Would you pay to have your show reviewed?

As if people weren’t talking about the future of theatrical criticism and reviewers enough . . .

In today’s Yelp-ian society, legitimate theatrical criticism has waned, with a number of critics at various publications ousted from their posts, only to be replaced by blogs, tweets, and user reviews.

And there’s no sign of it slowing down.

In fact, here’s a prediction . . .

See, the theater audience is older than the everything-else audience.  So Yelp isn’t the #1 place to get info about Broadway shows, because, well, to put it simply, my mom isn’t on Yelp.

But if Yelp sticks around?  Tomorrow’s audience will be more dependent on Yelp and the like because that is what they have grown up on.  They didn’t grow up on the NY Times.   In 10 years, sites like Yelp will be as important to theatrical advertising as the NY Times.

But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about a brewing scandal brought to you by Bitter Lemons, a site dedicated to the LA theater scene.

Bitter Lemons is now offering theaters and productions a guaranteed review of their show . . . for the low price of $150.

Yep, they are charging shows to be reviewed.

Now hold on, don’t let “your head explode,” as the site’s statement reads.

According to the site, they are charging to make sure shows get coverage, and more importantly, to make sure shows get quality coverage.

Why sure, they could probably wrangle someone to write a review of a show for free, but they’d be taking whoever they could get, instead of being able to choose a person appropriate for this important task.

About now you’re probably saying, “The site should just pay the reviewer!  Why should the show?”

Good question.  I don’t know their economics, but as a guy who runs several niche websites, I can tell you first hand that making money from a website, especially one that needs to hire people to provide content, is, well, almost as challenging as keeping Donald Trump out of politics.

While I wish they didn’t have to resort to this new business model (and I hope that they will still review plenty of shows for free as well – and even tell productions – “Hey, no need to pay because we were planning on covering you anyway”), the fact is . . . we live in a new theatrical world.  And they are a business like any other.  And if they find themselves without the money to pay their people, then they are only doing what all businesses, and all people, should do . . . adapting to try and balance their books.

The question is . . . is charging for reviews better than the site going out of business altogether?

What do you think?  Are they in the right?  In the wrong?  Would you pay for a reviewer to come if you weren’t getting the coverage you wanted?

Comment with your thoughts below.

Oh, and a Post Script.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the second major story to come out of the LA theater scene in the last several months.  First, it was the minimum wage for actors debate, and now this.

Something interesting is happening on the West Coast.  The scandals are signs that things aren’t going so well, but I do applaud all the parties involved for coming up with creative solutions to try and keep the theater thriving in a city obsessed with cinema.


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What Hillary Clinton’s announcement means for your press strategy.

Were you surprised???

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for President!

This is my shocked face.  😐

Ok, so no one was taken aback by the news . . . but some folks were taken aback by the way she announced the news.

In the old days, the potential first female President would have held a big press conference, invited press days before, and issued a release simultaneously with her live announcement to make sure every nook and cranny of the media world knew about her intentions.  In fact, she might have even sent out that press release several hours before and had it embargoed until the actual announcement (this happens a lot in the press industry – a release is sent before an announcement to give reporters a chance to get their stories researched, written and ready to go).

But these aren’t the old days.

Instead of the traditional approach, Ms. Clinton made her announcement via social media, with a video on YouTube . . . and then she sent out her press releases.

Social media first. Traditional media second.

That sound you just heard is the shift of how we communicate to our consumers.

This strategy was an obvious attempt by the Clinton campaign to symbolically get her message to the people first, because the right message on social media can be shared a whole lot more than an article in the New York Times.  (Usually the most shared videos involve cats playing piano or performing nuclear fission but that’s another story.)

What does this mean for you, and for Broadway press in general?

It means that when you have something interesting and important to say, you no longer have to wait for someone’s permission to say it.  No more waiting with the hope that the Times or the Voice or someone will write about your show or your theater.  Press agents still beg to get ink in papers these days, but the fact is, you don’t need the traditional media like you used to, provided what you are talking about is something people really want to hear (not as easy as you think, of course).  And when done right, the traditional press will end up picking up your story anyway!

I’ve used this strategy a few times on this very blog.  I chose to announce my crowd-funded Godspell and the almost recoupment of Macbeth via this non-traditional outlet first, and followed up with press releases second.

You can use it too.  You just need to build a following (email list, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, meet up groups, whatever) and build an interesting idea . . . and you’ll end up building a buzz.

(Speaking of Clinton, a huge shout out to my two incredible clients, Paul Hodge and Kari Lynn Hearn, who both started out with consults and a seminar, and last week they opened Clinton The Musical . . . which just got one of the biggest and best raves from the New York Times I’ve seen for a commercial Off Broadway show in a looooong time.  And in honor of Ms. Hillary’s 2016 Campaign announcement, they are offering tickets for only $20.16 all week long.  Read more about that here.)


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If only they had this when I crowdfunded Godspell.

Hold on to your offering documents, people, because raising money for businesses, including Broadway shows, just got easier.

Several years (!) after Congress passed the JOBS Act, the SEC finally wrote the rules on how for-profit crowdfunding (the most essential part of the Act) will work.

And it was worth the wait.

A little history . . .

When I crowdfunded Godspell, I used an archaic regulation called “Reg A,” which allowed businesses to raise up to $5 million.  Already you can see why that regulation wouldn’t work for most Broadway shows, since most have budgets in excess of $5mm.  And while sure, plays are less, since the legal costs for this kind of offering are so much more than a traditional “Reg D” offering (I spent around $200k for mine), you wouldn’t want to put that much of your budget towards that one line item.

Additionally, Reg A required you to register your offering in every state where you wanted to raise money.  Want to raise money in Texas?  That’s a separate filing and a separate fee.  Florida?  Another one.  Nebraska?  Oh yeah.  Not only does this drive the cost up (each fee can be several thousand bucks), but each state has their own rules.  For example, Texas wanted me to put down a $250k cash bond (I didn’t).  Maryland wanted me to pass a Series 63 exam (I did).  Ohio?  Ohio didn’t even respond to us for three months.  To call it a pain in the a$$ would be like calling Wicked sort-of successful.

For Godspell I ended up cherry picking the states where I expected to raise the most money (based on what I know about Broadway Investor demographics).  And eventually, it all worked out.

But now?  Well, now it’s all different.

Last week the SEC had a debutante ball for Reg A+, which allows companies to raise up to $50mm (so every show but Spider-Man could be covered), and eliminates the state registration altogether!  Woo-hoo!  (I like to think we had a little part in this . . . since I did an interview with the Office of Congressional Oversight after the JOBS Act passed, and railed against the state registration rule.)

But wait, there’s more.  Reg A+ allows companies to raise money from both accredited AND unaccredited investors.  That’s right, anyone can invest!  (There are some restrictions, of course – unaccredited investors can’t invest more than a certain % of their net worth, and more.)

Yep, my friends, for-profit crowdfunding is here.

Now, whether Broadway Producers will use it, that’s another story.  There will be more financial reporting required.  The lawyers will charge more for this offering.  Funding may have to be through a portal.

But I’ll be using it.  For shizzle.  Because my mission statement is to get more and more people involved in Broadway, and I know for a fact that more and more people want to get involved with Broadway by investing.  They just haven’t been allowed to.

So I give Congress and the SEC an A+ for taking businesses into the 21st Century.

Now maybe we’ll be able to get Broadway into the 21st Century.


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6 Reasons why the State of the Union is like Opening Night of a Broadway Show.

Politics is one of the greatest stages in the world.  And every year, we see one helluva show when the President addresses Congress and The Country World with his State of the Union address.

It’s got all sorts of drama built in, and as I watched President Obama do his yearly duty last night, I couldn’t help but think that it reminded me of a Broadway opening night.

So here are my six reasons why the State of the Union is like a Broadway opening night:


The advertised curtain time was 9:00 PM, but the President didn’t even enter the theater until several minutes after.  And then there’s that march up the aisle.  Lots of hand-shaking and cheek-kissing, just like in the orchestra of an opening night!  I wonder how many viewers changed the channel because they were waiting for the show to start.


They get up, sit down, get up, sit down.  And you just know it’s gonna happen, just like at an opening night.  Sure it’s fun to watch when the opposing party is going to sit on their hands, but you can predict when everyone is gonna stand.  And, well, that just gets kind of dull.  I switched over to the golf channel a few times during the extended ovations.


Sure, the spotlight is on that one guy in the smart suit behind the podium, but boy oh boy it takes a lot more people to pull off this show.  First of all, you’ve got that speechwriter.  And the speechwriting team.  And the researchers, and the practice team, and the aides, and the all the other people who help craft that sucker and then put it in the hands of the star.  And then it’s his job (and maybe in a few years her job?)  to bring it home.


Just like a show, the draft of the speech gets seen by a ton of folks before it makes its debut before the American people.  This year, they even started leaking the new policies before the speech, because they were afraid people weren’t going to tune in.  Like an opening night, it’s starting to feel like the speech’s die is already cast, and the actual address is more pomp and circumstance than revelatory.


I watched CNN’s live chat updates that followed tweets and talk about the #SOTU.  My favorite?  “Michelle Obama is wearing Michael Kors.”  What’s on the stage at the speech and at an opening night is only half the story.  Who is in the audience, who is sitting with whom, and yeah, the best/worst dressed in the crowd, is a story unto itself.


The speech is one thing, and then all the supporters of the Chief have to listen to the reviews.  The official response from the opposing party is an entire other show in itself, and boy, those guys are more critical than if Ben Brantley and Frank Rich had a love child . . . that was adopted by Charles Isherwood and Hedy Weiss.


There’s another thing that Broadway and the State of the Union have in common.  Both are struggling to keep “attendance” up.  Less and less people are watching that speech, and while we’re having a banner year for butts in seats on Broadway this year, it’s been a problem in recent years.

Did you watch the speech?  I’m more interested if you didn’t . . . and why.  Comment below!


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Who really lost the standoff over The Interview?

The hacking dust is starting to settle.  The laughs from the streamed release of The Interview are starting to fade.

And while the racist rhetoric from North Korea continues to bubble up, and while somehow the country mysteriously keeps losing its internet altogether (hehe), we’re well into the denouement of this story (read my first post about it here – including all your comments on whether you would have released it or not).

So who lost?

Was it North Korea, who is surely going to suffer a heck of a lot more in the long run after their childlike internet pranks? (And God forbid they try some show of force – the entire world would use it as an excuse to rid the planet of this evil dynasty.)

Was it Sony, who had their dirty, dirty laundry aired out for the world to see, and lost millions (and lost face) by pulling the movie from its initial release?


You know who really lost?

The movie theaters.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy did the cinemas get bitch slapped.

With Netflix, Roku, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the billion and a half other ways consumers have to watch movies these days, the theaters have already been in the middle of an all-out-war to keep people coming to the theaters, and buying popcorn for $18.95 a bag (oh, but free refills!).

And last week, when the scandal-hit-the-fan, the theaters said, “Nope.  Not showing it.  Sorry, Sony.  Not taking that risk,” which was their way of essentially saying, “Leaving your homes to see a movie is unsafe.”

So, people just stayed home and watched it.

Come on AMC, Regal, and the like!  Did you really think this movie would stay on a shelf?  You had to know someone would stream it.  Were you really shocked when YouTube picked it up?

You’ve heard of YouTube, right?  You know, that company that could own you all with just a few more gaffes like this one?

Someday they will point to the streaming of The Interview as the final straw on the movie theaters’ back.

I’m just glad that live entertainment is live entertainment, and even when it’s streamed, it can’t ever be replicated.


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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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