An Off Broadway Model Comes To Broadway (It’s About Time)

I arrived in New York City during the Golden Age of Off-Broadway. Forever Plaid, Nunsense, And The World Goes Round, Cryptogram, Family Secrets, and more, were a few of the shows running in theaters under 499 seats . . . in commercial productions! And many actually recouped!  

When I started creating and producing commercial theater, I started Off-Broadway. I wasn’t ready to raise $10mm for Broadway shows (which is what they were then . . . compared to the $15-20mm they are now). I wanted to be a Lead Producer and didn’t have the decision-making experience yet. And, well, the ideas I had come up with were Off-Broadway ideas (my first three shows were The Awesome 80s Prom, Altar Boyz and My First Time).

So that’s where I started. 

No one told me that in the fifteen years since I arrived in NYC, the Off-Broadway model changed. And trying to run and recoup an Off-Broadway show was . . . ahem . . . challenging.  (And is even more so now.)

In other words, Commercial Off-Broadway was in a crisis.

So, I pivoted. And so did everyone else in the community. (This is when the Off Broadway Alliance was born . . . and I’m proud to say I was at that very first meeting!)

We asked ourselves . . . what were the out-of-the-black-box ideas that could help restore commercial Off-Broadway to what it was before and beyond?

One of the ideas that was born in this era was the idea of two, three or more shows, sharing a theater. We termed it “bunk-bedding”. It required simple sets, similar lighting plots and a whole lot of cooperation between companies (especially when the Producers were NOT the same people) . . .but it worked. My First Time ran at least an extra year because it was a “top bunk.”

It reduced costs, of course, but also reduced the # of performances in a week that each show could perform. And that was an advantage! Since there wasn’t demand for 8 shows for 99% of commercial Off-Broadway shows, bunk-bedding filled up fewer performances, increasing ticket scarcity. Almost the same # of tickets were sold for fewer shows as opposed to 8. And those fewer shows were filled, creating a much better experience for the audience. 

Need a case study? Of the three productions mentioned above that started my career? The ones with less than 8 performances did better financially. 

Flash forward, and Broadway (and the theater industry) is in a bit of a crisis as we stage our comeback from a pandemic.

Again, Producers face a question . . . how do we decrease risk, but still produce great theater?

Yesterday, a group of creative and bustin’-the-box thinkers, Dori Berinstein, Sally Horchow and Matt Ross, proposed a solution.

Using “bunk-bed” theory, these first-into-the-Broadway-battle-post-covid Producers are bringing TWO shows to Broadway . . . at the same time . . . to the same theater.

The plays, Dana H and Is This A Room, are transfers from The Vineyard, and they begin performances in late September at Broadway’s Lyceum.

As this article describes, these two shows are being done for the price of a touch-more-than one.

And most importantly, to quote Dori Berinstein (The Prom) . . .

 “It gives us an opportunity to bring great theater that might not otherwise make it to Broadway to Broadway.”

What could be better than that!?!?!

No one wanted this crisis. But one of the blessings (it’s hard to find them, but they are there), is that NOW is the time for artpreneurial Producers, Writers and all TheaterMakers to challenge our precedents and come up with new ways to make theater..

Because the theater is too important to NOT give everything a go.  

Oh, and when you’re looking for ideas? Sometimes, big businesses like Broadway should look to smaller businesses like Off-Broadway, to see what worked for them.

 

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Podcast Episode #233: 8 Shows A Week on Broadway

ESTIMATED LISTENING TIME OF THIS PODCAST EPISODE:  12 Minutes

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN:

And then, do these three things.

  1. FOLLOW The Producer’s Perspective on Apple Podcast (it’s FREE!)
  2. REVIEW the Podcast on Apple Podcast (it’s the biggest compliment you can give)
  3. SHARE this episode with your friends!

 

DESCRIPTION:

Ever wonder where the “8 Shows A Week” model came from?

I’ll tell you on this week’s episode, and I’ll also talk about how this fall, when Broadway returns, several shows may NOT perform 8 times a week.

Yep, Broadway may use the strategy that helped save Off-Broadway years ago . . . and pro-rate.

But will the unions allow it?  Listen in to hear more.

 

AFTER YOU LISTEN:

My mission is to get more people talking about the theater.  The more people talking about it, the more people who want to make it, perform it, support it, etc.  And that’s how theater not only survives, but thrives.

The biggest compliment you can give me is by sharing this podcast.

I thank you and the theater thanks you!

 

RECENT EPISODES:

May 7, 2021: What TheaterMakers Are Talking About This Week

From more Broadway reopening news from Governor Cuomo to National Tours and revivals making their way back to the stage (and screen) to concerns about the country going back to “normal”. . . here’s what TheaterMakers were talking about this week . . .

 

1 – Andrew Cuomo Says Broadway Shows Will Open at Full Capacity September 14

The Governor of New York announced that Broadway will start selling tickets as soon as May 6th, with a reopening date of September 14th, 2021. Few shows have announced exact opening dates. Diana says it will resume December 1 and the revival of The Music Man expects to begin previews December 20.

Read more: playbill.com 

 

2 – Wicked tour announces return date as first touring production to resume

The musical will have it’s post-pandemic premiere at the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas from early August to September. Tickets for the Dallas showing of Wicked will go on sale May 21st.

Read more: broadwaynews.com

 

3- Applications Now Open For The Prince Fellowship

Applications for the newly renamed Fellowship (in honor of the late great Hal Prince) are open now through June 15. Prospective applicants are asked to join an informational Webinar at 6PM EST on Thursday, May 13.

Read more: broadwayworld.com 

 

4 – The Secret Garden Revival Workshop to Stream in May

Warren Carlyle will direct the musical workshop.The streaming proceeds from ticket sales will go toward the Dramatists Guild Foundation and the Actors Fund. Some cast members for this workshop will include Clifton Duncan as Archibald, Drew Gehling as Neville Craven, Sierra Boggess as Lily, and Amber Iman as Martha.

Read more: theatermania.com

 

5- As we return to normal, a new plague: stage fright in the theater of daily life

As we begin to leave our homes and return to normal, waves of fear arise. There are still concerns about variants and the number of people who still aren’t fully protected. Despite progress made with vaccinations around the country, concerns are growing. 

Read more: latimes.com 

 

Fun on a Friday:

As Broadway’s reopening nears, Six the Musical announced their opening night will happen (again) on September 17th. 

 

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The Top 10 Best Broadway Moments of 2020: PART II

Hello and happy New Year, everybody!
 
As we all prepare to forge ahead . . . I’m still stuck in 2020!  I mean, why not. It was soooo much fun, let’s hang out here a wee bit more, shall we?
Ok, ok.  I get it.  Stop throwing the e-tomatoes.  I’ll be quick.
 
Today you get Part II of my “Top 10 Best Broadway Moments of 2020”. Then, I promise, we can move the eff on.
 
Let’s get to it!
 
(To see Part I of my Top 10 Best Broadway Moments #1-5 click here.)
 
6. A Prime Time Special

It took a pandemic for another network (besides our loyal friends at CBS) to give us an hour-long variety special . . . hosted by none other than Tina Fey! “One Night Only: The Best of Broadway” was a gift from the NBC gods.  From the Jersey Boys opening to a number from Hamilton as well as performances from new shows like Jagged Little Pill, interviews with our stars like Rob McClure, a peek into the process of making a show, and more . . . this show did its job.  It was a rest stop on this long highway of getting Broadway back up and running again.  Now, NBC, what do we have to do to convince you to do this event next year??? (You can watch the special here on demand.)

7. The Shubert Theater Board Room Shake Up
 
The Shubert Organization is like the monarchy of the Broadway theater world.  It’s the oldest.  It’s steeped in tradition.  It controls the most real estate.  And with an institution that is as large and powerful as that, change often comes slowly.  That’s why I was thrilled to see Pamela Newkirk, a journalist, scholar and Black woman, added to its board of directors.  And just in case you thought this was a symbolic addition to its knights-of-the-round-table like board . . . read on.  Pamela’s most famous work thus far is a book called . . . wait for it . . .  Diversity Inc.: The Failed Promise of Billion-Dollar Business.  So yeah, The Shuberts knew what they were getting into when they added her to their inner circle.  And they’re obviously embracing it.  It’s a leap ahead for the org and our industry.
8. The TheaterMakers Summit
 
I wasn’t going to put The Summit on this list, because obviously I’m a bit biased, having founded The TheaterMakers Studio and its yearly conference.  But I did, because to be honest, the success of this year’s Summit had nothing to do with me. 
The success was because of the 100 (!) speakers and 1000 attendees who came brimming with optimism and excitement about how Broadway could be even better when we come back.  It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen, never mind helped put together!  Even I walked away with 5 pages of notes from these A-list speakers on how I can make more theater and better theater!

So, I put it on the list.  You can see the inspiring and action-initiating talks here.

Oh, and yes, we are doing it again next year.  We already have a theme!  Ready?  It’s . . . “Places, please.” 🙂  Learn more here.

 
9. Prepare Ye for Godspell at The Berkshire Theater Group
 

Ok, let’s be honest.  Producers and Theaters are still figuring out how they are going to do theater THIS coming summer!  And yet Berkshire Theater Group and it’s formidable leader, Kate Maguire,  pulled it off LAST summer!

Godspell was the first production in the country to receive approval for production by Actors Equity . . . and even though the show had to pivot 147 times (including a last-minute change to present it outside), they pulled it off.  And they got multiple NY Times articles as a result!  While press attention wasn’t the goal, it did prove again that figuring out how to do something when no one else can, can get you a lot of attention.  Luckily, because of the leadership of Ms. Maguire, that attention was all positive.

We owe this theater and Kate a debt for not just dreaming about a production, but by doing one.  It inspired us to all to figure out how we can do it too.
 
10. Diana . . . and we haven’t even seen it yet!
 
One of my most-liked posts on Instagram this year was this one . . . a shot of me outside the Longacre theater as Diana, a new musical that hasn’t even opened on Broadway, was performing for cameras inside.
Netflix has been our fairy godmother this year, giving us Boys in the Band, The Prom and more.  But its biggest bet on Broadway this year was putting hundreds of TheaterMakers on a new musical BACK to work, and shooting Diana, on stage, for release in 2021.  Before anyone knows if it’s going to be a hit or not!  Not only could this help Diana build an audience before it opensbut if this works for Netflix, it could be the start of a brand new business model for developing new musicals.  Yep, you heard it here first . . . the streamed show BEFORE that show opens, could become the new concept album (like Jesus Christ Superstar, Waitress, etc.), that develops a show’s fanbase and therefore a marketing foundation.
And there they are . . . my favorite moments of 2020!  (Part I is here if you need to go back.)
And now, let’s get the @#$% out of this year and make 2021 the best that anyone of us has ever seen.  Broadway and the theater will be back.  And boy oh boy are the ovations at those first shows going to be enormous.
See you there.
Happy New Year everyone.
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Speaking of “next,” my next blog will be on Tuesday, January 5th . . . and it’s going to be about a new survey about the vaccine and what that means for our start date.  Click here to make sure you get it first.

The Top 10 Best Broadway Moments of 2020 (yes, there really were 10): PART I

Boy oh boy was this blog an exercise in how to find a bright spot (or 10) in the darkest of all times.
 
Broadway shut down in 2020. Something it has never done. Like ever. How could there be ANY “best” of Broadway when its stages were dark?
 
Well, that’s the thing.
 
What we learned this year is that you can turn the lights out on Broadway . . . but the light never goes out on Broadway.
 
Thanks to the ingenuity, imagination, and a Braveheart-like refusal to give up of TheaterMakers and their fans (see #3), the theater is still alive . . . and kick-ball-changin’.
 
From streaming shows in living rooms, to drive-in theater, to board room shakeups and crowd-sourced musicals, this was a helluva active year for a year in which we couldn’t act.
 
And years from now, when we look back at this elongated intermission, I predict it will be one of the most important and impactful years in our history.
 
What stood out as my 10 favorite moments? The moments that made me smile, made me proud, and make me want to double down on this biz, rather than give it all up? (Because be honest – who among us didn’t think about throwing in the make-up towel at least a half a dozen times over the past year?)
 
Here are my 10 Best Broadway moments of 2020 in no particular order:
 
1. Hamilton hits Disney+
 
The film and theater industry were still buzzing about the $75mm Disney paid for Hamilton . . . when the studio announced the mega hit would go straight to Disney+.
“But what about the Academy Awards? What about all those people who might not see the show live? Is it too early in the show’s lifecycle to put it out there?”
 
I’m sure the players debated those questions like the founding fathers fought at the Constitutional congress. But they released it anyway. And not only did it make the show accessible, and keep it and Broadway top of mind, but it officially made streaming a thing. Because when the popular kid does something, everyone else follows.
 
Expect more streaming shows (finally!) in the next five years.
 
2. The Broadway Advocacy Coalition Forums
 
Like many industries, the theater had a racial reckoning this year, taking a deep long look at itself in the mirror . . . and not liking what it saw. Because we’re a liberal and progressive art form, it’s easy for us to say, “Oh, that’s not an issue here.”
 
Thanks to the many organizations and individuals who had the courage to step up and say, “Stop talking and start listening,” we now know this issue, like the coronavirus itself, is everywhere.
 
And it’s time we take serious steps to eradicate it.
 
There were two things that slapped me into self-realization. The first, this article by Asmeret Ghebremichael and her subsequent interview with me.
 
And the second was the Broadway Advocacy Coalition Forums, especially their “Day of Listening.”
 
I’ll never forget co-founder Britton Smith’s opening remarks . . . his passion . . . his authenticity . . . honesty. It was one of the best displays of leadership by a change agent I have ever seen.  
 
And then there were the stories that followed from Britton, Amber Iman, and others, that all shocked me to my center.
 
See, I’ll admit.  I was one of those people who thought I understood this issue a little better than most. Since starting my career as a company manager, I worked on several “diverse” shows on Broadway that dealt with race. Two of my shows even won diversity awards. So, yeah, prior to this summer, if you asked me how much I knew about this issue, I’d say I was like a 6 or 7 out of 10.
 
And Broadway Advocacy Coalition helped me realize . . . I didn’t know a @#$%ing thing.
 
I was so grateful for these forums. And I knew the 5,000 other people who tuned in are too. Because I know more now. And I also know I have a whole lot more to know.  And I vow to keep listening, learning and taking those steps.
 
If you haven’t seen the forums, click here. And I recommend bookmarking them and rewatching them whenever you have a free moment.  
 
3. The TikTok Heard ‘Round The World
 
“The world’s gonna know your name . . .what’s your name, man?”
Forget Hamilton.  Forget Roxie. The name on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s feeds . . . is Ratatouille!!!!!!!!!
 
There are so many amazing elements to the Ratatouille story. A single TikTok video of a young woman making up a song for a hypothetical musical, was like a butterfly flapping its wings in cyberspace. And it caused a musical tsunami.
 
It united a generation of musical lovers and future TheaterMakers, who all joined in . . . and crowdsourced a musical.
 
But they didn’t just make the music. TikTokers made costumes, puppets, choreography and more. I couldn’t help but join in on the fun, and offered a few tag lines (this original video of mine has been seen almost 2 million times!).
 
But what’s amazing is that the powers-that-be recognized the powers-that-will-be . . . and they approved a production of Ratatouille for the Actors Fund!
 
That’s right, the first ever crowdsourced musical on social media will make its debut tomorrow night!  Get your ticket here.
 
If you were ever worried that the next generation wasn’t interested in seeing musicals or making musicals, fear not. The Ratatouille movement proves that our future isn’t ratty at all.
 
(Oh, and PS, TikTok is now officially a thing – especially if you want a younger audience.)
 
4. Seth Rudestky and James Wesley’s “Stars In The House”
 
When Broadway got shut down, I started emailing people I knew to figure out how we could stream something . . . anything. And one of those people was Seth.
 
He responded tout-suit and told me he was already working on something.  And in his quick email, I could already hear how hard he was working to give something to fans, and give something back to our community.
 
He turned his webcam on the next day.
 
Since then, Stars in the House, his twice daily (!) part interview, part performance, variety, reunion and more streamed show, has raised over $620,000 for The Actors Fund.  $620,000!!!
 
Oh, and the show is also hysterical, moving and more.
 
Would you ever have imagined that a couple of guys in their living room could make this kind of impact?  I could.  If Seth was behind it.
5.  For Nick.
 
How can a tragedy like the loss of Nick Cordero be one of our best moments?
 
Because Nick became a symbol . . . something that the industry could rally around at a time when we didn’t have much to rally around. And his wife’s overwhelming spirit . . . her love for her husband inspiring people to get up and dance . . . to sing together, to pray together . . . was one of the most unifying moments of the past year and a half.
 
Often it is a tragedy that brings people together. I hate that. I just hate it. Especially for Amanda and her little boy Elvis.  But Nick is now a saint in our industry.  And he will be a symbol for all of us to do what that song of his advised . . . to live your life.
 
You can watch a tribute to Nick from some of Broadway’s best here.  
 
For my other 5 Best Broadway Moments of 2020, check out tomorrow’s blog.  Or click here and have it emailed straight to you.
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