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.

What the #&$@ is my job, anyway?

I’ve been lucky enough to speak on a number of panels lately, and one of the most common questions I get is, “What does a producer actually do?”

It usually takes me about fifteen minutes to explain how a producer’s job may vary from raising money to selling merchandise to giving notes to a director to explaining to a hair dresser that the star of the show doesn’t want her in her dressing room because her feet smell. (True story)

And after that fifteen minute lecture, my other panelists are usually ready to gag me because I’ve taken so much of their time.

So, I decided I needed to distill my definition down to one succinct sentence.  So here goes:

A commercial producer’s job is to get as many people to see his or her show as possible.

That task can be accomplished through raising money to get the show up, through giving notes to the authors in order to make it a better show that people want to see, through marketing and advertising, and yes through buying some odor eaters so that star’s nasal passages don’t swell and cause her to miss another show.

But everything you do is in order for it to be seen by as many people as possible.

Because if lots and lots and lots of people see it . . . the investors should be happy because they are hopefully making money, and the authors should be happy because their voice is being heard.

Future fellow panelists, you can leave the gags at home now.  Although, maybe that’s not a smart idea.  I’ve got some other things to say.

Speaking of panels, I’ve been asked to be a part of a very exciting panel at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference in Las Vegas on 11/15.  It’s the largest conference on word of mouth marketing, so it should be a lot of fun.  And right after my panel, there’s a keynote address by Andy Sernovitz who wrote “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking”. I’m an Andy fan. He’s smart. Oh, and he mentions Altar Boyz in his book.  🙂 

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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