Forget about streaming . . . what about this? Especially now.

Streaming is all the rage these days . . . whether that means an opportunity to watch a musical shot in New York City like this one, or whether that’s a blogger like me who turns his camera on weekly to talk to an industry hot shot.

And streaming has a very distinct place in our present and our future (although not exactly how you might think – keep your eye on this blog for more on that later this week).

But there’s another type of recording that I’m surprised hasn’t taken off in our world . . . and based on current trends AND the current COVID-19 crisis, I think it should.

And . . . gasp . . . this one is more suited for PLAYS than musicals.

Why aren’t more plays being podcasted?

Audio-recorded content has surged over the past several years.

So why aren’t more plays appearing on Podcasts or in audiobook format?

I know, I know, plays are meant to be seen . . . but ahhhh, not sure if you’ve read the news lately . . . people can’t actually see them. And since shooting a play on video is so very expensive and logistically difficult (and again, please check the news about why even that’s problematic these days), why not turn to the done-for-peanuts-and-in-one-day audio version?

The growth of consumers’ appetites for listening to recorded content on their phones, iPads, and in their cars has proven that they devour content that they love.

Audible is doing a bit of this downtown, but the rest of us just aren’t serving enough content to our audience.

And we should. (It’d also get some cash to our artists who could use it now, before we lose many of them.)

I’m not just talking about why The Hangmen, which canceled its Broadway run because of COVID-19, might think of putting out an audio version with that original cast. Or what about To Kill A Mockingbird?  

I’m also taking about EMERGING plays.

Podcasted or Audio book-ed plays could be the new “Demo” for emerging playwrights looking to get their plays produced.

It’s HARD to get people to read a script. It’s EASIER to get them to listen (evident by the growth in podcasting and audiobook devouring referenced above).

So doesn’t it make sense that if you were a new playwright and wanted a Producer to “read” your script, you might have a better shot of them listening to it?

Just imagine this query letter:

“Hi. I wrote a play. It’s 110 pages. Will you read it?”

Or

“Hi. I wrote a play. I recorded it with actors and you can listen to it on the treadmill.”

Isn’t the experience easier and the product better?

Selling anything, whether that’s a bar of soap or a brand new play, is about reducing the friction between the buyer and the seller, and having audio versions of what we produce does just that.

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I do have more to say on streaming later this week.  Make sure you get that blog (and get my free book – which you can also get in audio version, of course) by clicking here.

 

 

One of the (many) things that worry me most about the Broadway shutdown.

I’ve gotta add one more to the list.

Yesterday, we revealed the top 3 things that are keeping TheaterMakers up at night. And I wasn’t shocked to see that your top 3 were the exact same as my top 3. (See those three things and how we’re going to start talking about how to address them here.)

But there’s something else that has me concerned that I have to add to the ever-growing pile of anxiety-producing issues we’re facing during the Broadway shutdown.

What’s going to happen to our workforce?

I’ll tell you what could happen. We could lose the very bright and creative personnel who we’re counting on to take Broadway to new heights.

The NY Times shared some of my nerve-iness in this article, where the writer talked about how so many NYC residents, especially the younger folks, fled NYC at the beginning the pandemic. And a huge subset of that group was from our very own arts and entertainment industry, since we laid off 78% of our workforce. 

And that doesn’t even count those who consider themselves part of our industry . . . actors, directors, writers, etc. . . who didn’t have a job at that time to be laid off from. (Even super successful artists aren’t employed from time to time, not to mention those waiting for their big breaks.)

So my concern is . . . not will these folks want to return, but will they be able to return?

With it becoming painfully clear that Broadway won’t be back until some time in (crossing fingers) early 2021, and development (readings, workshops, etc.) still in limbo, so many of our theatrical workforce could be out of work for up to a year.

And, as we get closer to the end of the unemployment stimulus package that put an extra $600 in so many people’s paychecks (it ends in July), the ability for these folks to make ends meet is going to be seriously challenged.

Oh, and it’s important to note that when I say workforce, I don’t only mean the Actors, Directors, Stagehands, Musicians, and more who make their living when the spotlights are on.

But what about those people who work in the offices who help keep those lights on?

For example, I was on a Zoom call last week with a bunch of marketing folks, many of whom were millennials.  These are the very groups that I’d usually predict would be the future of advertising and marketing on Broadway.

Now, I’m just praying that we can keep them around.

These doing-it-for-the-passion-not-the-pension peeps, along with the others who manage our shows, book our shows, agent our artists, etc. are not only going to need to find another way to make-a-living, but they are going to be offered other opportunities from industries that are able to get back to full speed, while we sit in neutral.

We have smart, bright, multi-talented people on and off the stage, and they’re going to be tempted to go.

We are going to lose some, no doubt. In fact, we already have. I’ve heard many a story about actors asking to be released from contracts at shows that were coming back. And some admin folks taking this opportunity to go work in the family business, etc.

And @#$% me . . . but I’ve had to lay off people at my own company, which is like sticking needles under your fingernails to an entrepreneur.

Ironically, now is the time when we need these folks the most. And I have even more concerns for the people of color in our industry. Now is the time when we must find MORE opportunities for them . . . at a time industry is constricting.

So what can we do in the short term to make sure our industry doesn’t lose the very people we need to build the new Broadway?

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Call your congresspeople and tell them to support the theater industry in any and all stimulus packages.
  • Donate to the Actors Fund which helps anyone in the theater industry weather difficult times.
  • Donate to the Dramatists Guild Foundation which helps writers specifically.
  • We must figure out how to safely get readings going again. Not immediately, of course, but if NYC can enter Stage III, there has to be a way to make socially distanced development work.
  • If you’ve got any reason to hire anyone here in the NYC area (or even for an online opportunity). . . hire a theater person.  (Oh, and have you seen all the theater people on Cameo?  This is a GREAT way to support them and super fun.)

An industry is only as strong as the people in it. And there is no doubt we’re going to have some attrition during this upcoming year. But we must do everything we can to limit our losses. We’ve got an opportunity to build a new Broadway. We just need the artistic and administrative minds to do it.

Are you a TheaterMaker (Artist or Admin) who has decided or is thinking about leaving the business because of shutdown?  Email me at ken@theproducersperspective.com. I want to hear your story . . . and I have a feeling others do too.

 

 

 

 

[Update] What You Told Us Were Your Top 3 Concerns About TheaterMaking.

A few blogs ago I announced that we’d be taking our Fall conference virtual this year and asked you for a favor – to tell us what two burning questions you had about creating theater in the new world.

We got hundreds and hundreds of very passionate responses (I’m not surprised).  And there were three subjects that were far and away the most important to you TheaterMakers out there right now.

And I was also not surprised to see what they were.

Can you guess?

(I’ll wait while you do . . . go on, guess, and then scroll down.)

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The three issues about TheaterMaking in the new world that are top of your mind are:

1. SAFETY. How can we ensure the safety of audiences, actors, and creators going back into theaters?

2. EQUALITY. How do we raise the voices of people of color and other underrepresented minorities not only on stage, but behind the table and in the offices where decisions are made?

3. STREAMING. How can we create a sustainable business model to be able to stream shows worldwide?

 

How’d you do?  Guess them all?

I can’t thank you enough for filling out that survey and for helping us understand what is on your minds so we can make sure that we curate our conference accordingly and feature these three issues (and many more) in our content line-up.

But it was also clear to me from the overwhelming majority of people who mentioned the three subjects above that we shouldn’t wait until November to start conversations about these important issues now.

So, I asked my staffers at The TheaterMakers Studio to develop a 3-part video interview series with an expert on each of the subjects above.

If you’d like access to this special (and free) video series, click here to sign up.

The videos will be released starting on July 7th and will only be available to those who request access – because I don’t want to send you more emails than we already do.  🙂

I look forward to jumpstarting these conversations now, so we can jumpstart the action to improve TheaterMaking for all of us.

Sign up here.

 

Tonight on the Livestream: #Fearless Broadway Star, Mandy Gonzalez

Last week, we debuted what we’re now calling the official start of our 2nd season of The Producer’s Perspective LIVE! (Who would have thought we would have had two weeks of these live streams, never mind two seasons!)

We kicked off our new weekly format with Broadway veteran Asmeret Ghebremichael, who has been one of the leading voices of change in our industry over the last few weeks. If you haven’t caught the episode yet, you can do so here

And tonight, we have another #FEARLESS theatermaker joining me live!

I’ve had Mandy Gonzalez on my “must interview” list for a looooong time. You may have seen Mandy’s jaw-dropping performances in Hamilton, In The Heights, or Wicked. And we’ll talk about her rise to the top of the business and just how she did it, as well as how she stays positive with everything going on in our business, while she battles breast cancer.   

I’m excited to sit down (virtually) with Mandy tonight at 8pm EDT. To watch the episode, hit the get reminder button here.

And during this episode, we’ll be raising money for Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Check out their website to learn more about the work they’re doing. 

 

And look who’s joining me over the next few weeks . . .

Tuesday, June 30th – Paul Tazewell (Costume Designer – MJ The Musical, Ain’t Too Proud, Hamilton)

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)

Tuesday, August 4th – TBD

Tuesday, August 11th – John Cariani (Actor/Playwright – Something Rotten; Almost Maine; Caroline, or Change)

 

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.

To learn more about our guests and the organizations for which we are raising money, visit www.TheProducersPerspective.com/LIVE.

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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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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