Theaters Aren’t The Only Place To Do Theatre Anymore

My first experience with “site-specific” theatre was in 1995 with a little musical called J.P. Morgan Saves The Nation, written by a then-unknown composer/lyricist named Jonathan Larson (the NY Times called his score “peppy”).  It took place on the steps of Federal Hall downtown.

But this blog isn’t about site-specific theatre.

While I do think we’re on the verge of seeing plays and musicals pop up in office buildings, bars, shopping malls, and everyplace else in the next few years (thanks to the high cost of actual theaters, not to mention the lack of availability), site-specific theatre is so 1995.

In the past week, a few blips have appeared on my trend-spotting sonar that make me think we’re on the verge of another kind of revolution.  And this one, surprise surprise, has all to do with technology.

First, I can’t help but notice that Netflix has taken a more aggressive approach to capturing theatrical content as of late and not just the big branded Springsteen-like shows.  They shot a movie version of American Son.  They announced a movie version of that Cinderella story of a musical, The Prom.  And now, the Off-Broadway one-woman show, Douglas, will be the latest addition to their growing theatrical portfolio.

Second, (spoiler alert!) but I spend a lot of time on my upcoming podcast with Tony Nominated art-trepreneur Paul Gordon (airs this coming Monday) talking about his StreamingMusicals platform, which is off to a strong start (and got him a licensing deal for a new musical that has never played NYC).  I expect the next generation of theatre-makers is going to see this approach as a way to get their shows into the world at a fraction of the cost that typically comes with putting up an actual production.  (And speaking of streaming, we just got a report on my own production of Daddy Long Legs from my friends at  BroadwayHD, and it’s exceeding expectations in the number of views.  Check it out here.)

Third, I caught a glimpse of an ad on a subway platform the other day for a new digital platform called STAGE, which states, “From classic performances to edgy icons and undiscovered gems, musical theatre and performance is the cornerstone of STAGE.”  What’s interesting about this isn’t the network itself, but the ad . . . which ain’t cheap.  That says to me that STAGE ain’t effin’ around.  They see a big future in the platform and are betting on it.

And fourth (because you know, everything comes in threes, so when there are four things, you definitely have a fourk-ing trend), and perhaps most interesting of all . . . a new podcast musical was released this week, called Next Thing You Know by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, starring Patti Murin, Colin Hanlon, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Lauren Blackman.  This on the heels of the high profile John Cameron Mitchell podcast musical “Anthem: Homunculus,” starring Patti Lupone to name a few (because she counts as a few).  Instead of readings and workshops, these creators have turned to tech to get attention for their new works.  (I wonder if critics will start reviewing them?)

All of this makes me think . . . are streaming and podcast recordings the new “concept recording,” made famous by Andrew Lloyd Webber with Jesus Christ Superstar? We all know how that worked out.  Answer?  Yes, yes they are.

And all of this points to one thing:  an uprising is underfoot.

The modern-day creators, who are part of the DIY generation, who grew up able to create and distribute their films and music without gatekeepers, are now finding ways to distribute theatre in the same way.

And we’re just at the beginning of it.

If you’re a theatre-maker, you should start to imagine other ways to get your shows the attention they deserve.

Because over the next ten years, the traditional walls of Broadway and Off-Broadway are going to come crumbling down as the next generation of creators continue to think outside of the . . . box theater.

– – – – –

Do check out Daddy Long Legs on BroadwayHD, and then guess how much it cost me to shoot something that high of a quality.  And then imagine how you can do it for your show . . .

Broadway Grosses w/e 2/3/2019: Going Deep for the Deep Freeze

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending February 4, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Broadway Grosses w/e 01/20/2019: Dodging the First Snow of 2019

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending January 21, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

5 Things I Learned About The London Theater Scene At My Social.

Now that was fun.

So, I’ll admit.  I’ve done about a dozen of my “socials” around the world over the past 10 years and five minutes before the start of each and every one, I panic.  And I think two things:

  1.  “I know we have a ton of people on the RSVP list, but what if no one comes?”
  2. “What if everyone DOES come and no one has any fun?”

You’d think I’d have learned by now this simple truth . . . when you put a bunch of passionate theater people in a room, you can’t NOT have fun.

That’s why our London social this past Tuesday was a blast, as you can see in these photos.  Old friends were reunited.  New friends were made.

I even gave three people March 15th deadlines for their projects and told them they had to email me to let me know they’ve accomplished their goals by then or I’d publicly shame them right here on this blog.  (You know who you are.  I haven’t forgotten.  Tick tock, mates.)

And most importantly, I know several folks that scheduled follow-up coffee dates to talk about how they can work together.

That’s the coolest.  In fact, someone asked me what my goal was for throwing the social . . . and I said, “That a lot of people get together for coffee afterward.”

But I lied.

That wasn’t my only goal.  The truth is, one of the reasons that I bribed all these smart, talented, and driven Brits with free drinks is because I wanted to learn about the emerging London theater scene!

And learn I did.  So here, in no particular order, are five things I learned about the scene . . .

1. THEY’VE GOT MORE $ FOR SHOWS.

More than one emerging producer came up to me and said they loved working in London because it was easy to get $10-$15k grants to do small shows.  It just sounded so simple.  And it sounded like that kind of cash could produce our equivalent of an Equity Showcase here in the states.  We’ve all heard about how the big behemoth theater companies like The National get great governmental support, but it sounds like it trickles down to all levels.  It’s like the government knows that supporting emerging producers is smart because Producers who produce hire hundreds and hundreds of people (if not more) over the course of their career.  Investing in them actually helps stimulate the economy and the arts.

2. THEY’VE GOT LOTS OF AMERICANS THERE.

I was shocked to hear as many American accents amidst all the small talk.  It seems that several of them (most who crossed the pond for undergrad and graduate degrees) knew something we don’t (See #1).  They’re probably going to curse my name for revealing the big secret (sorry, guys), but they all seemed to LOVE living and working in London town.  One of my favorite answers to my query of why they enjoyed being there so much was, “The theatrical history in this town.  It’d just such a part of the culture.”

3. THEIR CHALLENGES ARE THE SAME AS OURS.

While sure, there may be more grants, but raising money was a big concern.  They were talking about finding agents, finding directors, getting Producers to read their scripts . . . or for the Producers in the room, finding writers with great scripts!  (We hooked a few people up for sure.)  So for all of your Theater Makers, wherever you are, I’ve never felt more confident in saying this . . . You are not alone.  And I promise that we’ll keep doing these kinds of things in order to unite this tribe of Dream Makers.

4. THEY LOVE BROADWAY.

Even though the UK is the home of Shakespeare and some of their theaters were built before we even had a country, they’ve got tremendous respect for what we do here in the US and on Broadway. They follow it closely, which was impressive considering how far away we are and that several of them had never been.  But one of ’em knew more of what was going on than I did. (Special thanks to the internet for making it feel like you can cross an ocean with a click of a keyboard.)

5. THEY COME FROM AWAY.

I met Theater Makers from Korea, Paris, Germany, Ireland, and all over the continent.  I always forget how close these other countries and cultures are when I’m in the heart of London. The city feels like Grand Central Station but for theater, which makes for a richer and more diverse output of stories and points of view.  The pitches I heard had more variety than any other place I’ve been.

Oh, and there’s one more thing I learned . . . theater people . . . no matter where you go . . . are just plain terrific people.  And it makes sense, doesn’t it?  To work in the theater, you must be collaborative.  Your job (which you love or you wouldn’t do it) depends on your ability to talk to other people, work with other people, challenge other people, and take a big ol’ bow with other people.  So of course when you put theater people in a room good things happen.

And I’m so glad that all of these terrific London people came to the social.  And I hope many coffees are had.

We’ll be doing more of these socials in 2019.  Because I like them.  And because I learn from them.  And I hope you do too.

And let me know if you’ve got a lot of theater folks in your town that could use a reason to get together.  Maybe I’ll come to socialize with you!  Just email me here.

 

3 Things Broadway Can Learn From The Royal Wedding.

Admit it.

You watched some of that wedding, didn’t you?

Maybe you didn’t get your butt up at 5 AM to watch it live (although I’d bet money that a lot of you did), but you tuned in at some point to watch the pomp and circumstance of the latest royal nuptials, am I right?

It’s ok.  I did too.

We’re obsessed with royal weddings.  Even now, when we know that being a Princess in the British monarchy isn’t anything close to what we heard about in fairy tales (and might be more of a curse than a blessing), we’re still infatuated with the concept of the crown, and how they say “I do.”

And whenever anything gets this much publicity (one might argue that a Royal Wedding is England’s greatest marketing initiative – they should be pushing for a wedding a year just to get the impressions), I get jealous and wonder what we can do to steal some of those eyeballs.

Here are three things Broadway can learn from The Royal Wedding:

1. People Still Love A Princess Story

It’s not just the act of a royal getting married that the public is obsessed with, but it’s the story of a person being plucked from “obscurity” and given fame, fortune, and the adoration of millions that has us leaning forward in our seats.  It’s the ol’ fashioned idea of a regular Joe (or in this case JoAnne) becoming an overnight sensation, which is incredibly captivating to an audience. Why?  Because we all fantasize about that same thing happening to us.

And an easy way to get a big audience is to tell the transformational story of a hero becoming something that we all want to be.  Remember that when you are writing a script.

2. We Love A Title, No Matter What It Means

The monarchy in the UK is pretty powerless.  We know that now.  We’ve all seen The Audience.  But that doesn’t stop us from worshipping a King or a Queen or yeah, a Prince or Princess/Duchess/Whatever fancy title someone has. Being dubbed a “something” gives that person a status that other people don’t have.  And that status means followers and support, regardless of the actual influence of the person with that status. I wonder if every year, Broadway should designate an Official Broadway Ambassador.  We pick a big star to represent us, and that person, as the Ambassador, travels to theaters around the country/world, meets with leaders of business, inspires kids, and does . . . well . . . prince/princess type duties.

They’d get a following . . . and even an “audience.”

Titles are cheap but can carry great influence.

3. Don’t skimp on the costumes

I sometimes think a Royal Wedding isn’t a wedding at all . . . it’s just a fashion show.  Those hats alone! Can you imagine how much in couture was sold over the last few weeks? Which made me think two things:

First, there is an expectation of a certain level of costume ‘blingness’ when an audience pays $150/ticket.  I learned this on Godspell when I was showing potential customers in the line at the TKTS booth pictures of my show (with my cast in a version of street clothes). “I’d rather see Priscilla Queen of the Desert instead,” said one theatergoer.  I knew she’d actually enjoy our show better, but I couldn’t sway her from all that spectacle.

Your costumes can’t just be grabbed off a rack . . . anyone gets that.  And we don’t go to see shows to see what anyone can get or wear.  We go to see something special, something that we can’t or don’t have.

Second, I couldn’t help but wonder how awesome it would be if more of our shows (even just our opening nights) were a bit of a “who’s wearing what” event.  Fashion is a massive business (people pay $30k to go to that Met Ball from a few weeks ago), and if the fashion world took a shine to us, we’d get a heck of a lot more press.

I know it’s going to be hard to get people to start dressing up for the theater again, but we could try.  What about suggested dress codes on websites saying “anything is welcome, but we’d suggest . . . ”  And what about those opening nights?  Surely something can be done to get folks to show up in something a little bit more shiny than what they wore to work that day?

 

So tell me the truth now . . . did you watch The Royal Family?  And more importantly . . . WHY did you watch?  And what did you take away from your desire to tune in that you can apply to your show?

 

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