10 Takeaways from The TheaterMakers Summit.

The title of this blog could have been 10,000 Takeaways from The TheaterMakers Summit.
 
But to be honest, I have so many action items from our 103 speakers myself, I want to get working on them right away.
 
So, you’ll have to forgive me if I only have time to type out 10 of the 10,000.
 
My hope is that one of the 10 below is the “thought domino” you need in your career or your life. Because, as I mentioned in my welcome speech, it only takes one.
 
The right takeaway, action item, thought, note, etc. can start your snowball rolling down the hill.
 
I know this. Because it happened to me.
 
My life changed when I heard ONE thing. I had been toiling away in a decent job. Dreaming about more. But not doing anything about it.
 
And then I heard my ONE THING. From Hal Prince. He ignited a fuse in me that is still burning to this day.
 
So enjoy these 10. And let one of them spark you to do amazing things in the theater. And beyond.
 
“We don’t have time to dither; we don’t have time to feel helpless; we don’t have time to wait for rescue. It’s up to us.” – Jim McCarthy
“Pick the thing you love to do and learn how to do it really well, do it with conviction with 100% esteem and all your heart, even  if it’s a small  thing, and that will translate to something else eventually.” – Stephanie Klemons
 “There only two things actors have any control over. Your attitude and how prepared you are, the rest is completely out of our control.” – Jenn Colella
“You have to have something that speaks to audiences of color and stories that are told by those people and those artists, and they must be involved from the beginning.” – Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates
 “We are going to see an explosion of creativity in the next 10 years in the industry, we will be mentally prepared for it and our audience will demand it.” – Shele Williams
“One of things I hope will change in the future: what we think of as Broadway or mainstream theatre doesn’t have to be these big houses.” – Ben Brantley
“The path to systemic change is uncharted territory, it will take our collective power to map the way forward together, and this is a marathon we all need to be prepared to see through to the end.” – Naila McKenzie
“If there’s one thing the last nine months have taught us is that time is precious, and the things you’re working on better matter.” – Arvind Ethan David
“Recognizing we can grow as a community and be more thoughtful and engaged with the audiences that are to come. It gives us a chance to review… and we need to bring a little grace into the conversation.” – Thomas Schumacher
“The last time America faced a pandemic, the next 10 years were some of the most productive and foundational years in our art form. Broadway was essentially born during that time so I hope you are holding on to a sense of encouragement right now.”  – Christopher Jackson
 
And here’s my piece of advice to add to the above.
 
Seek out the wisdom of others who are where you want to go. Use their path, their words, their advice to springboard you to success.
 
It works.
 
– – – –
 
10 Takeaways not enough for you, you serious action-taker TheaterMakers? If you want to hear more of the 10,000 Takeaways from the TheaterMakers Summit, click here.
 
 
 

“One Last Time”

“One Last Time” is my favorite tune from Hamilton.

There’s something gracious in the message, and something so amazing in the performance.  It’s one of the umpteen reasons I wanted Chris Jackson to speak at our conference this weekend.

And today, I have my own version of that message . . . as I tell you, for the last time, that this is your final chance to get a ticket to The TheaterMakers Summit, which starts in less than 24 hours.

I know, I know, you’ve probably heard me talk about the TheaterMakersSummit already.  Maybe you’ve seen ads, gotten emails, or heard me mention it a billion times in this blog.

Well, sorry, but not sorry.

The reason we e-smack you over the head with this message?

We know, for a fact, there is nothing else we do all year long that helps people achieve their theatrical goals.  Period.  And it only takes one weekend to do.

Think about it.

  • We have over 100 A-list presenters.  You wouldn’t have 100 professors in an MFA program!
  • We have over 30 panels, on every subject from streaming to playwriting to personal finance for TheaterMakers.  You wouldn’t have that diverse a curriculum in any MFA program.
  • And you will join hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other TheaterMakers just like you.   You wouldn’t have that many networking connections in any MFA program!

If you’re a writer, director, designer, actor, producer or just appreciate the art of making theater, this is the conference for you.

And whether you’re just starting out or you’ve already had shows running around the world, you’re going to learn how to get to the next “stage” of your career.

You’ll just have to forgive me if I’ve talked about this conference a lot.  I can’t help it.  I remember what it was like seeing the first show I produced on stage, the first show that I wrote on stage.  And I’m obsessed with helping people feel that same feeling.  Because there is nothing like it.

And when you see an audience respond to something you’ve created?  Oh man . . . is it something.

So if you want to make theater, if you want to feel that feeling, there is no better place on the planet to be this weekend, then at The TheaterMakers Summit, with 103 experts and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people just like you.

Still on the fence?

Think about it this way.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you came?  You didn’t learn anything?  Ok, you’re in the same place you are now.  And you email me and we give you a refund.  No questions asked.

Now.  Ask yourself . . .

What’s the BEST thing that could happen if you came?  You get your show up?  You advance your career?  You meet someone to help you along?

Worth it?

Yeah.  That’s what I thought.

There.  I said it. This is my “one last time.”

Join us.

 

 

FIVE Things I Learned About Playwriting from The Presidential Election.

Watching the last few days of our recent Presidential election was as dramatic as any event I’ve seen in my life.  It kept me riveted to my seats for days!  It was like sitting through Les Miz, both parts of Angels in America AND The Inheritance over and over for a week!  And I didn’t even want to get up to pee!
 
In between waiting for ballots to come in and binging Krispy Kremes and Kit Kats, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could learn from all this drama.
So I asked myself “What about THIS ELECTION put me so on-the-edge-of-my-seat?  And how can I put that into all of my shows?”
 
Here are FIVE things I came up with that are now a part of my “Edge-Of-Your-Seat” checklist on every single one of my shows (and ACTION ITEMS for you to help you with YOUR shows):
 
1. A super specific SIMILAR objective for BOTH the protagonist and antagonist.
 
One candidate wanted to win the election. The other candidate wanted to win the election. Boom. You can’t get clearer than that.
The “want” for EACH character wasn’t, “To improve his understanding of the word,” or “To gain self-confidence.”  Those may be good objectives but it’s hard to show an audience if your hero has achieved them.
An election is a win/lose. It’s like a boxing match or a basketball game (now you know why Rocky and Hoosiers are so easy to get into). Or a court case (Law and Order, To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, etc.).
 
And when both your protagonist and antagonist have the same goal, the conflict or “counter-objective” is super clear. Because both characters want the same thing, they also want to prevent the other “party” from getting the same thing.
 
ACTION ITEM: What does your protagonist want? Can you make it more specific . . . and if it’s a “internal want,” (e.g. to be a better father), who can you symbolize it with something specific. And what does your antagonist want? Can it be the same thing? Or at the very least, can you make it to prevent the protagonist from getting what he or she wants?
 
2. High stakes? Make them even higher.
 
What was at stake in this last election?
 
Not much. Just a pandemic. The economy. Democracy. Or in simpler terms . . . people’s lives, people’s livelihoods, and the entire country.
 
I mean, can you get bigger stakes?
 
Your story may not be as big as an election, but however high your stakes are, ratchet ’em up as high as you can go.
 
I like to think of my stakes as the bar a pole vaulter (i.e. my protagonist) has to leap over. When I do my SECOND draft, I look at where I set the bar in the first draft. . . and then I raise it up a few more inches. And so on with the third draft, fourth, and on.
 
ACTION ITEM: Write out the answer to this question:  “What will happen to your hero if he or she does NOT get what they want?” Like this:  “If my hero fails, he or she will . . . ” Then make it worse.
 
3. Have a bad guy? Make him badder.
 
However nasty your antagonist may be, make him nastier. Be careful about mustache-twirling cliches (you avoid this by having them do things that you’d never expect – just like what happened in this election and AFTER this election).
 
We know that our audience must feel empathy for our protagonist. One way to accomplish this is by making the antagonist, the person preventing our hero from getting what they want, even more of an a-hole. When we dislike someone, we are more likely to want the other to succeed.
(Oh, I will leave it to you to decide who the bad guy was in this election.)
 
ACTION ITEM: On a scale of 1-10, how much of a bad guy is your bad guy? Add something to your story that he or she does or has done to make him or her worse.
 
4. Think you know what’s going to happen?
 
This election took more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. And that’s how your story should unfold as well! On Tuesday night, it started out one way, then turned another (which kept people up watching late into the night). Then the next day it turned again when the mail-in vote started coming in. Then one network called Arizona. But others didn’t! And then . . . And then . . . and then!  
 
You have to surprise your audience with moments they can’t predict or EXPECT. Most successful stories follow similar structures. But what happens within that structure to keep your audience engaged is fair game.
 
ACTION ITEM: Count the twists and turns in your story. Then add another one.
 
5. Stretch it out.
 
Yes, people want shorter content in 2020. But as this election shows (as well as Les Miz, Angels in America and The Inheritance), there are ways to keep people watching. If you can keep your audience twisting and turning (see #4), you’ll increase the tension, and be able to stretch your story just a touch more . . . which will give your audience an even bigger release when the curtain comes down.
 
There would have been celebrations of the winner of this election around the world regardless of when the race was called. But I guarantee you, the celebrations would NOT have been as big as they were if the race was called on election night.
 
ACTION ITEM: Where in your story does your hero get what they want? Can you add a “But wait,” moment to delay it a touch more? Be careful!  Make sure your audience truly doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, or they’ll get bored. But if you’ve done your twisting and turning right, this could get you an even bigger celebration at the end of your show.
 
Happy drafting!
– – – – –
If you want more advice on how to create award-winning stories, don’t listen to me.  Listen to Pulitzer Prize winners, Academy Award winners, Tony Award winners, and more.  We have them all and 100 other speakers at this weekend’s TheaterMakersSummit in just TWO DAYS!  Get your ticket now. It only takes ONE change in your script to get the attention of a Producer.  Hear what you should do this weekend.  Click here.

Need some advice about the arts or anything? 50 Mentors in ONE book.

Confession time.
 
When I started my podcast over five years and two hundred (!) interviews ago, I told all the A-listers I interviewed that I was doing it for my listeners.
 
“They need your advice,” I said, “Your motivation, your mentorship. They want to hear your stories of success, so they can model their journey after yours.”
 
That was a fib.
 
In truth? I wanted to hear how these icons overcame obstacles, for me, as much as anyone else.
 
The good news?
 
I got away with the half-truth – because the interviews helped listeners AND me. Double-fecta.
 
And something interesting happened.
 
Over the years, I found myself listening to some of these podcasts again. Sometimes three times. I often used the most powerful quotes as #MyMorningWhiteBoardQuote on my Instagram.
 
And when faced with difficult decisions on my shows (and in my life), I often called up the wisdom of these A-listeners to help me make the right choice.
 
These hundreds of people became my mentors, whether they knew it or not.
 
And now, they are yours.
 
Here’s how . . .
 
Because I found elements of these conversations so valuable, I went back to Podcast Interview #1 ,and re-read every every single transcript.
 
Then I culled the BEST takeaways, action items, quotes and inspirational insights from 50 of those interviews and put them into a book entitled . . . Cast of Mentors. (Yes, an homage to a similar volume by Tim Ferris that I found so helpful in my entrepreneurial endeavors as well as the “Directors on Directing” and “Producers on Producing” books I loved when I was coming up.)
 
Inside the book, you’ll find a couple of pages per mentor, with key questions and answers about how to make better theater – that you can read in 5 minutes. Yep, I designed the book for you to read in bites. Got five minutes before a Zoom meeting starts? Read tips on directing from Kenny Leon. Or songwriting from Bobby Lopez. Or producing from Daryl Roth. Or life from Ali Stroker. Or . . . on and on and on. Because there are 50 of ’em in this volume alone. (See the full list of mentors below).
 
Want to see what the inside of the book looks like? Click here to read advice from multiple Tony Award winning Directors and Choreographers. (And when you are done – feel how you want to turn the page and read another one!)
 
The book, Cast of Mentors: Short Sage Advice From 50 Broadway Superpowers is available for pre-order NOW Click here to be first in line to get it (release date is November 19th – in time to grab as a holiday gift for the TheaterMaker in your life.)
 
Oh, and we made it a fancy hardcover. Because the advice in the book is worth it. I know you’ll find yourself consulting it over and over.
 
Grab Cast Of Mentors here.
 
And a huge thanks to the following 50 mentors for being a part of Volume I. (Yep – there will be a second one!)
Rick Miramontez
Charlotte St. Martin
Nina Lannan
Terrence McNally
Jordan Roth
Tim Rice
Ben Brantley
Michael Arden
Casey Nicholaw
David Henry Hwang
Ted Chapin
Susan Stroman
Daryl Roth
Joe Mantello
Stephen Schwartz
Lynn Ahrens
Diane Paulus
Jeanine Tesori
Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Robert Lopez
Leigh Silverman
Stephen Byrd
Bartlett Sher
Sue Frost & Randy Adams
Tara Rubin
Rick Elice
Lynne Meadow
David Stone
Kenny Leon
Stacey Mindich
Kathleen Marshall
Eva Price
Kwame Kwei-Armah
Pam MacKinnon
Sergio Trujillo
Lisa Kron
Rebecca Taichman
John Weidman
Joe Iconis
Michael Greif
Kirsten Childs
Dominique Morisseau
Ali Stroker
Mara Isaacs
Alan Cumming
Asmeret Ghebremichael
Jamil Jude
Mandy Gonzalez
Robyn Goodman
Paul Tazewell
Get the advice on how you can achieve your theatrical aspirations from all these mentors here.

3 Reasons This Week Would Have Sucked On Broadway Anyway.

I’d give anything to have Broadway up and running again.

Wait.  Hold the cell phone.

I forgot the #1 lesson about making wishes like that.  You have to be veeeeeery specific.

Take #2.

I’d give anything to have a healthy Broadway up and running again.  And by healthy, I mean safe from Covid.  And strong at the box office.

And we can’t come back, and I predict we won’t come back, until we have both.  (For my actual, to-the-day prediction of when Broadway will return, click here.)

Which takes me today’s blog . . .

Even though I’d consider giving up a toe to have audiences in our theaters again, I’m kinda glad I don’t have anything running this week.

Because this week would have been a @#$%-show at the box office.

Here are three reasons why.

  1.  Trick or Treat X 2 Halloween always puts a spell on our box office.  Last year in the same frame (remember last year?), grosses dropped 8.4% from the previous week.  And this year?  Halloween was on a Saturday, which means we would have been tricked TWICE:  once at the matinee and once for the evening?And the Sunday matinee wouldn’t have been so great either, as everyone rested the morning after the spooky revelry.Why is Halloween so disappointing at our box office?  It’s a combo, actually . . . between people going to parties, parades and taking their little ones to gather up candies and veggie crisps (the new Kit Kat, apparently), and people NOT wanting to go to parties and parades for fear of getting tricked themselves!
  2. Falling Back Makes Our Box Office Do The Same It seems like such a small thing. It’s one hour. And in the fall, you “gain” the hour, getting a touch more sleep.  So why does it screw us up so much?  It’s just as much psychological as it is physical.  Not only do our clocks feel a touch out of whack, but the fall daylight savings time screams to us that “winter is coming.”  And that drives us all inside.  There’s a subliminal “batten down the hatches” message that comes along with it.  And we’d rather stay inside . . . and not inside a Broadway theater.(And yeah, springing forward six months later has the same strange effect.)
  3. Is there something happening on Tuesday? And here’s the elephant and the donkey in the room.  The election.  Or should I say THE election.This is the biggest election we’ve seen in modern history in SO many ways, including sucking up any and all air space, and the ability of all of us to think of anything else.  I predicted that we were going to see a correction this year, and this was one of the reasons why.  But it would have been even worse than I imagined.One of the reasons why is the amount of advertising spent on the campaign, to the tune of 10.8 BILLION bucks.  Hard for any other advertising to get through when political ads are everywhere (and some scaring the you-know-what out of you – as they should).

    And what would have made it worse?  Everyone is predicting a count that goes on past election day, which would have paralyzed our audience’s mind and their desire to purchase tickets.

There are few blessings in the midst of this Broadway shut down.  But every morning I tried to find at least one.  Today’s is that I’m actually glad I don’t have any shows running this week.

– – – – –

The good news is that when the election is over, the tension is released, and we start to focus on what we need to focus on again.  And in this case, that’s making theater in our new world. There’s only 12 days until The TheaterMakers Summit, when 100 of Broadway’s Best will talk about how we can do just that.  Will you be a part of that conversation? 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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