What I learned from all those flippin’ houses reality shows.

I don’t like real estate.

But even I can’t help but slow down my channel surfin’ when I pass by an episode of House Hunters or Flip That House or Weekend Warriors.  I pin the success of these shows on the universality of real estate . . . everybody has a home or wants a home, and everyone would want that home to be worth a lot of money . . . so the potential audience is . . . well . . . everyone.  As opposed to something like Flip That Wigwam or Igloo Hunters.  See what I mean?

The most valuable lesson I learned from watching all these shows was where the “shoppers” go first when valuing a home.  Instead of getting stuck on how pretty the lawn is, or the beautiful brick facade, the best house hunters go straight to the basement . . . to examine the foundation.

And if the foundation isn’t in great shape, they walk away, no matter how good-lookin’ the rest of the house is.  They know that without a solid foundation, the rest of the house will come crashin’ down in a few years, no matter how good it looks up top.

The same is true for shows.

I don’t care how witty the dialogue is, or how funny the jokes are.  If the foundation of a play or a musical isn’t solid and strong, then I walk away too.  The foundation or the structure of a show is the thing on which everything else is built, and if it’s flimsy, then expect your show to flop.

I’ve read so many shows that have made me laugh, or that I’ve thought were super clever, but had to be ripped apart and put back together because what was underneath all that fun stuff couldn’t support it in the long term (and some of those shows are my own, by the way – you should have seen how many times Altar Boyz was pulled apart and pieced together again).

If your show isn’t quite working, then don’t be afraid to go deep down into the scary basement and examine the foundation.  I know.  It’s dark down there.  A little musty.  But that’s what’s keeping your show standing.

(Need a great book about the foundation and structure of great stories?  Read this one . . . or the Broadway equivalent.)


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The Cirque is coming to town!

Theaters don’t stay dark too long these days.  Even the ones that are tougher to fill.

I was the Associate Company Manager of the original production of Ragtime at the Lyric Theatre (then the Ford Center), and some say that producer Garth Drabinsky left a curse on the building when the company behind Ragtime went bankrupt and he went to jail.  Big shows (including some good ones like this last season’s On the Town and 42nd Street) came and went, but nothing stuck.  The theater is the kind of big barn that should have a Wicked or a Lion King but . . . instead it got Hot Feet.  (Actually – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both On the Town and 42nd Street were two of the better productions at the theater . . . big dance shows need big stages and make big pictures for audiences to take in.)

When On the Town announced it was closing, some in the biz thought it might be a while before the theater found a new tenant (King Kong anyone?).  But then, just two days ago, it was announced that one of the most exciting live entertainment companies is creating a brand new show for this venue.

That’s right, Cirque du Soleil is taking up residence at the Lyric with a brand new show called Paramour.

It’s not the first time Cirque has put a show in the city (there were shows at the Beacon, MSG and Radio City), but this is the first one that is occupying one of our theaters.  It’s also the first one with a big-time Broadway Producer holding the reins, with the newly appointed head of Cirque’s theatrical division, Scott Zeiger, calling the shots.

What does this mean for Broadway?

Well, without a doubt it means that we’re slowly adapting to the changing tastes of our audiences, and the new group of consumers that have come into our fold over the past few years (where do you think all that growing attendance is coming from?).  And yeah, it means we’re becoming a little more Vegas, as I predicted way back in 2010.  We’ve got Penn and Teller, The Illusionists, musicals that feature popular music . . . and now a Cirque show.

But is that so bad?

Ok, so I don’t want a drag Elvis show taking up residence in one of our hallowed halls, but I will tell you that some of the most exciting moments I’ve had in a theater over the past twenty years have been at Cirque shows (my mouth is still on the floor from seeing O).  And if they can bring even half of what they’ve done at other venues to the Lyric, then Broadway will be better off for it.


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For TV, it’s all in the “time-ing” . . . could that work for Broadway?

When American Idol hit the airwaves way back when, they crushed the competition.  No other show that was trying to get traction on competitive networks was put in the same “time slot.”

Makes sense, right?  If your competition is at the exact same time as you are, avoid that time at all costs.

I was reminded of this TV programming phenomenon last Sunday evening, as I was able to watch (ok, DVR) Game of Thrones at 9pm and the Mad Men season finale at 10pm.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Smart TV Executives know when to challenge their competition and when to get the eff out of the way.

And they also know when to hitch a ride with hit shows by putting new stuff right after (imagine getting a coveted post-Seinfeld spot in the 90s).

But what do we do?

All of our shows . . . are at 8pm.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. We’ve got a few shows at 7pm.  And some at 2pm and some at 3pm. And some do a Sunday night instead of a Monday.

But for the most part?  They all conflict.

Wicked is up against Hand to God is up against Clinton The Musical.

Guess which one wins when a customer has only one choice?

Now, Broadway and Off Broadway shows are at 8pm-ish for many reasons . . .

  • Leaves adequate time for dinner before.
  • Lets out at a reasonable time.
  • They can be long.
  • Etc.

. . . and we’ve spent fifty years branding these times.  But I can’t help but think what would happen if we took a clue from our TV brethren and programmed around some of our competition . . . especially for those newer or smaller shows just starting out.

I’ve had some success with this, especially around holidays.  I often look and see what other Broadway shows are doing for their holiday schedule . . . and if everyone is off on Thanksgiving?  I do a show.  There are usually plenty of people looking to see a show that night, and with my competition out of the way, I win.  The Sunday night/Monday night performance is similar.

But could we get more drastic?

Wicked itself is going against the grain this summer with several Friday performances at 2pm.  If it works, expect many other shows to follow, just like they did when Tuesdays at 7pm started a decade ago.

And I’m predicting a few more alternative times from shows in the next year or so.  Why?

Well, take a look at yesterday’s blog about the end-of-season results.  See that stat about how there were more shows on the boards than ever before?  That means the competition for customers is that much more intense.

And if you can’t crush your competition, you have to go around them.

And different, TV-like performance-time programming might be a way to do just that.


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Podcast Episode #21 – Building a Bridge from Broadway to Bay Street with Director Scott Schwartz

In my over-twenty years of Broadway and Off Broadway theatergoing, there have been a handful of productions that were so unique, and so special, that I’ll never forget them.

Scott Schwartz directed two of them.

One was the ridiculously funny, ripped from the tabloids, Bat Boy: The Musical (oh that spoof of the Lion King number – before everyone was doing spoofs of The Lion King).  And the other was Tick, Tick… Boom!, starring a not-yet-a-star Raul Esparza (oh that moment when Amy Spanger was belting out “Come To Your Senses,” as Raul, as Jonathan Larson, mouthed the words behind her).

Scott has directed on and Off Broadway (Jane Eyre, Golda’s Balcony, Murder for Two) and most recently was appointed the Artistic Director of the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, NY, or as Sag Harbor is more commonly referred to, “The Hamptons.”

I got to spend some time at Bay Street a few weeks ago and was super impressed with the space, the artists, and Scott’s vision of where they’re going to take the theater in the next decade (notice I didn’t say “where they want to take the theater. . . ” because I have no doubt with Scott’s leadership they will).

Oh, and in addition to his Directing and Artistic Directing credits, Scott is also a Tony Nominator (we get all the fancy folks on this podcast, don’t we?).

So listen in to this in-the-trenches podcast to hear . . .

  • The difference between directing in regional theater versus directing on Broadway
  • How being the son of Stephen Schwartz helped influence Scott’s choice in being a director
  • The mysteries of the Tony Nominating process and why he had to recuse himself this year
  • What makes a great tryout city
  • What it’s like working for Disney on a developing project like The Hunchback of Notre Dame

And oodles more.

And after you listen to the podcast, take a look at your summer plans.  If you’re heading to the Hamptons at all, swing by Bay Street and catch a show.


Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And give me a rating, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

Click here to read the transcript.


(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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What Broadway does that tours should do, and a “Will it Recoup?” update!

When a Broadway show recoups its capitalization, the Producer and the Press Agent scream it from the hills like they were Mel Gibson in Braveheart going into battle.  “Recooooooooouuuuuupppppment!!!!”

And they should.

Recouping a Broadway show ain’t easy, so everyone involved (including the artists and actors, btw) should be so proud of what they’ve done.  (And besides, those press releases are the only way our all-too secretive industry can put some kind of recoupment research together.)

You know who doesn’t announce recoupment?

National Tours.

Go on, think about it.  When was the last time you saw a headline on Playbill.com that said, “National Tour of Some Show with a Soap Opera Star Recoups!” Or even, “National Tour of Last Year’s Tony Award Winner Recoups!”

We just don’t do it.


Is it because National Tours have an unbelievably high recoupment rate?  Since National Tours have the opposite business model of Broadway productions, tours usually don’t even hit the road unless they are as-close-to-guaranteed-as-possible that they’ll finish in the black.  (It’s why a lot of Broadway investors invest in the original Broadway productions . . . to get the right to invest in the tour(s).)  So since it’s more of a “given,” do we just not think it’s special enough to put out there?

Or are we afraid of putting it out there for the public for fear of getting the attention of unions and vendors who want a bigger piece?  (If so, I think we have plenty of losses on Broadway to point to that balance the equation.)

Or are we afraid of putting it out there because the Presenters of the tours might be losing money, while the tours themselves are making money?

There are a bunch of reasons why not to, I guess, but I for one would like to see more tours trumpeting their profitability when it happens.  (Quick tip: follow the press releases for a small public company – they spit more out than you can keep up with – we can learn from that.)  I’ve always believed that the more positive news there is about our business in the press, the more people want to get involved.   The more people involved, the more product that we can produce, the more jobs we can create, and the more risks that we can take . . . which just creates better art, and a better business at the same time.

And isn’t that our goal?

Hey!  While I’ve got recoupment on my brain (and what Producer doesn’t have it on his/her mind most of the time – recoupment to a Producer is the equivalent of you-know-what for a teenage boy), let’s get you a “Will It Recoup?” update!

You forgot about my fantasy Broadway game, didn’t you?  Well, we’re in the thick of it now!  Of the six shows in this year’s race, four of them have already had their fate decided:

  • Fish in the Dark – recouped!  (Even if they haven’t announced yet, we know they have or will.)
  • The Audience – recouped!
  • The Heidi Chronicles – did not recoup.
  • Living on Love – did not recoup.

The last two shows that will decide the winner are . . . Skylight and Wolf Hall.  Gonna be a nail-biter!  Stay tuned to find out who wins the $500!

And then maybe one of them will go on tour and announce their recoupment, too.  🙂


(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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– Enter my Tony Pool and you could win an Apple Watch!  Click here.

– Listen to Podcast Episode 20 with the President of Local One, James Claffey!  Click here.

– Win two tickets to Deaf West’s Spring Awakening!  Click here.

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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