Why Broadway shows are going to get shorter.

At an industry event the other day, a Broadway Producer peer of mine and I were chatting about all the shows filling the theaters these days and how she was going to work them all into her schedule.

“You know what my four favorite words are?” she asked.

“No.  What are your four favorite words?” I responded, setting her up for the spike.

“90 minutes.  No intermission.”

There’s no question that there has been a trend over the last ten years for shorter shows.  We haven’t done an infographic on it (yet), but I’d guarantee that the running time of both musicals and plays has slimmed down over the last decade.

And my Producer’s Perspective prediction is that they are going to get even shorter.

Here’s why.

This week, a study was released by Common Sense Media with a bunch of stats on teens and tweens and their use of digital technology.  The key finding of the report, as detailed in this CNN article was that “On any given day, teens in the US spend about nine hours using media (social media, movies, video games, music, etc.) for their enjoyment.”

That’s right.  Nine hours.  They spend more hours consuming information and entertainment through media than they do sleeping.  And yeah, nine hours is also longer than they spend in school.

Just how do they do it?


Half of the teens in the study say “they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ use social media or watch TV while doing their homework.”

They are consuming entertainment while they are doing other things, often important things.  They are inundated by so much information in so many places, from their TV to their laptop to the phone in their pocket, that they can’t focus on one thing for any serious length of time.  Add to that a little “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) and no teen is going to want to wait too long to respond to a text or an Instagram pic that their friends may have just posted.

I know, I know, this is awful, right?  It’s crazy how you and I are married to our phones, never mind the next generation, who were practically born with a phone in their hand.

It might be awful.  But it ain’t changing.

And it is certainly going to affect how entertainment is created in the future.

Because this ADD generation is our future audience.  And they can’t sit still for too long without consuming entertainment from various sources.  So the idea that an audience is going to sit through a three-hour play in twenty years is just cuckoo.  That’s why John Caird said in his podcast that he doubted The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby would even be produced in 2015.

But that’s not the primary reason the shows are going to get shorter.

It’s not just that this is the audience of the future.  It’s that these teens . . . that can check social media 100 times a day . . . they are the writers of the future.

They are going to write what they know.  They are going to write how they consume.  They are going to create shows that satisfy their own desires.

And those desires are going to be shows that are shorter, and that have information coming at you from all angles . . . from the stage . . . and maybe from that phone in your pocket too.


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Why Big Brands should start producing theater, or What I learned from Theme Parks.

I’m going to Orlando this weekend, so naturally I have theme parks on the brain.

That, plus yesterday was Back to the Future Day” . . . so combine that with theme parks and I can’t help but think of the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios.

That was a fun ride, right?  And it promoted that movie and that franchise in a very subtle way, because it was a unique and fun concept on its own, just under the B2TF umbrella.

Media companies have been doing this at theme parks for years.  They have also been doing it in video games (The Walking Dead video game or The Godfather video game).

But why stop at theme parks and vid games?

I just blogged about how for the first time, theater is being included in the distribution circle of a big entertainment brand with the announcement of the Harry Potter play.  But that’s just the tip of the lightning bolt scar for the right entertainment properties.  Successful movies and television shows should start looking at theater as an extension of their brand, to build their popularity . . . and give people a live, immersive experience that modern audiences crave (remember, our audience is about to become “The Video Game Generation” – they grew up with joysticks in their hands so they are going to want to be in their entertainment).

Need some examples of what I’m talking about?

Why isn’t there a live, immersive Law & Order right here in NYC?  Can you imagine?  You meet at a destination and you stumble on a dead body (just like the prologue of every episode), then you become an investigator, travel to different locations (L&O sound effects not included), interview witnesses, go to the courthouse to watch the trial, or watch the confession.  So cool, right?  I could create that show in a heartbeat and make it cool, fun, and expand the brand of the TV show.

HBO’s Newsroom could have done the same thing . . . live on a Newsroom floor.

Or could horror movies have Halloween theatrical events?  A Paranormal Activity show?  The Shining at a hotel?  Or at hotels across the country?  (Oh man, that would be “killer.”)

Not only would theatrical presentations of these properties extend the brand and make money, but there’s a legitimacy to a theatrical production (especially if outsourced to the right Producers and creators) that theme parks and video games don’t have.

So if you’re listening, big media brands . . . the theater is the next frontier.

And the best part is, it doesn’t even have to be in a theater.


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What the Harry Potter play means for Broadway.

So, I don’t know if you heard, but J.K. Rowling isn’t done with the Harry Potter stories.

And her next incarnation of the wonderful world of wizards isn’t going to be in a book . . . and it isn’t going to be on a screen.

It’s going to be on a stage.

This past June, Ms. Rowling announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open in the West End in the summer of 2016, and will be helmed by none other than Once and my Macbeth director, John Tiffany.

Ok, so, I never made it through all the Potter books or movies, but I gotta say, I’m excited to see it, especially since they signed up Tiffany (who staged the best show not on Broadway this past season – St. Ann’s Let the Right One In).

But there’s something else exciting about the announcement of this production.

The theater made it to the cool kids’ table.

Harry Potter is one of the most valuable and profitable franchises on the p-p-p-planet.  It’s a super-sized brand that has generated billions of bucks for everyone involved. And Rowling could have continued to pump out books and movies and Harry Potter key chains, blankets and Pez dispensers.

But for the next ‘stage’ of Harry’s life, she chose to bring him into the theater.

In 2013, Broadway tipped when Universal Pictures President, Jimmy Horowitz, told the NY Times that Wicked would be the most profitable venture in the company’s history – beating all of its movies.

And now, with Harry expanding to the stage, it seems that the major players in the entertainment industry are including the theater as part of their brand expansion (which is also why every single movie studio now has an internal Broadway shop dedicated to their titles).

This is a good thing.  It is.

Unless Broadway shows go the way of big budget movies, with projects assembled in the boardroom using only the artists that have tested well.  Those big box companies coming onto our shores need to remember to hand over the reins to artists like Tiffany and Producers like Sonia Friedman (who is on board for Potter).  

Because success in the theater is still the result of the independent maverick who goes their own way to make magic happen . . . kind of like Harry Potter himself.


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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.


(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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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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