Phil Smith (1931-2020): The Chairman of The Shubert Org . . . and perhaps all of Broadway.

I didn’t know exactly who he was when I first met him.

But I could tell he was a titan.

It was early in my career.  I wasn’t even a Company Manager yet.  I was still an Assistant.  And I was in a Broadway box office signing the nightly performance statement for some show, when in he came.  He looked me over, smiled and said something like “Looks like this show is in good hands.”

It was all a wanna-be-theatermaker and wanna-be-mover-and-shaker needed to hear from Phillip J. Smith, the Chairman Emeritus of The Shubert Organization, who passed away yesterday, due to complications from Covid-19.  (Yeah, that nasty bug just took another one of our best.)

And here’s the thing . . . those kind of random, steroid shot affirmations didn’t stop coming from Phil over the last twenty years.

While I’d see him at opening night parties, or when I was asking/begging for a Broadway theater, it was the unplanned meetings that I’ll always remember.

And often they were what kept me going.

Like the time he got the invitation we sent to all the Tony Award Voters for Alan Cumming’s Macbeth.  Rather than sent the standard invite, we did a little something-something to the invite – made it on burnt parchment paper, dripped “blood” on it, sealed it with wax . . . you know, made it spooooky.

Two days after they went in the mail, my assistant said, “Ken, Phil Smith is on the phone!”

Honestly, my first thought was, “Oh crap, what did I do?”  🙂

I picked up the phone and heard, “Ken!  You are a Producer!”

He got the invite.  And I think he liked it.

He applauded my crowdfunding of Godspell, when others looked down on it, even telling me stories of Broadway Producers from back in the day that did something similar.

And one day, when I was in that ornate office of his, and I told him my dream was to be one of those Producers who had five shows with my name on them running at once, he bellowed, “YOU WILL BE!”

I don’t know that anyone has ever been that supportive of me in this business.  And he was the Chairman of the Mother-Effin’ Shubert Organization.

And it’s not like we were besties or anything.  And I’m sure he did this for many of us that he saw come up through the ranks from Assistant Company Manager.  Especially since he started from the bottom and worked his way to the most powerful chair on Broadway.

I’ll miss seeing him at opening nights.  I’ll miss asking him for the keys to one of his Broadway theaters for one of my shows.  Shoot, I’ll even miss him saying, “Sorry, Ken, no theaters available.”

Farewell, Mr. Smith.  And thank you.  Those doses of your support are part of the reason I’m still plugging away at that dream of mine.

And I promise, I not only won’t stop, but I’ll do what you did for me to the next generation of Assistant Company Managers.

What the adoption of the vaccine means for Broadway’s return.

I’m a pretty positive guy.

But I’ve had more down days in the past 365 than my entire life.

Can you blame me? I’ve got three big loves in this world:

#1 – My wife.
#2 – My daughter.

(They’re a tie for #1 & #2, btw. Just listed in the order I met them.)

And #3?

The theater.

And we all know what happened to #3. (#1 and #2 are what kept me through what happened to #3.)

So I’ve had some tough days. And I know you have too.

One of the hardest moments I had was when this survey hit my inbox. It indicated that only 25% of our audience was willing to come back to theater anytime soon.

I didn’t believe them. But I’m also a data guy, so I couldn’t dismiss them either.

So I got kinda down.

And then something popped in my inbox last week that turned my frown right around.

It was a survey about the vaccine.

What in the name of Covid does the vaccine have to do with it?

You can read the NY Times article here, but the crux of it is as follows:

When the race to create a vaccine against Covid began, half the people out there said they didn’t want it.

But now that it exists? Well, read for yourself:

“In polls by Gallup, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pew Research Center, the portion of people saying they are now likely or certain to take the vaccine has grown from about 50 percent this summer to more than 60 percent, and in one poll 73 percent — a figure that approaches what some public health experts say would be sufficient for herd immunity.” (NYT)

What happened?

The idea of it is no longer ambiguous. It’s real. Tangible. Happening.

And the moment something is real and people can wrap their hands around it . . . they can also wrap their heads around it.

And we’re going to see the same trend in surveys of theatergoers.

Once a theater gets the green light?  Once a Broadway show sets a firm date?  Once the curtain goes up?!?! WATCH what happens to their interest.

It’s going to skyrocket.  Because that word of mouth is going to spread faster than any virus could. (Can you imagine what the ovation is going to be like on that first night back?!?!?)

Most consumers don’t think ahead anymore. It’s why advance sales for theater tickets or vacations don’t exist like they used to.

And this is where surveys and data let us down. (Can you believe it?)

You can’t ask people what they’ll do “if/when” . . . you can only ask them what they will do now.

Now, they won’t buy a theater ticket . . . because they can’t.

But when they can? When they have that vaccine themselves? When there are safety precautions on top of those vaccines?

Well, that day . . . if Evan Hansen were writing a letter to himself on that day, he’d say, “Today is going to be an amazing day.”

See you there.

– – – – –

The theater is coming back. You ready???  Join over 1,000 other TheaterMakers in our free Take Charge of your ’21 TheaterMakers challenge! It starts Monday!  Get ready for the renaissance.

The Top 10 FAQ About Our Theatermakers Challenge (that starts next week!)

Ok, sooooo, you like this challenge idea, don’t you?

How do I know you like it?

Well, we announced it a week ago, and we already have enough people signed up to fill a Broadway theater!  Truly!  (Haven’t signed up yet? Click here.)

Already our private Facebook group is poppin’ with TheaterMakers like you. And they’re all ready to charge ahead and take charge.

To those of you who already signed up; your passion for making this your best year of theatermaking yet is so inspiring to me.  So, we’re doubling down on the challenge. We’re adding more content, more strategies, and some surprises along the way.

Oh and prizes. Lots of prizes.

We will be giving away something theatermaking-related every single day of the challenge.

Like . . .

  1. Final Draft 11 Scriptwriting software! ($249 value)
  2. Headshot package with Photographer Jeremy Daniel ($450 value)
  3. Promotional Blast from The Streaming Stage Company to Promote Your Work to over 50k people ($995 value)
  4. Get your video edited together professionally with Video Editor Katie Goffman ($599 value)

And even . . .

The Work From Home package of your dreams including:

Video Conference Selfie Ring Light ($24.99 value)
Blue Yeti Nano Professional Condenser USB Microphone for Recording/Streaming on PC/Mac ($99 value)

and, drumroll please . . .

A BRAND NEW iPad Pro ($999 value)!!!

Oh, and you’ll also get the most valuable thing of all . . .advice that can help you achieve the things you want to achieve in the theater . . . you know the things you see when you close your eyes and dream.

That advice will be delivered by a team of “Broadway Avengers” – 10+ super successful TheaterMakers who will be your mentors through the challenge (and maybe even beyond?).

So get ready.

If you haven’t signed up . . . click here.

Now, since we announced the challenge, some questions have come up and I wanted to make sure I answered them . . . so here they go!

 

1. How much is The Challenge?

The challenge is free. It’s sponsored by The TheaterMakers Studio, the masterclass-like community of TheaterMakers I founded five years ago. You do NOT have to be a member of TheaterMakers Studio to join. TMS uses events like the challenge to let TheaterMakers know how it helps TheaterMakers.

 

2. What time is The Challenge?

The Challenge will take place from 1/18 – 1/22 from 12-1pm ET/ 11am-12pm CT/ 10-11am MT/ 9am-10am PT.

That’s 5-6 pm in London, 2-3 am in Japan, 4-5 am in Australia, for our international TheaterMakers.

 

3. What if I can’t make those times?

We WILL have replays of the video for those of you who can’t tune in during those times. While we strongly suggest you show up LIVE (so you can participate in the comments, ask questions, etc) we realize this is impossible to mandate. So, we will have replays! (But we suggest you add the challenge to your daily calendar NOW to reserve the time.)

 

4. Where does it take place?

It’s all online . . . and on Facebook.

You’ll be invited to join a private Facebook group of TheaterMakers like you. There you’ll get access to the private livestreams with me and the speakers . . . and you’ll also be able to talk with your fellow Challengers. This is where some of our biggest success stories come from! We’ve had bookwriters meet composers, directors meet writers and producers meet playwrights.

Don’t have a Facebook page?  Get one! There, you’re already going to have a more successful 2021.

 

5. Who are the speakers again?

You’ll get advice from Susan Blackwell, Laura Camien, Rodrick Covington, Mandy Gonzalez, Justin Guarini, Tony Howell, Amber Iman, Telly Leung, Ryan Scott Oliver, James Snyder, Vivek Tiwary, as well as a few surprise guests as well.

 

6. Who is it for?

It’s for anyone who wants to make theater or wants to make more theater. Whether you are just starting out or you’re a veteran TheaterMaker, this challenge will jump start your 2021 so you’ll be doing more of what you want to do. It’s for Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors . . . and yes, even Fans.  So sign up.  If you don’t like it, you can get your money back. Oh, wait.

 

7. What does the “challenge” part mean?

Great question.

So, this isn’t my livestream. This isn’t the Summit . This is a challenge.

That means you WILL have homework! You will have assignments. Of course, you can choose NOT to do them. No one is getting graded (hmmmm, there’s an idea for next time!).
But if you don’t do them, you won’t go as far this year as you will if you DO do them. Period.
So get ready to work.
8. How do we take charge of our TheaterMaking during Covid?
Some of the people on our speaker list had one of their most successful years ever in 2020. Is it harder to do? Sure. But that’s why learning strategies from those who have been successful are more important.
Oh, and Dr. Fauci expects theater to be up and running by the fall.  So this is the time when you get ahead.
9. Are you running The Challenge again soon?
No. Talk to us in 2022.
10. Will I feel out of my league if I haven’t started my theater career yet? It’s still just a dream?
Everyone starts somewhere. It’s just important to start. And this Challenge is a great way to do just that.
11. Where do I sign up?
See you at The Challenge in . . . 6 days!

Your Favorite Daddy-Daughter Duo Is Back!

I think it’s safe to say that what the world needs now . . .more than ever . . . is love, sweet love.

That’s the mission of YouTube singing sensations Mat & Savanna Shaw, who found an audience of millions during this pandemic, with their joyous and simple videos.  That’s right, who needs special effects and high tech, when you have a duo like this, with a message like this.
And that’s why I produced their world premiere concert a few weeks ago.
It was so successful (thousands tuned in) that we wanted to give those who missed it another chance.  That’s why, through Friday, January 15th, you can see their livestreamed concert OnDemand!.
Grab your ticket here, and don’t forget to share with friends and family.
And I dare you not to smile when these two sing.
Enjoy!

My review of Ratatouille Musical on Broadway (well e-Broadway, that is.)

Have you ever read a New York Times review of a musical and wonder, “Wait a second – I’m three paragraphs into this review and I still don’t even know if he liked it or not!”

Critics have a skill . . . it’s like a fisherman who doesn’t try to land the marlin on the first bite . . . they drag you in . . . all slllllloooooowwww liiiiiikkkkke. And get you to read all the way to the bottom.

SPOILER ALERT: This is not a New York Times review.

So let me get the rat out of the bag right now.

My review of Ratatouille musical?

I liked it.

You can stop reading now, if you like. And if you want a more in-depth analysis of it, you can read the actual New York Times review here.

But yeah, I liked it. I couldn’t help but get the e-chills hearing Daniel Mertzlufft’s orchestrated version of Emily Jacobsen’s “Ode To Remy” (aka The TikTok heard ’round the world) sung by Titus Burgess.

I loved Andrew Barth Feldman, Kevin Chamberlain (who got in on this early), and can Adam Lambert please come back to Broadway now?

And kudos to the writers, Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, for how fast they delivered something of this quality (with a score that was mostly pre-existing!) In a way, they wrote a jukebox musical . . . and they wrote it faaaaaast.

So yeah, I liked the show.

But I effin’ LOVED that it happened.

Seriously, Ratatouille should get the Nobel Peace Prize for musicals.

At a time when the theater is torn apart . . . because we can’t be together . . . leave it to the NEXT generation, Gen Z, to teach us to create something no matter what the circumstances.

Great leadership often comes from the young . . . because they aren’t trying to lead . . . they are just doing what they love and it’s impossible not to follow them. It’s why I jumped into the TikTok fray  . . . I wanted to be in their group.

While I give so much love and props to this group of creators, the next generation of theatermakers, I so respect Disney Theatricals under the leadership of Tom Schumacher, for letting it happen.

20 years ago? This would not have happened. No way. Too many lawyers. Too much corporate fear.

Today? You must learn to give the people what they want. And Disney did that . . . while simultaneously protecting its brand (the musical was only available for viewing twice) . . . and helping to raise $1mm for The Actors Fund.

So yes, I liked the performances, the choreography, the costumes even . . .

But I loved what Ratatouille represents . . . the future.

And I predict that review will be a rave.

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