Broadway’s Top 5 Moments in 2018

I know, it’s 2019 already.  But you all know I like to do things a little bit differently, so while everyone else was publishing away their listicles about their favorite moments on Broadway in 2018 over the last few weeks, I laid in the weeds.

And now you haven’t seen one in a while, so hopefully you’re jonesin’ for another.

Well, here are my Top 5 Broadway Moments of the past 12 months, in no particular order.

  1.  A Super Superstar

The live telecast of JCS couldn’t have been better if JCS had directed it himself.  Perfectly timed for its Easter airing, it pushed the art (and ratings) of the tele-musical to another level, ensuring that we’ll continue to get them for the foreseeable future.  Oh, and even if you didn’t like the telecast, I bet you found yourself saying, “Damn, I forgot how good this musical really is.”  (We lost Craig Zadan, one of the masterminds behind the production, in what was one of the worst moments in 2018. To hear his podcast with producing partner, Neil Meron, click here.)

  1. Yep, they really did that.

The fact that the totally original Broadway Musical The Prom was given a spot on NBC’s Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade was reason to celebrate all by itself . . . and then the executives let the two love interests kiss.  Spoiler alert: they were both girls, in what was the Parade’s first same-sex kiss.  And this wasn’t during prime time.  This was during FAMILY prime time.  Good for NBC for staring the social media backlash in the face and letting love win.

  1. Look what’s grossing $1mm+?  MANY plays.

The million dollar club used to be reserved for a select few touristy musicals . . .  and every Disney show.  Now, here ‘s a crop of plays demanding top dollar.  The Ferryman (at over 3 hours), Network, Lifespan of a Fact, To Kill A Mockingbird . . . and of course Harry Potter (but that doesn’t really count) . . .  are all grossin’ like musicals.  Perhaps these high flyers will mean that plays will actually start getting more theaters again, after a few years of medium-sized musicals pushing them out of playhouses.

  1. The Band’s Visit Doesn’t Win One Tony . . . It Wins 10.We all knew TBV was going to win the big prize.  But it just kept racking ’em up, award after award after award, proving once again that voters vote their ‘art’ and that there’s no such thing as a road vote.  It’s why this show won too (which also is a fave moment of mine – duh).
  1. It’s still VERY “Popular”.

Sure, sure, there’s a lot of talk about Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, deservedly so.  But there’s so much chatter about the new kids on the Broadway blocks that we tend to forget that Wicked has been running and raking it in for 15+ years now.  NBC didn’t forget when they gave it a huge publicity push with a 15th anniversary televised concert that reunited Idina and Kristen (only first names needed).  It was a wicked reminder that we’ve got a massive mega-hit in our backyard that could run longer than many of the newbies.  And wait until THAT movie comes out.

What was your favorite moment of 2018?  Share it below!

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Have you set your New Year’s Resolution yet?  Or maybe you did but you’ve already fallen off track?

Join me next Tuesday, January 8th at 7 PM for a one hour webinar, “How To Set New Year’s Resolutions You Stick With And Actually Accomplish.”  It’s guaranteed to help you achieve exactly what you want to achieve.  Join us here.

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.

We’re having a Theater Maker Social . . . in LONDON!

One of my goals in 2019 is to learn more about the hard-working people who make theater and the people who dream about making theater all over this world.

So, during my next trip to jolly old Londontown on Tuesday, January 15th, from 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM, I’m having a Theater Maker Social!

Thanks to my friends at The Really Useful Group, The Social will be held at “The Other Palace”, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theater, which is dedicated to supporting new theatremakers and giving them a home.  (And they’ve got a great bar and some snappy apps.)

And the first drink is on me!

So, whether you’re a Writer, Producer, Actor, Designer, whatever, you’re also a Theater Maker.  And I want to meet you and hear about what it’s like to make theater in London or wherever on that continent you come from (Hey you Frenchians – you’re like an hour and a half away by chunnel – so come on down).  Maybe we can even come up with some ideas on how to help you make more theater and faster.

Or maybe when you come, you’ll meet a new collaborator or re-meet an old one.

One thing I know for sure, when passionate Theater Makers get in a room (and a bar qualifies as a room), good stuff happens.  Every single time.

And I guarantee some good stuff at this social.

So come to our London Theater Maker social and network, brainstorm, say hello to me and put a drink on my tab.

See you there!

(OH!  You MUST RSVP.  We’ve got a limited amount of space and we’ve got a lot of Pros in the area already so only people on the list will be admitted.  Sign up now. And tell your friends to do the same.)

Here are the details:

Ken Davenport’s Theater Maker Social
Tuesday, January 15th
6 PM – 7:30 PM
The Other Gin Palace – Foyer Bar Area
12 Palace Street
London, England
SW1E 5JA

RSVPs a MUST.  You are not confirmed until you get an email saying “You’re in!”

RSVP NOW.

Podcast Episode 171 – Broadway AND Hollywood Super Producer, Paula Wagner

It’s hard enough to make it as a Producer on one coast, but both?

That kind of success is reserved for a very select group of moguls, and this week I got to sit down with one of them.

Paula Wagner has worn a lot of hats in the business on her way up the ladder, from Broadway actress to Powerhouse Agent to running a movie studio to producing movies like Mission Impossible . . . and yep, producing big Broadway shows like this season’s hit, Pretty Woman.

Could there be a better person to talk to about movies to musicals and vice-versa?

Paula and I talked about that, of course, as well as . . .

  • The skills she learned as an agent that help her be a better Producer.
  • What Hollywood does well that we could learn from and what Hollywood can learn from us!
  • Eye-poppin’ idea that could save the movie industry (and it’s so simple).
  • Why Pretty Woman was made to be a musical and why it’s doing what she thought it would (gross over $1mm a week!).
  • Coming up in the entertainment industry as a female Producer and how that has changed.  Or not.

Enjoy the Podcast and don’t forget to subscribe!

Click here for my podcast with Paula!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review while you’re there!)

Download it here.

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).

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