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.

Is Ron Howard right?

First, let me say that Ron Howard may be the best example of the pivot in the history of the entertainment industry.  To go from Opie to Richie Cunningham to one of the most successful Directors in Hollywood is quite the story (a story they wrote into his exit from “Happy Days,” which I always thought was so cool).
 
I love his career arc so much (not to mention his movies) that I produced the NYU Tisch Gala in 2009 that honored him.
 
But last week he said something that made me think he had smoked one too many ‘backdrafts.’ (If you’re a Ron Howard fan, you get that reference. If not, sorry about it.)
 
When talking about the beleaguered movie theater business, Mr. Howard said . . .
 
“The multiplexes are going to become a little bit like Broadway in a way.  That’s where the expensive projects go.”
 
Ok, ok, I get what he’s trying to say. There will only be room for the mega hits in movie theaters. The big action flicks. The Disney extravaganzas.
 
You know, like what makes it on Broadway.
 
NOPE.
See that’s where Richie C. got it wrong.
 
Yes, the monster musical, Lion King, is a smash. But that opened in l997. Phantom was in 1988. Maybe he’s thinking about Wicked . . . but even that was in 2003, 17 (!) years ago.
 
This is a common misconception about Broadway . . . that it’s filled with only giant mega shows that are its biggest hits.  
 
Why?
 
Well, those mega produced shows get the biggest press.
 
But they don’t often run the longest or make the most money. In fact, besides Disney shows (which we can’t count anyway, because their business model is unique), no show over $20mm has ever recouped its investment.
 
The biggest hits of the last few years?
 
Well, let’s look at the Tony Winners, since my data shows that 80% of Tony winners recoup their investments, instead of the average of 20% of all shows.
 
Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Hadestown, The Band’s Visit, Fun Home, Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.
 
While the latter three weren’t long runners, they all did make money and spawned national and international tours and productions.
 
And the first three are giant hits (pandemic notwithstanding).
 
And what about Jersey Boys, Spring Awakening, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, etc., etc.
 
Were any of those mega shows?
 
Nah. They were just great shows, done for reasonable amounts of money, that resonated with the public.
 
That’s what works on Broadway, Ronnie boy. And that’s what will always work on Broadway.
 
And that’s exactly what we need to focus on as we plan our post-pandemic come back.
 
What will work in movie theaters?
 
No clue. It’s literally not my business.
 
– – – – –
 
Are you curious about what Broadway will look like when it comes back? And how we can make it better? If Broadway is your business, or you’re just a fan, you’re going to be interested in this.
 
 

What Aaron Burn didn’t understand about “The Room Where It Happens.”

 Aaron Burr made so many mistakes in his pursuit of success.
 
Playing it safe.  Lack of loyalty.  Shooting one of the founding fathers of the United States.
 
What a tool.
 
These mistakes come from a misconception about that famous “Room Where It Happens.”
 
I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS
THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS
 
I WANNA BE . . .
 
He sings this refrain . . . . seven times in a row. So yeah, he wants it. And he wants it bad.
 
Aaron. Babe. You don’t get it.
 
Yes, it’s important to be in “the room where it happens.” You have to surround yourself with the top minds in whatever it is you are pursuing. They’ll inspire you. They’ll motivate you. They’ll educate you. Often they will reach out their hand and pull you along with them.
 
So no question, get in that @#$%ing room.
 
But you want to know the real secret to success? The kind of success Hamilton had? Or the kind of success Lin-Manuel Miranda has? Or Tyler Perry? Or Bill Gates?
 
You have to CREATE the room where it happens.
 
Be the one to call the meeting. Be the one to bring people together. Be the one to start the game. (Serve the tennis ball, as you may have heard me write here.)
 
Learn from those who have achieved the success you want to have. Surround yourself with those same types of people.
 
Then create your own unique world where you can create your own unique thing . . . and watch how fast people are singing a chorus seven times in a row . . . wanting to be in YOUR room.
 
– – – – –
 
Want to learn what it takes to create your own room? Learn from the people I’ve learned from here. Don’t wait. This event is 22 days away. And I don’t know when we’ll be able to collect the same number of masters of the theater in the same room again. Click here.

And The 2020 Nominees for the Streaming Theater Awards Are . . .

The Tony Award nominations were last week . . . so don’t you think it’s time for The Streaming Theater Awards?

It is!

Except they don’t exist.  Yet.

Streaming Theater is a thing.  It’s not a fad.  It’s not a phase.  And it’s not a lesser art form.

It’s a thing.

It’s a new form of entertainment that is going to stick around post-pandemic (and let that be soon).

And there has been so much of it already, that these productions deserve their own recognition and their own awards (Which will, of course, market the form, and make it an even bigger thing.  Awards do that – so seek them out for your niche – or create them yourself!)

So if you got excited about the subject of this blog, and opened it hoping to see your name in the list of the first annual Streaming Theater Award Nominations . . . then maybe you’re the one to start ’em.

– – – – –

Want to get into a serious conversation about streaming theater?  Hear from the experts here.

P.S.  The TheaterMakers Summit with Christopher Jackson, Thomas Schumacher, Sonya Tayeh, Stephen C. Byrd, Ben Brantley and so many more is in just 24 days!  Get your ticket here. 

 

X