RESEARCH ALERT: How many locations are in the average musical anyway?

I’ve read a lot of scripts. It’s one of the best parts of the job. The excitement of swiping past the first page . . . hoping I’m about to find the next Hamilton.

It’s the producer’s version of panning for gold.

Of course, no script comes out as a polished piece. There are always notes . . . whether it’s your first draft of your seventy-first.

And there are THREE notes that I find I give more often than others. And, there are THREE notes I GET more often than others on my own work. That’s right, I’m in the trenches of this theatermaking thing just like you.

One of those three notes I give is . . .

“The script has too many locations.”

(Variations include:  “too cinematic,” “How do we transition from one scene to another so quickly,” etc.)

See, locations affect how a show moves. It affects the cohesiveness of the storytelling. And it affects the budget.

So yeah, it’s important.

I gave this note recently and the writer said, “How many should I have?”

I answered my usual response. 

“There are no hard and fast rules. You have to write the show you want to write, but . . . “

“Well, is there a common number of locations for successful shows,” the Writer interrupted.

And I did not have an answer. Then.

But I do now.

I put our crackerjack research assistant, Andrew, on the case. (You might remember him as the guy who did a TikTok video about wanting to work with me – so we hired him.) Andrew prepared some stats that I found fascinating, so I had to share.

Here’s what we did, and what we discovered:

I asked Andrew to look at some classic musicals from decades past, to see what the trend was back in the day. So we analyzed the scripts of:

  • Oklahoma
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Guys and Dolls
  • The Music Man
  • West Side Story
  • Hello Dolly
  • Fiddler On The Roof
  • Cabaret

The average # of unique locations in those classics? 10. (Note: location means a “set” not a scene.)

Interesting, right? Immediately gives you a guideline of what has worked before.

But then I wondered. Has this changed since the 40s, 50s, and 60s?  

What is the average # of locations now?

So we analyzed the scripts of the following musicals, which were all written in the last ten years:

  • Memphis
  • Book of Mormon
  • Matilda
  • Kinky Boots
  • A Gentleman’s Guide
  • Hamilton
  • Dear Evan Hansen
  • The Band’s Visit

 

The average # of locations in these musicals? 16.

And there you go.

Over the years, the # of locations in musicals has increased by 60%.  

Why?

Technology is one reason, of course. We can move things faster now. We’ve got projections.  We’ve got automation. And more. So why not have more locations?

But I think it’s also because our audiences demand more. They see more movement in other forms of media. They have shorter attention spans. They want and expect a slicker, smoother entertainment experience.

Either way, I now have an answer to that writer’s question. And you can have a guide to use for your show.

Does this mean this is the required # of locations in musicals? That all shows must adhere to this stat like it’s the law?

Absolutely not.

But before you break something to make it better, you have to know how it works in the first place.
Want to see the other TWO most common notes I give?  (That are more important that the above).  Join our Facebook group. I just posted ‘em in there.

What Movie Companies Did That Streaming Companies Should Do.

In the early 2000s, I talked my way into a meeting with one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.

It was my first, big “studio” meeting. And right on brand, the meeting started an hour after its scheduled start time.

We discussed the differences between the business models of theater and film. How Hollywood owned scripts instead of licensed them. How producers in Hollywood became hired guns after they proved themselves.  

And despite all that, how a Broadway show could make MORE money than a hit movie or even a hit franchise.

(Yep, it’s true. See here to read how Wicked will make more money than Jurassic Park or ET, and see here to read how The Lion King will make more than Star Wars.)

That’s why the next thing I said to this mogul was . . .

“You know, you should have a theater department at your studio. A team to comb through your catalogs for the best adaptions.  Develop some yourself.  Market some to others. There is more gold in your mine. You need a team to dig it out.”

(Yep, I’m sure I was angling for a job – since none of my shows had hit yet.)

“Nah.  That’s not what we do.  It’s still not big enough for us.”

Flash forward almost 20 years later . . . and that studio has a theater department.

As does EVERY other major Hollywood studio.

We’re at the same moment in entertainment history that we were those 20 years ago . . . except I’m not sitting down with big ol’ Hollywood studios this time.

I’m talking to the new, upstart, streaming sites out there.

Yep, Netflix, Apple and yeah, if any of them, Amazon . . . you should have a theater department.  

You’ve already optioned some of our content. Disney with Hamilton. Apple with Come from Away. Netflix with Diana, American Son, and more.  

And you should have someone keeping an eye on what you should get next.  

But you should also have a team mining all that original content for dramatization.  

The streaming sites are in the midst of an original content war. And that war has produced so much original programming, plenty of which is ripe for a stage adaptation.

And yeah, as you can see from those articles above, it only takes one to outgross everything else you’ve done.  

So get ahead of your competitors and start a theatrical division today.

And if you need some recommendations on who to run your theater team for you, let me know.  (And no, I’m not talking about me.)

Katori Hall wins Pulitzer Prize for The Hot Wing King

In case you missed the news last week, there was indeed a winner this year for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama!

(There have been several years where the award was not given – and in a year where there wasn’t a lot of theater as we usually know it – there was some worry that it’d get skipped again.)

But nope.  We have a winner!

Katori Hall’s play The Hot Wing King, “the story of two gay black men in Memphis, Tennessee navigating love, life, and family” picked up one of the most coveted awards in the world, the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The show opened at Signature Theater Company in February 2020 before being postponed, but was still granted eligibility for this year’s prize.

(Hall has had a busy couple of years – penning the book (and getting a Tony nomination) for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.  And she was the Executive Producer and Showrunner for P-Valley on Starz, based on her play.  Oh, and she also appeared on my livestream – click here to watch that video).

Another interesting tid bit about this year’s awards was that one of the finalists was a “streamed” production – Patrick Foley and Michael Breslin’s Circle Jerk. 

So yes, my theatermakin’ friends and theatermakin’ fans, streaming is here to stay.

Congrats to Katori, and all the finalists . . . and, well, anyone that got their play off the ground in the past 12 months.  You all deserve awards, just for making it happen.

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Watch my interview with Katori Hall here.

What Broadway Shows Are Opening Back Up And When (So Far) (Updated 5/14/21)

On May 5, 2021, Governor Cuomo announced that Broadway shows can return to performances with a full capacity as of September 14, 2021. Though we have not heard from the unions, theatre owners, and producers on their specific safety plans they’re putting into place, the following shows have announced their reopening dates (or for a few . . . their Opening Nights!).

 

SIX 

First Performance: September 17, 2021

Opening Night: October 3, 2021

Buy Tickets

 

PHANTOM ON THE OPERA

First Performance: October 22, 2021

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AIN’T TOO PROUD

First Performance: October 16, 2021

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DIANA

First Performance: November 2, 2021

Opening Night: November 17, 2021

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JAGGED LITTLE PILL

First Performance: October 21, 2021

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CHICAGO

First Performance: September 14, 2021

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MRS. DOUBTFIRE

First Performance: Oct 21, 2021

Opening Night: December 5, 2021

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COME FROM AWAY

First Performance: September 21, 2021

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COMPANY

First Performance: December 20, 2021

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WICKED

First Performance: September 14, 2021

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THE LION KING

First Performance: September 14, 2021

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HAMILTON

First Performance: September 14, 2021

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CAROLINE, OR CHANGE

First Performance: October 8, 2021

Opening Night: October 27, 2021

Buy Tickets Soon

 

TINA

First Performance: October 8, 2021

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ALADDIN

First Performance: September 28, 2021

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MJ

First Performance: December 6, 2021

Opening Night: February 1, 2022

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MOULIN ROUGE

First Performance: September 24, 2021

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DEAR EVAN HANSEN

First Performance: December 11, 2021

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FLYING OVER SUNSET

First Performance: November 4, 2021

Opening Night: December 6, 2021

Buy Tickets

 

 

 

Watch this space and my social for updates to this list as more Broadway shows announce their reopening dates.

Two Things YOU Can Do To Get Theater Back FASTER (and one thing Broadway can do).

Over the past 48 hours, there has been a rising tide of positive sentiment about the return of the theater.

From the announcement on the Six twitter page to Chris Jones’ enthusiastic article in the Chicago Tribune, it feels like the Fall return for Broadway is for reals.

But there are two things that you can do to help get Broadway and theater back even faster . . . and one BIG thing Broadway can do.

Here’s what you can do.

Ready?

1.  Get vaccinated.

2.  Tell everyone you know to get vaccinated.

Simple, I know, but keep reading.

See, it’s clear to me (and has been for months) that Broadway will not return until the majority of the audience, if not the country/world, is vaccinated.

While other industries (e.g. professional sports) and even cities (e.g. Las Vegas) may come back sooner, that’s not going to be us. We don’t have the resources, the appetite for new technology, or even the government urging to get back faster.

We’ve always been, and always will be a giant steamship of an industry.  Our engines are old. We have many different types of personnel that don’t agree on how to sail the ship. And that makes it hard for us to avoid icebergs.

But rather than have our steamship sit idle in the water, there is something every theater owner, Broadway show, Off-Broadway show, union, ticketing site, etc, should do and should do now.

Since we CAN’T market our return just yet (since that return date is still TBD), I WOULDN’T market our return.

Instead, I’d turn all our marketing to “getting out the vaccination.” (We encourage people to vote, why wouldn’t we do this?)

If I was running the marketing department for all of the theater (insert evil laugh here), I’d ask every show to email their subscribers to tell them to get vaccinated. I’d ask those shows to post about it on social media, telling their fans that their favorite show will be back when they get vaccinated. And to share that message with their friends.

I’d create a “Got your vaccination?” campaign like “Got milk?”

But shows aren’t the only entities that should do this.  I’d tell every theater around the country to do the same. In EVERY state (especially those where hesitancy is a thing). Big regional houses, small community theaters, high schools, etc.

We all have one thing in common . . . we all need an audience. And that audience needs to be vaccinated.

I’d ask Telecharge to do it to send out a message to their millions of ticket buyers. I’d ask Ticketmaster to do it.

I’d ask everyone to do it. (My Streaming Stage Company list is going to do it – so if you’re signed up for that, you’ll see it coming.)

And by pushing vaccinations, we’d earn a few brownie points with the federal, state, and local governments, who are desperately trying to get this message out.

Oh, and double bonus . . . in addition to helping get Broadway back faster?  We’d also save some lives.  So there’s that.

So . . . . ask yourself . . . how can you spread the word (so we don’t spread the virus!).

If you want a social graphic that you can share, visit my Instagram and steal it.  Just promise to share it.

We’re gonna come back. But we CAN come back faster, and with bigger audiences, the faster the world gets vaccinated.

The health of our industry depends on it.

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Need info about how to get vaxxed?  Click here for full resources.


 

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