Why the Super Bowl reminded me of my first Acting Class.

I watched ‘da Bowl on Sunday like the other 100 million people around the world (actually half-watched, since I had my laptop open while I was talking on the phone . . . so I guess you could say I ‘tched the Super Bowl).  As I ‘tched and used it as an excuse to eat Buffalo Wings, I couldn’t help but think how much each “play” in the game was like a great scene in a great, well, play.

Like most acting students, I was taught the basic fundamentals of acting/writing in one of my first classes on the subject with a simple improvisational exercise.

It went something like this.

  • Two characters stand on a stage.
  • One character wants something.
  • The other character doesn’t want the first character to get what they want.

Poof.  Instant drama.  No matter what that “want” is, whether it’s to get the other person to go out on a date or to give them $500 dollars . . . or to score a touchdown.

See where I’m headed?

Sporting events like football, where there are two teams, are the simplest form of classic dramatic structure there is.  I want to score.  You don’t want me to score.  We clash.  Eventually, one of us will lose.

And to make it even more thrilling of an event?  There’s a ticking clock.

Sporting events and theater seem so diametrically opposed (maybe that’s because there is such little crossover between the fans), but when you take away the shoulder pads and you take away the Capezio tap shoes, they are much more similar than you think.

So if you’re looking to make your show thrilling, take a page out of a football playbook . . . and make your show a sport.

 

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The big mistake the promoters of the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight made that you shouldn’t.

I fell for the hype.

You all know about my rule of three.

If three people go out of their way to tell me about something, then I listen.  That rule applies to recommended books, people to talk to, or even notes about my shows.

And last week, three separate people said, “Are you watching the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight?”

As primal as it sounds, I always liked a good boxing match.  I came of age in the 80s, when Mike Tyson was dominating the sport (before his prison stint, and before he started on his diet of ears), and even though I’ve never been in an actual fight myself, I liked watching those big guys go at it.

So, when three people asked me about watching Mayweather/Pacquiao, I plunked down the $99.99 pay-per-view fee, made some popcorn, and sat back to be entertained by two dudes in shiny shorts punching the crap out of each other.

And I wasn’t the only one to fall for the hype.

The promoters went crazy with this match up, selling it as a fight ten years in the making, and saying it was the event that would save the sport.  And all that promo worked.

The number of pay-per-view buys hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s predicted to set a new revenue record. And the revenue for the actual seats in the arena also broke a record.  The box office take was so much that it was expected that Mayweather alone was going to make $200 million!  $200 mill!!!

And, as you’ve probably heard, the fight was a dud.

Like a boring, “why-the-heck-am-I-watching-this-instead-of-Shark-Tank?” dud.

And then an angry, “wait-I-paid-$100-for-this???” dud.

And I wasn’t the only one peeved.  There has already been at least one lawsuit from guys like me saying that the reason the fight was a dud was because Paquiao had a shoulder injury that wasn’t revealed, etc., etc.  The lawsuits are BS of course, but they’ll cost the boxers and the promoters some legal fees and frustration for sure.

But more importantly . . . the next time the promoters have a big fight that they want me and so many others to tune in to?  Well, don’t expect record numbers for that one.

And did this fight save the sport?

It actually may have done more damage to the sport than anything.

Sure, maybe it did reawaken the interest of some of us occasional boxing fans, but now, well, that interest is going waaaaay dormant again.  And it would take Tyson fighting a resurrected Joe Louis to get me to pay $100 for one fight ever again.

The promoters saw short term gain in the build up for this event, when they didn’t know what the actual outcome would be.  And there’s a fine line between making sure you make every dollar you can, and over hyping an event until it backfires in your face.

If you’ve got a show that you’re opening that has big potential, sometimes it’s best to lay back, rather than over press it.  Unlike boxing, we’ve got the benefit of having more than a one-night run, so I’m a fan of letting my audience hype it on their own once they’ve seen it, rather than proclaiming, “This is the event of the season/decade/Broadway history!”

Because sure, super amounts of hype may drop more bucks into your first week or so of previews, but if you don’t deliver, your word of mouth will be harsher than ever, thanks to the audience’s high expectations.

And you may find yourself knocked out in round three instead of going the distance.

And next time you produce a show?  Well, you’ll have to work even harder to get people in the door in the first place.

 

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What the NYC Marathon Runners taught me.

In case you didn’t see the swarms of people with aluminum foil wrapped around them yesterday, the NYC Marathon was held this weekend.

The marathon is one of those weird periodical New York tourist events where thousands upon thousands of people descend upon New York City . . . and none of them go to see a Broadway show.

Shows are always trying to come up with new ways to get the marathon participants to run up to the box office, but it never seems to work.  Take the marathon, add in Halloween and sprinkle in a little Daylight Savings Time ending, and you have a horrific week.  (Don’t believe me?  Just wait a few hours for the grosses to come out on this very blog.)

Unless you’re a pasta shop, or, well, the manufacturer of those aluminum foil capes they wear when they finish, odds are you didn’t have a good weekend.

But those marathon runners sure did.

I watched them exit Central Park on my way to work, getting cheered on by their friends, getting ready to cross their finish line.  They were beaten up, but smiling.

For a second I thought, “I could never run a marathon.”

But then I looked a little closer. There were all types of people about to complete their 26.2 mile journey.  And they weren’t all the perfect example of a runner.  Some had a few years on ’em.  Some had a few extra pounds on ’em.  Some had awkward running styles.  But they were doing it.  They were running a marathon, and about to finish.

That’s when I realized something . . .

Why sure, I’m eating Jiffy Pop popcorn right now with a side of Swedish Fish.  And sure, golf is the only real workout I get.  But as I looked at those runners I realized that if they could run a marathon, I certainly could.  I just need to train.  To practice.  But more importantly, I needed to want to run a marathon.

I can run a marathon.  I just choose not to.  Big 26.2 mile difference.

So many folks start off conversations with me (including clients that come to me for consults) by saying, “I can’t produce this show,” or “I can’t write this.”  It’s just not true.  You can.  If you want to.

And look, this isn’t self-help, motivational, psycho babble BS.  This is simple facts.

Whatever you want to do, other people have done.  And I’d bet that you’re at least as talented, smart, and passionate as half of them.

If they are doing it, surely you can.

And it doesn’t matter if what you want to do is produce something, write something, or become a heart surgeon for G-d’s sake.  You just have decide you want to do it, then just like a marathon, take it one mile at a time.

(Ironically, the hardest part of running a marathon isn’t actually running the marathon, it’s deciding you want to.  Once you figure out what the marathon is in your life, the rest will just fall into place.)

 

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You can try too hard.

In case you haven’t heard, about two years ago I turned into one of those annoying golfers. You know the ones . . . they watch it on TV, they read golf magazines, and they wear golf attire even when they’re not golfing, etc. And sometimes they even work golf metaphors into their blogs about producing theater!

Like anything I do, when I pick something up, I pick it up . . . big time. See golf is a tricky, difficult sport, and the Type A, OCD, Virgo in me just can’t suck at anything. (And I’ve got a feeling a lot of you have this perfectionist nature too, don’t you?) So when I started with the sport, I took lessons once a week, played twice a week, and practiced every single day.

Yep, that was me this past winter, at the driving range at Chelsea Piers, at 7 AM, watching the condensation on my club turn to ice in front of my eyes in the 7 degree weather.

I was desperate to try and get better at this game, so I could catch up (ok, I’ll admit . . . outpace) some of my peers who also played.

So for months on end, I banged away at ball after ball. At least 100 a day. And on weekends, more.

And one day, I felt a little twinge in my elbow.

“It’s nothing,” I said, “I must get better,” so I banged away more balls, took two lessons a week, and bought every training device known to man.

And the twinge got worse.

A quick check of the WebMD alerted me to a common syndrome called, appropriately, “Golfer’s Elbow,” (which is identical to Tennis Elbow) which is caused by . . . ahem . . . excessive use. And, come to find out, is even more common with idiot guys like me who hit off of “mats” instead of natural grass because of the concrete below. It’s one thing to hit a few hundred balls a week, but a thousand?

“A stupid elbow won’t stop my progress,” I screamed. “I will try harder.” I convinced my orthopedist to give me a shot of the ol’ cortisone miracle cure and I went back at it, grinding away, desperate to succeed.

I was without pain for a couple of months, actually, thanks to the steroid. And then the pain came charging back . . . because I had kept playing and playing while the steroid just masked the injury.

“Fix me, Doc!”

“Ken,” he said. “You can and you will heal from this injury.”

“Awesome! Fix me.”

“I will. But you have to stop playing for at least 4-6 weeks.”

And just like that . . . not only was this great stress relieving and relationship building hobby taken away from me during the height of the summer season, but how could I improve if I couldn’t swing a club???

I had no one to blame but myself. I tired too hard. I was so hungry to beat the system and accomplish my goal that I had knocked myself out of the game entirely. I set myself back! And most importantly, it wasn’t fun anymore.

As you develop your shows, be careful about trying too hard.

Being driven is important. Being ambitious is essential. But being a crazed, obsessive lunatic like I was can actually do more damage than good.

 

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Three Things Broadway can learn from The World Cup.

Broadway World CupGooaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!

Is it just me or has everyone gone World Cup Crazy?

It’s been four years since the last Cup, and I don’t remember the volume of the soccer conversation in this city ever being as loud as it is now, an obvious sign that the sport has achieved some serious market penetration, as opposed to four years ago.

It’s on the TV, it’s on the Interwebs, and it’s even on the streets (Three German dudes were passing a ball back and forth on Broadway and 48th street yesterday).

So what is it about the Cup that’s gotten everyone to literally kick up their heels?  And what can Broadway learn from it?

Here are three things that Broadway can learn from The World Cup:

1.  WE’RE INTERNATIONAL, BABY!

The Cup is like the Olympics.  It happens every four years, and it has a way of getting the attention of the entire world.  In fact, one year, the ratings for The Cup out did the ratings for The Olympics!  Countries from all over the world tune in and all talk one common language – soccer or rather, “football.”

While Broadway has only existed for about a hundred years, the theater goes back for thousands.  And plays are performed all over the world, in every language manageable.

While international tourists coming to Broadway has been on the rise in recent years (we welcomed 11 million international tourists in 2012), we’ve still got a tremendous amount of room to grow.

How could we grow the international market and unite our audiences like The World Cup unites theirs?

International stars in Broadway shows?  Ear piece delivered translations during the show?  Box Office treasurers who speak several languages?

The overall Broadway audience has been relatively flat for the last several years.  The international audience represents our greatest potential for growth.

2.  THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT.

Two opposing sides who are in direct conflict with each other.

That’s a soccer game.

And also a play.

Competitive sports are the perfect structure for any drama.  Take two characters.  Make one want something very, very badly.  And make the other one NOT want that character to get it.  (You probably remember that improv exercise if you ever took acting.)

This theory is why sports movies can be so successful (Rocky, Hoosiers, etc.) because they have a win/lose objective built in to their plot.

Want your audience jumping up and down?  Find a way to make your protagonists and antagonists wants as diametrically opposed as Brazil and England, competing in the finals.

3.  EVERYONE LOVES A CONTEST

The thing about the World Cup is that . . . there will be a winner.  Just like The Stanley Cup.  And the Super Bowl.  And The Westminster Dog Show.  And the local spelling bee, beauty pageant, and bake-off.

People are drawn to competitions.  They love to watch them and they love to participate in them.  And when you have contests, you actually fuel both sides of a specific business.  You draw so much attention to the subject at hand, that the audience expands, and, new “players” rush into the game as well.  (That’s one of the reasons we do our 10 Minute Play Contest – to encourage more people to write, knowing that a competition, with a cash prize, will be a good motivator).

And since “players” eventually become audience members or supporters, contests like The Cup become a double whammy marketing lightning rod for the growth of an industry.

We’ve got a good set of awards here with The Tonys, Drama Desks and Outer Critics.  And there’s the Oliviers in London.  But I’m still wondering if there could be some more global competition involving the theater.  Remember, way back  in 2008 (!), in the humble beginnings of this blog, when I wrote about The World Championship of Theater?  Not sure if that idea is entirely possible, but there has to be something that we can do on a global scale.  Heck if they can have a World Champion BBQ Cooking Contest, there’s gotta be something we can do, right?

 

The World Cup and Broadway have a lot in common.  People love ’em, but they don’t necessarily pay enough attention to them all year ’round.  They’re like that friend you see once a year that you love hanging out with, but then you forget about ’em until next year.  And when you do see ’em again, you say, “Why do I only see you once a year?”

Our job as Producers and FIFA’s job (with their 2.6 billion in profit) is to find a way to be the best friend that you can’t live without.

(Truth time – I wrote this blog last night and after I finished, I remembered I wrote a similar one FOUR years ago after the last World Cup!  So if you want to read five MORE things (albeit a little bit dated) that we can learn from The Cup, click here.  It’s crazy that I’ve been writing this blog long enough to repeat myself about events that happen every four years.)

 

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