My Theater Management Rule of Three.

As a Producer, General Manager, Company Manager . . . or Manager of Anything (including a family, by the way). . . keeping your company/actors/employees/KIDS happy and productive is an integral part of being an effective leader.

You’ve heard the expression, “Happy wife, happy life.”

Well, I always say, “Happy staff, happy accountants when they look at your P/L statement for the year.”

(Ok, that didn’t really have the right ring to it, but you get the idea.)

It was on my first tour as a Company Manager (the National Tour of Jekyll & Hyde in 1999-2000) when I came up with one of my principle rules of Theater Management, which I call the Theater Management Rule of Three.

It was a great check for me to make sure I was doing my job.

It went like this:

If ever I got the same question from three different people, I knew that I wasn’t delivering information that my company needed in an appropriate time frame.

Let me explain . . .

I remember the day I came up with this policy specifically and it had to do with one of the biggest concerns for Actors on the road.

An ensemble member came into my office one day and said,”Ken, when is the Boston housing selections coming out?”

I was a rookie manager back then, so I semi-blew him off saying to myself, “These guys know that I always deliver the housing options eight weeks before the date.”

And then another person asked.

And then another.

Finally, a bit annoyed, I shot back to the third Asker, “What’s the deal?  Why are you guys asking about Boston so soon?”

This chorus girl smartly shot back even faster, “We know Boston is going to be more expensive, and we want more time to think about other alternatives.”

Oops.

I worked like a mad dog for the rest of that day getting the info I needed and put out the housing choices the next day.  And then I apologized to everyone and told them I’d work hard to have my finger on the pulse on their needs better in the future.

And that’s why if someone asks me a question, it’s one thing, but if I get two asks, then I’m getting to tardy territory, and three . . . well, I’ve effed up.

Because, if three people have the same question, in whatever group of people you’re managing, then that means there are probably a heck of a lot more peeps with the same question . . . and you have a responsibility to get them some information and fast.

Don’t?  Well, those questions fester . . . and then, they end up coming up with answers themselves, which are never good.

Now look, sometimes you don’t have the information . . . and that’s ok . . . but that doesn’t mean you hide under a pile of coats until you do have the info.  No. That’s when you say, “Hey everybody, I’m sure you’re concerned about Boston housing. We’re working on it now and I will have it for you on XXX date.”

End of questions.

Companies want to know they are taken care of, which means answering questions before they even have them.

(BTW, the inspiration for this blog came from the fact that I just broke my own rule very recently.  In the last week, I got about TWENTY (That’s over 6x my rule of three) emails from people asking me about my annual holiday Producer’s Perspective Social.  Where would it be?  When would it be?  Would I be wearing my Santa hat again?

The fact is, we are having a social.  But over the past few years, the social has exploded.  And so many people who really would have loved to be there, couldn’t get it because the event “sold out” too soon.  And then some folks didn’t show, which made me feel bad for the people who we had to say no to.  And getting a proper venue has been super challenging.  It was starting to get a little messy.

I didn’t want to do away with it entirely, especially because I just love meeting people who feel the same way about the theater that I do.  So we decided to do a smaller one this year for just my ProducersPerspectivePRO members, my coaching clients, our theater and GM clients, some investors, etc. etc.  I invited them privately and wasn’t even going to talk about it on the blog, but then I got those questions and realized I broke my own rule. So, mea culpa.  And if you did want to come, there is still a bit of room. Just get a free trial to PRO and you’ll get an invite.)

 

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The ONE Most Important thing Broadway can learn from the Olympics.

I’ve been at this bloggin’ thing for a few Olympic cycles now, and I’ve written about what we can learn from the Games before.

And as I watched Simone Biles vault to heights never seen before (that girl has got some “ups” as my JV Basketball Coach used to say), and Michael Phelps swim faster than a fish, I started to put together another “Top 10 Takeaways” blog like the others I’ve done.

But one of those takeaways was way too important to get lost in the shuffle. (And sometimes, and this goes for your personal and professional goals as well btw, when a To-Do list is too long, you lose focus on getting the most important stuff done first.)

So I scrapped the other nine things the theater can learn to put an Olympic-sized spotlight on one.

And it’s a simple one. But often, it’s the simple things you can do that can have the biggest effect.

On the Olympic website, there’s a call to action banner that says something like, “Wanna be an Olympian?”

Click it and it’ll take you to a micro-site called the Gold Map, which then allows you to pick the specified sport you’re interested in and gives you all sorts of info about getting involved with that sport including where to train, local competitions, and much more.

Now, the Olympic designers know that the odds of this site leading someone to the medal stand is lower than the odds of me beating Usain Bolt in the 100m dash.

But that’s not their point.

The mission of this “Gold Map” initiative is to increase engagement. Because they know the future audience and supporters of the sport come from people who have played the sport.

Guess what?

The same is true for the theater.

An NEA report concluded that people who were involved in the theater/arts were much more likely to attend the arts later in their lives.

So the key to creating the next generation of Broadway audiences, investors, staffers, and more, is getting more people involved in the theater . . . wherever they are.

And that’s what our industry and all theater companies should focus on, no matter where in the world they are. Oh and a simple action item to start this ball rolling?

We should steal from the Olympics. Why doesn’t each show have a page on their website that says, “Do you want to get to Broadway? Here’s how . . .” With a link to a page that talks about community theaters and college training programs and books and podcasts from performers and more.

There are a lot of people out there interested in what you and I do every day. They just need a little help to find their way.

It’s up to us to show them the Yellow Brick Road to Broadway.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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– Listen to Podcast Episode 85 with Producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron! Click here.

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Why a Rain Dance reminded me what Theater can (and should) do.

I was in suburban Massachusetts last weekend visiting the ‘rents, when I stumbled on a story of a small town Selectman that reminded me of what our shows should endeavor to do.

There’s a bit of a drought in central Mass, believe it or not.  In some locales, they’ve instituted daytime watering bans, encouraged people to cover their pools, and tried to educate the public on a myriad of other water conservation methods.

But, from what I’ve heard, it wasn’t quite working.  No one was paying attention to the flyers and signs and overly didactic articles about saving water (boring!).

So one politician from a small town with Native American roots tried something a little different.

He put on a show.

He contacted a Native American tribe from the area and asked them to put on a Rain Dance in the town square on a Saturday afternoon.  He publicized it as a free event for all ages.  Bring the whole family and watch this ancient tradition.  They added some food and arts and crafts, and all of a, sudden it was a Rain Dance Festival.

And a ton of people showed up.

Once in that small captive area, the town leaders were able to speak directly to the audience about water conservation, hand out flyers, and educate what was previously a reluctant group on the current drought, and what everyone could do about it.

And while the town citizens learned . . . they had fun.

This politician used entertainment as a way to get his message across.  And isn’t that what great theater is supposed to do?  It serves an audience spoonfuls of sugar with songs and dancing girls and big sets, but some of the best shows out there (West Side Story, Kinky Boots, etc.) deliver an important message to the audience without them even knowing it.

People go to the theater for one primary reason . . . to be entertained.  That doesn’t mean you can’t educate them at the same time, but the job of the Producer and the Playwright is to entertain first and educate second.

(By the way, the same way this politician used entertainment to deliver his message, so can CEOs, Pastors, Managers and anyone in a leadership position.)

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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FUN STUFF:

– Listen to Podcast Episode 85 with Producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron! Click here.

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This could end the Secondary Market as we know it.

If there were a Perishable Inventory Consortium of all the industries that deal with expiring inventory (shows, restaurants, hotels, etc.), then the Airline Industry would be its leader (and there should be a conference for all these industries, by the way, sharing best practices between each other).

Why do I nominate the Airline Industry as the King of Perishable Inventory?

Because over the past several decades, it has led the way with its initiatives to sell more tickets and offer move value to its customers.  And, like us, the airlines have been up against the ropes many times (a lot of their business depends on non-required spending (i.e. vacations)) yet they’ve roared back, partly because of how good they are at coming up with new ways to maximize their profits before their planes take off.

The airlines were the first to offer last minute discounts in email blasts (anyone remember Smarter Living?).

They were the first to offer “premium seats” (first class, premium economy, etc.).

They were the first to offer variable pricing, with prices flexing depending on time of year (have you booked your Christmas travel yet?).

They were the first (and this is my favorite) to offer scarcity with their tickets (“Only 4 tickets left at this price”).

And so on.

And there’s something in their process that could end the secondary market on Broadway . . . and in sports, concerts, or any form of live entertainment.

Not that I think we should end the secondary market, mind you.  I actually believe having a secondary market is a healthy thing for most industries, including ours (they can buy a lot of tickets to shows early on).  So I shine a spotlight on this one “thing” today not to say that we should do it, but to say that it could happen (whether we like it or not) and both us, and the secondary sellers, should be ready to adapt if it does.

See, there is no secondary market with the airlines, now is there?  At Christmas time, if you don’t have a ticket to Hamilton and all the shows are sold out (which they are), but you really, really want one, you can buy one off someone who has one.  But, if you don’t have a ticket home to Albuquerque, and all the flights are sold out, you can’t buy one from someone else.

Why?

Simple.  You need a photo ID to check in.

With that very simple safeguard (for security reasons of course), no one can sell what they bought to someone else, for more money or for less.

Hotels are the same way.  They weren’t always.  20 years ago, as long as you had a credit card, they were happy to hand over the keys to the room.  Now?  “Photo ID, please,” is what I hear every time I check in.  And if you don’t have one, consider yourself on the street.

Imagine if Broadway shows required a photo ID?

Bam.  The Secondary Market goes poof.  Only people that buy the tickets could use the tickets.

Now, there are a billion downsides to this . . . you couldn’t buy tickets as a gift (although gift cards are the work around there), what about groups (although groups have to fly too and they figure it out), there’d be longer lines to get into the theater (we don’t want to require people to show up 1.5 hours before curtain), and again, secondary market sellers are big time buyers.  I think we should work together rather than drive each other apart.

So I don’t think we’ll see this happen any time soon.  That is, unless the next Hamilton (which looks to be Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) takes an aggressive stance on secondary sellers.  Or unless, and I hate to even say this, but unless “something” happens (and I think you know what I mean) that requires much tighter security in Times Square and at the theaters.  Then, whether we like it or not, we’ll be checking a lot more than bags when people enter our theaters.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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Jimmy.

I spent about fifteen minutes trying to come up with the right title for this blog.

But how could I sum up what James M. Nederlander meant to this industry and to the people in it in a quippy 150 character blog title?

There aren’t 15,000 characters that can sum up Jimmy Sr., the patriarch of the Nederlander family, who passed away on Monday evening, at the somehow-it-seems-too-young age of 94.

The man built the Broadway that we know today.

He’s one of the last of a generation who was instrumental in drawing up the blueprints of modern Broadway.  And without him, well, there’d probably be a bunch more office buildings and condos in Times Square, instead of his beautiful theaters.

Known for no-nonsense quips of his own about how to make it in this business (one of my favorites is . . . “They shouldn’t landmark the buildings, they should landmark the Producers.”), Jimmy Sr. was like The Godfather of the industry.  Wherever he went, there was a line out the door of people waiting to pay their respects, ask for a favor, or just shake the hand of the man who had the foresight, the business acumen, and, more importantly, the passion for this crazy business to build it into what it is today.

I had the pleasure of being on that line on several occasions, including most recently to thank him for giving me the keys to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for my production of Spring Awakening last fall.

And before I could even finish expressing my gratitude, he said, “No, no, no.  Thank you.”

It doesn’t seem like much, but in a day when getting a Broadway theater is like winning the lottery . . . on your birthday . . . he didn’t need to be grateful.  But he was.

And that kind of gratitude, despite his ginormous success, is a lesson that I will never forget, and I hope to share with the next generation someday myself.

To say he’ll be missed is like saying the sky is blue.  It’s just too obvious.

One of our founding fathers is gone.  The only solace I can take is that I just know that high above us, he’s negotiating to build a few more theaters.

Farewell, Jimmy.  And even though you didn’t want to hear it . . . thank you.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Nederlander family . . . because while even though he was a titan of our industry, more importantly he was a husband, father and a grandfather.

To learn more about Mr. Nederlander’s life and history, click here.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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FUN STUFF:

– Enter the Sunday Giveaway to win two tickets to STOMPClick here to enter.

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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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