Ah, The Double Standard of Entertainment

A debate of ethic proportions has emerged amongst Broadway producers recently.

The question . . . would you hire this man?

The entertainment industry has always had a “we’ll hire you no matter what” attitude towards anyone with box office potential when it has come to drug use, DUIs, and even domestic violence.

Does this crime warrant more concern?  Less?

Will there be protests at the theater?  What if there are underage cast members in the show?

If we continue to hire individuals with bad track records, never mind criminal records, are we just teaching them that they are not accountable for their actions?

And are we teaching future artists that they don’t have to be accountable as well?  Or is the only thing we are accountable for the actual accounting.

Is it strange that companies across the world have drug tests for the simplest of tasks, yet there is no drug testing for Broadway employees, whether they are lifting fellow dancers above their heads or whether they are lifting heavy scenery above a dancer’s head?

And do we not have drug testing because we all know that a huge majority of actors, etc., would fail?

I don’t have an answer to whether or not I’d hire Mr. Barbour, but I do know this:

I’ve been trying to get this guy to do a musical for a long time.  God help me if it ever happens.

What would you do?

Your High Rollers.

The “Golden Rule” in casinos doesn’t have anything to do with being nice to your neighbor.  Their most important axiom is the ol’ Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule.

The casinos know that as much as they love when John and Suzy from Tulsa come for the weekend and lose $150 in the slots and buy the $7.99 buffet, John and Suzy aren’t paying for the Picassos in their lobbies and the shows in their theatres.

What’s paying for the luxury that keep John and Suzy coming are the Whales.Don’t think Whales or High Rollers are exclusive to that one glittering city in the desert (or the Indian reservation near you).   High Rollers are in every industry, including the theatre.

High Rollers are your premium ticket buyers.  High Rollers are your subscribers.  In the Off-Broadway world, High Rollers are your full price buyers.

Even though they may not represent 80% of our revenue, these people, who are willing to spend top-dollar plus, are people we need to pay attention to and respect.  More High Rollers means a higher profit margin.  So how do you get more of them?

Think about what Vegas does to take care of their High Rollers.

Now what do you do to take care of yours?  Do you greet them?  Do you give them free stuff?  Would you make a dinner reservation for them?

Watch your whales.  High Rollers keep the money “rolling on in.”

($10 iTunes gift certificate to the first person who posts a comment with the name of the musical that lyric is from.  No googleating – my sniglet that means cheating using Google).

100% of Zero is Zero.

Speaking of publishing statistics
, one of the most gossiped about stats around Broadway water coolers is percentage attendance.

“Did you see Variety?  Moose Murders only did 30% capacity!”

But this number actually does very little to diagnose the fiscal health of a show.  It just counts bodies in the house (including comps).  Even Moose Murders could get up to 100% if it really wanted to.

My favorite number in Variety?  Average Ticket Price.  This is where you can really see the market’s demand for a show.  If the ticket price is close to the full price, you know you’re in good shape.

And then look at the percentage.  Get a high average ticket price and a high percentage attendance, and you should be feeling pretty high yourself.

Playbill.com, Dressing Rooms & “The Nibble”

I was interviewed this week for a column on Playbill.com about how dressing rooms are distributed on Broadway.

 

At the end of the article I talk about “extras” that agents often try to get tossed into contracts:  couches, microwaves, TVs, VCRs, humidifiers, expensive wallpaper, plants, refrigerators, shag carpeting, air purifiers, bottled water.  I’ve even seen a few “dressing room designers” in my day.

The problem with these requests is two-fold:

1 – They cost money.  Duh.

I’m a big fan of spending money on things that the audience is going to see.  Wouldn’t it suck to have to tell your set designer that he can’t have that extra drop, knowing that you just spent $20k on a dressing room that is empty most of the day?  (The funny thing is, the great and dedicated actors would probably rather you spend the money on the show . . . it’s the agent that gets in the way.  I often say that to the agent . . . “Sure, your client can have a new tiled bathroom, but when we can’t give her the dress she wants in Act II, you can tell her why.”)

2 – The bigger problem I have with these “extra” requests is that they are often a prime example of the negotiating tactic that I call “the nibble”.

The biggest issue with any deal is money, right?  So that is usually done first.  Haggling about money can last for days, weeks, even months, depending on how complicated you want to get.  Just when you’re done, and you are patting yourself on the back because you came in on budget, the agent says, “there are just a few more things.”

Did you feel that?

Nibble.

Like a fish on your leg when you’re standing in a lake.

“We need a private dressing room with a couch, paint, microwave, TV (with cable), a phone installed . . . ”

Nibble.

“Oh, and car service, weekly massage, makeup reimbursement . . .”

Nibble, nibble.

I call it the nibble because the requests are usually relatively small, in terms of the big picture.  They are too small to jeopardize the whole deal, and psychologically, you’re most likely in a place where you just want to finish it so you end up saying yes.  They are only little things, right?  Piranhas wouldn’t kill you with one bite.  It’d be whole bunch of little ones.

To protect yourself from being eaten alive, make a point of asking the agent or the lawyer (ewww) up front for all of the client’s requests.  It doesn’t mean you have to grant them.  And it doesn’t mean you won’t, either.  In some cases, you’re going to have to provide the custom cabinetry, the dog-walker, and the green M&Ms.  But you need to know in advance, before you settle on a salary, so you can determine what you can truly afford.

So get all the details out on the table so you can call the agent on it if they try and nibble at you later.  And don’t be afraid to say no if you can get away with it.  Do you think someone would turn down a job over a microwave?

They may seem like little things.  But remember, a bunch of little things, add up to one big one.

What’s Grosser Than Gross?

Not knowing what your industry’s grosses are.

At the first meeting of the Off-Broadway Brainstormers,, founded by the Executive Director of New World Stages,  Beverley D. Mac Keen (who is one of the most foreword thinkers I know), a proposal was made by now president of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, George Forbes, to collect grosses from all currently running Off-Broadway shows, in an effort to truly understand our own economic impact.

It was one of those very simple proposals that made perfect sense.  How can we formulate budgets, contemplate theater sizes, etc. without knowing what our market bears.  Right?

Well, believe it or not, this idea met (and still meets) with resistance from some of my fellow producers.

The League and The Brainstormers came up with a great policy to address some very valid concerns:

– We made agreements with the ticketing companies so grosses would be sent directly to the League so no additional work would be required on behalf of the production.

– The grosses would be sent to one person at the League, and only three high-ranking individuals would have access to the show’s individual data, and would sign confidentiality agreements never to share the information.

– No show’s individual grosses would ever be released to any party.

– The aggregated data would also never be released unless a committee at the League approved of its use.

Despite all of these efforts to keep the data confidential and to install safeguards so that it was only used for the good of the industry, many producers still refused to allow their grosses to be reported.

Most simply say that they don’t want their grosses getting out to their competition.
I kind of understand this, but, uhhhh, remember the confidentiality agreements and the fact that only 3 people can access the data???  And that we’re not releasing an individual show’s data, but only looking at the combined results? 
Oh, and this is my favorite part . . . do these producers remember that these numbers are sent to unions every week?  ATPAM has a sliding scale compensation that is based on gross so they have to send them the numbers.  Most likely their show has an SSDC director on a royalty pool, which means that union is getting their information (and the director and the director’s agent, and his assistant, etc.).  If there was “competition”, wouldn’t the unions be the competition more than The League?  Add the advertising agencies (which we already know leak like the Titanic), box office personnel, managers, etc. to the list of people that already get grosses, and you’ve got more people who know your business than a public company!

I mean, really, are three more people who sign confidentiality agreements and work for the League going to all of a sudden open up your show to attention from the National Enquirer?  (If only!)

Sorry, but no one, other than the people trying to figure out how to solve the Off-Broadway problem, cares that much.

Sharing your grosses publicly (like Broadway shows do in Variety) is up for debate, and I’m not sure where I stand on that just yet, but sharing numbers in a private, protected environment for study and analysis is not only smart, it’s essential.  And just like your mom told you, it’s just plain selfish not to share.

What are people afraid of?  That we might see some low numbers?  Guess what, with all the Off-Broadway shows that come and go, I think we have a clue that you’re not doing so well.

And besides, we learn from the bad ones.  It’s just like learning to ride a bike. You learn more when you fall off than you do when you don’t.

So why do some of these very smart people choose not to opt-in to this program?  Look, I’m a control freak.  As an Off-Broadway producer, I’m not in control very often.  I think that most producers are just like me.  And they are refusing to release their numbers (even though they are released other ways), because it is one of the few things that they can control. 

If any Producers out there are struggling with this issue, let me know.  I see a therapist once a week to help me get over it and would be happy to give you a recommendation.  The industry will be better off as a result.

P.S.  What do you think of Broadway shows publicly sharing numbers in Variety?  I’ve turned my comments on, so comment away if you’d like (yes, even you Mom).

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