What us Broadway folks can learn from the success of The Simpsons.

Earlier this week, The Simpsons celebrated its 30th anniversary on the air.

That’s right, both The Simpsons AND The Phantom of the Opera started entertaining audiences in 1987.

The cartoon has 32 Emmys on its hand-drawn shelf and is also the longest-running scripted, primetime entertainment series of all time (and is guaranteed to run for at least two more seasons).

Whenever anything is this successful, but especially when it’s in the entertainment industry, I always take a few moments to dig into the story, in the hopes I’ll find something we can learn/borrow/steal for our playbooks.

Here are three takeaways from The Simpsons success story that we should pay attention to:

  1. It’s a cartoon that isn’t just for kids. Like most success stories, part of the key to its early success was how unique of a product it was. We had never seen anything like it.  It was a cartoon that wasn’t on Saturday mornings. And while kids loved hearing Bart say “Cowabunga, dude!” and piss off his parents in each episode, adults loved it too. Potential audience size = doubled. Disney is a master at this as well, especially with their films, in creating something that parents can take their kids to and enjoy just as much as their younger counterparts do (School of Rock is another great example of this on Broadway).If you have a show that could attract a younger demographic, work extra hard that you still appeal to the parent-set, and you could find yourself with twice as much word-of-mouth and twice as long of a run.
  2. It incorporates the current. All great satires poke fun at what is currently happening in society. The Simpsons constantly wrote current events into its scripts, making it resonate that much more with an audience.  In the press world, we call this newsjacking . . . you write a story based on another story that people are talking about and get that much more attention (and often press). In the entertainment industry, we just call this smart.And sure, it got themselves into some controversies from time to time, but that ain’t all that bad either.

    Maybe your show is loose enough where you can literally call out current events (comedies like this one lend itself easily to that).  But if you can’t, you should still endeavor to have your story contain an undercurrent of a theme that’s currently being talked about at water coolers around the world.  Because it’ll make sure your show is being talked about at those coolers too.

  3. They used stars . . . as supporting players. Celebrity voices were common on The Simpsons for the past 30 years, but they were always supporting folks. The primary characters were voiced by actors you never heard of before, and the show actually made stars out of them.Audiences turned on The Simpsons for the show, not the stars, and got some celebrities as a bonus.

 

Remember, of the 10 longest running shows on Broadway, 9 of them debuted without stars. While in today’s day and age, it may feel safer to put a celebrity into your lead role, it’s not what leads to long-term success.

 

 

An out-of-town tryout . . . in town.

Here are the hard facts about looking for a regional theater for your out-of-town tryout in the teen 2000s:

  1. They are hard to get. Just like a lot of shows are waiting to land a Broadway house, even more shows are waiting for their close-up out-of-town.  That means it’s getting even harder to secure one of the hotter tryout spots across the country thanks to the sheer volume of competition.
  2. You may have to wait for years. Regional theaters plan seasons well in advance, and from what I hear, they’re starting to do this further and further out, especially with their enhancement slots.  That means even if you are lucky enough to snag a coveted spot, you might be waiting two or three years for it to happen.  That means your option agreements may expire, your team may drift away, your cast may age out (!), etc.
  3. They are more expensive than ever. On my podcast, Des McAnuff, who helped build the whole idea of tryouts at regional theaters, called the current financial enhancement model around the country “dangerous.”  That’s because so many theaters are relying on these supplemented shows to help balance their budget.  And, like any smart business owner, as regional theaters have gotten more in-demand, their prices have gone up.  Can’t blame them, but it doesn’t stop your budget from ballooning.

So that’s just the way it is, right?

Wrong.

We’re never satisfied here at TPP and you shouldn’t be either.  The enhancement path was and still is, at times, a great one . . . but it may be time for a little innovation and a whole lotta disruption.

So, what do we do?

Here’s one idea.

Off Broadway is super challenging and unfortunately, much riskier than Broadway.  But, since the price of a first-class Off Broadway musical can be as much as a regional theater enhancement . . . why not produce it Off Broadway?  

You get the trial audience.  You get the reviews.  You get elements of the physical production you can take to the next step.

And it’s even easier for the Broadway theater owners to check you out if they’re interested.

And if it doesn’t work?  Well, your show is much more likely to be licensed or even go on tour if it’s played New York, rather than just played an out-of-town tryout.

Here’s the bonus . . . you won’t owe a regional theater 1-1.5%.

So, for the same budget, you actually own more of the show.  That makes it actually cheaper!

Downside?  You expose it to the critics early . . . but you’d be doing the same thing if you were trying out at The Public or any of the city-based Non-Profits.  And you’d take one of those if they came up, right?

With rising costs and a logjam of titles, producing your show in-town might be the only way to get your show up with a shot at Broadway, which makes it worth the risk in my book.

And it just might save Off Broadway in the process.

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/22/2018: It’s coming down to the wire.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 22, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

GUEST BLOG by Nathan Johnson: Elevating the Brand of Broadway

I didn’t grow up a Broadway fan. I wasn’t the kid that collected Playbills and hung them on my walls. I didn’t take holiday trips with my family to New York when I was young to take in a show. We typically found ourselves running away from the freezing Minnesota winters to warmer climates. Occasionally I would see a traveling Broadway tour (which I almost always enjoyed), but between family, friends, and extracurriculars, my life seemed pretty full. I was quite alright without adding “Broadway” to the mix.


So, in 2007 when I married the love of my life, actress Laura Osnes, and we moved to NY, that all changed.  Laura is a “Broadway Baby” through and through. She doesn’t like Broadway, she LOVES Broadway. Needless to say, my education started immediately.


Over the course of the next few years, I had some incredible experiences in the theatre. I assume if you’re reading Ken’s Davenport’s blog, I’m preaching to the choir. You probably already know that good theatre can challenge, inspire, develop empathy, and even cause us to just escape with a good laugh.  There’s just something about experiencing live theatre at that level that is impossible to get elsewhere.


While I felt at home in a Broadway house, many of my friends and acquaintances outside of the theatre community didn’t seem to care about taking the time to go to sit through a show. Their lives were full. From their perspective, Broadway seemed like something that was for the older generations, tourists, and for the super-committed thespian fan. Their perspective sounded a lot like me before meeting my wife. I couldn’t help but see that there was a major glitch in how Broadway was perceived by much of my demographic.


I am a photographer and business owner. After a brief stint of acting, and realizing it wasn’t for me, I began photographing a lot of actor headshots and portraits and eventually began shooting Broadway campaigns. I was fortunate enough to work with Ken on his incredible production of Spring Awakening…a production that made me ugly cry in my seat.


Five years ago I opened a photography studio in West Chelsea called Drift Studio (driftstudionyc.com), and have developed a great client list, including most of the major publications (Vogue, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Nylon, Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, Esquire, to name a few). Each of these companies do a pretty bang-up job at creating the level of content that cuts through the noise to reach a younger adult audience to bring them the newest of Hollywood, fashion, and music goings on (ignore the fact that the print divisions are going the way of the dinosaur). Why wasn’t Broadway included in the mix? You might see the occasional feature on one of the theatre elite, but it was a rarity. Why wasn’t anyone creating the type of Broadway content using Broadway talent to reach my peers? Why was almost all of the content that I was seeing so fan-focused?


Over the course of the next few years, I was fortunate enough to connect with others in the industry who felt the same way and wanted to do something about it. So we began to team up to create the kind of content that we wanted to see. Through a series of companies and brand partnerships, we have worked to create hundreds of photo editorials, feature stories and even events to try and make a connection with a new audience. Currently, much of our original team is at TodayTix, of which I am a Creative Director of a new venture called The X (cultureliveshere.com).


It is my hope that we, along with other outlets, elevate the brand of Broadway in a way that is exciting, glamorous, relevant and sexy and engage a new demographic of theatre-goers who deserve to know the power of the live theatre!


– – – – –

 
Nathan Johnson is a NYC based photographer and founder of Drift Studio.

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/15/2018: No snow, but still some slippage.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 15, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

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