April 9, 2021: What TheaterMakers Are Talking About This Week

From Actors’ Equity releasing new protocols for fully vaccinated productions to the first performance in a Broadway theater since March 2020, here’s what TheaterMakers were talking about this week . . . 

 

1 – Broadway Reopened. For 36 Minutes. It’s a Start.

This event showcased the dancer Savion Glover and the actor Nathan Lane, where they performed before a masked audience of 150 scattered across one of the biggest Broadway Theaters, St. James. This event was the first such experiment since the coronavirus pandemic caused to close on March 12, 2020. It’s the first step home — the first of many,” said Jordan Roth. “This is not, ‘Broadway’s back!’ This is ‘Broadway is coming back!’ And we know it can because of this.”

Read more: nytimes.com

 

2 – Wear a Mask, Avoid Intermission: Lessons from the Covid Think Tank Town Hall 

The rapid rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine has increased new and improved ideas and optimism about indoor theater swiftly reopening in the U.S. In addition to the vaccine, testing, enhanced theater ventilation, and continued mask-wearing is also the key to gradually restarting the industry. Their plan for reopening? “Plan now,” Dr. Smith said. “Even if you don’t have a go-live date…There are so many layers. There’s a lot to think about and to talk about.”

Read More: broadwayjournal.com

 

3 – COVID Passports: Entertainment venues air concerns over plans

The government has said Covid-status certificates could be used at theatres, nightclubs, and festivals starting in June. They could be used to prove vaccination or testing. They will be trialing this at events at venues in Liverpool, as well as sporting events. 

Read more: bbc.com 

 

4 – Actors’ Equity releases new safety protocols for vaccinated productions

The new guidelines come after the backlash from the community about previous protocols. Absent from these protocols are the requirements of private transportation to and from theaters, as well as the need for Plexiglas and 12 feet of distance on stage. Those regulations are still included in documents for indoor theater productions without a fully vaccinated workforce.

Read More: broadwaynews.com

 

5 – Neil Diamond Bio-Musical Sets Sights on Broadway

A Beautiful Noise is set to run for four weeks at the Emerson Colonial Theater Boston in 2022, the show’s producers, Ken Davenport and Bob Gaudio announced on Tuesday. They plan to bring the production to Broadway following that run.

Read more: nytimes.com

 

FUN ON A FRIDAY! Josh Groban’s New Song

Bush’s Beans and Josh Groban teamed up to give the bean the ballad it deserves.

 

 

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I got great advice from this tech billionaire.

It’s not a secret that one of the places I look to learn the secrets of theater-making . . . is outside the theater biz.

First, by examining what other industries do, I get a perspective that I don’t have.

Second, a product is a product is a product. And even though our product is an art, we build it, market it, and sell it in the same way as everything else.

Here’s a story that reminded me of that basic truth . . . from the tech space.

In February, Whitney Wolfe Herd became the youngest female billionaire on the planet.

And she did it by breaking into one of the most competitive markets around . . . online dating.

Whitney invented Bumble, the dating app where women get to make the first move.

Now, whenever anyone breaks through ceilings like Whitney, the first thing I do is jump up and down for them and tell as many people as I can. (Purpose of this blog #1.)

Second, I try to learn from them, and how they bust through the barrier. . .  and then tell as many people about that so they can learn from it too. (Purpose of this blog #2).

And what I learned from the many articles I read about her success is all in this perfect little quote. When a reporter asked her why she made Bumble, she said . . .

“I’ve truly just always tried to build what I wish existed,”

Whitney didn’t follow some fancy business plan. She didn’t pay attention to algorithms. She didn’t listen to focus groups.

She thought about what would she would like to use, and what her friends would also like to use, and she built it.

And she made a billion dollars.

To put this in theatermakin’ terms?  Whitney’s quote is the same as saying . . .

I produce shows I want to see.

I write shows I want to see.

I direct shows I want to see.

I act in shows that I want to see.

Etc.

The cool thing about following this mission is two-fold:

1. You can’t go wrong. If the show doesn’t work? You got to see it. And you wanted to see it. I hang all the posters of my shows on my office wall, even the ones that didn’t “succeed.”  And they ALL make me smile. Because I wanted to see them.

2.  You have good instincts. If YOU want to see something. Odds are other people do too. You are your OWN focus group. This is derivative of the Peter Lynch philosophy of investing . . . investing in what you use every day. You are investing your time, creativity, money . . . into something you WANT to use every day. And I’d be if you want to see that show, there are a lot more people where you come from

So take heed to the tech billionaire’s advice when you’re making theater. And I look forward to hearing how you break through your barrier.

And if you want to see more about what other TheaterMakers think about this, click here!

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If you want help breakin’ through, watch one of the masterclasses on everything from producing to writing to directing and more.

 

What “The Queen’s Gambit” Taught Me About How To Market Broadway.

Nerd alert confession time:
 
In 1991, I was a member of The Manhattan Chess Club.  
 
I was a decent player, although I did get beat by an 8 year old once. (In my “defense,” my coach told me the kid was the next Josh Waitzkin). 
 
I gave it up. Not because the 8 year old slapped my ego like a hockey puck. But because I got hyper-focused on becoming a “grandmaster” in the theater . . . a journey I’m still on, by the way!
 
But chess is one of those things that I say I’ll get to someday. You know, like when I retire. (Ha!) And every once in awhile, when chess appears in the news, I’ll click.
 
So, when I noticed that a new Netflix series called The Queen’s Gambit was trending, I couldn’t help but watch.
 
There were seven episodes.
 
I watched them in two “up-until-2AM” nights.
 
There were a ton of marketing lessons from this series:
 
– It felt like a true story, but wasn’t (a strategy more typical for horror films, like The Blair Witch Project).
– The “#X in the US” banner on Netflix uses social proof to give you a solid dose of FOMO if you do NOT watch.
– The series was “limited” giving you both a desire to finish it, and also want something more. (Google “2nd season of Queen’s Gambit” to see what I mean.)
 
But the biggest marketing lesson of all is the simplest, most powerful, and it’s right on the surface . . . but also hidden from view.
 
What am I talking about?
 
Put it this way . . .
 
What do you think I wanted to do after watching ONE episode of watching The Queen’s Gambit.
 
That’s right.
 
I wanted to play chess.
 
The Queen’s Gambit wanted me to play chess.
 
And . . . here’s the ding-ding-ding . . . I bought a chess set within 24 hours.
 
Now, I understand marketing enough to know that if this happened to me? This happened to a lot of those people who made the series #3 in the US.
 
The lesson?
 
The best way to sell something is to create a story around that something.
 
It’s long-term strategy. No question. But if someone asked me how to market Broadway?
 
It’d be encouraging more movies about Broadway and the theater. More TV shows about the theater. More books, poems, and stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the theater.
 
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to buy a course on how to play better chess.
(Have you seen The Queen’s Gambit?  Did this happen to you?  Are you playing more chess now?)
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Do you have a show but need some help in marketing it, without hiring a high-priced marketing company you don’t need?  Click here for lessons on how to market your show from Broadway A-listers for less than you pay for your gym membership.
 

If I had a show running pre-pandemic that was going to come back, I’d do this.

Boy did I need something to distract me from CNN today.  You?

When I need some misdirection from something that is causing me a lot of anxiety, I play “Fantasy Broadway.”  I put myself in the hypothetical chair of a decision-maker on Broadway . . . a Producer, a Theater Owner, a Director or any kind of TheaterMaker . . . and then I put myself in a tough situation  . . . and  I ask myself, “What would I do?”

I’ve played this game for Tony Award campaigns (how would I convince voters to pick my show?), staffing questions (what designers do I think are best for this project?), and more.

Here’s what I toyed with today:

One of the things I am grateful for is that I didn’t have any shows running on Broadway when the covid-curtain came down.  (The four musicals that I have teed up- Broadway Vacation, Joy, The Neil Diamond Musical and Harmony- were just about to go into the workshop phase.)  So I asked myself, “If I did have a show running on Broadway, what would I do to keep that show top of mind before our return?”

I came up with a bunch of stuff, but here’s the one I liked the most.

I’d put it on sale.

“But how, Ken?  If you don’t know when Broadway is coming back, how would you know when to put the show back on sale?”

Let me be more specific.

I’d put ONE performance on sale.  And that performance wouldn’t have an exact date attached.  But it would be a guaranteed ticket to the VERY FIRST PERFORMANCE back.  🙂

See, at a time when so many things are unknown (including who will be our next President – although that seems to be relatively clear to everyone except ONE person), there is one certainty in my book . . .

When we’re given the “all clear” and Broadway reopens again?  The very first time a curtain is raised on a show is going to be one of the most magical nights in the theater . . . EVER.

Just imagine for a moment . . .you’re sitting in the audience of your favorite musical.  The house lights go out . . . the orchestra strikes up . . . the curtain rises and an actor appears.  And then she sings . . .

I mean, people are going to go ballistic!!!!

It’s going to be historic.  And fans are going to want to be a part of that incredible, sob-inducing, standing-ovation-that-may-last-an-hour, moment.  They’re going to want to be a part of it so badly, that they’d buy a ticket for it now.  Even without knowing exactly when it is!

Don’t you think?

And if you don’t think . . . tell me below why.  And then YOU PLAY THE GAME!  Come up with your own way that you’d keep your audience talking about your show while Broadway is shutdown and put it in the comments!

And then you can go back to watching CNN.

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Marketing is going to change in the post-pandemic world.  That’s why we have a marketing panel at the TheaterMakers Summit, which starts in just SEVEN DAYS!  Get your ticket here and see some of the 100 (!) speakers we have ready to help you in your theatrical pursuits.  Click here and join us now.

Dreaming About The Future Of Streaming (thanks to Hamilton).

Oh, if all of my shows could be like Hamilton.

Sure, sure, I’d like the Pulitzer and the Tonys and the billion bucks.

But what I’m talking about now is the giant treasure they had tucked in a vault . . . that they pulled out in the midst of this pandemic.

Yep, I’m talking about the movie they released on Disney+ last week that increased downloads of the D+ app by 74%!

And what I’m dreaming about and proposing for Broadway’s future is that every single play and musical on Broadway films performances of their original cast in the week after opening (just like we record a cast album at about the same time).

And we tuck that sucker away in a vault.

Sounds easy, and I bet you’re nodding your head right now in agreement.

But it’s not that easy.

It’s expensive.

See, Hamilton could afford it. Not only did they have cash to burn, but they also knew there would be a market for their product in the future. (Little did they know what role the movie would play in keeping their brand and Broadway’s brand alive.)

Most plays and musicals do NOT have cash to burn when they open. In fact, most new shows are losing money when they open and therefore can’t afford to invest in a risky insurance policy like spending millions on a shoot.

Never mind that the shoot would have had to be planned months before. (We could try to build this cost into the capitalization, but that might increase the budget by 10-20%, and it’s not like raising previous budgets were a piece of cake.)

So what to do?

In order to capture all of the new shows for posterity and for future revenue opportunities for everyone, including the actors, musicians, and stagehands, we must lower the costs of the capture themselves.

I mean, I’m kicking myself for not having ALL of my shows in a vault right now. I could roll them out and everyone involved would get a check.

But it was too pricey to record Spring Awakening, Once on This Island, Gettin’ the Band Back Together, etc. (And I know that for a fact because I budgeted them all.)

We must reinvent this model in how the labor is paid for video capture (especially since a capture doesn’t require any additional work on behalf of the labor) and then give the labor MORE if/when the capture is distributed.

Think about it this way . . .

It costs a few hundred thousand dollars to record a cast album. And the cast/musicians have to spend a day in a studio, on their day off, recording it. It’s a lot of work. (And most cast albums aren’t making any money, btw).

It can cost 10x as much to capture a show on video. And the labor is paid more than they get for a cast album. . . even though no additional work is required.  For video shoots, the show could be recorded during a regularly scheduled performance (or several).  (If any additional work was required for the shoot – additional rehearsals, etc, then the labor should be paid).

If we lower the cost of capture (please note that I’m saying lower, not eliminate), then every show could put their product in a vault. And then, if the show is a hit and Disney+ or Netflix comes around, then EVERYONE gets paid.

Or give the Producer the option . . . pay the Hamilton model, or pay the bonus-back-end model.

We’re going to need a lot of new models post-pandemic. This is one that could provide an all-important revenue stream for everyone in the future.

Call it COVID-insurance.

And I just kicked myself again for not having it.

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