Will the Casting Directors be next up to go union?

 

If you follow me on the ol’ Twitter, then you probably caught my tweet last week about the recent flare-up between the Casting Directors, who are now repped by the Teamsters, and the Broadway League.

The CDs want union representation.  More specifically, from the sound of this article, they just really want some health insurance (and maybe some retirement benes as well).

(On a side note/rant – do you know how many fights in this country could be avoided if we just had a health insurance program that focused on wellness instead of turning a profit?  We should start calling it Wealth Insurance, for goodness sake.)

I’m not going to get into the debate of whether or not the CDs should get a union pin because I’ve got a lot of learning to do on the subject first.  But since their press release came on the heels of the announcement of Broadway’s record-breaking year (smartly timed, Teamsters, smartly timed), I can’t help but draw attention (or re-attention, actually) to my blog about those end of the year grosses.

See, Broadway is crushing it in terms of ticket sales.  No question.  It’d be foolish for anyone to deny the super-sized grosses that some shows are getting.

But the proof is in the recoupment, not in the overall box office totals.

And the fact is, shows are not recouping more often or faster than they ever have.

So what’s happening?

The blockbusters are getting more profitable.  Or, to put in political speak, the already-rich are getting even richer.

The rest of the market is struggling . . . and struggling like it never has before.

What does that have to do with the price of tea in a Casting Director’s office?

Because it is time to realize that a massive Mason-Dixon line is forming on Broadway, drawn between two sides:  the have multi-million dollars a week grosses . . . and the have nots.  And when deals are cut based on only looking at the top of the market . . . the middle of the market, where the gutsy stuff by newer artists may be happening . . . gets squished.

It’s too bad there isn’t a way for deals, with unions, vendors, creatives, et al. to be predicated on success.  If you hit a gusher, you pay more.  If you struggle, you pay a fair wage.  You know, like how taxes should be.

Yeah, it’s too bad that isn’t possible.

Wait.  Someone tell me why that isn’t possible again?

 

 

Could this new play’s NY debut be the start of a trend?

A press release wound its way into my inbox a few weeks ago, trumpeting the NY debut of a brand new play by a Pulitzer (!) and Tony Award-winning playwright and featuring some nice Hollywood names in the cast.

“I wonder what Broadway theater they’re playing,” I muttered as I read the release.

And then I realized they weren’t playing Broadway at all.

“I wonder what high-fallutin’ non-profit theater they’re playing,” I said, coming to what could only be the next logical convention of how this new play would land in New York.

And then I realized they weren’t playing a non-profit either.

Nope.  Building The Wall, the brand new, super timely, already-rave-reviewed new play by Robert Schenkkan (All The Way, Hacksaw Ridge), starring James Badge Dale (“The Pacific,” The Departed) and everyone’s favorite forensic detective Tamara Tunie (“Law and Order: SVU”) will open at a commercial (!) Off Broadway theater this summer for a strictly limited engagement of 10 weeks only.

The play, which was written as a response to the current administration, has already started rolling out around the country.  It’s obvious that the super smart strategy by the author, the author’s agents, and the producers, was to get the play out in the world as fast as possible, to as many theaters as possible.

And with the current real estate crisis on Broadway, with no theaters available on a moment’s notice, and with non-profits planning their seasons years in advance there was only one option left to satisfy that strategy.

Commercial Off Broadway.

I have been touting the theory that Off Broadway might boom as a result of the real estate crunch for awhile now, and I’m happy to see the first real example of it happening with Building The Wall.  When A-list creative teams and A-list actors start showing up Off Broadway again just to do great work, audiences will follow.

And commercial Off Broadway just might wake up from the coma it’s been in for the last decade or so.

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Yep, There Are 5 Things We Can Learn From Donald Trump.

Ok, before I launch into this blog, let me say something for the record.  If Donald Trump were ever elected President, I’d send the entire cast of Spring Awakening to the White House to sing “Totally F@#ked.”

That said (and a shout out to the Associate Producer candidates who inspired that idea in last week’s group interview), despite his mouth, despite his mind, and despite that hair thingee, Donald Trump is still leading a whole bunch of polls.

Shocking, isn’t it?  I mean, don’t you find yourself saying, “How in the name of all that’s holy is this happening???”

Whenever I see someone crushing it in our business (or any business), I dig in to figure out what the heck they are doing to achieve the success they’re having.  But I dig even deeper when it’s someone I don’t agree with.

So I did that with The Donald, and came up with 5 Things We Can All Learn From Donald Trump.

1.  People Respect When You Speak Your Mind

What’s amazing about Donald is that he knows half most of the things that come out of his mouth may piss a lot of people off, but he doesn’t care.  In a world where people dance around the truth, or second or third guess themselves before they speak (even strong minded me overthinks a lot of things I say on this very blog), no one can say that Trump doesn’t say exactly what is on his mind. You know where he stands at all times, and a lot folks are giving him props and votes for that.

2.  It’s NOT None Of Your Business

Trump is known for being a businessman.  Scratch that.  He is known for being a successful businessman, to the tune of billions.  We’re living in an era where people want to know their leaders have business sense.  It’s why Trump is leading.  It’s why Romney was a candidate.  And it’s why all Producers should understand the business of Broadway.  People want to know that their leaders know the ins/outs of whatever business they are running.

3.  Making Yourself Known in One Market Can Help You In Another

Trump is a real estate star.  He’s a reality TV star.  And that celebrity status is without a doubt driving votes his way.  Ok, so you probably can’t become a celebrity by the time you want to produce your next show, but you can use whatever you may be known for to help increase your status.  I’ve seen countless of folks come into Broadway from other businesses and “use what they got” (to quote Gypsy) to make a new name for themselves.

4.  You Can Win By Not Winning

I believe that Donald Trump knows he can’t win.  So why is he still running?  Well, of course he likes the attention, and yes, he does believe wholeheartedly that the country needs a slap in the face.  But I think it’s more than that.  When he withdraws from this race, he’s going to sell his endorsement to the highest bidder.  And he’ll get owed some serious political favors when it happens.  He’s always thinking about the next negotiation and the next deal, and you should be too.

5.  All Publicity is You Know What

Trump has owned every election news cycle so far.  He helped draw the most viewers ever to a primary debate.   Every water cooler convo is about him.  And surprise, surprise, he’s winning.  All this while insulting immigrants, women, fellow candidates, the current administration, war heroes, etc.  Keeping himself in the news has kept him at the top of the polls.  You’ve got to do the same thing with your show and yourself . . . but, and this is what Trump can learn from all of you . . . there is a way to keep yourself in the news without being an ass.

 

It’s a big thing to admit you’ve learned from an adversary, but it can be rewarding.  So take a look at the people you can’t stand, ask yourself why you can’t stand them (is it because they’re doing much different things than you would ever do, yet they are still successful?), and then steal their best stuff, but put your positive stamp on it.

Oh, and don’t worry, don’t worry.  He won’t win.  But he is going to stir things up along the way for sure, so buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.  But it may also be the most dramatic election we’ve ever had.

Hmmmm . . . is there a musical in this? Not sure, but if so, Trump will probably produce it himself.  And star.  And direct.  And oh the merchandising!

 

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An email that reminded me of why we’re lucky to be independent.

There’s a lot of things to whine about in this one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The health care system is still a mess.  We disagree about things like why “assault weapons” should be a little more difficult to get your hands on.  And Congress, the institution that is supposed to help us through all this, seems to be making it worse.

But then something like the email that I got this week pops into your life to remind you that despite the cracks in our Liberty Bell, there’s still no better place to be.

Every once in a while, I get these super flattering invitations to speak to students, arts executives, high net worth investors, and the like.  And what’s doubly cool is when those invitations come from outside the US, and I get invited to a foreign land to help spread the gospel of The Broadway!  (These foreign invites are just another bit of proof that my prediction is gonna come true, btw.)  Since part of my mission is to amplify the conversation about Broadway, and since I believe the global audience is such a growing demographic, I’m usually halfway to the airport before I can even reply.

This week I got one of those emails.  And it came from an exotic and far off land that is on my bucket list of places to go.  And while reviewing the information I got about what would be expected of my “talk,” I was informed that the shows I included in my talk should not involve such topics as . . . politics, religion, sexuality, infidelity, transsexual themes, violence, dating, etc.

I’m sure your mouth is on the floor just like mine was.  (And how ironic to be asked to speak about drama . . . when I wouldn’t be allowed to talk about anything dramatic . . . I mean what’s left?)

I got mad, of course.  And I’m not going (although I probably would have if I could have gotten some details worked out, just to see if I could push the envelope and broaden a horizon just a teensy bit . . . while avoiding jail).

But then I smiled.

Because I realized despite the fact that my co-pay for my general practitioner is $75 (if I can even find one that will take my “insurance”), and despite the fact that rich lobbyists shape more of the laws than Congress, we’re a pretty fortunate group of people, and on days like today, we need to remember not to take what we have for granted.

I can produce what I want.  I can go see what I want.

Heck, I can even write a blog with strong opinions that may upset a lot of people . . . without the risk of having someone knocking on my door five minutes after I publish it looking to make me disappear.

We’re lucky to be where we are.   We’re lucky to be “independent.”

Happy Fourth of July, all.

 

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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.

 

(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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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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