The 5 Phases Of Broadway’s Return (and what to watch for).

There are a lot of things that are unknown about our future.

Here is what I do know . . .

Broadway will not open with 24-hour notice.

It’s not like one day you’re going to be walking around Times Square and hear, “Hey!  Guess what? Six just decided to start performances tonight!  Let’s go!”

We’re not a restaurant.  We can’t just turn the stove on and start cookin’.

Why not?

First, we need time to rehearse, put in new protocols, and much, much more.

Second, people don’t decide to go to the theater on a whim.  It takes planning on our audience’s part (from commuting time to babysitters, etc.)  We need to give them enough time to book their tickets.  And we need enough time to let the word spread that our shows are open again. (Cuz spoiler alert – we’d never have enough cash to afford the advertising to spread this message fast enough to fill thousands of seats . . . 8 times a week!)

That’s why I’m looking at the Broadway re-opening in five phases.  Here’s how I break them down . . . and the stress tests of the market that will have Producers like me sweating along the way.

PHASE I:  “We’re back on sale!”

Phase I will begin the moment that some shows announce they are back on sale and have an opening date . . . for real this time!  I’m betting that this will be a group announcement, even if the opening dates for the shows aren’t the same. There are strengths and confidence in numbers.  It’ll be a sign to our audience that these dates are going to stick.

I’d guess this phase will begin at least 3 months before the first performance, but more likely 4-6.

And this will be the first BIG test.

Has there been enough pent-up demand in our audience to warrant buying as soon as they are able?  Will they believe this date?  Will they break the ticketing sites trying to snag a front-row seat for that first performance?

This will depend heavily on what shows are announced.  (I’d expect the heavyweights that people couldn’t get tickets to before to make sure Phase I is a hit.)

PHASE II:  Pre-performances

This phase starts the day after Phase I and goes all the way until the first performance.

We watch this period very closely when we have a new show . . . which, in a way, we all do!  What is the velocity of ticket sales?  How many are we moving per day?  Does it increase when we advertise?  Does it increase as we get closer to that first performance?

Typically this period looks like the front half of a bell curve.

The big question mark is what will happen to those shows that were under sales pressure before covid.  What if ticket sales for the industry aren’t what we hope?  That would mean these shows would be under greater pressure.  If some of these shows miss their Phase II projections, could they decide to not open?  (With Save Our Stages funding in place, I doubt this will happen . . . but we won’t know until we’re in Phase II.)

PHASE III:  We’re back, baby!

I’m expecting a massive spike in sales the week these shows open up again.  Who isn’t going to want to be in a theater that first night?  Or that first week?  The Weather Channel should start issuing flash flood warnings now for the Times Square area because there are going to be Noah and the Ark-like tears that are going to spill into Times Square that night.

If we don’t have full houses those first few shows?  That’ll be a sign that we’ve come back too soon.

PHASE IV:  The reviews are in.

This next phase of our return will be after that hype of our resurrection dies down.  I’ve blogged about my prediction for our return here and I’m bullish that the word-of-mouth from theater folks seeing shows again will spike sales.

But it won’t all be good news.  Provided we get going with more full steam in the fall, we’ll have a big ol’ test right after those holidays are over, as we experience our first January/February post-pandemic.

The winter is a historically challenging time for Broadway.  Will it be worse next year?   Will some shows shutter quickly if there aren’t enough of our locals to go around (since Tourism is still expected to be down?)   Or will it be better because people will still be coming out of their coronavirus hibernation?

It’s not that far away from now, believe it or not, so Producers are probably thinking about this already.

How we get through NEXT winter will ultimately tell the tale on how long it will take to get to  . . .

PHASE V:  Normalcy.

Ahhhhhhh . . . that time when we return to the normal business patterns and trends of Broadway.  That time when . . .

Whoa.

Wait a minute.

Stop.

That will NOT happen.

This pandemic changed human behavior, consumer behavior, and theater-goer behavior forever.

We will never go back to the way it was before (and in some cases that is a very good thing).

There is no more normal anything.

Phase V will be something new that we’ve never seen before.  What is it?

Got me.  It’s an unknown galaxy far, far away right now.

But I can promise you two things.

We will get there.

And it will be very dramatic.  🙂

—-

I’ve written about the recovery a few times.  If you like this post, you might like the following blogs.  And some were so long ago, I might have been super wrong with some of my predictions!

3 Reasons Why The Ratatouille Musical will forever change how we create musicals.

2020 is not the year of disruption.
 
It’s the year of interruption.
 
Everything we’ve hung our sequined hats on over the past decade (or five) is up for a new take. And one of the things that keeps me going is the opportunity for new ways of doing things when we return.
 
And leave it to Gen Z to teach us that the very process we use to create shows could be reinvented as well.
If you’re just joining us, and don’t know what I’m bloggin’ about, let me catch you up.
  • A TikTok user made up a song for a hypothetical musical based on the Disney flick, Ratatouille. (Not unlike the same exercise every BMI student has done since the days of Lehman Engel – and kudos to this TikToker for NOT needing a teacher to tell her to try it.)
  • Another user added orchestrations.
  • The thing went viral.  (I even contributed an idea for a tagline – that was seen almost 2 million (!) times).

And last week, it was announced that this viral sensation would make it to Broadway in a concert version for The Actors Fund.

So, if you’re keeping score, that’s Gen Z for the win!!!

This is an earthquake of news that will forever change how new musicals are written and how they get to Broadway.  Here are three ways it will affect what musical theater TheaterMakers do.

  1.  Musicals will be written by more than one author. Convention wisdom says you need one voice.  One vision.  One author to write each element of a musical – the music, the lyrics, or the score.   Maybe two if you’re careful.  What the Ratatouille movement proves is that if that vision is clear, if the source material is strong, and if the creators are truly collaborative, then a show can be written by a lot more than one person.And maybe, it’ll mean even higher quality musicals in the future?  Hollywood has used the multiple writer approach since it started turning out its art.  Why not Broadway? I’ve been a fan of the “Group Think” idea of creating for years.  My first show was created that way, as was this one.  As long as there is a unifying voice (the Director should fill this post), it can work and work well.Oh, and when you’ve got more than one author, musicals get written much, much faster. 🙂
  2.  Social Media Can Get Musicals Made. 10 Years ago, if a group of next gen composers/lyricists approached Disney about doing a musical based on Ratatouille, even if only in concert, they would have been politely told to go eat cheese.  And now, they are giving their silent blessing to a concert version of this viral phenomenon (I have to believe the incredibly foresighted Tom Schumacher is the one who stumped for this).  And who knows, like Newsies surprised them (they never expected it to go to Broadway), maybe this concert version will too.  And TikTokers could be up for Tonys in a few years. We saw how social media could get a musical to Broadway with Be More Chill. Now we’ve seen how it can get rights!  Expect more hypothetical musicals on TikTok and other platforms.  And expect the ones that go viral to be granted permission to move ahead.
  3. Taking chances on unknowns is less risky than you think.One of the first blogs I ever wrote was about the success of the producing team of Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum – a duo responsible for Rent, Avenue Q and In The Heights.  You know what those three musicals have in common, besides that they all won the Tony Award for best musical?  Each one was the Broadway debut for the Composer, Lyricist, Bookwriter and Director. Ratatouille once again proves that there is something passionate about those who haven’t yet been given a big stage.  And it suggests that work by the names you don’t know may be what you should invest in.

I have always been a fan of people who create just for the sake of creating.  Good things always come from it in the long run, no matter what happens in the short run.  And the creators of Ratatouille have not only changed their own lives (even if they can’t see it just yet), they have changed our industry for the better.

 I’ve started posting TheaterTips on the TikTok.  Watch me figure out this new social network (and be really awkward about it!) here.

One reason why the next generation won’t care about bad reviews.

WARNING: this is one of those, “When I was a lad, I walked . . . ” stories.
 
When I was a lad, we didn’t have social media. No, no. If we wrote a poem (like the one I wrote about Andrea Lamarine, the “Annie” at our community theater when I was 10), or penned a song (like the one I wrote about Andrea Lamaraine when I was 11), we kept it to ourselves. Because we didn’t have any options to put it out in the world.
 
We had our parents and friends, our journals, and maybe a school sponsored talent night every year?
 
Enter today.
 
Kids can not only write songs about their crushes, they can produce, publish and promote them . . . reaching millions and millions of people if the viral-stars align.
 
This generation grew up with an audience at their fingertips. (And with the birth of the streaming theater movement, that audience is about to get bigger.)
 
But you know what comes with an audience?
 
Critics.
 
Not the NY Times. Or even The East Hackensack Times.
 
Worse.
 
Random people with too much time on their hands who aren’t courageous enough to put out content of their own, so they crap on the content of others.
 
That’s right – for every one person that produces content online, there will always be someone who hates that content, no matter how many other people love it.
The “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” doesn’t count online, apparently.
 
And if you thought Ben Brantley was tough, he ain’t nothing compared to some of the “critics” you can find in the comment section of anything you post.
 
Tim Ferris, famed podcaster and the inspiration for this book had this to say about online critics:
 
“10 percent of people will find a way to hate you.”
 
Robert F. Kennedy said “About 1/5 of the people are against everything all the time.”
 
And if you post something, these percentages will pounce.
 
When I was that “Annie-in-his-eyes” lad, those folks couldn’t tell me my song sucked. But today they can. (Honestly? It did kind of suck. I was 11. I think I rhymed ‘rose’ with ‘nose’.)
 
But here’s the blessing amongst the internet trolls, uh, critics.
 
They toughen you up.
 
If you can take random people writing some nasty stuff about things you create online then you’ll be more prepared for theatrical criticism later.
 
I expect the next generation of content creators to not care so much about critics. Because they’ve been dealing with nastier ones who pop up every day, for their entire lives.
 
And yet, they keep putting stuff out there.
 
What’s so important about apathy towards criticism?
 
When TheaterMakers create without fear, they make better theater.
 
– – – – –
 
Hear Ben Brantley talk about the future of online criticism in this free podcast here. 

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
 
 
 

10 Ways To Help TheaterMakers on Broadway and off Broadway This Giving Tuesday.

The bad news . . .
 
No other industry is suffering as much as the theater during this pandemic.
 
And as I wrote about here . . . who I worry about most are the TheaterMakers on the bubble. Those artists who are still emerging. Who haven’t had time for their art to take root. Especially those from marginalized communities who haven’t had the same chances as others. Those creators who are putting in the effort, but whose number hasn’t come up. Yet. But it will. If they can keep creating.
 
The good news . . .
 
More people have stepped forward to help TheaterMakers get through this difficult time. Because people know that art not only inspires, but art heals. And boy are we going to need some great theater when this is all said and done.
 
Today is Giving Tuesday. The Black Friday deals are over. (By the way – have you noticed that Black Friday is a month now?). The sun has fallen on Cyber Monday. (By the way, have you noticed that every day is Cyber day? A quick peek at Amazon’s stock price will prove that!)
 
And now we give back.
 
If you’re in the position to help today . . . I’d encourage you to help a TheaterMaker. (And if you’re in a position to buy yourself a Starbucks, you can help – because every few bucks count.)
 
Here is a list of 10 Ways to give to TheaterMakers on this Giving Tuesday. And if you can’t decide which one? Divide whatever the total you want to give up amongst them. $100/10 = $10 each. It all helps. And PS – giving always has a way of coming back.
 
Thank you, in advance.
The Actors Fund fosters stability and resiliency, and provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals over their lifespan.
The Broadway Advocacy Coalition builds the capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism through the power of storytelling and the leadership of people directly affected.
 
 A fund established in the name of my Dad who passed this March to encourage TheaterMakers like he encouraged me. He was a doctor who told his son to go into the theater. I mean, how could I not honor that. To see two examples of how The Fund has helped, click here. To read more about The Fund, click here. 
 
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS raises funds for AIDS-related causes across the United States, headquartered in New York City, and helmed by the theater industry.
 
 If giving to an organization isn’t your thing, find a TheaterMaker for a job you need done, and pay ’em directly! You get something and they do to. Click here for a list of TheaterMakers with side hustles looking for extra work right now.
 
The Dramatists Guild Foundation provides necessary funds to writers for the stage facing emergency circumstances, while providing a sense of community, educational support, rehearsal spaces, and more.
 
The Educational Theatre Association – the international association for school theatre.
 
The Drama League advances the American theater by providing a life-long artistic home for directors and a platform for dialogue with, and between, audiences.
The Indie Theater Fund is made up of a consortium of companies, venues and individuals contributing five cents per ticket sold to a pool of money for independent theater.
Co-founded by T. Oliver Reid and Warren Adams, the Black Theatre Coalition aims to remove the “Illusion of Inclusion” in the American Theatre, by building a sustainable ethical roadmap that will increase employment opportunities for Black theatre professionals.
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