Why I decided to be a Producer on . . .

On Tuesday, I tweeted that I had just signed on to be an above-the-title Producer on a new Broadway show arriving this season (in just a few months actually).

Now that the ink is drying on the deal, I can tell you what that show is . . . and more importantly, why I’m producing it.

The show is . . . Bridges of Madison County.

The why is . . . as with anything, for a whole bunch of reasons.

First, I like to produce one show a year that I am not lead-producing . . . and this is something I strongly advise all of you out there looking at producing careers to do.  In addition to keeping you active while your own shows are developing (with gestation periods getting longer and longer, you might not produce anything before you get your own show off the ground), co-producing a Broadway show provides your investors opportunities to get into great shows and make money (fingers and toes and everything crossed), builds relationships with peers and industry pros who can help you with your shows, and, most importantly, provides you with an inside education of the building of a Broadway musical.  And I don’t care how many shows you have on your resume, you can never stop learning, especially since no two shows are alike.

So, for all of those reasons, I like to pick one show a year and partner with someone.  (And for what it’s worth, this strategy worked pretty well with last season’s Kinky Boots.)

How do I pick which show?

In my Broadway Investing 101 seminar, I teach a “journalistic approach” to asking yourself whether or not you should invest/produce a show on Broadway.  In other words, when I’m offered an opportunity like Bridges, I walk myself through the 5 Ws:  Who, What, When, Where, Why . . . oh, and one more . . . How Much.

And when I crunched the Ws on Bridges, my formula gave me the green light.

Frankly, the “Whos” could have turned it green alone.

I’ve been watching Bart Sher’s shows since he first came to town . . . wondering when, oh when, we’d get him away from the non-profit world and into the commercial sector.  And thankfully, we have . . . with Bridges.  Bart has created some of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen . . . from Piazza to South Pacific to Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and I get the chills just thinking about the beautiful work he can do with beautiful source material like Bridges.

Add a creative team including Book Writer Marsha Norman (forget about the Pulitzer Prize she won for ‘night, Mother, I’m such a Secret Garden fan), and Jason Robert Brown, who is due a commercial success big time and I’m betting (duh) that this is it . . . and then toss in an acting company including Kelli O’Hara (who I knew was going to be a star the day I saw her play Christine in the Yeston/Kopit Phantom at the Downtown Cabaret Theater in Bridgeport, Connecticut) and Steven Pasquale, whose version of “The Streets of Dublin” from A Man of No Importance still rings in my ear, 11 years later . . . and this thing has more Broadway street cred than a Producer could ask for.

And not to mention, the lead producers Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, and Stacey Mindich, all of who I have worked with before, and who I respect as people as well as Producers.  They know how to deliver fantastic works of art . . . while working hard to ensure profitability.

And then there’s the “What”. . . the source material . . . a wonderful and yes, popular (read:  branded), property that while romantic in nature, is challenging in the same way that Once is.  Love is complicated.  And I think audiences are ready to deal with that on the stage.  Especially since so many of them are dealing with those complications in their everyday lives.

There’s the “When.” Performances start in January, which means the show is the first out of the gate of the now always crowded spring season.  Sensei says, “Strike first, strike hard!”

The “Where?” No better block than 45th between Broadway and 8th.  All those theaters mean lots of theatergoers passing by your marquee everyday.  Not to mention it’s a Times Square tributary, with tourists flowing in and out of the Square through the street (and adjacent to Shubert Alley).

The  “Why” I’ve discussed . . . and the “How Much” includes a longish and complicated-ish analysis of the budgets and of current market trends . . . and why I think we can recoup, which is always my #1 goal . . . to get my investors their money back.  Get them their money back?  And they’ll be more likely to do another show.

So there you have it . . . why I’m producing Bridges of Madison County on Broadway.  I’ll be talking about the journey from time to time right here on this blog-station, so stay tuned.

I hope to see you at the theater.  You can get your tickets now.  And you should come to a preview.  You’ll see me there somewhere, and you can tell me what you think.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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10 Shows that Stand Out at the Fringe – 2013

It’s August in NYC, which means stanky subway platforms, throngs of tourists, and the New York International Fringe Festival!

And if you’re an obsessive, compulsive theatergoer then this festival is for you.

It’s chock full of more than 200 productions from all over the world performed in a sweet 16 days at over 20 venues.

Every year, I kill about 27 trees printing out the mammoth program guide of each and every show, and I pick ten shows that grab my attention and go on my list of “Learn more about this show.”

And then I share those shows with you so you can have an idea of what attracts a Producer who is always on the hunt for new product.

Are you ready?  Here are this year’s 10 Shows That Stand Out at the Fringe!

1.  Rubble

They had me at “The Simpsons.”

The first line of the description of Rubble reads, “From Emmy winning Simpsons writer Mike Reiss . . . ”  And bam.  I’m in.  Why?  Well, yes, I loved The Simpsons.  But I also know that The Simpsons debuted in 1989, which means early viewers will be around 42 years old . . . which is very close to the average age of today’s Broadway audience.  So the show’s demo is close to the demo that is naturally buying tickets.  The sell is a bit easier, if I saw something that I thought could go to Broadway.  (Want an example of the opposite effect?  American Idiot.  The Green Day fans weren’t in the Broadway-going sweet spot yet, which is why it was harder to get them to come out . . . as opposed to Frankie Valli fans for Jersey Boys, etc.)

It also doesn’t hurt that the show stars Bruce Effin’ Vilanch!  Oh, and Sopranos original cast member Jerry Adler!  And, on top of all that, it’s being produced by my Macbeth Associate Producer, Hunter Chancellor, with a daughter of a Macbeth/Somewhere in Time Producer as his associate.  And I work with the Casting Director.  And I also know . . . ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, Ken, you’re just giving a shout out to people you know.”  Not really, but does having people involved with your show that Producers know help get their attention?  Yes.  Welcome to the world.

And did I mention that it was written by a Simpsons writer and stars Bruce Effin’ Vilanch!

2.  Naked in Alaska

Want to get people interested in your show?  Put “Naked” in the title.

Jk, jk, guys.  Sort of.

No, no . . . the real answer is “promise to open up the doors on a real world that the audience has never experienced before, but is fascinated by.”   Examples?  The mob, the oval office . . . and well, strip clubs.

Naked in Alaska is a “behind the scenes, true story” (another titillating characterisitc) of Valerie Hager’s life on a pole.  The show will be at The Chicago Fringe.   And on top of it, her video website is pretty dang cool.

While one-person shows rarely move on to the large commercial stage as is, sometimes they become something else entirely . . . like this.  Maybe Naked could too?

3.  Slut

Despite what you may think, the title of Slut isn’t what got my attention.  In fact, if I had just been flippin’ through the catalog and saw the title, I probably would have flipped right on. But the catalog wasn’t the first place I learned about the show.  I first read about it in this article in The Huffington Post about how a group of teenage girls wrote a letter to Anthony Weiner, condemning the use of the word “Sl*t” in his office . . . and telling him how they just created a play about it.  And then they offered him tickets.

Smart, truthful, and so press worthy that it got them an article off the theater pages . . . into the mainstream press . . . so people like me could learn more of what the show is really about.  These smart and savvy young ladies (who were behind one of my picks in ’11) knew a 50 word blurb in a catalog and a potentially turn-off title wasn’t going to do it.  So they came up with another way.

And it worked.

4.  The Skype Show or See You In August

An expired visa tore them apart.  Skype brought them together.

The two author-actors of this “dramedy with music” wrote a show based on transcriptions of their Skype calls (she’s here – he’s in Amsterdam) and now, they’re going to perform it at the Fringe. Only one problem, she’s here and he’s in Amsterdam.

Yep, the show is about Skype calls, and takes place over a Skype call.

Cool.

Just pray the wireless doesn’t go out.

5.  Quake

Quake stood out for me because of its refreshing simplicity.  There’s no naked people.  There’s no super long fringey title.  It’s just about a divorced couple that gets trapped in a closet after an earthquake.  It follows one of my favorite writing axioms.  Which one?  Check the blog tomorrow.

6.  Horsehead

Some writers start writing where others stop.  That’s what Gregory Maguire did with Wicked.  That’s what Tom Stoppard did with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  And that’s what Damon Lockwood did with Horsehead.  He took one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather (you know, when the guy wakes up with the bloody horse head in his bed) and wrote a play about the two guys that planted the head.   And you know what’s even cooler?  The show is from the land of The Godfather himself . . . Italy!

It’s ok to be inspired by other people’s inspiration.  And it helps you stand out.

7. The Mythmakers

In a similar vein comes Mythmakers, which uses the popular device of putting two real-life strong-but-contrasting historical figures together . . . like Freud’s Last Session . . . or Copenhagan . . . or Frost/Nixon . . . and then allows the audience to watch the fireworks.  In Mythmakers, it’s Peter Pan author, JM Barrie and Antarctic explorer RF Scott.  Because I know something about these dudes, I’m already half on the hook before even getting halfway through the blurb.

8.  The TomKat Project

Ok, ok, look, I’ll admit it.  I’m a sucker for a Tom Cruise story.  David Mamet once said that when a scene (or play) starts, there is a secret. And when the secret is revealed, the scene/play is over.  Well, there has got to be a ton of effin’ secret skeletons in his closet, right?  And that’s why it’s not only me that’s a sucker for it.  The world is a sucker for it.  Which makes it stand out.  Does that mean you have to be inspired by tabloid mags for your next project?  No, but topical projects are already on the top of your audience’s mind, so you’ve got less marketing to do.

9.  Clown Play

Thankfully, I don’t suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns).  But just because I’m not afraid of them, doesn’t mean I want to see them in a play.  And guess who the central characters are in Clown Play?  Hint:  They aren’t goldfish.  Nope, they’re clowns, which would almost get me skipping right over this show and on to the next.  Except, it was if the Producer knew that some might be turned off by those circus freaks, because the blurb was filled with quotes from the Author’s last play, which was seen at the Fringe in 2011.  Another reason to write more plays?  You get more credibility and marketing tools for your next one.

 10.  Blizzard ’67

Even though it has the title of an 80s Disaster Movie, there was something about the last line of the this show’s description that grabbed me by the hairs on the back of my neck.  ” . . . is sure to haunt you long after you’ve left the theater.”  It sounds like a thriller to me . . . and audiences love them.  And, we haven’t had them in a while.  The Deathtraps and Sleuths and haunting, twisting, scary shows have been missing from the boards.  Blizzard’s description made it sound like it just may be one.

And that’s my Top 10!

You can get tickets for these and all the Fringe shows here.

Oh, and take a few moments to browse through all the titles.  And then, come back and tell me and your fellow readers what shows stand out to you!   What shows are you going to see?  What shows are you not going to see?  Why?  I learn more about the marketing of my shows by observing the marketing of others.  You can too.

Enjoy The Fringe!

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Looking to learn how to get your show to stand out?  Here are two quick tips:

1 – Read Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow, my bible to product development and marketing.

2 – Take my Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar, which I guarantee will give you a bunch of great takeaways on how to get your show to stand out at the Fringe, NYMF, and on Broadway!  Take the seminar today.

The entertainment industry is not all glee and games.

I get breaking news from CNN pushed to my iPhone, as I’m sure a lot of you do as well.  And I’ve read some pretty sad things over the years.

But for some reason, the death of Cory Monteith hit me a little harder than any of the other alerts I’ve received.  And I only made it through a season and a half of Glee.  

Maybe it was because he was only 31.  Maybe it was because he was talked about as one of the nicest guys on the planet.  Or maybe it was because he was dating Lea Michele, who I remember from my days as the Associate Company Manager on Ragtime, and my heart is breaking for her . . . especially since she was standing by him during his recent troubled times.

Or maybe it was because he was on a show called Glee – so how could anything so the opposite of glee” happen to him?

Cory had a history of war with substance abuse.  He had fought a battle and won when he was nineteen thanks to a family staged intervention.  “I’m lucky to be alive,” he was quoted as saying after he came through it.

Just a few years later, he dove head first into the entertainment industry . . . and after a few years of bangin’ round the boards, he submitted a tape of himself drumming on tupperware which got the attention of Ryan Murphy, who forced him to sing something . . . anything . . . and the next thing you know, this Canadian kid with a troubled past, was a big star in Hollywood, and loved by millions, and making millions.

I’m not going to begin to guess what happened or when it happened or how it happened.  I don’t know where Cory got off track, and I don’t know why the rehab he checked into just a few months ago didn’t take.

But I do know this.

Success in the entertainment industry . . . on either coast . . . can be an awesome thing.  It can bring the adulation of screaming fans.  It can bring you more money than you ever thought you’d have in a lifetime.  And it can bring you a sense of power and invincibility that might even trump the power of politics.

And that’s why it’s so essential for us to look out for each other, and especially the kids in our biz who achieve overnight success.

Because the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood can be blinding.  And losing good people like Cory just can’t continue.  

Our deepest condolences to the the Monteith family, the Glee family, and everyone out there battling with addiction.

I’m making a donation in Cory’s memory to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (did you know that 90% of alcohol and drug dependencies begin in the teenage years?).  Join me.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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5 Shows that Stand Out at the NYMF – 2013

The 10th Anniversary of the New York Musical Theatre Festival is upon us!  Boy, it seems like just yesterday I was attending an orientation meeting for Season #1 when Altar Boyz made it’s debut and I was thinking, “Really?  They’re going to acronymn-it to NYMF?  Sounds weird.”

Well, not only did they shorten it to NYMF, they stretched their run out a decade!  And the fest is still going!

And that 10th anniversary season starts tonight!  Start your musical theater engines, because you’ve got shows to see!

We get a lot of invites to NYMF shows.  And every year, before the start of the season, I take a gander at the shows featured in the festival catalog and pick the five shows that stand out.  Reminder – these aren’t the five shows that are necessarily the best – these are the five shows that for whatever reason (and I’ll explain that reason below) get me (and potential other audience members or producers) exited about learning more.  Take a look at last year’s to see what I mean.

Alright, let’s get to the five.  Here they are, in no particular order (wait, that’s a lie – they are in alpha order):

1.  Bend In the Road

The first eight words in the Bend blurb are, “The beloved literary classic, Anne of Green Gables . . . “

Nothing sets a musical off in the right direction better than good strong source material with a good solid brand.  The Producers of Bend knew that was going to be their selling point, and since the title of the musical wasn’t Anne of Green Gables (which I kind of wonder why), they smartly led with it in their description.

Another four words in the first sentence that got me?  ” . . . for the whole family.”  Family musicals (which I define as appealing to both the young folk and the adults – not just one or the other) are in, so Bend has a big potential market.

2.  Castle Walk

They had me at Fred and Ginger.

Castle Walk is a show-biz-story about RKO’s making of The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, which starred the aforementioned dance duo.  And, well, you just can’t go wrong with that kind of dance as a selling point for your show.  Of course, now, you have to deliver.

3.  God’s Country

God’s Country sounds like an adaptation as well, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out if it is one.  It isn’t mentioned in the description, but it takes place in 1871, which screams adaptation . . . which is also the same year that this novel of the same name takes place, although the hero names are different.  Huh.

Anyway, what got me about God was the Irish flag in the logo and the “Irish spirit.”  Ever since I saw a workshop of a musical version of Molly Maguires back in the 90s, I thought the Irish sound and the Irish people were perfect for a musical.  Sure, we had The Pirate Queen, but that came up short . . . so there’s still a lot of room for a big, fat Irish hit.  Could God’s Country be it?

4.  Life Could Be A Dream

In today’s troubling Off-Broadway times, if you can get a show to run longer than 6 weeks, you deserve a place in the Off-Broadway Hall of History.  Well, Roger Bean’s musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes, ran a heck of a lot longer than 6 weeks after in opened in September of 2008 (which was not a very good economic year, if you remember correctly) and closed in January of 2010!

With that kind of track record, you can’t help but be interested in Roger’s next entry into the market, and that’s the similarly structured Life Could Be A Dream.   This time, instead of a cast of ladies singing familiar tunes, the show features dudes singing doo-wop.  Oh, and it comes to the NYMF as a winner of a Best Musical Award from LA Weekly.  Awards are always great Producer and Audience bait, so this one got my attention twice.

5.  Volleygirls

Ok, so sports musicals are always a challenge . . . I’ve even blogged about how they don’t work.  But you know my ol’ saying . . .  as soon as you make a rule, something comes along to break it.  And hey – since Rocky is on its way, why not a Volleyball musical?  The other reason I like it, is that its description reads classically familiar – like the movie A League of Their Own, with the washed up coach leading a group of misfits.  Oh, and VGs also stars the funny-in-everything-she-does Susan Blackwell . . . who is worth the price of admission alone.

 

So those are this year’s five!  And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy picking just a handful, so I’d make sure you head on over to NYMF.org and check ’em all out for yourselves.  There are some great looking shows with kick-a$$ casts in this year’s season, and it all starts tonight.  Go see some!

 

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Looking to learn how to get your show to stand out?  Here are two quick tips:

1 – Read Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow, my bible to product development and marketing.

2 – Take my Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar, which I guarantee will give you a bunch of great takeaways on how to get your show to stand out at the Fringe, NYMF, and on Broadway!  Take the seminar today.

Picking a title for an album is easy for a pop artist.

I’ve been stewing about titles a lot lately.  In fact, the show that I announced on this blog as Garage Band a few months ago, that opens at George Street Playhouse in the fall,  is undergoing a title change (tell me what you think Garage Band is about, and then go and read what it really is about, and you’ll understand why I’m making the change.)

While I was keeping myself up late at night trying to find the perfect title, I started to think about other art forms that title their work.  Painters title their stuff, and novelists, of course, title their books (which is probably as close as a comparison to titling a show).  And then there are the musicians who title their songs (which usually takes on the big lyrical/musical hook) . . . but they also title their albums.

And how do they pick a title for their albums?

Well, in most cases, they just pick a song from that album that defines the 10-13 song collection, and then they’re done.

Easy, peasy.

But not only easy.  It’s also good marketing.  They’re able to push a tune that they may want to push, getting it just a little deeper into the popular cultural lexicon.  And maybe get people singing it in their heads a little more often.

In the theater, the title usually comes first, and then Authors decide if there should be a title tune.

Sondheim is a big fan of a “title song” (Sunday in the Park, Merrily, Sweeney Todd, Company, Into The Woods, etc.).  R&H wasn’t (Carousel, South Pacific, King and I, Pipe Dream, etc.)

Other examples of some big shows without a title song:  Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, Once, West Side Story, South Pacific, Carousel, Cats, Pippin, Godspell, Billy Elliot, The Producers, The Secret Garden, etc.

Honestly, there is no natural conclusion here.  I’m not suggesting that all shows should choose a song from their show as their title, or that we should always write a title tune to help reinforce the title (but it is worth thinking about).

But since picking a title (and then reinforcing that title) is arguably the most important marketing decision Authors of musicals (and Producers) can make, it’s definitely worth considering.

And it’s what we did with Garage Band, which is now titled Gettin’ The Band Back Together (which happens to be one of the big tunes in the show).

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)
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