A sad day for Shrek.

Yesterday, Shrek confirmed what had been circulating the street all week: the ogre will be leaving Broadway and heading back to the swamp on January 3, 2010.

How could one of the most powerful entertainment brands of the last twenty years not survive on the Great White Way?  Too expensive?  Maybe.  Too much Hollywood influence?  Who knows.

I believe the closing of Shrek represents the end of an era; an era which attempted to capitalize on kids first, and put adults second.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen the premature closings of shows like Shrek, Little Mermaid, and even my own, 13.

All seemingly fantastic sells . . . except for the fact that they happened to be plopped right in the midst of one of the most difficult economic climates in our history.  And no demographic was hurt more than families of four from the suburbs.

When family folk were trying to decide on a show to see, here’s what happened:

– Shows that just the kids might want to see went out the window.

– Shows that appealed to both kids and adults went bye-bye as well (Grease, Legally Blonde, Hairspray, etc.).

What’s left on Broadway now is more adult fare . . .because the parents that are still going to the theater are leaving their kids at home (another reason why plays are doing so well).

Why do you think Disney doesn’t have anything in the immediate pipeline?

I don’t think you’ll see another animated feature making its way here anytime soon, do you?

People are talking about you behind your back. And now, you can listen.

Bad word of mouth is like a little forest fire.

Get enough bad word of mouth and those little fires will combine and be on your doorstep, smoking you out of house and theater, before you can say, “Smokey The Bear.”
Since so much word of mouth occurs online these days, there are several online “smoke detectors” that can help you monitor your word of mouth and online reputation.
And if you’re smart enough, you can actually throw some water on those fires, extinguishing them before it’s too late (insert scary fire music here).

Here are three “smoke detectors” you should be using to monitor what people are saying about your shows, and an example of how we’ve used them here in my office.

1.  The Google Alert
The Google Alert is the classic detector. Sign up, tell Google the word, phrase, etc. you’d like to track, and it will send you a daily email of all the web sites with that word, phrase, etc. in it.
Put in your show’s name (and any variation), your name, your theater’s name, whatever, and let Google do the work.  Or, put in the name of a competing show . . . he-he-he.
How have we used it?
We’ve used Google Alerts to find good reviews, both in the ‘traditional’ press and from the new media corps (bloggers).
But most recently, a Google Alert sounded an alarm about a a rogue and unauthorized production of The Awesome 80s Prom.  We were able to react swiftly and shut them down before any damage was done to the brand.  Thank God for Google, because we were about to enter into an agreement for The Prom in the same city!  That Google Alert saved that deal, without a doubt.

2.  Tweet, Tweet.

Thanks to Twitter, there’s a new type of online conversation going on now.  Luckily, there are ways to monitor it.  Twitter has a search function which pulls up recent activity on any word or phrase that you’re interested in.
Since tweeting doesn’t take much time or commitment, your brand is much more likely to appear all over Twitter than in more full length blogs or articles. Just click here to see all the recent random tweets about Altar Boyz!
In addition to the Twitter search function, there are a bunch of third party search applications like Monitter, etc. that are tracking the T-world. Here’s a blog that discusses a few.
How have we used it?
We find out who’s tweeting about us, then follow them with our Twitter and encourage those same peeps to follow us.  Presto.  We’ve now established one-on-one communication with someone we know has an interest in our brand, and are building a Twitter army.
3.  Manual Labor
This is the hardest and most time intensive but, regardless of all the auto-detectors out there, I still recommend having someone on your team doing walk-throughs of potential “danger areas.” There’s nothing better than a Forest Ranger sniffing around every once in a while.
Put someone on trolling the message boards on Talkin’ Broadway, BroadwayWorld, and BroadwaySpace.  Search the site pages for your title (use the “Find On This Page” option in your browser menu).
How have we used it?
In previews for 13, I used this detector to find similar comments of both praise and criticism.  If one person says something on a message board, it’s not as important.  But find 3 people saying the same thing, it deserves further thought (regardless of whether or not you agree).
The biggest of brands out there are all monitoring online activity.  Starbucks, Jet Blue, and so on.  And why shouldn’t they?
After all, it has been said that the greatest leaders are the greatest listeners.
It’s just time we listen with more than our ears.
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The Blogger Social is tonight!

In defense of the screen to stage adaptation.

While watching Honeymoon In Vegas the other night, I took a twitter poll asking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down on the idea of making Honeymoon into a musical (a project that is currently in development).

Thanks to my recent linking of my twitter and facebook status, I got a flock of a lot of responses before you could say “Wasn’t Sarah Jessica Parker in that movie?”. Here are a few:

Enough with the “from the screen to the stage” and “remake” crap, please.

There are so many amazing new works we can enjoy… 🙂

I totally agree with this [the above post] in the nicest way possible. 🙂

Aren’t there any original ideas?

I think they need to start bringing originality back to Broadway.

No more musicals that were movies – unless it’s Beetlejuice!

Yikes.  Insert sound of clawing kitty here.

Original sounds awesome.  And it’s what I’d prefer any day of the week.  But it’s not as easy, prevalent or desired as you think.

I’ve written about the rise of screen to stage musicals before, but this time, let’s look at stats on originals:

This season, there will be only three completely original new musicals on Broadway that were not based on any pre-existing source material, movie or otherwise:  13, Title of Show and The Story of My Life.

What do they have in common?  I’ll give you a hint.  They all closed.

Last season, there were only three original musicals on Broadway as well:  In The Heights, Passing Strange and Glory Day (plural cruelly omitted purposefully).  Kudos to Heights, but disappointment for the other two.

Two seasons ago?  No originals.

Three years back?  Two:  In My Life and Drowsy Chaperone.  Chaperone worked in a small window, and then went away.

Four years?  Two:  Brooklyn and Spelling Bee (The Bee was actually based on an improv play, but since the play hadn’t achieved any sort of notoriety, we’ll include it here).  The Bee succeeded but the Brooklyn investors would have been better off buying a bridge.

What’s interesting about these stats is not the winners.  I just named 10 shows and 2 recouped and that’s consistent with the commonly quoted stat that 1 in 5 shows make money.  We’re on par.

What’s alarming is that the other 8 shows were very quick flame outs, resulting in a loss of the entire capitalization or close to it (or in some cases, maybe even more?).

Now, all you tweeters  . . . knowing these much higher risk statistics, are you really surprised that Producers and Writers look to source material before their own brains for ideas?

Flip the analysis around and look at some of the most successful musicals during that same five year period:  Wicked, Jersey Boys, Lion King, Mamma Mia, and so on with un-originals and so on.

In fact, look at the longest running musicals of all time:  Only 2 originals in the top 10 (I don’t count Oh! Calcutta!)

I love an original musical.  Falsettos is one of my favs.  But the fact is that their artistic degree of difficulty is exceptionally high (and those critics that scream about lack of original ideas on Broadway should score them like Olympic gymnasts and give them extra points for the attempt).  The financial risk is the highest, and they have a recent history of lower returns.

The truth is, some of those originals I mentioned above were simply not very good.  And despite the statistical history, a great show can always make this post null and void.  So anyone dissatisfied with the lack of originality on the GWW (Great White Way), should get out there and write a great show and I’ll be the first to line up to produce it.

But we do have to remember that Broadway is a very specific place.  It’s a very thin slice of real estate in the center of the world.  Producing and creating theater is different from producing and creating Broadway theater.  And original just doesn’t always work here, whether we like it or not.

Think about it this way.  Broadway is like a museum.  You know, like MoMA.  Unfortunately, not every painter gets his art hung in MoMA, no matter how good they are.  It’s a museum of modern art.  The people that go there, go to see a specific type.  That’s what they want.  And the curators have to pick shows that are not only going to satisfy their patrons, but are going to thrill them.

That doesn’t mean that painters of other styles should stop painting.  It just means that MoMA might not be the place where their art has the best shot at success (interestingly enough – a heck of a lot of painters adapt their images from subjects or landscapes, don’t they?)

So don’t blame the Curators or the Producers or the Writers.  You might just want to pick a different museum.

Still sticking to your guns and think that what audiences really want is originality?  We wondered that same thing on 13 . . . and then we tested a tag line that called the show the most “original new musical on Broadway” (Title of Show used a similar hook).  The results were as follows:

6% of those surveyed were definitely interested in the show based on that tagline.
15% were intrigued by the tagline.
79% of those surveyed said that this tagline “made them NOT interested in seeing 13.”

These results are another example of what those of us on the inside would prefer is not necessarily what the majority of our audience prefers.

So maybe that Beetlejuice idea isn’t so bad after all . . .

Special Sunday Post: 13 for 13 Tomorrow

The 13 Box Office opens at 10 AM tomorrow . . . and we’re selling $13 tickets to the first 100 people in line, so come on down to The Jacobs Theatre!

Read the deets on JRB’s website here.

I’ll see you there!

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