3 Reasons Why Social Distancing Won’t Work For The Theater.

In a two-parter a few weeks ago, I talked about What Broadway’s Recovery Would Look Like and Why I Believe Broadway Will Bounce Back FAST and I came to the conclusion that while we may be out for a few more months than anyone would like, we’ll be better off as a result. Or, to quip it . . . #LongerIsStronger.

One of the reasons I think we’re going to sit on the sidelines as other industries open up is that social distancing doesn’t work for what we do.

Restaurants or airlines might be able to operate effectively with reduced capacity and social-distance between seats, but not theater.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. “It’s the economy, stupid.” Broadway Theater (and theater in general) has a very fragile economic model, because we are a very labor intensive industry.  We require 100 people to show up every single night to make a product that can only exist in those few hours.  Then our product disappears and we have to get those 100 people to come back the next day and make it again . .  to the tune of 8 times a week. And that labor is the BEST labor in the world.  We are the Major Leagues of the theater. And unlike the NBA or movies, there are no other revenue streams other than ticket sales for us to survive on. Take seats out of the equation to allow for space between patrons, and your recoupment chart would be a fantasy novel. Good shows struggle to survive at 65% capacity in a non-pandemic world. Even if we receive favorable deals from our vendors and unions, the #s just don’t add up. And no, we’re not going to raise prices to make up for it. Raising ticket prices in a pandemic is like Oliver asking for more food at the orphanage. “More???? You want MORE?????”
  2. “It’s not just the Audiences, it’s everyone else (including the art).” The questions I get about a reduced capacity model seem fixated on the audiences.  But what about our actors in their cramped dressing rooms? What about the musicians stuck in the pit? Ever try to navigate backstage at a theater with those 100 people running around trying to make a show work? Sure, maybe we could logistically socially distance an audience, but how the heck do you do it backstage. And what about onstage? Are you going to reblock Romeo & Juliet to take out the kiss? Will “Shall We Dance” from King and I be renamed, “Shall we Dance (without touching hands)”? Are singers going to wear plexi masks to catch their spit? Doing so would change the art, which would change the experience. And the experience matters, which brings me to . . .
  3. “It’s also the word-of-mouth.” The theater is a word-of-mouth industry. WOM is the #1 sales motivator we have. It’s not reviews. It’s not advertising. It’s a friend telling another friend, “You must, must, MUST see this show!” Word-of-mouth only works when the experience is extraordinary. And part of what makes that experience extraordinary is a packed theater. Have you ever been to a show that is only half full? It’s just not the same as going to a show that’s sold out. So, while audiences may enjoy a show that is 25% full, they just aren’t going to enjoy it as much as we need them to in order to recommend it to their friends. And not only will the word of mouth from reduced houses be less passionate, those less-sold houses mean fewer actual mouths!  A sold out Phantom in a week puts 13,160 people in the streets talking about the show.  A 50% sold Phantom puts 6,580 people in the streets.  Our economic model needs those extra mouths!  (Digression:  this is one of the reasons why word of mouth takes longer in Off Broadway theaters – they just don’t have anywhere near as many word of mouth advocates.)

Practically speaking, you could socially distance a theater. But it’s a short term fix. It could get (some) butts in seats to get a curtain back up, but it won’t keep the curtain up.

That’s why I’d rather be out longer – to come back stronger.

#LongerIsStronger


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Tonight on the Livestream: Broadway Veteran and Change Agent, Asmeret Ghebremichael

We are back, people!

Tonight, we kick off the new weekly format of The Producer’s Perspective LIVE! with my friend and uber-talented theatermaker, Asmeret Ghebremichael. For the last 20 years, Asmeret has been performing in shows on Broadway like Legally Blonde, Wicked, Elf, SpamalotThe Book of Mormon (on Broadway and in The West End), and more. (I first became aware of her super skills in the late-night improv hit, Don’t Quit Your Night Job.)

I’ve even been lucky enough to have her in a few readings of mine over the years.  And I’ve always known she has a fantastic voice.

But in the last few weeks, she has used that voice to sing out some of the most authentic, emotional, and important thoughts about the issues facing Black people and Black performers.

Click here to watch her Instagram Live interview with Josh Gad, and click here to read her opinion piece for Broadway News titled, Opinion: I’m tired of being the token Black friend.”

Tonight at 8pm EDT, she and I will talk about how she got to Broadway, what it was like when she got here, and what she sees for the future.

And this week, all proceeds will benefit the Broadway Advocacy Coalition.

So click here to join us TONIGHT at 8pm EDT!

And look who is joining us over the next few weeks! (Stay tuned for the Altar Boyz reunion, which will get sandwiched in between the super gets below soon!)

Tuesday, June 23rd – Mandy Gonzalez (Actor – Hamilton, In The Heights)

Tuesday, June 30th – TBD

Tuesday, July 7th – TBD

Tuesday, July 14th – Tara Rubin (Casting Director – SIX, Sing Street, Ain’t Too Proud, Dear Evan Hansen)

Tuesday, July 21st – Brian Stokes Mitchell (The Actors Fund Chairman, Actor – Shuffle Along, Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown, Ragtime)

Tuesday, July 28th – Danny Burstein (Actor – Moulin Rouge, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof)

 

You can catch me and a Broadway superstar every TUESDAY at 8pm EDT (7pm CDT/ 6pm MDT/ 5pm PDT) on my Facebook, on my Twitter, on Broadway Podcast Network’s Youtube Channel, and on Broadway on Demand.

To learn more, visit www.TheProducersPerspective.com/LIVE.

[Guest Blog] What We Can Learn From Korean Theatre on Theater Safety

There is an upside to opening up last.

As I wrote here, Broadway is actually in the enviable position of getting to watch what theater companies, sports franchises, and other mass gathering events are doing to make sure their patrons and company members are safe and comfortable as they open their doors again.

When I started to look around at which theaters to watch in this country, it was no surprise to me that Tom Gabbard, the CEO of the Blumenthal Arts in North Carolina and one of the leading Broadway touring presenters in the country, has been out in front of this issue for both his theaters in Charlotte and our entire industry.

I asked Tom to share his learnings with me and all of you, so you can get an idea of what the theaters outside of the city are planning . . . since I’d bet money that Broadway returns to Charlotte before it returns to New York City.

Take it away, Tom!

 

– – – – – – – – –

Blumenthal Performing Arts manages/presents in 7 venues in Charlotte, as well as producing outdoor events. Many jobs are dependent on the shows and programs we offer, not just arts jobs, but those at restaurants, hotels, and bars.

With the suspension of all our shows, we’re focused on learning any strategies to help us safely re-
activate our venues and put people back to work.

On April 30, The Stage published a piece from producer Richard Jordan with the headline, “We can learn from Korea”. Richard explained that big shows in Seoul, like The Phantom of the Opera, continued to play throughout the crisis. The shows run without social distancing and major reductions in capacity.

Serin Kasif, VP of Production at Really Useful Group, who is on point with Phantom in Seoul, accepted my invitation for a group Zoom call. With only a few days’ notice, 90 peers from New York and the road logged on to learn from her.

She explained that while this is unprecedented for us, it’s not for the Koreans. They’ve been through similar crises before. Government, business and the public have learned to manage through these situations and avoid widespread lockdowns.

Serin explained that every region of Korea is different and requires different responses.
There are many elements to their success in Seoul, but here are my Top 10, all of which we hope to
replicate.

  1. Universal masking. Everyone wears a mask at all times. Exceptions are for those actors playing that day and wind musicians in the pit.
  2. A simple questionnaire completed by ticket-buyers, staff, and cast prior to entering the building each day.
  3. Strict control over backstage access.
  4. Temperature checks in the lobby and stage door.
  5. Medical grade cleaning of the venue twice a week.
  6. Daily disinfectant cleaning of props, backstage hallways, and dressing rooms.
  7. Hand sanitizing stations everywhere.
  8. Limited food and beverage service to avoid lifting your mask.
  9. Fast access to testing for all company members.
  10. Close cooperation with public health officials.

The call confirmed that we indeed had a lot to learn from Korea that could help us reemerge earlier,
safer, and stronger.

Beyond studying and embracing the Seoul model, in North Carolina we created NC Live, a consortium of major theaters, arenas, and amphitheaters to work directly with the state in developing safe, viable plans for our venues.

Our officials have been eager to hear from us. They have encouraged us to submit detailed plans for their review rather than wait for them to tell us what to do.

Even if it’s taking small steps first, like doing small outdoor concerts, it’s important that we find ways to move forward. Our communities have never needed us more.

 


Tom Gabbard has been CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts since 2003. The Blumenthal’s 110 employees manage six theaters in Charlotte, hosting over 1,000 performances annually, as well as extensive education programs. During his tenure, the Blumenthal became a Top 10 market for touring Broadway shows in North America.

A member of the Board of Governors of the Broadway League, he serves on the Executive and Finance Committees and has been a voter for Broadway’s Tony Awards since 1997.  In 2012 the League awarded him the Samuel J. L’Hommedieu Award for Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management.

He serves as co-chair of The Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards held annually on Broadway.

He has co-produced/invested in several Broadway, Off-Broadway, national tour, and West End productions including for Monty Python’s Spamalot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, La Cage aux Folles, RED, Pippin, Kinky Boots, The Color Purple Revival, Hello Dolly, Dear Evan HansenThe Band’s Visit, Oklahoma!, Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, Ain’t Too Proud, Frost/Nixon, Jagged Little Pill.

The Livestreams Are BACK! Same time, new schedule, NEW GUESTS!

And we are back!

Well, next week, anyway.  🙂

 

First, we are returning to The Producer’s Perspective LIVE starting next Tuesday, June 16 at 8 PM EDT.

Second, since even NYC herself has entered Phase I of its post-COVID opening, we’ve decided to move our show to WEEKLY. Since there is SO much good streamin’ content out there right now, this will give you (and me!) a chance to catch more of it.

We are in the process of rescheduling our guests from the last few weeks (including the Altar Boyz reunion) and adding new ones, so keep your eyes on THIS PAGE to see who’s coming up next (or just do this much easier thing.)

So, starting next week, you can catch me every TUESDAY at 8pm EDT (7pm CDT/ 6pm MDT/ 5pm PDT) on my Facebook, on my Twitter, on Broadway Podcast Network’s Youtube Channel, and on Broadway on Demand.

I’m proud to announce our first guest back will be the 20+ year Broadway veteran, Asmeret Ghebremichael, who made her Broadway debut in Footloose and went on to perform in Legally Blonde, Elf, Dreamgirls, and many more, as well as star in The Book of Mormon both on Broadway and in the West End.

I’ve known Asmeret for many of those twenty years myself . . . but learned more about her in the last few weeks after her powerful appearance on Josh Gad’s instagram and in this article she penned for Broadway news where she talked about her experiences over the last two decades of being Black and on Broadway. That video and that article were two of the biggest pieces of the listening I did last week, and did her words help me hear.

So, next Tuesday I want you to meet this fiercely talented woman who has become a change agent, because I have a feeling she’ll inspire you the way she inspired me.

 

See you NEXT Tuesday at 8pm EDT (7pm CDT/ 6pm MDT/ 5pm PDT). Follow me on Facebook to get notified as soon as we hit the “GO LIVE” button.

To see who’s coming up next, visit www.TheProducersPerspective.com/LIVE.

Is there a guest you think I should chat with? Email me at ken@theproducersperspective.com. 

We will not be RE-Opening.

There was a lot of talk about the “re-opening” of our country and of Broadway before George Floyd’s tragic murder.

But now, it has become painfully clear that a “re-opening” is not what our next step should be. We shouldn’t want a “re” of anything. We shouldn’t want to go back to the way it was before. We should want something new.

We should want an OPENING. Of eyes. Of hearts. Of minds. An opening of a new country and yes, a new business.

To do so requires a commitment. And I wanted to state my commitments and my goals publicly in this pledge.

For me, my office, and my work, we will NOT be re-opening. We will be opening. And part of my mission will include the following:

    • I vow to keep listening.
    • I vow to keep learning.
    • I vow to use the privilege I have to speak up and take action for others.
    • I vow to raise my child with a greater understanding of the world and what she can do to change it.
    • Or simply . . . I vow to do better.

How?

Well, I’m already brainstorming, concocting, and actioning things that I hope will make a difference, including how I can make sure there are Black people and/or people of color on the producing team of every show I do.

There’s a lot to do. And I hope you’ll join me.

But if all this seems overwhelming to you, or you don’t know what to do next, then try this:

The ‘philosophy of change’ I’ve found to be the most effective is The 1% Rule. Simply stated, it says to pick an area of your life you’d like to improve. Then, try to improve in that area just 1%, every day. That’s it. Only 1%. But EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The compounded results can be extraordinary

Now, take a moment . . . and imagine if everyone reading this post did the same thing.

I challenge you to adopt The 1% Rule to improve your understanding of racism and how you can help to eradicate it.  (Need an idea for your first 1%?  Here’s is where I started.)

I’ll end this blog having just started this journey, and by quoting some of the listening I did last week. Because this Leader actually gave me something we could all use right now . . . hope.

“As tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends and they offer an opportunity for us to all work together.

When sometimes I feel despair, I just see what’s happening with young people all across the country, and the talent, and the voice, and the sophistication that they’re displaying and it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country’s going to get better.”

-Barack Obama

– – – – –

Want to get started now?  Here are three ways:

1.  A link to charities and resources is listed here.
2.  10 Black Theater Companies that could use your support now are listed here.
3.  Attend the Broadway Advocacy Coalition’s forum, BroadwayForBlackLivesMatter which begins on 6/10.  Click here for more.
– – – – –
Our livestream will return next Tuesday, June 16th. The first guest will be announced right here tomorrow!
Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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