How is John Grisham like Hal Prince? Winner announced!

Here’s what I was looking for:

And Hal is so unlike anybody I know from my generation. The day after he opens a show, he has a production meeting for the next one.  The day after I open a show, I’m ready for a rest home.
– James Lapine

For both Hal and John, It’s not about basking in the glory of their last success, and it’s not about wallowing in a failure (and they’ve had both).   It’s about the work.  And doing more and more of it.

Knowing human nature as they do, they both set up this simple ritual to keep them focused on the work.

What simple rituals can you establish to keep you focused on what you want to accomplish?

Congratulations to Broadway Mouth, who’ll soon find a $25 iTunes gift certificate in his inbox.

A special shout out to Gonzalo Guitart for discovering the Schumacher connection.  Deep!

While I was researching this post, I found a great interview with Hal where he discusses investor expectations. the subject of my last post.

Hal Prince did a number of incredibly daring and artistic productions in his day that all . . . well . . . flopped.

Read about how he raised money for those shows here.

(FYI, this link goes to the middle of the interview.  After you read this page, start at the beginning.  No one did it better than Hal.)

Got a craving for Stew?

I saw Passing Strange on Wednesday night.

If you like Stew, and you want to see him in concert, then you will love this show.

You should also see this show if you think only commercial stuff that appeals to the masses gets produced on Broadway.

Because it’s not true.

Non-commercial stuff gets produced all the time (and thank God we have “Patron of the Arts” Producers like the ones above the title on Passing Strange that are in a position to push our manila envelope).

The non-commercial stuff usually just doesn’t run or recoup.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as you and your investors know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Establish expectations early.  Then if you exceed them and actually return money, it’ll be like finding a $20 bill in you pocket after doing the laundry.

There are zillions of reasons to produce shows that are exceptionally high risk and “non-commercial”:  commitment to the arts, possible Tony Awards, and so on.

My favorite reason for doing something that may not be the next Mamma-Mia is to develop and foster relationships with creatives, something I urge all young Producers to do.

Produce the plays of the passionate people around you.  Your peers are the playwrights of tomorrow, even if their plays of today may not be taking home Pulitzers.  But what about the one they haven’t even thought of yet?

And here’s a wonderful fact about human nature:  reciprocity works.  Do something for someone today, and they’ll be inclined to do something for you tomorrow, especially if you took a risk when no one else would . . . and lost.

My favorite example of this concept is the birth of one of the youngest producing houses on Broadway in the last few decades:  The Araca Group.

One of Araca’s first plays was called Skyscraper.  Cost them $30k and they lost it.

However, It was also the first play by David Auburn.

When David Auburn was at the Fringe Festival being wowed by a small musical, guess who he called first, before the show was even over!

“David called me at intermission and said, ‘You must come and see this show,'” Michael Rego recalled.  So they did.  Within months, they had secured the rights to Urinetown . . .
– New York Times

Careers begin, like life, with relationships.  It’s no coincidence that the Altar Boyz creative team consists of a guy I shared a room with in summer stock, a guy I shared a show with at the former Ford Center, and two guys I shared a tour with in 2000.

I got lucky. My first one paid off.  The people behind Passing Strange most likely won’t be so lucky.

But that’s ok.  They know the why they’re doing it.  And since one of the lead Producers is the owner of the theater, they have a little more control over one of Broadway’s biggest weekly expenses: rent.

Read the full story about the birth of Araca here.

Click below to see my favorite example of producing a show for a relationship in the last decade here.

But before you do . . . guess what the show was.

Click here as you think.

Click here for the results

BREAKING NEWS:  I wrote this blog last night, before Isherwood’s rave in the Times this morning.  It will be interesting to see if this review has an effect on the show’s financial and commercial viability.  Anyone want to take any bets?


Another pricing post. Don’t “cry” – this one is only $54!

I couldn’t help but continue with my pricing motif when I saw the Cry Baby marquis this weekend advertising “All Tickets for Previews Only $54!”  (The show is set in 1954. Get it?  1954.  $54.)

The hopeful Producers of Hairspray II are betting that this reduced price (about the same as what the price would have been at the TKTS booth) will pull in more of an audience during the ever important early weeks, when a show’s expenses are high and grosses are low.

But will it work?

By slashing their prices across the board, they have eliminated the consumer’s option for choice, which breaks my Kardinal Kenism:

There is always someone who wants to fly first class.

First class may seem out of reach for most of us, and a full price ticket might seem too expensive for an unproven show in previews for most of us as well, but data shows there is always someone who will buy it, no matter what the price is.  They just want “the best.”  Dance of the Vampire, Moose Murders, Carrie . . . all of the biggest flops in history had full price ticket buyers during previews.  Stupid ones, but still.  My opinion?  Just take the money.

The other problem with across the board pricing strategy is that your
TKTS price is proportionally adjusted.  So, the Producers of Cry Baby aren’t only losing income from the potential $115 ticket buyer who is now
paying $54, but they’re also losing money from the people who would have
paid $57.50 at the booth (50% of $115) who are now going to pay $27 (and remember – at the TKTS booth, you don’t see the actual prices display . . . only 25%, 35% or 50% off, so the customer thinks they are all the same).

The Producers of Baby are smart people.  They understand the above theory.  But obviously they believe two things:

  • They believe they are going to sell approximately 2x the number of tickets from this promotion than they would have sold using traditional pricing.  Even if they sell the same, they will have double the butts in the seats.  And more bodies = more word of mouth.
  • The public discount will allow them to spend less on advertising so they can avoid certain email blasts, direct mail, etc. which reduces their overall expenses.

Time and Variety will tell how this theory works, but if I were playing my favorite game, I would have made a different call.

I would have priced it more traditionally, based on my first class rule above, and because I don’t believe that the price is that remarkable of a call to action.

Then I would price the entire house for just the first preview at $19.54.

That’s a price worth talking about.  And it would have gotten the most people in to the see the show early, so they would hopefully stop talking about price.

And start talking about the show.

My favorite game is “I’m The Producer!” Wanna play?

Back when I watched football more regularly, they had a feature called You Make The Call!  They showed a play from an actual game and then you got to play referee, deciding things like if Joe Montana’s pass was intentional grounding or not (can you tell how long it’s been since I’ve watched football regularly?).

After a commercial, they’d reveal what the correct call was.

(Note to the all those NFL executives reading this blog – bring this feature back.  The surge of interest in reality television and interactive entertainment makes it a natural for today’s audiences.)

I like to play this game with Producing!  Ready?  Here’s the “play” . . .

There has been a tremendous amount of excitement and buzz around the latest revival of The Scottish Play at BAM.  Of course, talks to moving Mac-You-Know-What to Broadway have been heard all over Joe Allen’s.

This production seems to have the two things that are necessary for a revival: a star and a new interpretation.  And this one has a bonus – a “you must see this performance” review from Ben Brantley!

So, here’s where the game begins:

You’re the Producer.  You get a call from Mr.
Schoenfeld of the Shuberts who says, “Kid, I put my grudge with that bald British guy from Star Trek
behind me.  I’m giving you the theater with my name on it.  But I need to know if you want it right now or I’m going to give it to the touring company of Dora The Explorer, ok?  That little Dora and her monkey make me laugh.  Plus that show grosses more in merchandise per week than Journey’s End grossed during its entire run.  The catch is that Dora wants the theater for a year, so you have to guarantee me a year.  Do you want it, or does my theater turn into Crocodile Lake?”

Gulp.  What do you do?

The first thing you do is ask Mr. Schoenfeld for some time to make a decision.  Business is not your final Calculus exam.  Business is an open book test.  You need some time to take a look at research.  If anyone ever tells me that I have to make a decision right there on the spot, I walk away.  Period.

Mr. Schoenfeld gives you fifteen minutes.

Better, but no time to make a budget.   And considering he does have another offer, you can’t begrudge him wanting to move quickly.

So what would your plan be?  Take the theater and just see what happens?

Oh no, you’re too smart for that.  Let’s look at the last twenty years of commercial theater productions of Shakespeare.

Show                        Year        Star                            Performances

Julius Caesar             2005       Denzel Washington      112

Macbeth                    2000        Kelsey Grammer         21

A Midsummer’s . . .    1996        None                          78

The Tempest              1995       Patrick Stewart            95

Hamlet                       1995       Ralph Fiennes             110

Merchant of Venice     1989        Dustin Hoffman           103

Macbeth                     1988        Christopher Plummer    85

(Not as many as you thought for 20 years, right?  I was surprised too.)

Ok, what have we learned? (Besides the obvious fact that formatting tables in blogging software blows?)

  • Commercial Shakespeare productions have slowed in the last decade.
  • If you’re gonna do Shakespeare, have a star.
  • Macbeth is a popular title to revive.
  • Average length of run is 86.29 performances or 10.79 weeks (8 shows/week)

And there’s your answer.  While certainly the length of the runs of the majority of these shows were based on the star’s availability (and the lack of it), there is no data to suggest that you could sustain a long run of a commercial Shakespearean production (if you had more time, you’d analyze all of the grosses of these
productions, especially the trends at the
end of the runs).

You’d call Mr. S. back, and tell him that you can’t take it for a year.  You’d show him the data (numbers are the best negotiators) and tell him your plan is for a 12 week limited run with a hope of an extension, but that’s it.  He’d be overwhelmed by your market savvy and give you the theater.  Then you’d call your GM and figure out how to recoup in 6-8 weeks.

Did we win the game?  Did we make the right call?

Unfortunately, there’s no referee with a rule book to tell us if we’re right.  But there is recoupment, and you just gave yourselves a lot better odds at getting there by doing even the quickest bit of research.

If you hadn’t done your homework you might have done a standard play
budget that recouped in 6 months to a year and you’d be wishing you
were at the bottom of Crocodile Lake when your investors came looking
for you.

Play this game often.  Every time you hear buzz about a show, think about how you’d get it to the next level. Where you’d produce it.  If you’d produce it.  Then keep a list of these notes.

The fun is checking back in on those shows a year later to see how you did.

This just in . . . theater tickets are expensive.

Ok, you knew that already.

But here’s something you may not have known . . . They’ve always been expensive.

Hal Prince once gave a speech where he confirmed my theory that people have been complaining about theater prices since The Black Crook opened.

Yet one of the most common complaints I still hear at meetings regarding the problems of Broadway and the theater in general is that tickets are too expensive and if we could only fix that, the theater would be restored to its past glory!

Sorry, not gonna happen.

As Hal insinuated, it’s time we acknowledge that theater tickets are expensive and get over it, because it’s not gonna change.

Theater tickets are a high priced commodity.  They are a luxury good.  But are they too expensive?

Let’s compare Broadway theater tickets to other live entertainment options:

  • A recent scan of the web found me a pair of Bon Jovi tickets for a top price of $129.50 in Wisconsin (something tells me people in Milwaukee may earn less than people in New York City so $129.50 might feel like a heck of a lot more to them).
  • The Yankees offer a bunch of different ticket options, including SEVEN price levels at $100 or higher (up to $400).
  • Top price for Ka in Las Vegas?  $169.50.
  • Disney World?  $71.

Our ticket prices are not out of line.  They are even cheap by some comparisons (something tells me those $400 Yankees tickets will go faster than premiums to A Catered Affair).  And most Producers (as they should) have a small allocation of much lower priced seats to offer those who can’t afford the high priced options (lotteries, rush, etc.)

People will pay the $125, $250 or sometimes even $500 for the
right ticket to the right show, which demonstrates that people are not
price resistant.

They are value resistant.

We need to stop worrying about how to decrease prices and start worrying about how to increase value.

Your customers will pay top dollar plus for an experience that they believe is worth it.  Your job is to make the value of your ticket seem even higher than the price your customer is paying so it seems like they got a bargain.

Oh and to all the people that say we need to cut the price of the ticket to
save the American theater, I point to all of the shows that have
discounted tickets down to the $20s and $30s to “save their show” only
to still see them close (there is no value in a crappy show).

And, vice-versa, every time I’ve raised prices on a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, attendance never drops.

The day of the $1,000 theater ticket will be here some day, and as depressing as that sounds, don’t worry.  It’ll still be less than what a lot of people pay for tickets to the Super Bowl or The Kentucky Derby.