Theaters Aren’t The Only Place To Do Theatre Anymore

My first experience with “site-specific” theatre was in 1995 with a little musical called J.P. Morgan Saves The Nation, written by a then-unknown composer/lyricist named Jonathan Larson (the NY Times called his score “peppy”).  It took place on the steps of Federal Hall downtown.

But this blog isn’t about site-specific theatre.

While I do think we’re on the verge of seeing plays and musicals pop up in office buildings, bars, shopping malls, and everyplace else in the next few years (thanks to the high cost of actual theaters, not to mention the lack of availability), site-specific theatre is so 1995.

In the past week, a few blips have appeared on my trend-spotting sonar that make me think we’re on the verge of another kind of revolution.  And this one, surprise surprise, has all to do with technology.

First, I can’t help but notice that Netflix has taken a more aggressive approach to capturing theatrical content as of late and not just the big branded Springsteen-like shows.  They shot a movie version of American Son.  They announced a movie version of that Cinderella story of a musical, The Prom.  And now, the Off-Broadway one-woman show, Douglas, will be the latest addition to their growing theatrical portfolio.

Second, (spoiler alert!) but I spend a lot of time on my upcoming podcast with Tony Nominated art-trepreneur Paul Gordon (airs this coming Monday) talking about his StreamingMusicals platform, which is off to a strong start (and got him a licensing deal for a new musical that has never played NYC).  I expect the next generation of theatre-makers is going to see this approach as a way to get their shows into the world at a fraction of the cost that typically comes with putting up an actual production.  (And speaking of streaming, we just got a report on my own production of Daddy Long Legs from my friends at  BroadwayHD, and it’s exceeding expectations in the number of views.  Check it out here.)

Third, I caught a glimpse of an ad on a subway platform the other day for a new digital platform called STAGE, which states, “From classic performances to edgy icons and undiscovered gems, musical theatre and performance is the cornerstone of STAGE.”  What’s interesting about this isn’t the network itself, but the ad . . . which ain’t cheap.  That says to me that STAGE ain’t effin’ around.  They see a big future in the platform and are betting on it.

And fourth (because you know, everything comes in threes, so when there are four things, you definitely have a fourk-ing trend), and perhaps most interesting of all . . . a new podcast musical was released this week, called Next Thing You Know by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, starring Patti Murin, Colin Hanlon, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Lauren Blackman.  This on the heels of the high profile John Cameron Mitchell podcast musical “Anthem: Homunculus,” starring Patti Lupone to name a few (because she counts as a few).  Instead of readings and workshops, these creators have turned to tech to get attention for their new works.  (I wonder if critics will start reviewing them?)

All of this makes me think . . . are streaming and podcast recordings the new “concept recording,” made famous by Andrew Lloyd Webber with Jesus Christ Superstar? We all know how that worked out.  Answer?  Yes, yes they are.

And all of this points to one thing:  an uprising is underfoot.

The modern-day creators, who are part of the DIY generation, who grew up able to create and distribute their films and music without gatekeepers, are now finding ways to distribute theatre in the same way.

And we’re just at the beginning of it.

If you’re a theatre-maker, you should start to imagine other ways to get your shows the attention they deserve.

Because over the next ten years, the traditional walls of Broadway and Off-Broadway are going to come crumbling down as the next generation of creators continue to think outside of the . . . box theater.

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Do check out Daddy Long Legs on BroadwayHD, and then guess how much it cost me to shoot something that high of a quality.  And then imagine how you can do it for your show . . .

How to get yourself out there and Promote Urself (even if you don’t want to) and why you must.

If you follow the blog, then you know that last year I set a pretty ambitious of a goal, to help get 5000 shows produced by the year 2025 (#5000By2025).

Things are going along swimmingly with some amazing success stories so far.   But the more Theater Makers I talk to along our journey, the more I realize some of the things holding them back.

And that’s when we kick into high gear to try and come up with a solution to help them break through to the other side.

One trend that I’ve noticed is this fear of promoting oneself or just the lack of knowledge of how to do it.  And who can blame anyone for getting lost in the sea of social media, hashtags, websites, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc., etc . . . and there’s probably a new platform called etc.!

And how the heck do you even find the time to do it all?

But here’s the one thing I know for a fact . . . if you’re not promoting yourself . . . no one will.

And, if you’re not promoting yourself, someone else is certainly promoting themselves, and they will, without a doubt, have an advantage over you in this business.

Period.

How do I know this?

Oh, because I’ve been known to google an actor’s name during an audition to check on the number of social media followers they have (and this is a super common practice in Hollywood).  I’ve come to like the work of a designer through an Instagram account.  YouTube videos from songwriters have gotten me to reach out and find out what show the writers were working on next.

Years ago, before all this stuff existed, everyone was on the same playing field.  Everyone had the same basic marketing tools in their toolbox.  A resume.  A phone.  The mail.  And their work.

Now, that toolbox is ever-expanding, and when you know how to work all those tools, you can get to your goals so much faster.

But you have to do three things . . .

  1.  Acknowledge that marketing is essential.
  2.  Admit what you know and what you don’t.
  3.  Take action today to improve.

Since we’ve got a lot of shows to help get on in the next six years, we decided to put together a conference on exactly this subject.  Introducing PromoteU:  The Marketing and Productivity Conference for Theatre-Makers.

On Friday, May 17th, join me and some superstar speakers including Broadway Star Sierra Boggess, YouTube sensation Tyler Mount, Branding Guru Tony Howell, and more to be announced when we spend a day breaking down how you can get yourself out there, get more gigs, and enjoy it in the process.

We’re going to have sessions all about:

  • Finding Your Brand: Creating Your Branding Toolkit
  • How to Use Social Media to Gain Loyal Fans
  • Creating a Website that Tells (and Sells) Your Story
  • Lightning Round Deep-Dives on Specific Social Media Platforms
  • Productivity and Accountability Tools for Artists
  • And Much More.

And, the conference will also include:

  • Expert Keynotes and Presentations from Marketing, Branding and Creative Experts
  • Valuable Networking Opportunities in Our Private Facebook Group AND at Our 2-Hour Networking Open-Bar Party
  • 3 Months of Follow-Up Accountability Training from Our Team of Experts

You’ll leave armed with a specific plan of attack and all the tools necessary to build your own marketing campaign for whatever kind of Theatre Maker you are . . . Writer, Director, Actor, Producer, and more.

And we’re even adding in three months of accountability check-ins after the conference to make sure you stay productive and focused.

You can learn more about it and register here.  Just do so quickly, as we’re in a theater half the size of our Super Conference, so the seats won’t last.

I hope you’ll come.  Because I know what we’re going to share with you is going to work.  Because marketing always works.

And everything and everyone requires marketing to get ahead in 2019.  And the unfortunate truth is, if you’re not marketing your brand, then you’re not just standing still . . . you’re falling behind.  Sorry to have to say it like that.

But this conference will help.  In fact, here’s a promise for you . . . if you’re not in a better position with your career after the conference and the built-in coaching, just drop me a note, and I’ll refund you the price of your conference ticket.  Simple.

Register here.  And prepare to be a productive promoting machine . . . without even looking like you’re promoting anything.

See you at PromoteU on May 17th!

 

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

How Airlines Sell More First Class Seats and What That Means for Broadway.

If you’ve flown first class or business class, I’d bet you the price of your own airplane that you want to fly it again.

Not only is it a more comfortable flying experience, but there’s this whole status thing that comes along with it.

And the airlines love it when you (or more likely the company you work for) shells out buckets of cash for your lay-flat bed or in-flight hot fudge sundae.

But let’s face it.  How many people are willing to pay 10x or more the cost of an economy ticket for those few hours in the air?

That price resistance is a huge obstacle that the airlines have to overcome.

How do they get you to do it?

They give it away.

One of the primary benefits of frequent flyer programs is the chance that you’ll get upgraded when you fly with one airline a ton. I’m sure you’ve all seen that “upgrade list” on a monitor as you’ve prepared to board your flight. Those are all folks who paid economy but are praying for a bump to the better class of service.

Why do the airlines offer this opp?

Yes, it’s a big perk to get you to fly one airline more than another (those who fly more, get a better chance at their name being called).

But the airlines also know that the first sentence of this blog is so true, they’re willing to give it up for free because they know the chance of you paying a premium price later goes way up.

Because once you go first, it’s hard to go to the back.

The airlines know you’ll fly with them more to get more mileage to use for upgrades. You’ll beg your boss for biz class to be included in your contract. You’ll get the airline credit card just to get even more mileage.

It all adds up.

They give away the premium experience to gain your premium dollars in the future.

How does the this translate to what we do?

Well, it is a fact that . . .

The profitability of Broadway shows depends on the full price buyer. Discounts can keep shows going so that you can get to the full price seasons (Xmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s), but for a show to be “wicked” profitable, you want full price.

Therefore . . .

To achieve greater profitability we need more full-price buyers.

To use the airline model, if we found a way to give away our “first class” seats (first ten rows, aisle seats, etc.) to people who haven’t experienced being ten feet away from Bryan Cranston or being so close they can hear Jesse Mueller’s voice come from her mouth instead of through a speaker, I’d bet they’d never want to sit in our cheap seats again.

Could we do this through our loyalty programs? Is this an industry-wide initiative or something single shows could do?

What about random “surprise and delight” upgrades where you just walk someone from the balcony down to some unsold premium seats (I’ve done this at a few of my shows).

Show people what they are missing, and they’ll never want to miss out on that experience again.

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Want to read more marketing tips like this one? We’ve got webinars and exclusive articles all right here that are guaranteed to get you more butts in seats for more bucks.

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