GUEST BLOG: An American in the U.K. by Jessica Rose McVay

Johnathan Larson wrote it best in Rent: “New York City. Center of the Universe…” So why, after 5 years in New York, did London call me away to start over from scratch? Here are the five reasons Big Smoke called me away from the Big Apple.

 

1. Public Funds

Unless you are 501(c)(3) registered, it is nearly impossible to get public funding in the U.S. There are one-off grants every year, but there is no major funding for small, unregistered companies. In the U.K., the Arts Council accepts applications on a rolling basis and for an application up to £15,000, you receive a decision within 6 weeks. These grants are not only important in funding the work but are also helpful in building your producing skills. You have to match the amount you apply for in either in-kind donations or other money. So don’t think we’re only using national funding, but it’s great to know that the government believes in us as much as we believe in ourselves.

 

2. Equity Isn’t Prohibitive

Every actor I have worked with from readings to full productions is part of Equity. There isn’t the great divide between actors who have accrued enough points to get their card and those who haven’t; a divide which seems to deepen the farther from 16-25 playing age we get. However, hiring all Equity actors haven’t made it cost prohibitive for me to produce. No one is getting rich on these shows, but it feels good to pay everyone a living wage!

 

3. A Great Artistic Melting Pot

I am a Director as well as a Producer. I have always wanted to work on an adaptation, but the theatrical model in the U.S. is still dominated by the playwright driven script, and the stories I wanted to tell didn’t have scripts that I loved. When I came to the U.K. for graduate school, I met the incredible Sally Cookson whose work I had admiredShe taught our class part of her adaptation process, which was led by herself and her company. It freed me and it opened my eyes to more models of theatre-making. The U.K theatre is a great melting pot of makers and processes- you can find the one that fits, or make your own.

 

4. WOMEN!

We have a long way to go in moving away from an older, white, male-centric model of theatre-making, but I can see the changes happening. And here I have many models of women who are making their work both within institutions and freelance, on every scale and in every corner of the country. (I am still waiting for the year that we have an entirely female docket of Creative Team nominees at an awards show.) Until then, I am encouraged and excited by the women creating work and that our visibility is increasing daily.

 

5. The Right Fit

I’ve lived and worked in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York before settling in London. There is something here, an excitement in myself and in my work that never sparked elsewhere. Producing and directing, especially as an emerging artist without a home institution, can be a lonely endeavor. I didn’t want a city which made me feel even more lonely. London is just the right fit. So find the city, town, or village where you feel the spark!

 

I hope you find the place that enhances your spark. And if you come to London and want to talk work, moving across the pond, or want to see a show, shoot me an email.


Jessica Rose McVay is a London based director, movement director, producer, and founder of Jessica Rose McVay Productions Ltd. She is a graduate of UCLA’s School of Theater Film and Television with a BA in Theater Arts with a specialization in direction, and a minor in Asian Humanities, and of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where she earned her MA in Drama Directing and won the Elsa Roberts Directing Award for her production of Sarah Kane’s Crave. She is an Associate Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society in the U.S., and a Member of Stage Directors U.K.

www.jessicarosemcvay.com

GUEST BLOG: Tips for Applying to the BMI Workshop by Patrick Cook (with Frederick Freyer)

In the spring of 1983, Allan Becker ushered me into a windowless room on West 57th Street where I found myself facing Ed Kleban, Alan Menken, Maury Yeston, Skip Kennon, and Richard Engquist. They said hello and pointed me to the piano. My legs were a bit rubbery, but I made it to the piano and started my first song. It was a comedy song called “Piano Bar Prayer” (I was playing piano bar at the time). The first line of the chorus was “God, don’t make me sing Feelings again…” They laughed!!

36 years later, I have Allan Becker’s job, and writers are often emailing me asking for advice about auditioning for the BMI Workshop. When Ken asked if we could come up with a few guidelines, Rick and I grabbed the opportunity to gather some of our thoughts about it.

Tips About the Application

Submit songs that were written for a character. A sweet, generic love ballad may show off your songwriting talent, but it won’t show if you can write for the theatre. Pick a specific character and write a song for them, revealing their character through the song. Classic examples are “Some People” from Gypsy and “Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific. Modern day examples are “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen and “My Shot” from Hamilton.

Write out your accompaniments. Although we accept lead sheets with chords, we much prefer you write out your piano parts.

Don’t worry about style. Some people think there’s a “BMI Sound” that we look for. Not true. Nine, Avenue Q, Next to Normal, Once on This Island and Little Shop of Horrors all came out of the BMI Workshop. Other than craft, brilliance, and theatricality, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a similarity of “sound.”

Always welcome are… strong melodies as well as spareness and economy in your lyric writing and melody writing.

Heavily produced demos can be counter-productive. A clear recording of a singer accompanied by a piano is often the best approach.

Don’t announce your setups on your recordings.

A Couple of Tips About the Audition (if you get called in for an audition)

Don’t worry about being nervous. Everyone is nervous. It has no effect on your audition. Unlike actors and singers who must perform under pressure in front of a paying audience, writers are usually pacing in the back of the house where nobody sees them. In fact, most of the time the audition panel won’t even be looking at you; we’ll be looking at your score and/or your lyric sheets.

Try out your comedy song ahead of time. One of the requirements of the workshop audition s to present a comedy song. Writers often tell me they wrote their comedy song right before the audition. My advice is to try it out on other people first, even friends and family if you can trust them to be honest. Neil Simon said that out of ten lines he meant to be funny, only three actually got a laugh. Writing good comedy songs is an essential talent in the theatre and the only way to really tell if a song is funny is to get it out there and see how it plays.

Members of the BMI Workshop often say it is a life-changing experience. I know it was for me. You can apply online at bmi.com.

Recommended reading:

The Making of a Musical by Lehman Engel

The American Musical Theater: a Consideration by Lehman Engel

American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 by Alec Wilder

The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey by Joseph Swain

 

GUEST BLOG: To Stream or Not to Stream (or When to Stream) by Van Dean

The question of if and when to stream is something we strategize for each and every release. It’s certainly not an exact science, and reasonable people in our business disagree on this important decision.  The issue at hand is that the average Broadway cast album costs between $300,000 and $500,000 to produce.  Spotify pays between $0.001 and $0.007 per stream.  So an average Broadway cast album receiving average revenue from Spotify would have to receive 100 million streams to cover its production costs.  That doesn’t including paying for distribution, the songwriters royalties, the show royalties or anything beyond just the creation of the album.  Given that there are approximately 320 million people in the United States, your cast album has to be extremely popular to recoup it’s production costs from streaming alone.  Of course, repeated listens and international fans help rack up the streaming numbers. The Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen‘s of the world can do it, but not many others.

This is why when using the current music business models, CD and digital download sales are still so important for cast recordings.  Luckily, they still represent the lion’s share of our sales.  Broadway is a unique niche within the music business in that a Broadway cast recording is still considered an important collectible or keepsake of the musical experience.  We always make sure that our cast recording packages are chock full of photos, lyrics, essays and more to help enhance the fan experience. For those fortunate enough to see their favorite Broadway or Off-Broadway musical, the cast album is a cherished remembrance.  For those who live further from New York City, the cast recording is their way of discovering all of the amazing shows that are difficult for them to see in person. At any one time, there are around two dozen musicals running on Broadway.  Of course, there are thousands of musicals in the theatrical canon that can also be discovered and embraced through their cast recording, as well as through Off-Broadway, regional and licensed productions.

Whenever we work with a Broadway show, an Off-Broadway show, or a solo artist, we have the streaming conversation.  Most often, with Broadway shows, we wait a minimum of 6 months to a year (and sometimes longer) to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, etc.  This is to allow the recording time to reach its audience amongst CD and digital download buyers. The aforementioned high expense of Broadway cast recordings frequently necessitates this approach.  However, if the marketing and wide exposure of the show’s score are deemed more valuable for a particular production than the financial considerations, then early streaming may make more sense. Part of this decision depends on who financed the recording.  If the show financed the album via its marketing budget, it is much easier to justify prioritizing the marketing needs of the show.  If the album was financed by direct investors expecting to make their money back, then the financial considerations must be given more weight.  Without investors supporting the cast recordings, these important preservations of a show’s score and performances will become less and less common.

Off-Broadway recordings and solo artist recordings are far less expensive, so the pressure on streaming to deliver financially is less.  Streaming is excellent for getting more ears on an artists’ work, so early streaming is very attractive if the artists’ primary goal is wide exposure.  However, since many solo artists finance their own albums, we have this streaming conversation with each of them so that they can make the decision regarding the balance between exposure and financial return.

The next phase in cast albums will require innovative use of social media and streaming, collaboration with the unions to make the finances more efficient, and collaboration with creators and show producers to evolve with the changes in the industry and technology. Continued love and attention to quality and detail will be essential in the preservation of the art form that we have made our life’s passion.  The ability for future generations of theater lovers to discover new musicals, as well as rediscover the classics, depends on our industry’s ability to keep the cast album business strong for the foreseeable future.


Van Dean is President and Co-Founder of Broadway Records. He is also a Tony Award-winning Broadway Producer of 12 musicals and plays and is a Grammy Award-winning producer of The Color Purple (New Broadway Cast Recording).  Broadway Records has released 150+ albums including the Grammy-nominated Matilda, Once On This IslandMy Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof as well as AnastasiaGroundhog DayBandstand and also created the popular “Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below” album series and the Tony Award Season series. Van’s philanthropic work includes being a producer of “Broadway For Orlando: What The World Needs Now is Love”, “Broadway Kids Against Bullying: I Have a Voice”, “From Broadway With Love” benefit concerts for Sandy Hook, Orlando (Emmy Award winner for sound design) and Parkland and his work with NewArts in Sandy Hook/Newtown, CT. www.BroadwayRecords.com

GUEST BLOG: Taking the Risk & Expense Out of Producing off-Broadway by Form Theatricals

Taking the leap from your reading, workshop or Showcase production to the off-Broadway stage can be intimidating. Budgets for small off-Broadway shows can reach into hundreds of thousands of dollars for plays and well into the low millions for musicals, not to mention the challenge of filling a larger house for six to eight performances per week.

Luckily, there’s a smaller step onto the off-Broadway stage that’s more affordable and less risky: the Periodic Performance Agreement. This is a specific type of Equity Contract that allows you to produce your show as an open-ended run for between 1 – 4 performances a week, with limited fixed costs. By its nature, the agreement will limit your budget – you’ll be sharing a venue with another production, so your rent will be about $1,000 per performance. Having to strike your set after each performance will limit your physical production. The total compensation (salary + benefits) is set for each actor at $121 per performance at the minimum. If done right, you can produce an open-ended run of a play for under $50k with a minuscule weekly operating cost. This allows you to experiment with who your production’s customer is, how to reach them and how to convert their interest into sales.

Build-Measure-Learn

You might want to jump into doing four performances per week, but at Form, we advocate that you start with as little as one performance and view each week as a learning opportunity for your marketing campaign. Frequently shows close because their marketing and press was based on assumptions about the audience and their buying patterns that have not been tested or proven. By the time these producers realize their marketing assumptions were wrong, the production has often spent its reserve and has to close. Our alternative methodology is called build-measure-learn and allows for real-time feedback to be incorporated into your marketing campaign in order to segment and target your audience effectively.  You’ve built the minimum viable open-ended production – a show that’s performing once per week – and you’re going to relentlessly measure your sales and the related metrics.

Methods include:

  • Start out with free listings and build your marketing campaign from there.
  • Do experiments with different ads and distribution channels.
  • Interview audience members to discover their journey from hearing about your production all the way through attending.
  • Stand in the lobby before and after the show to hear what the audience is saying.

Relentlessly experiment with new marketing techniques and view yourself as a scientist: you’re evaluating which marketing assumptions work and which don’t. You’re able to do this because the show’s running costs remain so low that you can fail repeatedly until you learn how to successfully sell out the house. When you learn how to sell out one performance per week, add a second and begin your build-measure-learn loop all over again. Rinse and repeat for weekly performances three through eight.

The Periodic Performance agreement provides you with highly affordable running costs which, when married with a build-measure-repeat marketing campaign, gives you the time you need to turn your assumptions into facts, and your little once-a-week performance into off-Broadway’s (or, gasp, Broadway’s) newest long-running hit. The beauty in this method of producing is two-fold. The first is that you’re able to test your assumptions in a low-risk way and really learn how to attract an audience. The second is that the upfront costs are so low that off-Broadway can be opened to productions and voices who can’t raise the funds for mid-six figure productions.

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At Form we’re big proponents of the Periodic Performance agreement and approach all of the productions and theater companies we work with as the start-ups they are. We offer one hour of free consulting services to artists and producers. Email us at af@formtheatricals.com if you want some advice about your project.

GUEST BLOG: Marketing Offline in an Online World by Amanda Bohan

When producing a show, your to-do list can often feel endless. (You’re nodding your head right now, aren’t you?)

You’ve got capital to raise. A production team to assemble. Venue scouting. Casting calls. Script revisions. And the list goes on and on.

And while your to-dos may differ from someone else’s, I can guarantee you one thing:

Marketing is on everyone’s must-do list!

What exactly is marketing?

For the purpose of this blog post, it’s the process of promoting and selling your show!

So basically, it’s one of the most important things that you need if you want to see your show survive. (No pressure, right?)

Are there different types of marketing?

First, there’s the golden child of marketing — online marketing. This is the one that you likely hear the most about, spanning from email to social media, search engine optimization, and more. It’s also probably where a lot of your dollars go — on things like Facebook ads, banners, e-blasts, the list goes on…

Then there’s the offline side of things, surrounding partnerships, promotions, events, and other more “traditional” tactics. I imagine this is the side you hear less about or even the side you pay less attention to. But if that’s the case…you may be missing out!

Here are just some of the ways you can utilize offline marketing methods to promote your show in today’s online-driven world:

  1. Hold an event early on.
    There’s nothing like actually hearing and seeing a show. So a sneak peek event can often be the perfect way to reach potential patrons, and influencers — think hotel concierge, groups sales reps, social influencers — giving them a glimpse of your work.

    If you’re a musical, this might mean performing a number; if you’re a play, this might be a brief reading.

    I’ve witnessed first-hand how well this can work for The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show. Each time the show returns, my team and I will host exclusive events for local “mom influencers” with their kids, decked out with coloring stations, snacks, and a sneak peek of the show. As a result, we see upticks in sales and increase in word-of-mouth both online and off.

    In case you’re concerned about cost, know that events don’t have to be lavish. Often a few cocktails (or juice boxes for the aforementioned example) with a brief presentation is all that’s needed, since most people aren’t going to want to attend a super long event anyways.

    And finding a space for your event might be easier than you’d think! There are lots of local establishments that would jump at the opportunity to partner if someone asked them… so it really just comes down to putting in the time to find a place. Which leads me to the next tip…

  2. Get creative with your outreach.
    There are countless entertainment opportunities for New Yorkers and tourists to take in. So just going after the “theatre-going crowd” won’t cut it. To be successful you’ve got to go beyond your target audience in order to really make a dent in the market.

    Always think about audiences beyond your “lowest-hanging fruit.” They might not be the most likely audience member, but they have some connection to your production’s subject matter.

    For example, on the recent hit play Afterglow, my team and I reached out to nudist groups as a potential angle. And as luck should have it, a local (and quite popular) group expressed interest in an event, which led to a buyout of performance and coverage on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

    Not saying you need to do a naked night to get attention… but this goes to show you there are always angles to pursue! And emailing someone to gauge their interest in your show won’t even cost you anything upfront.

  3. Money isn’t the only currency in marketing.
    If there’s one line-item in the budget that always seems to be short, it’s marketing. There could always be more marketing money. That’s just the fact of the matter.

    When you want to stretch your dollars or just save some money, try trading tickets for what you want and you may be surprised by the results! Hit the right person up at the right time and you could score anything from a billboard to a radio spot to online banners, even free food for your cast. (Trust me, they’ll love that!)

    At its core, theatre has the ability to connect to someone’s emotions. For example, you might be offering tickets to an outlet in exchange for ads and that ad rep may just love the topic of your show or might personally want to see it, making them more likely to want to accept your trade offer, regardless of the exact value. Or, they may just want the tickets as perks for their clients or employees. (This actually happens quite often.)

  4. And last, but certainly not least…
    for those productions that are lucky enough to have longer runs, always remember to embrace your super fans!

    These people were there first and will likely be around last, so take care of them.

    Beyond social media banter, consider randomly sending your biggest fans signed playbills or posters, or special merchandise items. On School of Rock it’s not uncommon for my team to send out signed Playbills to superfans who deserve a little something more.

    Or if you want to get even fancier, leave something special at the box office if you know a past patron is returning. This could be as simple as a drink ticket or invite to stay after for a post-show meet & greet, which would no doubt lead to them telling their friends in person, as well as posting on social media.

In the end, it all connects. And your offline efforts will directly impact what happens online, creating a continuous cycle. So be sure to embrace all sides of marketing!

Now what are you waiting for? Go sell your show!

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Amanda Bohan is the founder & president of ABM, a full-service advertising & marketing firm specializing in theatre, arts & culture, and live events. Their services include marketing & promotions, traditional & online advertising, social media, and creative services.

More at ABMagency.com. Or drop Amanda a note directly, amanda@abmagency.com

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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