Give away tickets, sure, but don’t paper.

Every smart company knows that with any product launch, you’ve got to give away some product to start the snowball of word of mouth marketing rolling down the

What separates the great marketers from the mass marketers is who that product is given to. 

Ten years ago, there were one or two “papering” organizations in the theater business that had a list of people who were interested in seeing theater that could be
mobilized quickly to fill a house.

Now, there are at least four major papering companies that charge their members a service fee of a few dollars for getting these tickets.  Shows, big and small, give these organizations free tickets, and then these companies profit from being able to get rid of them.  And they’re growing.  One company recently sent me a direct mail offer to sign up.  They are spending more media dollars than my shows.

The hope for the shows is that the members help spread the word of mouth and turn their friends into paying customers.

And maybe that happened ten years ago.  But do you know what’s really happening now?

Word of mouth is spreading about these companies and a way to get a $4 ticket to a show, rather than the show itself!  How do I know this?  Simple . . . the  growth of the number of companies engaging in this activity proves the growth in the market.  Where there are competitors, there is a market share to be had.  And that’s bad news for the theater.  We’re increasing the size of an audience looking for free or extremely discounted tickets.

On top of that . . . does anyone really think that this is the best way to spread word of mouth?  These people that use these services are now trained to expect free tickets.  There is no reciprocity factor any more.  There is no feeling of “Wow, I got a free ticket to a show and can’t wait to see it.”  And if you were one of these people and actually saw a great show, wouldn’t one of the first things you said to a friend be “I saw a great show and I only paid $4!” 

Giving away product is fine, but choose wisely.  It may be easier to call a papering company to get rid of 100 tickets to a preview, but you’ll be much better
served seeking out corporations and hair dressers and banks and anywhere where they don’t usually get this sort of offer (and you can pick specific geographic
locations where you think your demographic may be hiding).  These people will be super-excited to get the offer (and therefore more inclined to talk ositively about the experience) and since they are hand picked by you, more inclined to enjoy your product.  And, by avoiding these companies that profit off our paper, you’ll be helping to prevent the disintegration of our paying audience. 

Avoid papering companies like they are vampire musicals.

Not everyone should play poker.

Anyone that
has played a lot of poker knows that if you get a player that sits down at the
table that doesn’t know how to play very well, it can really affect your game.

Oh, you’d
think you could just take all of their money pretty easily, but it’s not that

Bad players
make stupid bets not based on odds, drive up the pots, read the cards wrong,
and play on emotion.  And they can even win a big pot every once in awhile
making them think they know how to play.

And sometimes,
they can draw you in to playing their style of the game.

And when they
pull you in, you end up making bad bets and the next thing you know, you’re
heading for the buffet, as they are buying tickets to the latest Cirque show
with your money.

Or they just
mess up the game for everyone else that’s trying to play.

This happens
all too often in the theater, a business where sometimes a big checkbook is all
you need.  Most recently, I watched a high profile show whose fate had
been sealed some time ago start doing random media buys, including full page
ads in papers, etc.  And then this week, they sent out an offer for free
tickets to every single one of their performances . . . to a list of people
that usually paid for tickets (guess which list is going to be hard to retrain
that they have to pay for theater now – thanks for ruining that hand for the
rest of the players, guys!)

And after all
that . . . this week, they announced their closing. 

When you see
big ads, and lots of questionable media, it’s easy to start to think you need
to do the same thing.  But don’t get sucked in, just because someone
raises the bet.

Good poker
players sit back behind sunglasses and play the numbers, calculating pot odds,
determining when to raise and when to fold based on data first and then gut,
while watching others flail around.

Oh, and knowing when to fold and
close a show and limit your losses to your investors is one of the hardest
lessons to learn, but one of 
the most important.

Is there a Doctor in the theater?

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

re-vive v. tr.
1.  To bring back to life or consciousness; resuscitate.

For example, “The Doctors revived the comatose man.”

So that means if you’re reviving something, you have to consider that man, woman or musical . . . dead.

And bringing someone, something or some show back from the dead takes an awful lot. You can’t just revive anything by using  “The Secret”  or because you liked the show when you saw it 20 years ago. To have a successful revival on Broadway, you need the following:

1.  A major revisionist thinking, or a decidedly new take on the material.
2.  A major star (and not one that we’ve all seen 20 times in other shows . . . give us someone new).

And if you really want a smash revival . . . give us both.

Starry, Starry Night!

Below is a list of the longest running shows in Broadway history:

1.  The Phantom of the Opera
2.  Cats
3.  Les Miserables
4.  A Chorus Line
5.  Oh! Calcutta!
6.  Beauty and the Beast
7.  Rent
8.  Chicago
9.  Miss Saigon
10.  The Lion King

What do 9 of these 10 shows have in common?

Not one of them opened with a Star.

Make the show the Star.  That’s the key to a long runner.  In a new show, stars are nothing but expensive insurance policies for those who lack the confidence in their own material.  Stars make us lazy.  And they ask for crazy things like special luxury wallpaper (true story).

And once you go Star, you can never go back.  Save the Stars for the revivals (like the 1 out of the 10 above) because they need them.

Now, look back at that list . . . how many musical theater Stars were born from the shows above?  I count at least as many as there are shows on that list.

Make Stars, don’t count on them.

Is “Vanity” a sin?

I got into a discussion about “Vanity Projects” today.

I’ve thought about this term before, because I’m sure some people have called my shows VPs.  I do wear a lot of hats on my shows at times, depending on the scope and size of the project, and, to be honest, how much is in the budget (I work cheap when I’m negotiating with myself) and who else is available.

But what really is a Vanity Project?

A Vanity Project is a term used to describe shows that don’t work, AFTER they don’t work.  It’s the entertainment industry’s version of Monday morning quarterbacking.

Has anyone ever called Rocky a Vanity Project?  Sly wrote and starred in the first one (winning an Oscar), and wrote, starred and directed the rest of the series (except for Rocky V, where he let the original director get behind the camera again).

How about Star Wars?  Written and Directed by Mr. Lucas.

Hedwig?  No.

Rent?  Nope.

In The Heights?  Don’t think so.

In My Life?  (alarm goes off)  Most people in Shubert Alley would say yes.

Collaboration is why I love the theatre.  But that doesn’t mean that wearing a few hats is a bad thing, as long as you deliver.

So no, Vanity is not a sin.

But sucking definitely is.