Look at how much ink Broadway Producers and Investors got.

I get my NY Times Sunday Arts and Leisure section delivered to me on Thursday.  Yep, in case you didn’t know, the sections of the Sunday Times that aren’t “headline dependent” are printed well in advance, and as a courtesy provided to those folks out there that fill it with ads, the Times will get it to you earlier.

When I got my copy last week and saw the headline, “I Want To Be A Producer (Me, Too!),” and the accompanying story, I was intrigued.

When I finished the copy of the front page, I flipped to the “continued on” page, and I literally yelped out a “Holy moses!”

The article, about Broadway Investors and how so many have transitioned to above-the-title producers, had another two plus full pages on the inside of the paper.

(The cynical side of me wondered whether the Times gave it that much space to try to encourage more Broadway Investors to become Producers so they’d buy more NY Times ads!)

It’s a fascinating article, centered around last year’s Tony Award winning Cinderella Story, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.  The article reveals that they had trouble raising money as opening night loomed, and the Producers cut some super aggressive deals with investors while the show was in previews to make sure the show got what it needed to open.  And, in one of the best turnarounds I’ve seen in the last couple of decades, it snags the most Tony Nominations of any musical, and then gets the Best Musical trophy on top.  And sales took off.

It’s such a dramatic story that it could be a musical itself.

I know there is a faction of folks within the business that sneer when they hear stories about Producers reducing the “value” of the above-the-title Producer slot . . . and I recently heard a rumor that the Broadway League might be considering a “minimum raise” in order to get a credit on a show (there is already a minimum required in order to get membership into the League.)

And while, sure, if an investor comes to me and says, “I do this for the credit, and on my last show, I got that credit for X,” it makes it harder to stick with the numbers I’ve laid out to receive credit.

But, and this is the rub, every show is different.  And if some shows need to offer more aggressive title deals to make sure the show happens, then who-the-eff cares?

I vary the deals on my own shows all the time.

When I produced Macbeth, I had to raise the money in 6 weeks, and more importantly, we were only doing 6 shows a week for 14 weeks, so the risk was higher.  So I reduced the threshold for the above-the-title slot to only $100,000 as a way to mitigate the risk for Producers/Investors (while we didn’t recoup, which I announced here, we did get to 90%).

On Somewhere in Time and Gettin’ The Band Back Together, the above-the-title slots are a much more customary $500k, but I reduce those amounts depending on when the Producers and Investors get involved (before we announce the theater gets a lower threshold versus those that get involved after we announce the theater).

When products are different, terms, including titles, are different.  And I don’t believe we can “legislate” that with required minimums, just like we can’t legislate other parts of the Producer deals.  What’s the difference between offering a title for a lower than usual amount or offering better financial terms?  Or the number of opening night tickets?   Just because one is visible and one isn’t?

And if more Producers means we get to see more risk on Broadway (this all started with Spring Awakening, and I for one am so glad that show made it to Broadway), then it should be applauded.

We are Producers.  We are business owners.  We are entrepreneurs.  And we should will do whatever it takes to get our show off the ground.

To read the article, click here.


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Why you might have a harder time marketing your musical today than yesterday.

I read an interesting blog and an even more interesting book recently about how to introduce a new product to the marketplace.  Now, granted, these publications were talking about the traditional business world, so their definitions of “products” were things like new cell phones, women’s sportswear, and soft drinks.

Me being me, I couldn’t help but wonder if their arguments could be extrapolated to musicals.

The conclusion of the blog/book was that it takes a lot longer than you think for a product to achieve “market penetration” in today’s world . . . on average more than five years.

Why does it take so long?

Check out this quote:

The consultant Jack Trout has found that American families, on average, repeatedly buy the same 150 items, which constitute as much as 85 percent of their household needs; it’s hard to get something new on the radar.

Of course it’s harder to get something new on the radar!  First of all, Cialdini will tell you that “consistency” is one the prime motivators of human behaviors.  And the longer a consumer retains that brand consistency, the harder it is to get them away from it.

But I glean a little something different from their conclusions that has a direct correlation to producing a new musical in the 21st century.

Let’s use Coca-Cola as an example.

Coke gets on the market way back in the day.  And it achieves “smash hit” success.  As it grows, it becomes more and more synonymous with the soft drink brand as a whole (In fact, some areas of our country refer to any soft drink as a “coke”).  And the longer it’s run, the more and more marketing it puts out, and the stronger its brand becomes.

In other words, the Coca-Cola brand is bigger and better today than it was ten years ago.

Enter a new soft drink in the market . . . let’s call it Schmoka-Schmola.

Schmoka-Schmola doesn’t just have to be good. It has to be fantastic (or more unique).  And, it has to be even better if it was introduced today rather than if it was introduced ten years ago, because it’s going up against a competitor whose brand is stronger today.

In the last twenty years, we’ve birthed some Coca-Colas.

Phantom is one of them.  The Lion King is one of them.  Wicked is another.

If you’re a new musical coming into the market, you’re staring at several monster brands that pull a huge percentage of audiences looking for a Broadway musical when they come to town.  How can you compete with those brands?

These long runner super-sized soft-drink-style brands make it without a doubt much harder to introduce a new show to today’s theatrical market.

Need some proof?

I dug into the Broadway archives over the weekend and calculated the average run of new musicals that opened in the years 1994-2003 and compared it to the average run of shows that opened from 2004-2013. If the average run in the earlier decade was longer than the latter decade, then that would prove some more challenging marketing terrain, right?

Here are the results*:

  • The average run of new musicals that opened from 1994 – 2003:  449 performances
  • The average run of new musicals that opened from 2004 – 20013:  376 performances

The conclusion:

  • New musicals that opened in 1994-2003 ran 19% longer than new musicals that opened in the following decade.

Pretty significant, don’t you think?

The Wickeds of our world are musical theater brand superpowers.  And we’ve never, ever, seen anything like it on Broadway before.

So how do you compete with them?

You can’t.

You don’t break into the soft drink market trying to duplicate Coke.  And you don’t break into the musical market trying to be Phantom.

So don’t even bother trying.

Just produce/write/create the most unique theatrically thrilling experience you can, with an economic model that can exist knowing that the above brands eat up a lot of ticket buyers.

Being different and being smart is what will allow your show to survive.

* One note about the stats.  Obviously shows that opened in the first decade have an “average length of run” advantage since there are more years after it than shows that opened in the second decade.  So to even the playing field for the two decades, we only counted the # of performances that occurred within that decade.  While the numbers may be slightly skewed by shows that opened earlier/later in the decades, using this form of analysis made for the closest decade-to-decade comparison possible.

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The difference between a Producer and a General Manager.

The Broadway administrative hierarchy can be a confusing one.

To help answer a few readers’ questions, I used my favorite analogy to describe the duties of a General Manager on a Broadway show in this post just a few months ago.

But, since so many Producers have General Managed and so many General Managers have become Producers (including the guy typing this blog right now), some readers have asked me if being a General Manager is a prerequisite for being a Broadway Producer.

The answer is a big fat no, of course.  While I think that General Management is one the best training grounds for future Producers, it’s certainly not the only path to being a Broadway Producer (and lately, I’m think that becoming a Marketing Exec first would be a great way to go).

The fact is, to be a great Producer, you don’t need to know every inch of the industry in order to be effective.  You just need to surround yourself with people who know every inch of the industry.

And you need to know you can trust those people . . . they need to be people who will put you on their shoulders when it gets mucky and walk you through the marsh, so you don’t have to do it alone.

General Managers support Producers.  Like a Chief of Staff supports a President.

But the truth is a General Manager and a Producer have opposite mission statements.

A Producer’s job is to take risk.  A General Manager’s job is to safeguard a show from risk.


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What I learned at the Meet and Greets for It’s Only A Play AND Kinky Boots.

Yesterday was one of those pinch-me-I’m-a-Producer days.

It was the first day of rehearsal for two shows that I’m on, the star fest that is It’s Only A Play and the National Tour of Kinky Boots, the first offspring of the Best Musical Broadway Hit that’s still packin’ ’em in over at the Hirschfeld.

Yep, that’s right.  Two Meet & Greets in one day.  And they were in the same rehearsal studio, separated by two floors.  I went to one, then popped down to the other.  Now you understand the pinch me part.

We call ’em “Meet and Greets” in the biz, and it’s when just about everyone working on a show, cast, crew, designers, marketers, merch folks and more are all in one room for the first time.  It’s like the First Day of School, except a M&G is probably the only time all those people are in the same room at the same time . . . except for several weeks later . . . on opening night.

As you can imagine, it’s often filled with hugs, cheers and “OMG I haven’t seen you since NAME OF SHOW!’ screams.  But what’s great about Broadway Meet and Greets is that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been to one before, it always feels like the first one.   There’s this amazing feeling of incredible potential and possibility of what could be created by those artists.  And maybe this is the show we’ve waited for?  The positive energy in the room is always so palpable . . . it makes me want to force political leaders to hold summits in the middle of one, because there is no way they wouldn’t work it out.

For those of you who are still on your journey to be Broadway Producers or Writers or Actors . . . I can’t wait until you experience one for yourself (and you will).

Oh, and of course, the M&Gs always include opening remarks by a Producer and/or the Director (and in this case, a little Cyndi Lauper thrown in too).

And it was during these remarks of these totally different shows that I learned yet another great lesson in Producing Theatre.

At It’s Only A Play, Producer Tom Kirdahy talked about the lack-of-six degrees of separation between author Terrence McNally and his stars.  Terrence has worked with Nathan a ton of times, obviously, in Lisbon Traviata, Love Valour, etc.  But Terrence has also had a long history with Jack O’Brien, F. Murray Abraham, etc. and even star-to-be Micah Stock was in Terrence’s most recent play at the Pearl.  The relationships were deep and long, and incredibly respectful.  And without those relationships, there is no way all those incredible people would have been in the same room.

At Kinky Boots, where obviously a lot of the cast is just a wee bit younger (no offense, IOAP guys), Jerry Mitchell gave wise words of advice to his soon-to-be-getting-a-lot-of-frequent-flier-miles company:  “Learn the names of the people you work with.  Get to know them.”  In other words, build relationships.  Not just for this show.  But for the rest of your personal and professional life.

I’ve admitted to this before on this blog, but by far one of the biggest mistakes I made in my early days in NYC was that I didn’t foster enough relationships with people that were looking to do exactly what I wanted to do.

Why sure, I was lucky enough to start working on Broadway shows when I was 20 years old, and learned the names of some amazing people back then (ironically – I was a Production Assistant on Grease in 1994 with Megan Mullally and now she’s in It’s Only A Play, and Jerry Mitchell was the Associate Choreographer!).

But what I didn’t do was look around at who else wanted to produce, who else wanted to write, and attach myself to them, so I had people to come up with together.

It’s something I still work on now.

And something you should too.

Artistry, Intelligence, and yep, even, Cash, are all important aspects to the building of any business.

But relationships trump them all.  Why?

Odds are you don’t have all of those things I just listed above.  But if you have strong relationships that last lifetimes, then you probably know someone that does.


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Why you should read the Broadway Chat Boards.

I like to cruise by the Broadway chat boards every once in awhile.  Why?

First and foremost, the folks that frequent the boards, and the folks that post on the boards are our avids.  They are so filled with passion for Broadway and for the theater in general that when they can’t see a show, they want to talk about shows, and when they can’t find anyone who can talk about them, they search for other folks just like them online.  So it’s important to see what is making these groups happy, and pee-ing them off.  (I’ve even been known to post every once in awhile.)

The second reason I do drive-bys on the boards is because . . . well, back in the day, I was one of those avids.

The year was 1990 (hello!), horse drawn carriages clip-clopped down cobble stone streets, and there wasn’t much of an internet.  My mom wouldn’t buy me CompuServe because she was afraid I was going to turn into Matthew Broderick in my favorite movie of all time, Wargameshack into the government’s computer system and start World War III.  So when I went off to Johns Hopkins University for my freshman year, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab.  Was I writing papers?  Solving calculus problems?  Nope, I was on ol’ fashioned bulletin boards.

Yep, I was one of the early posters in the newsgroup, rec.arts.theatre.musicals.  (I actually met Avenue Q creator Jeff Marx on that board, but that’s another story.)  Gosh, it was fun.  I remember getting in such a flame-fight with an Andrew Lloyd Webber hater over Aspects of Love.  Hehe.

So flash forward almost 25 years later, and the boards are still around.  They just look a little different now, and you don’t need a computer lab or dial-up to access ’em.  But they aren’t even that much more technologically complicated now.  Just take a look at the classic, AllThatChat, for example.

That’s where I was last week, cruisin’ through comments about closing shows and Alan Cumming in Cabaret . . . when I stumbled upon a post from an audience member, explaining why he made a purchase to an up-and-coming show featured in NYMF.  The post was so simple, and so direct, and from an actual ticket buyer, that I had to post it here.

Here’s what it said, verbatim:

I chose to see CLONED!, in spite of the potentially cliche subject, because the songs they posted online were competently written and produced.

I count at least three lessons for all the Producers and Writers out there with “emerging” shows from this 23 word post:

  1. Your show better have a website.  (And even if you have an idea for a show, you better do this one thing first).
  2. You better have songs on that website.  Remember my blog about samplin‘?  Well, it’s hard to do it live, so you at least better have something recorded.
  3. Make sure they are “competently produced.”  No scratch composer demos from your bathroom.  No bad sound board recordings from bad live shows.  It doesn’t take much these days, get a friend who knows Garage Band and do it up right.

Oh, and one other bonus lesson from this simple post . . . listen to what the super fans are saying.  I know it’s hard sometimes, because they can get a little upset, and throw electronic-tomatoes at you every once in awhile.  Just remember it’s from a great place.  They love what we do.  More than I loved Aspects of Love.  Show them the respect they deserve and just listen.

Because it’s amazing what you might learn.

Gotta go.  I think there’s an FBI agent at my door who wants to talk to me about what I did with the WOPR.


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