5 Ways to make your Off Broadway show work.

Off Broadway is dead.

I’ve heard that from so many people in the last five years (irony in my use of that phrase, intended).

And the good news is that it’s not dead.

Is it sick?

You betcha.

And to extend that metaphor, if you had someone that you cared about, someone that you loved, that was sick, maybe even dying, would you just take the standard prescribed care if your loved one wasn’t getting any better?  Or would you try every experimental drug and treatment to try and bring your friend back to her former self?

That’s what I thought.

Off Broadway isn’t dead.  It just needs a new prescription in order to work in today’s cluttered entertainment market.  Yesterday, I talked about those challenges as evidenced by the number of commercial Off Broadway shows appearing on the boards this spring.

And today, I’m going to talk about how to overcome those challenges with your show.  Here are five tips on how and why to produce your show Off Broadway.

1.  UNIQUE ISN’T A CITY IN CHINA

In today’s Off Broadway climate, your show has to be so unique that it can’t just stand out from the crowd.  It has to JUMP out from the crowd and say, “Look at me!  I’m not like any of the others!”  Different gets attention from ticket buyers and even more importantly, from the press.  Remember that full page article/review that Sleep No More got from the New York Times when it arrived in town?  Or take a look at Blue Man Group or Stomp or even Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding – before their debut no one had seen anything like it.  (If you want a simple lesson in being unique, read the bible on the subject – it defines my strategy in product development and marketing.)

 2.  MAKE IT A TALKABLE TOPIC

Your Off Broadway show isn’t going to be able to afford television commercials, or other major media buys, which is why it needs to be about or involve “talkable topics.”  You have to be able to get attention from the press.  You have to let them advertise it for you.  Maybe that’s in the subject matter (like it is for the show that I’m general managing and executive producing that will go on sale this week), or maybe it’s because it includes a new form of storytelling (My First Time was the first example of Theater 2.0 and got an article in the Times as a result – and people thought it was a review – and it sold more tickets than the review).

3.  IT’S A SPRINGBOARD

It is rare that a show sits down for a long and profitable life Off Broadway in today’s times, which is why you need to have other potential paths for you to follow if you aren’t one of the lucky who sustains an Off Broadway run.  Could you go to Broadway?  Are you branding for a tour?  For subsidiary rights?  Doesn’t matter to me, but it better matter to you.  Investors are savvy about how hard it is to recoup Off Broadway, so when you’re raising money, it’s essential to provide them with your potential off of Off Broadway.

4.  WHO CARES IF THEY CALL YOU CHEAP

When an agent wants more money from me for doing an Off Broadway show, you know what I say?  “Name one Off Broadway show that has recouped its investment in the last 20 years.”  They usually can’t.  Why?  There are only a handful (and yeah, I’m proud of the fact that three of them are mine).  If you’re producing an Off Broadway show in today’s times, you’ve got to, got to, GOT TO keep your operating expenses as low as possible.  Remember, you’re not producing a mini Broadway show.  You’re producing an Off Broadway show and all of the players on the team have to sign up for that experience.  Otherwise, they shouldn’t do it.  Some of your expenses will be out of your control (advertising, union rates, etc.) which is why you have to control the others.  About five years ago, the stat was that 89% of all commercial Off Broadway shows close within six months.  Get past the six months and you’ve got a great chance at success.  Remember, production budgets don’t close Off Broadway shows.  Operating budgets do.  (And don’t be afraid to negotiate with your theater or anyone else on your team – you never know what they might do.)

5.  ONE PERSON CAN AND MUST DO THE JOB OF TWO

My first Off Broadway show was The Awesome 80s Prom and I was the Producer, the GM, the Groups Sales Agent, the Box Office Guy, oh and I wrote and directed it too.  Broadway shows have big staffs, but Off Broadway shows have to be lean and mean.  You can’t afford super big teams.  Yes, you will need help, but keep your staff lean.  To save money, yes, but also to save time.  See, Broadway shows are like giant steam ships.  You put ’em in the water, and they are off . . . and they hit the iceberg or they don’t, and there’s not much you can do to turn ’em once the audience has chimed in.  Off Broadway shows are like rowboats.  The good news is that one guy with a paddle can turn ’em.  The bad news is they sink a heck of a lot faster. That’s why you can’t have big teams that take longer to make decisions.  Slim down the fat, and make your team lean.

There’s no question it’s harder to produce Off Broadway than it was even when I started ten years ago.  But there’s no question that’s why it is more important than ever we all continue to do it.  It’s a place to challenge the art form.  It’s a more accessible place to produce.

Now we just need to find an easier way to make a profit.

But I have confidence in you.

 

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Where oh where are the commercial Off Broadway shows?

They got the headline wrong.

At the tail end of last year, Playbill posted an article entitled “Spring 2015 Off Broadway Preview,” which you can read here.

If I was the editor of Playbill.com, I would have renamed the article, “Spring 2015 Non Profit Off Broadway Preview,” because of the 50 plus Off Broadway shows plugged for the coming months, I found only one, maybe two, that were commercially backed.

Yeah, you read that right.

Now there will be a couple more for sure (I, for one, know of one very high profile commercial Off Broadway project that’s going to announce later this week and get a lot of attention . . . but I can’t talk about that just yet), but to have only such a small percentage of Off Broadway shows backed by commercial theater producers is a dang shame.

So what happened to commercial Off Broadway?

Several things actually.  Here are just a few:

  • Production Costs have risen so much that when compared to producing the show on Broadway, many producers just say, “Well, I’ll just raise a few more bucks and go bigger.”  This is another reason why there is such a theater crunch on Broadway, because some shows are in line that shouldn’t be.
  • Broadway has done such a great job in marketing itself over the last several years, that audiences are more inclined to see a Broadway show first than an Off Broadway show.  The divide between the two types of theater is greater than ever.
  • Broadway theaters are full.  With more shows on Broadway, there are more choices for the theatrical tourist, and since Off Broadway shows by design have limited advertising budgets, they struggle to get eyeballs.  Tourists land at the airport and are inundated with Broadway shows on billboards and Taxi TV and so many forms of media that Off Broadway shows can’t afford, so they’re starting from the back of the pack before the race has even begun.

So what should we do?  Give up?  Should Off Broadway become solely the land of Non Profits?

No sir-ee Bob, or whatever your name is.

Commercial Off Broadway can and should still exist, and I’m actually predicting a renaissance in the next decade (The Shuberts buying New World Stages and helping to convince some of those shows (and stars) in the Broadway queue to try Off Broadway instead may be just what the doctor ordered).

So what should you do if you’re producing an Off Broadway show?

I’ll give you five tips tomorrow.

 

(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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Sure, These Broadway Shows Recouped! But Why? A By the Numbers Infographic. (Updated 2018).

I got such terrific feedback from our Best Musical Infographic that broke down the similarities and differences of the Best Musical Tony Award Winners of the last twenty years, that I had to do another one.

(I’m not surprised that the infographic got the pickup it did, by the way. There is nothing like data.  And there’s nothing like seeing that data in a simple, easy to digest way.  Remember this when putting together your materials for potential investors in your shows.)

When coming up with the idea for this next infographic I thought . . . what does every Broadway Producer want?  Even more than a Tony Award for Best Musical?  Recoupment!  We all want recoupment!

Recouping musicals not only pays the bills, but recoup a show, and your investors are much more likely to fund your next project.  And maybe they’ll even be up for some more risk, which allows you to maybe tap an unknown writer or a more ambitious play.  So recoupment is an obvious goal for all.

My trusty assistant Dylan and I did a deep, deep data dive into the last twenty years of new Broadway musicals, and determined which musicals recouped and which didn’t (we found press releases, news articles, and sometimes used plain common sense – and I also called some of my not-to-be-revealed sources from within a few offices in town – in order to determine that recoupment status).  Then, we crunched numbers like crazy and analyzed trends of the yeses and the nos to create the infographic below.

The results were fascinating.  This infographic proves that if recoupement is your sole goal, then you can stack the deck in your favor based on how you build your show.

Enjoy the info and make sure to share it on Facebook and Twitter.

 

We Recouped! But Why- (3)

 

(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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Interested in more about recoupment? Check out my post What Broadway Theaters Give you the Best Shot at Recoupment to take an inside look at the stats surrounding the recoupment rates of theaters. Also be sure to check out Does a Revival’s Success Depend on the Success of the Original to see the stats I found on the multitude of revivals we’ve seen come through Broadway.

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5 Reasons Why I Loved The Into The Woods Movie.

Like so many folks out there, seeing a movie on Christmas day has become a tradition.  I’m not sure when movie goin’ on 12/25 became such a thing, but it has (and it says a lot about how our society has changed over the past 50 years).  Yesterday, me and my new in-law family went to a local the-ate-er in Indiana and took in Into The Woods.

I liked it. We all liked it.  And here are my top five reasons why:

1.  SING! SING! SING!

Simply put – I loved Into The Woods because they cast singers!  I know, I know, movie musicals have got to go for the star power, and sometimes, on the smaller screen, voice has to take a back seat to acting (or “look”).  There have been some decent singers in the other movie musicals, but this time, all of the stars could sing like champs.  I’d cast them in a Broadway show any day of the week.  Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt . . . and that Meryl Streep.  I think that girl is going someplace.  Like maybe to the Oscar podium once again.

2.  I KNOW THINGS NOW, MANY BEAUTIFUL THINGS

I’ve seen Into The Woods at least a “baker’s” dozen times, and listened to it a hundred times more.  And still, it’s a tad bit confusing (Sondheim can write that way, let’s face it), especially that opening number with its multiple locations.  In the movie, it was super clear who everyone was, where they were headed and what the heck they wished for.  And the folks I was with that didn’t know the plot or all the lyrics to “You’re Fault!”?  They got it right away.

3.  JIMMY, MY JIMMY

If you saw James Corden in One Man, Two Guv’nors, then you know the guy is one of the best comedians to step on a stage (and now a screen) in a long while.  And although I was crushed that “No More” was cut, it was great seeing him perform a classic musical theater role . . . because we’re not going to get to see him do that again . . . maybe ever.  Sure, he was set to play Pseudolus in A Funny Thing this spring, but when he got the hosting gig on The Late Late Show, the production, and our dreams of the next great Broadway comedian, went poof.

4.  YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON STAGE

Whenever you choose an artistic medium of expression (book, play, movie), you have to make sure there is a reason that medium is better than the others.  This is especially hard when taking one form and adapting it to another.  Well, Into The Woods is about a magical fairy tale place.  And the visual effects they added to it made it that much more awesome.  The woods, the witch . . . the wardrobe.  The effects enhanced the story, and they made it even richer, while still paying homage to the original stagecraft (How about Little Red and Grandma in the wolf’s tummy!).

5.  STEVE GETS A SECOND

In one of my very first blogs, I wrote that I thought Sondheim was like the Shakespeare of the Musical Theater – a genius, but not necessarily something you want to watch all the time.  What’s super exciting is that in the modern era of musical movies (post Chicago, which restarted the revolution), Sondheim has had two movie musicals made.  While he hasn’t had the most commercial Broadway life lately (and nothing new, sadly), it’s awesome to see his classics head to the screen . . . and be seen by mass audiences who might not see them any other way.  And maybe, just maybe, they’ll head to Broadway the next time there’s a revival.

 

Have you seen it yet?  If so, tell me what you thought below.  And I’m going to go buy the recording now, just to hear that Meryl chick sing me to sleep with “Stay With Me.”  The best.  Just the best.

 

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5 Reasons why I loved Peter Pan Live on NBC.

Imagine for a second that you start producing Broadway shows.  And your first Broadway show is Wicked.  The next Broadway show is bound to come up short, no matter how well it does, right?

That’s the position NBC was in after last year’s surprising The Sound of Music pulled in over 18 million viewers.  It was a Wicked-like performance, and they set themselves up for a disappointment.

The ratings are now in for Pan and it pulled in only 9.2 million viewers (!), which is one of the best Thursday nights the network has ever had.  But still, the rumors are that the big brass at NBC was upset.

Not me.

Look, I’ll admit, Peter Pan is not my favorite musical.  So I can’t say that I was ‘flying’ over the choice, but there are still so many reasons why I loved the telecast.  Here are five:

1.  CHILDREN WILL LISTEN

Would I love a live telecast of Falsettos or Assassins or even The Will Rogers Follies?  You bet.  But that’s selfish.  This telecast is not about me.  It’s about the mass television viewing audience, and all of us theater snobs in the big cities need to remember that, well, a spoonful of sugar helps the you-know-what go down.  Introducing Pan to families and kids will instill viewing habits for the future.  9.2 million saw this sucker.  9.2 million saw singing and dancing and flying.  You don’t think some of them will want to see it live?  This telecast of Peter Pan is probably one of the greatest audience development tools the theater has seen in the last decade.  (Just too bad that we couldn’t get one of these on a Sunday night to get more of the kiddies watching – damn that Sunday Night Football!)

2.  BROADWAY STARS BECOME TV STARS

Wasn’t it great seeing Christian Borle up there . . . again?  And Kelli and even Taylor (although she left us for the bright lights of H-town pretty-darn-quick)?  The more of our folks that are branded on TV, the more that people will want to see them when they are on Broadway.  Yep, that sound that you just heard was a few more people buying tickets for The King and I this spring.

3.  DANCE, DANCE, REVOLUTION

The Sound of Music isn’t that much of a dance show . . . so we didn’t get a chance to see much.  But oh man, did Rob Ashford have those lost boys and those ‘native islanders’ (or whatever they called them – I thought that might have been a little too PC) doing some fantastic stuff.  Here’s another thing about me – I’m not the biggest dance guy.  But let me tell you . . . America is.  In every focus group I’ve been to, the participants always talk about the dancing.  Dancing means Broadway to them, and it was great to see the talented Rob Ashford get to showcase his wares.

4.  WE DON’T WANT YOU TO JUST WATCH . . .

It was clear from the get-go that NBC didn’t want the viewers just sitting back and watching the show.  They wanted them watching their twitter feed as well.  They were pushing hard to spread the message of Pan and the telecast wide-wide-wide . . . and it worked.  Ok, ok, so maybe the “post a selfie to help save Tinkerbell” was a bit much.  But they still get an A for social media effort.

5.  IT WAS A PLATFORM TO SELL OTHER STUFF

I once attended a sales seminar that said, “Never present any product without trying to sell another one.”  In this case, Peter Pan provided all of the other Broadway “products” (translated = shows) out there to get massive impressions to a new audience.  I saw commercials for a bunch of Broadway shows, and, of course, the upcoming movie version of Into the Woods (I loved the trailer – did you?).  Because the telecast was live, those 9.2 million had to watch those commercials, which meant major exposure for the current Broadway season.  It will help move our needle . . . especially as the holiday tourist season is upon us (Note to self – when I have shows running during the next telecast – buy advertising).

 

It’s easy to pick apart telecasts like this.  Sure the star could have been a little more starry (expect that next year – but the star may not be as good), and sure it could have been a Sondheim show or a dark Kander and Ebb show, but at the end of the day, this telecast was a major win for Broadway.

And I can’t wait to hear what the next one will be.

 

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