Abso-effin-lutely, yes.”

Because every day that passes is a day closer to the vaccine, and to Broadway’s return.  (And the news this week was that we could see some shows in June and July!)

A quickly approaching 1st of the year, means a quickly approaching gift-giving holiday.  Just last week, we posted our traditional “Top 10” gifts for the Broadway theater lover (during a pandemic!).  I got a bunch of emails asking me to narrow that list down to one.  (I guess people are busier than ever and don’t even have time for Top 10s anymore!)

So this post contains our favorite TWO broadway holiday gifts for 2020.

Why two?  Well, I always like to overdeliver.  😉

But we wanted one “fun gift” and one “self-improvement” gift.  I believe that life has to be about improving oneself, mixed in with just as much fun.

That’s why our two favorite gifts this year are . . .

(And yes, both broadway gifts are stuff that we “produce.”  Because if we didn’t believe in them enough to promote them – we never would have made them!  There’s a lesson in this for you, by the way.  If ever you feel like you wouldn’t shout about your project from the rooftops . . . do NOT do it.)

1. THE IMPROVEMENT BROADWAY GIFT:  Cast of Mentors:  Short Sage Advice from 50 Broadway Superpowers.

This is my brand new book featuring excerpts from some of the smartest and most creative people on Broadway.  Everyone needs at least one mentor.  Now you have 50.  It’s the perfect gift because it doesn’t require reading it from front to back.  Let it sit on a desk or on a shelf and pick it up from time to time.  Let the words of these talented TheaterMakers inspire you to make more theater.  I know they’ve inspired me.  This book is for anyone who wants to make theater (actor, director, playwright, etc.) or anyone who wants to appreciate the process of making it (fan, investor, etc.)  Get it here.

2. THE FUN BROADWAY GIFT:  Be A Broadway Star Board Game

The classic is back!  Our Be A Broadway Star board game is one of the best selling Broadway gifts on Amazon.com.  And has been for almost ten years!  And it’s perfect for the Broadway family that can’t go see a Broadway show.  It’s a little charades and a little Life, with a dash of “celebrity” for an extra dose of fun.  It’s also a no-brainer gift for anyone who loves theater.  The young folks love it.  Put it this way.  If you have a kid who is on TikTok, get them this game.  Huge points.  And 210 rave reviews can’t be wrong.  Get it here.  And have a Broadway blast while you’re stuck inside this holiday season.  (Do get yours quick – demand has already shot up this year as I’m sure you can imagine.  We will sell out.)

The clock is tickin’ on this damn Covid.  These two gifts will help pass the time even faster.  Until, soon enough, it’ll be “Places, please!”

 

5 Things I’ve Learned From Producing Streaming Theater (So far).

It’s rule of three.
 
I’m not talking comedy. I’m talking education through action.
 
You can’t learn anything by doing something once. Success or failure could be a fluke. Trends aren’t trends when they are based on one-offs.
 
And twice. Well, ok. Better than once.  But not much.
 
But when you do something three times. The learning potential increases by thirty times.
 
Less than three months ago, I announced I’d be going “all in” on producing streaming events.
 
And, since then, I’ve produced three. (Well, four, if you count my TheaterMakers Summit, which was the biggest of all!).  I started with an event with Kate Rockwell, followed up with The Doo Wop Project, and stay tuned for the world premiere of the viral sensation, Mat and Savanna Shaw! (Not to mention all the Zoom readings, Livestreams and other streamed events I’ve been involved in.
 
While I was quick to draw a few conclusions after my very first streamed event, I sat on my data-filled hands and waited.
 
But now that I have finished my Big Three , I’m ready to share my learnings with you.
 
Here are five things I learned about streaming theater or concerts or anything . . . so far.
 
1. The biggest asset AND liability of streaming theater.
 
It’s a help. And it’s a hindrance.
 
HELP:  Unlike The Shubert Theater or New World Stages, streaming events have no fixed capacity. You can fit as many people in your “online theater” as you want. And unlimited capacity makes recoupment charts look sooooo sweet. The upside is enormous. In one night, you can “seat” a year’s worth of traditional-theater audiences.
 
HINDRANCE: With no fixed capacity, there is no scarcity. One of the biggest drivers of ticket sales when there is a new hit show on Broadway (or a new toy at Christmas) is the limited amount of tickets. Our traditional audiences know that when a new musical has super-buzz and great reviews, they’ll have to wait for a long time to see it unless they get their tickets right away. So they JUMP when tickets go on sale.
 
The streamers? They know they can wait.
 
The good news? You WILL see an uptick in ticket sales in the last 48 hours of the event. On each one of my streamed events, I saw a massive uptick in tickets, in some cases DOUBLING the sales in the 24 hours before the event. And that is fun to watch.  (BIG TAKEAWAY – INCREASE YOUR ADVERTISING AND MARKETING IN THE LAST 48 HOURS LEADING UP TO YOUR EVENT.)
 
But the challenge is that when people wait to buy, they could wriggle off the hook.
 
It’s worth noting that one of the biggest “successes” in the past year was ‘The Present’ – which limited the number of tickets sold for each performance. It limits profit, but extends the brand. And as you’ll see below, THAT might be more profitable in the LONG term.
 
Before you drool all over the possibility of 10,000 coming to your streamed event, ask yourself, is it better if I got 100 instead?
 
 
2. Do you usually perform live? Then you MUST perform live.
 
I get it. You’re a perfectionist. You want to shoot your show, concert, reading, etc, and then edit it up and stream that.
 
Ok, it’ll work.
 
But it won’t be as exciting. And, well, that’s also what film and TV does.  And you’ll NEVER be as good as all the streamed events on Netflix. So why try?  
You’re much better off to stand out, rather than “stream” in.
 
If your pre-pandemic platform is LIVE and in front of an audience, then I encourage you to perform your stuff LIVE and in front of an e-audience.
 
The irony is, when an audience knows that something is live they are more forgiving about what they see on their screen. Taped events have higher expectations and less excitement.
 
And by NOT going live, you’re losing out on one of the most important USPs of streaming theater. (See next.)
 
3. Let ’em eat cake . . . and chat.
 
You’re streaming something into people’s homes. This is NOT the theater. People can unwrap candies as loud as they want to – and you should ENCOURAGE IT.
 
And most importantly, if they want to talk during the performance, don’t just let them . . . chat with them!!!
 
Chat features are what make online events unique. Don’t shut them down. Fire them up! Get people talking! When people talk about your event, it means they are more engaged. And, well, here’s a BIG TIP. . . watching chatter about your show will put a spotlight on who your biggest fans (aka future ticket buyers or even investors?) are.  On each of my events, we were able to identify our super fans and make sure they got the treatment they deserve (so they’d come back!).
 
Afraid that some people may not WANT to see chatter as they stream your show.  Good point. Not everyone will.  Remember, on most platforms, users can CHOOSE to turn off or hide the chat. Another idea?  Put the chat in a “second-screen room” for those who want to gab.
 
You can’t stop it. So don’t try. Use all the advantages of the platform you’re on, or don’t bother.
 
 
4. What else have you got?
 
In the traditional business world, the first thing a new company does once its first product is successful . . . is launch a second product. It’s business school 101 – anyone that has bought something from is more likely to buy something else from you.
 
Streaming can be successful on its own, for sure. But it works best when it is also marketing something else. And even if it isn’t financially successful on its own, it could STILL be worth doing because of the marketing power of the platform. Got a cast album? A live-streamed concert that gets a global audience will be more inclined to buy AFTER that event. Or join your Patreon group. Got a reading coming up? Do a live-streamed concert to get people to show up! Want to encourage licensing of your show. You get the streamed-picture.
 
Don’t stream in vacuum. Try to make it stand-on-its-own-successful, but also define your secondary goal.
(PS – an “On Demand” version sort-of counts – but what makes it different?  Stay tuned to see how we’re going to make The Shaws on-demand experience so special people who saw the first will want to buy a ticket to see it again!)
 
5. Follow the leader.
 
Here’s a typical conversation at a Broadway ad meeting.
 
“Hey! Look at how many followers we have! We’re going to have a big hit!”
 
WRONG. Just because a show has a bajillion followers doesn’t mean those folks will buy tickets. For one, only a small percent may be close enough to New York City to buy a ticket!
 
Online? There IS a correlation between a show or artist’s following and the number of tickets they will sell.
 
Does that mean if you don’t have a following yet that you shouldn’t stream?
 
No. It’s my belief that EVERY THEATERMAKER SHOULD STREAM SOMETHING.
 
It does mean that your initial audience may be smaller, so . . .
 
1 – Don’t spend as much (or anything).
2 – Develop a plan to BUILD YOUR FOLLOWING.
 
An online tribe is one of the most powerful tools a TheaterMaker can have in the new theatrical economy.  If you haven’t started building your tribe already, you must start now.
 
 
That’s five things I learned about streaming theater . . .but wait, ONE MORE!
 
BONUS #6: Tickets should be cheaper, but ALSO more expensive.
 
Because of the scarcity issue I mentioned above, it’s harder to command a higher price. The sweet spot of these events seem to be in the $20s and $30s. (When Josh Groban prices his events in that ballpark, it’s hard to push beyond.)
 
But do NOT think that this lower price is because people don’t have money, or don’t want to spend it on streamed events.
 
On all THREE of my events, we had much higher VIP package prices that included more value, from meet & greets to merch sent to their homes (I love the tactile connection for streamed events.
 
And here’s the thing, we sold a MUCH higher % of those higher priced tickets that I do on my in-person events.
 
People will pay. As long as you show them the value.  
 
Takeaway? Build 2-3 prices for your show, and give ’em something special that makes your event unique.
 
 
So there are SIX things I learned about streaming over the past three months.
 
My biggest takeaway?
 
Streaming is a successful way to monetize and market the art of a TheaterMaker.
 
And I’ll be doing a bunch more of it.
 
So stay tuned.
 
– – – – –
 
Want to learn more about streaming theater from people who know a LOT more about it than I do? Click here, and you can be up and successfully streaming your reading, concert or show in so much less time and for less money than trying to figure it out on your own
 
 
 

It wasn’t right.

The first copy was too big.

The second was too blurry.

The third copy was juuuuuussssst right.

And so went the Goldilocks-like journey of publishing my new book, CAST OF MENTORS:  SHORT SAGE ADVICE FROM 50 BROADWAY SUPERPOWERS.

You can order the “just right” version right here, just in time for the holidays.

One thing I do guarantee . . . the advice in this book, from A-listers like Terrence McNally, Joe Mantello, Mandy Gonzalez, Kenny Leon, Pasek & Paul, and so on is “juuuuuust perfect.”

There’s an answer in this book for every question a TheaterMaker might have, from a college student with a BA in theater graduating in the middle of a pandemic, to a professional producer with awards on his mantle who is still looking for his West Side Story (ok, ok, that might be me.)

Oh, and the hardcover version looks cool on a coffee table.

Get it here.  If it doesn’t help you, let me know.  We’ll give your money back to you.  And you don’t even have to return the book . . . you just have to give it to another TheaterMaker.  Because I know the words of these Mentors will inspire the right people to do great things . . . on and off the stage.

Get CAST OF MENTORS here.

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