Theater things that don’t make sense: Vol. 4. Size envy.

Why is it that most of the companies that service Broadway Producers have offices that are bigger than most Broadway Producers’?

Shouldn’t the people that produce the shows be the ones with the fancy addresses and the giant conference rooms and the late-nite catering?

Most of the offices of my peers don’t rival the offices of the ad agencies, the general managers, the accountants, the lawyers, the lighting rental companies, etc.

In fact, the only Producers’ offices I know that can measure up, are offices that also include in-house service agencies like General Management, Marketing, etc.

Unfortunately funny, no?

As someone once said to me, “There’s no money to be made in Broadway.  But there is money to be made OFF Broadway.”

Something tells me that he wasn’t talking about producing shows at theaters under 499 seats.

There are several rational explanations for this phenom, the main one being that it’s easier for those service industry specialists to serve multiple clients, than it easy to produce several shows (especially in a market that doesn’t care about competition).

But we can rationalize it all we want.  If our service industries had smaller offices, then they wouldn’t have to charge so much, and if they didn’t have to charge so much, then our shows would recoup faster.

And if our shows recouped faster, then the producers and investors would be more encouraged to take more risk.

And when you take more risk, everyone gets rich . . . in more ways than one.

A profile of a one-hit wonder woman.

As a guy that produces a show about the 80s, I know about one-hit wonders all too well.  They get bad reps for being “lucky” and “in the right place at the right time.”

Here’s a fantastic profile of a one-hit-wonder in the producing world.  The difference between Ms. Craymer and Vanilla Ice is that she never wanted a second hit.  She was satisfied enough with the chart-busting monster she developed the old fashioned way – with passion and perseverance (think what you want about the show, but its success demands that we study it).

The article is a incredible outline on how to produce, no matter what you’re working on, whether it’s the Dancing Queen of all jukebox musicals, or a new adaptation of The Tempest set on the moon starring Tickle-Me-Elmo.

The article stresses the importance of:

  • Developing relationships with creatives
  • Finding a project you’re passionate about
  • Understanding the appeal of that project and without trying to make it something that it isn’t
  • Being a control freak
  • Being prepared for great personal sacrifices
  • Bringing work in-house
  • Staying true to your vision, despite financial temptation
  • Being a control freak again

Alright, enough with the bullet points.  Here’s the article.

Oh, and before you think that I’m up at night reading British papers, this article came to my attention thanks to the surfing-saving e-clipping site, BroadwayStars, founded by a reader.

Shows that happen in Vegas, stay in Vegas. And vice versa.

If you’ve been following my recent road trip on twitter, then you know that I’ve gone from Columbus to Nashville to Las Vegas, baby, where there could be more live entertainment in one concentrated district than anywhere in the entire world.

As I was scootin’ around Sin City in my rental car, I saw a sign advertising the earlier-than-expected closing of Spamalot.

Another one bites the desert.

Vegas has been binging on Broadway the last few years, eating up Tony winners like Avenue Q, The Producers and Spamalot and puking them right back up like they were bad tomatoes.

The closing of these shows seems to be a very hard thing for a lot of very smart folks in charge of Vegas entertainment dollars to understand, including the Wizard of Oz-Vegas himself.  No matter how many millions are lost and how many times they swear they’ll never touch a Broadway show again, back the Vegans come (yes, I’m hijacking that word), much to the delight of Broadway producers and authors who earn some nice up front advances and/or fees.

And believe me, I’ve wanted to sell my shows to Vegas for years.  It just sounds sexy, right?

It may sound sexy, but more often than not, it ain’t successful.  And success beats down sexy every time.

Why don’t most Broadway shows work in Vegas?  Here’s an easy way to think of it.  Reverse the flow.

Would a Liberace Impersonator work here?  How about Dirk Arthur’s Extreme Magic?  Or a topless revue that features the sinking of the Titantic and destruction of the temple of Sampson and Delilah?

If those shows wouldn’t work here . . . why in the world do we think that our shows would automatically work there.

“But Ken!   Mamma Mia has done ok!  Phantom seems to be doing fine!  And so is Jersey Boys!”

True that.  But those aren’t Broadway.  Those are brands.  (And it’s interesting to note that while they are all doing fine, these shows haven’t replicated the enormous success they have in other markets).

So what do I think it takes for a show to work in Vegas and keep people from the slot machines?

  • Brands are beautiful.
    • In a town where tourists turn over ever 48 hours, word of mouth is hard to come by, so pre-existing knowledge of what you’ve got to offer is essential.  They’ve got to come in knowing you.
  • Who needs English?
    • Vegas is a global destination and having a show that crosses language barriers gives you a showgirl-size leg up on the comp. so you won’t have to comp.
  • Spectacles are spectacular.
    • The city of Las Vegas is a spectacle by itself, so it makes sense that people want what brought them there in the first place.  Get synced up with the city.

One thing that doesn’t matter?  Price.  I threw down $168-and-change to see the Beatles-infused Cirque du Soleil experience, Love.

What did I think?  Well, I’ll just say this . . . jukebox musicals are hard, even if produced by a company that grosses $630 million/year.


Sorry Rent-Heads . . . no day but tomorrow.

While the characters in Rent can live the words of a Godspell tune and live day by day by day by (repeat ad naseum), your job as a Producer is different.

Your job is to look at tomorrow, and then take steps today to make sure you’re around tomorrow.

According to Riedel, the producers of Young Frankenstein have looked at their forecast and have realized that they need to make some significant changes in order to maintain economic viability.  That’s what big business does.

What is unique about YF‘s situation is that they are going after the actor salaries.

Contract re-negotiations on Broadway are always difficult, as, naturally, everyone wants to see an increase after a job well done and after a year of service.

Your job as a Producer is to figure out how much you can afford, based on several factors including:

  • The economic forecast of the show and . . .
  • The cost of replacing the actor.

Failing to secure an actor during a renegotiation means you have to replace him/her.  And that can be expensive.  It’s your responsibility to do that math.  Add up the costs for rehearsal space, casting, rehearsal musicians, new photos, rehearsal salaries and, gulp, new costumes!  An additional $1000/week or $52,000 (plus benefits, etc.) in additional salaries may sound like a lot, but depending on the role, $52k might easily be eaten up in replacement costs.

However, new cast members sometimes gets new press, repeat customers (casting is one of the few things we can do in the theater to update our content), etc.

Up to you to choose wisely.

YF is doing the fiscally responsible thing for their investors . . . however, it ain’t gonna look that way to the artists when they hear they’re getting a cut instead of a bump, no matter how much they are being paid now.  One of biggest issues we have in our industry is that businessmen and artists have a hard time speaking the same language, which creates a natural adverserial relationship.  It’s hard for each party to even understand what the other goes through every day.

What would I do to make sure this bad medicine goes down smoother?

Take it myself first.

Riedel suggests this as well, and I have to agree.  And it would be the first thing I’d say in a negotiation.  “I’m reducing.  We’re all reducing.  So we’re asking you to reduce as well.”

Much harder to counter that argument.

And sometimes you gotta take the shot in the arm, to show your kid you’re willing to endure the same pain.

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Only 2 days left to play The Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool!  You can win an iPhone!  Play today!

Patton would be proud. It’s a Producer Boot Camp!

TRU (Theater Resources Unlimited), one of the few institutions dedicated to the training of new Producers, has just announced the their first ever “Producer Boot Camp,” a weekend of seminars dedicated to getting the new Producer producing!

This two-day weekend intensive will feature a number of seminars about everything involved with getting your show off the ground, with a specific focus on producing at the AEA Showcase, Off-Off Broadway or festival level.

They’ve got some great some great panels planned about budgets, marketing, contracts and more led by speakers like Jed Bernstein (former President of the League of American Theaters and Producers) and Jeremy McCarter (chief critic of NY Magazine).

I’ll be giving a talk as well about “New Models” of producing and how I got my shows started by starting small.

Hope to see you there.

Click here for more info on the weekend and on TRU.

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Only 4 days left to play The Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool!  You can win an iPhone!  Play today!

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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