GUEST BLOG: Do You Have a License for That? by Jason Cocovinis

What is Licensing?

Over the past ten years, I have had the privilege of working as the Director of Marketing at Music Theatre International.  But before my time with the company, my awareness and understanding of licensing was limited.  I understood the general principles behind intellectual property and copyright, but I didn’t realize theatrical licensing was such an important part of my early exposure to theatre in general.  In addition to seeing many professional Broadway productions, I participated in and sat as an audience member for many school and community theatre productions – all made possible through performance rights granted by theatrical licensing companies.

Seeing a licensing company’s name and logo in a program for the show I was about to experience was about the extent that I thought about this aspect of the industry.  I figured the school or theatre had to pay for the rights to do the show and also pay the company for the scripts and scores used by the performers.  While this is true and an integral part of the process, there is so much more to licensing than the commerce between the producing organization and the licensing company.  A theatrical licensor is the steward of a theatrical property, acting on behalf of the creators/authors of a play or musical.  This means ensuring that every single performance of an author’s work is performed exactly as that author intended so that the artistic (and legal) integrity of the work is maintained and protected.  As a creative person who has dabbled in writing and performing myself, it gave me a great sense of purpose and gratification knowing that I was helping protect another artist’s work and building a legacy by exposing it to performers and audiences around the world.

So how exactly does licensing work and what is a theatrical organization signing up for when they license a musical from MTI?

Grand Rights and Royalties

It all starts with a Grand Right.  A Grand Right is the intellectual property / copyright retained by the creators of a show that allows them or their duly appointed representatives (in this case, MTI) to decide who may perform the show, where it may be performed, how it may be performed and how much will be charged for the privilege of using their work.  A Grand Right reflects the totality of a musical property in question – it covers everything from the first note of the overture to the last bow in the finale (and all the dialogue and songs in between).

If an organization wants to perform a song from a musical in a concert or cabaret setting, that’s known as a small right and is controlled by a different type of licensor.  But as soon as there is any dialogue, costumes or staging, it becomes a Grand or dramatic right because said performance includes more than simply singing a song – it contains elements of the full dramatic work created by the author.

For Grand Rights, MTI acts on behalf of an author/rightsholder by granting a license to produce the show.  We then collect a fee, known as a royalty.  MTI will charge material rental fees along with a security deposit, but the main fee is the royalty which we collect on behalf of our authors.  Royalties are the way authors (usually a bookwriter, a composer and a lyricist) are paid for the use of their intellectual property.

Performance Licenses and Making Changes

One of the most frequent issues MTI deals with is communicating with customers about making changes to a show.

Built into each and every performance license is specific language that governs how the copyrighted work must be presented.  MTI’s responsibilities include enforcing copyright law as it pertains to Grand Rights (e.g., prohibiting changes to the show, monitoring unlicensed productions, etc.), as well as protecting certain productions from competition in geographical markets.

Sometimes a director or producer may believe that some changes are required to make the show work for their community or theatre.  They may want to make “minor adjustments” to a show (such as changing the gender of a character, changing the name of a town to give it local significance, changing a line of dialogue, adding songs that appeared in the movie version of the musical, etc.).

If an organization wishes to make a change, no matter how big or small, MTI requires the organization to provide a detailed, written account of the suggested edits along with a strong rationale for doing so.  MTI maintains very good relationships with our authors and rightsholders, so depending on the show, MTI will present an organization’s request to the authors to see if an accommodation can be made.  In some cases, authors/rightsholders may have a standard response if the issue has come up before.  Whatever the case, the authors’ decision is final and without obtaining prior written permission from MTI, any changes violate the authors’ rights under federal and international copyright law.

It is always best to ask for permission, not forgiveness.  MTI strives to educate its customers and make organizations aware of these stipulations in our contracts so that less time is spent on enforcement and more time can be spent celebrating customers’ productions.

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Jason Cocovinis is the Director of Marketing for Music Theatre International – one of the world’s leading theatrical licensing agencies, granting theatres from around the world the rights to perform the greatest selection of musicals from Broadway and beyond. Founded in 1952 by composer Frank Loesser and orchestrator Don Walker, MTI is a driving force in advancing musical theatre as a vibrant and engaging art form.

MTI works directly with the composers, lyricists and book writers of these musicals to provide official scripts, musical materials, and dynamic theatrical resources to over 70,000 professional, community and school theatres in the US and in over 60 countries worldwide.

MTI is particularly dedicated to educational theatre and has created special collections to meet the needs of various types of performers and audiences. MTI’s Broadway Junior™ shows are 30- and 60-minute musicals for performance by elementary and middle school-aged performers, while MTI’s School Editions are musicals annotated for performance by high school students.

MTI maintains its global headquarters in New York City with additional offices in London (MTI Europe) and Melbourne (MTI Australasia).

GUEST BLOG: Tips for Finding the Perfect Venue for Your Project by Britt Lafield

So you have raised all the capital for your production, you have your cast, you have your crew and marketing team. Great! Now you need a theater. In many ways, your theater is as important as the script, the director, and the cast. It is a physical extension of your production, and finding the right one is a major step in producing a success.

Having been a theatrical producer for many years and the General Manager of several theaters in the metropolitan New York area, I have seen shows that looked like their set was meant to be in a space and sets that have been shoe-horned in. I have dealt with shows that started out thinking the theater was totally wrong for their production, only to get creative and change the space to fit their needs, making their productions even more memorable in the process. Finding a theater is like buying a house. It is not something to be done on a whim without careful forethought.

To continue the house simile:  if you were looking to buy a house would you just look at the color of the walls? Likely not.  So here are some things to keep in mind while shopping for a theater.

  • Be realistic about your sales potential. The majority of your weekly running costs will be your theater rental, and a smart choice in venue will allow you to absorb and ride out the lean, tough weeks (like previews), freeing up money to be spent on marketing and advertisement. We all want our shows to sell out their entire run and perform forever – but know your target audience and don’t get a theater larger then you think you can sell. If you realistically think you will sell 75 to 100 seats a night, there is no reason to get a 250-seat theater, even if it’s available and in a good location. Having a two-week run in a prestigious theater is not as impressive as running a year in a lesser known space. If you underestimate your sales and suddenly find yourself not having enough seats to get everyone in every night, well there are a lot worse problems then having a “SOLD OUT” notice on your ticketing site for days on end. And you can always transfer if that need becomes evident.
  • Know your needs and prioritize them. Like so many things in life, you will probably not find a venue that satisfies all your needs. Go into your search with a list of what is important, and put them in order of priority. Is the number of seats your greatest priority? Or is having an intimate space so the audience feels like they are in the room with your actors what you are looking for? Do you need wing space or is a stage that is fixed-wall to fixed-wall okay? What about grid height? Do you want your set to be a house with two stories or does the action take place in a trailer? Think of every aspect of your production and take them all into account when looking for a theater. Solving set or lighting problems before you even load into the theater will help your budget and your frame of mind.
  • Realize that different theaters will provide you with different amenities. Some spaces come with a lighting package in-house. Some have an amazing sound system. Some come with nothing and you have to rent it all (a “four wall” deal). Are you producing a musical with a lot of lighting effects or a kitchen sink drama that wants more practical light? Does your sound design want effects to be coming from every corner of the theater or is it an acapella musical? Theaters charge you for what they give you. So why get a space that charges you more for lighting or sound when you don’t need it (see Item 2)?
  • Think of the experience you want your audience to have. I am a firm believer that the show doesn’t start when the lights go down, but as soon as the audience member enters the space (even before that, if you can pull it off). Make the common spaces like the lobby reflect your production. If the set is a Victorian manor, make the lobby into another room in the house. If the location is a town’s Main Street, make your concessions area into the local bar. The more you make the show an all-around and immersive experience for the audience, the more they will remember it. It is perfectly fine to simply have your production in a beautiful theater, but in this age of massive digital influx, theatre (and your production) must find ways to make any theatrical experience a unique one.

As in every aspect of producing theatre there will be surprises when dealing with your venue, so anticipate them as best you can. The more prepared you are before you enter into your search, the more questions you already have an answer to, the better it will be for your overall production.

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Britt Lafield is the General Manager of the Davenport Theatre and an independent theatrical producer with 20 years experience in New York and Regional Theater, having produced on every level in New York, short of Broadway. He was also the Festival Administrator for the New York International Fringe Festival from 2009- 2013, and is the creator and producer of the Fringe Encore Series that just celebrated is 11th Anniversary.

GUEST BLOG: How to & Why You Should Embrace Social Media by Ryan Ratelle

Reality Check:

Despite being bullied at school, 12-year-old Thai drag sensation Nes (@nes_tyyy) displays incredible confidence for all the world to see on Instagram. The digital child star has been so successful, that he was able to build a new home for his family.

The older sister of adorable 2-year-old twins Mila and Emma Stauffer (@kcstauffer) taped an everyday conversation between the twosome and posted it to Instagram. 4.4M views later, the tots have struck lucrative advertising deals with Amazon, Dollar Rental Car, Nest, Walmart, and Macy’s to name a few.

Katie Ryan (@katieryan430) began sharing videos of her daughter Ava – famous for the ever-disgruntled “Bossy Boss Lady” and “hot mess” Charlene characters – to help cheer up her grieving family after her sister passed away at the age of 23. With the ad revenue from YouTube alone, Katie is now able to be a stay-at-home mother.

Like it or not, the advent of smartphones coupled with the unstoppable rise of social media has literally put the power of the people into the palm of our hands. This new form of media has given birth to billions of new user-created television networks, editorials, and music labels – all accessible (and scrollable) in tiny hand-held devices. Every minute of the day, people play multiple roles as creators, critics, commentators, gurus, and advocates. It’s a game-changing force that has radically altered the way we receive and share information, advertise, and interact.

According to a recent study 92% of consumers “trust an influencer more than an advertisement” and 60% of consumers “make purchases in stores based on a social media post.” This is the exact data that led my partners, Sam Ratelle (my RRR Creative co-founder) and Frank Spadafora (D’Marie Group), and I to create The Cast Agency, the first dedicated digital agency representing Broadway stars. The Cast brokers partnerships between top brands and Broadway’s biggest influencers for sponsored social campaigns, online advertising, and digital content creation.

On Broadway, skillfully executed social campaigns have helped secure hit status for new musicals, extended the life of others, and in the case of the highly anticipated Be More Chill, responsible for making a Broadway run happen at all. In this new age of celebrity obsession, social media is also becoming a serious conversation in the casting room. At RRR Creative (Triple R) and The Cast, most of our clients have recounted stories of when their social following has come up in conversation with agents, casting directors, and even producers. In some cases, it has even won or lost them the job. While we firmly believe that talent should always be the biggest determining factor in casting, social media definitely has influence. It just makes sense that a producer, who needs to fill 1,500+ seats nightly to keep a show afloat, would offer a role to the performer who has more buzz and a bigger following.

Social Media isn’t going anywhere, so embrace it and use it to your advantage. Here are a few tips we offer to our clients:

Reframe the Way You Think About Social Media

So many of our clients come to us loathing social media and looking at it as a “necessary evil.” We all know the pitfalls of social and we’ve all seen the YouTube videos of people walking into things because they failed to look up (I totally took 15 minutes out of writing this blog to revisit my favorite YouTube vids of this very phenomenon – genius), but let’s focus on the positives:

  1. It can be a great networking tool, so link in already!
  2. It’s free publicity that you can control.
  3. It can help you fundraise for that web series or album you’ve always wanted to produce.
  4. Instagram is fun, people! It’s your own personal magazine.
  5. If you build a significant following, you can get free stuff and eventually cash!
  6. It’s one of the fastest and most effective ways to mobilize people to your 54 Below show or to help you WIN BACK THE HOUSE (Go Blue!).

Be Social on Social Media

It’s become so routine to mindlessly scroll through content. If you want to grow an engaged audience, you have to engage with them. Like! Comment! Share!

Be Authentic

We can smell bologna from a mile away. If it doesn’t feel right, we will sense that and then you’ve lost us. People want to get to know the real “off-stage” you.

Understand Your Analytics

Just like Mr. Rogers said, know your audience because it is unlike anyone else’s. Look at what content they are engaging with, when they are engaging with it, and what else they generally like and don’t like about your account (I know…take a breath), and then use that information as a guide moving forward.

Consistency is Key

Most people post sporadically. If you are not consistently posting content your audience can’t invest in you in the same way. Make it easy on yourself and spend an hour or two once a week with your calendar and plan your posts for the upcoming week or month based on what you have going on already.

Pay Attention to Aesthetics

Try not to focus solely on the individual photographs but rather how each image will look as a part of the overall grid. All of your images should relate to each other in some way. Consider a color scheme or color palette to ensure that the grid looks cohesive and curated.

Edit Your Images

Never post an image or video that isn’t of the highest quality and resolution. While iPhones take really great photos, every image can benefit from some editing, even if it’s just adjusting the light. On the flip side, be careful not to go too far with editing those selfies!

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Ryan is a publicist, producer and the Co-Founder of RRR Creative and The Cast Agency. He spent the past thirteen years as a theatrical publicist, most recently at DKC/O&M. During this time, he helmed award-winning campaigns for Broadway productions including Patti LuPone’s Gypsy, SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark, Clybourne Park, After Midnight, School of Rock, CATS, Sunset Boulevard starring Glen Close and Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender. He also served as the U.S. press representative for legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

GUEST BLOG: Introducing Young Women to Backstage Theatrical Arts by Elsa Ward

When I came to NYC in 1986, fresh out of graduate school with an MFA from Rutgers University in theatrical design, I was offered my first job in the theater world – costume designer. Although I had been trained in all areas of theatrical design, even working my way through graduate school as technical director of a university theater, I accepted the job and happily worked as a costume designer for 15 years. I had the great fortune to work for many notables, such as John Patrick Shanley and Sam Shepard. I loved every aspect of the theater and the creative backstage world. However, throughout my tenure as a costume designer, I noted that women dominated costume design while men dominated other backstage roles. I eventually left the theater world to pursue television work and other business opportunities, but this observation stayed with me and somehow a seed was planted that someday I might help creative young women discover the vast array of opportunities within the careers of backstage theater.

I revisited this idea a few years ago while I sat in a mostly empty theater watching my 17-year-old daughter in a tech rehearsal. As I watched the crew focus lights and set props in place, I noticed that not much had changed. I thought, “more young women need to know about this world and I can do something about it.” Being around many young women, I also realised that it was the high school years that create awareness and spark the interest. Then, in June of 2017 the NY Times article “Theater Jobs Skew White and Male” was published, further confirming my instinct that increasing the number of women working in all areas of the theatrical arts would not happen organically; it must be deliberate. In the fall of 2017, I submitted a business summary for the Open Stage Project to the Actor’s Fund Creative Entrepreneur Program. I was accepted into the program and with the Actors Fund’s encouragement and support, the Open Stage Project was born.

The Open Stage Project exposes young women to careers in the backstage arts and introduces them to female professionals working in these fields so that they gain knowledge and develop mentoring relationships. With the generous support of Lynne Meadow and the Director of Education, David Shookoff, at Manhattan Theater Club, we held our pilot class in April of 2018. Students from Fordham High School for the Arts in the Bronx and attended a performance of “Saint Joan” at MTC, after which the students met with Jane Greenwood. We are currently working in collaboration with the NYC Department of Education’s Career Technical Education (CTE) Department of Media, Technology and Design in order to bring more young women to performances where they have the opportunity to meet with producers, directors and designers. Mary Louise Geiger (Lighting Designer, Arts Professor, Academic Director, NYU) and Rosemarie Tichler (former Artistic Producer at The Public Theater, Professor at NYU) serve as advisors to the Open Stage Project.

Furthermore, as theater professionals we have an obligation to support these creative young women in our communities while they are in their formative high school years, by offering practical advice to help them pursue careers in the backstage arts though the Open Stage Project. Through the Open Stage Project, we can support these young women in researching and choosing universities that have strong theater programs with robust backstage training, as well as strong connections to working theater professionals. If there was any advice that I would have loved to have had during my high school years, it would have been from a teacher or counselor encouraging me to get as much exposure as I could to the vast array of careers available in the theatre. Open Stage Project is that exposure!

The Open Stage Project seeks to be an important advocate for young women who want to pursue careers in the backstage theatrical arts. If you would you like to volunteer your time, donate tickets, or participate in anyway, please contact the Open Stage Project at openstageprojectnyc@gmail.com.

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The Open Stage Project  (www.openstageproject.org) is an afterschool program dedicated to bringing young creative women’s voices to all areas of theatrical storytelling. Beginning with career awareness, it plans to build mentorship, community and pathways for young women to choose a career in the backstage theatrical arts.

GUEST BLOG: A Day in the Life of a Broadway Publicist by Emily McGill

Ok, the title is a bit misleading as no two days are alike for a Broadway publicist, but a general idea of how we spend our time can be really helpful when you’re working with your rep or looking to get the word out about your own project.

From the moment my eyes flash open in the morning, I’m checking emails and Google Alerts (I prefer Talkwalker, but either will do) and catching up on the news.  As someone who works with and around the media, it is vitally important to know what is happening in the news cycle, what stories are being told, and who is telling them. A lot of my time is spent reading – whether it is news stories, information on a new show or project, or emails (there are a LOT of emails).

If there is an opportunity to tastefully inject a client’s project into the current news cycle based on coverage that is trending, we have to jump on it. Suppose your show tells the story of a timely topic, you need to leverage that into conversations and possible opportunities.

A typical day always starts with catching up on news, sharing coverage with clients, and reviewing my to-do list. Then I move on to writing media pitches to share with contacts that might be interested in telling a story about my client or calling a writer/editor/producer/journalist to pitch them. I can’t stress enough how important relationships are in this aspect of the industry (or, let’s face it, ANY aspect of this industry!). It is vital to get to know the people that you’re asking to cover your story. When you know what they cover and how they work, you are more likely to get a response, even if that response is a no.

In order to effectively do our jobs, we spend a lot of time cultivating relationships and networking. From coffee or cocktails with a journalist to lunches with a segment booker or producer to conversations with prospective clients, relationship building is vital to a press rep doing their job well. Equally vital is managing expectations. Every writer or producer believes in their show, you have to in order to get it up!  But the expectations of those who are most passionate about a show are not always realistic and so it often falls to your press rep to temper those expectations with a dose of reality. There are ways to do this gently, but ultimately it comes down to awareness around who in the media (and that outlet’s audience) will connect with the story and what that outlet is able to do with that story for coverage purposes.

I also spend a lot of time connecting with existing clients over phone, email or in person. They need to know that I’m out there advocating for them with the media and working hard to help them tell their story. It is important to update clients about conversations that I’m having with writers, editors, producers and journalists, or with other press reps in the industry who might be working on something similar (you never know when an opportunity for a trend story could appear, and by working with other reps we can help journalists formulate those stories).

Of course the exciting things like television appearances and opening nights and awards season events are what have the most visibility, but you don’t see all of the hard work that goes into making them happen. There are countless phone calls and emails and booking cars and writing memos and handling logistics and juggling schedules.

Broadway press reps also have responsibilities that many folks don’t think about. Has it ever crossed your mind who built that Playbill in your hand? (Yup!) Or who scheduled the production photo shoot, selected and refined production photos, or produced a b-roll shoot? We all know that ultimately – like everything else in the theatre – it is a collaboration, but the heavy lifting of each of these falls to your press rep.

At the end of the day, communication is really what we do. We communicate the story that a client has to tell with the wider world, we communicate the status of conversations to clients, and we communicate with audiences to help tell stories.

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Emily McGill is the founder of Press Play, a boutique public relations firm. Emily has represented the Tony Award-winning productions of A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington, Memphis, and Billy Elliot, as well as Disney’s The Lion King and Aladdin, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock and CATS, George Takei’s Allegiance, along with the Broadway productions of This Is Our YouthRock of AgesGhostElf, and First Date. Since her start in theatre, she’s expanded out to other forms of entertainment including music, live entertainment, film and television, and corporations. Clients have included companies of all sizes (from Disney, HBO and Fathom Events, to Abrams Artists Talent Agency and BroadwayHD), individuals, musical acts, and male strippers. Yes, male strippers.

For more information, visit PressPlayPro.Rocks.

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