Wanna go to London as a Producer Exchange Student? Here’s how!

Last year I was honored to have been asked to speak to a group of young Producers from the UK who were here in NYC studying our theater, in the hopes of learning some tips and tricks they could take home.

What I didn’t know until about halfway through the conversation was that there was a group of young Producers from the US doing the same thing in London at the same time.

“What is this,” I asked.

“It’s the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange,” a student answered.

And now you’re asking “What the heck is that?”

The TS Eliot US/UK Exchange is probably one of the coolest opportunities out there, and not many people know about it.  100 actors, directors, producers, and writers are accepted into the program, and then, for a week, they simply swap cities.

And learn.

Cool, right?

The Exchange is seeking this year’s applicants now.  Click here to learn more and apply.

And when you get in, you better promise to send me a postcard.

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–  Play “Will It Recoup?”  You can win a Kindle!  Click here and enter today!

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Give yourself a preview-prepping workshop.

Previews can be one of the most stressful periods of a writer’s life. Regardless of whether or not you think critical response is important to your show, the countdown to Opening life can feel like a ticking time bomb.

All the elements of the show you’ve worked on for years are finally realized for the first time.  Sets, costumes, lights, special effects, actors, etc.  It has all come together.

Except for that scene and song in the second act.

Writers are constantly called on to rewrite lines, scenes, songs, etc. during previews.  I’ve seen entire musicals restructured, endings changed, intermissions excised, a song cut, the same song added back, and so on.

Stressful, right?

Unless you’ve practiced.

There are lots of writing workshops and classes out there, and if you’re a writer I recommend taking one that forces you to present material every 1-2 weeks in order to keep yourself on a schedule.

But does that prepare you for previews?

Nope.

In addition to the above, I strongly recommend writers give themselves (or each other, if you can find some goal-oriented friends out there) a Preview Preparation Speed Writing Workshop.

Here’s how it works:

Imagine you’re in previews of a new musical playing The Palace.  The love song between your hero and heroine isn’t working and Hal Prince, who you’ve luckily snagged to direct, isn’t happy.  He marches up the aisle and says, “That scene and song has to go.  And I need something new by dinner.”

Dinner is four hours away.

Go.

Shows can take years to actually get to the first preview.  And all that time can be for nothing if you can’t write during previews.

Learn now.

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 6: Flora Stamatiades, AEA Union Rep.

When you hear the words, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), you probably think of the more than 40,000 actors (and stage managers) that are represented by that professional union.  Well, AEA has a lot of folks toiling tirelessly behind-the-scenes as well, trying to keep all those members working.  And in today’s theatrical economy, that is not an easy task.

But that’s exactly the job that Flora Stamatiades has.  And let me tell you from firsthand experience, she’s good at it. I’ve watched her single-handedly create hundreds and hundreds of union jobs where there were none before . . . while at the same time making the Producer happier about it!  Win-win is her middle name, and that’s usually what she gets.

So without further ado, here are 10 Qs for Flora about what it’s like working for one of the most important unions in our biz.

1. What is your title?

National Director, Organizing & Special Projects, Actors’ Equity Association

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

I can’t really describe it in that way – but right now, I’m taking a look at several projects/industry sectors that we would like to see available for our members. There is also a constant flow of performers back and forth across the Atlantic keeping me busy.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I’ll give you two sentences for the two very disparate parts of my job:

1) Working with staff, members, elected leadership, and Producers to create more opportunities for work under Equity contracts.

2) Handling all issues of foreign performers appearing here and Equity members appearing abroad.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

You need to be a good listener and a creative thinker.  You should also have a broad-based understanding of the industry, and it doesn’t hurt to be both flexible and stubborn as hell.  I’m still working on all of these, especially the first.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

Most of my training has been “on-the-job” – I’ve been fortunate enough to be guided by mentors who not only let me take on projects that might traditionally not be seen as my duties (especially before I was in my current position), but who also supported me in taking extra classes and training during my time here.

6. What was your first job in theater?

My first job after college was as the “Shop Assistant” at the (sadly) defunct Coconut Grove Playhouse.  Interestingly, our attempt to organize the tech staff there led not very indirectly to my being laid off after one season.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

It nurtures communication, emotion, thought, and sometimes, just plain fun! Also, it’s a shared experience that fosters teamwork both in its execution and its enjoyment.  It’s also an economic driver in its community – providing not only jobs, but ancillary income in restaurants, concessions, local businesses like the lumber yard or dry cleaner, and so on.

I would get into all that talk about how the arts improve people’s lives/children’s educations, etc., but I’ll leave that to someone who’s more expert in those areas.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Assumptions – on both sides.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

I think transparency and trust (which I really see as two sides of one coin) would make the labor/management relationship more productive.  I see efforts in this direction all the time from both sides, but too often it is easy to fall back into old patterns, especially as we are “taught” that we are enemies.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

It helps to have a broad-based understanding of the industry – not only from the perspective of the members you want to represent, but from the perspective of other industry unions, and even of employers.

Long before I decided in what area of the industry I wanted to work, I had tried most
everything – even acting, sadly for some audiences. But the skills gained
in each area of work added to my understanding of what it takes to put a
show/season together, and I hope leads to more productive conversations with
Producers and especially, our members (and future members).

And one final thing I recommend for anyone doing any type of
work – keep studying and training.  There is always more to learn!

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(Not So) Favorite Quotes Vol. XXIV: Won’t you be my neighbor?

One of the couples on my floor loves the theater.  They go on a regular basis, have great taste, and are always asking me for recommendations on shows to see.

Oh, and get this . . . they always pay full price.  (insert “whoopee!” here)

Last week, I ran into them in the elevator and they told me they were on their way to see Red.  I started asking them my usual string of mini focus group questions:  how they heard about Red, if they could describe the artwork, and then I landed on my finale of, “Where do you go to get your tickets?”

Their answer was Telecharge . . . but then the husband’s eyes widened and I could tell he wanted to share some sort of secret.  Here’s what he said:

“Yep.  We buy on Telecharge.  And pay full price.  But we never buy in advance.”

My heart sunk . . . and I kind of wanted them to move to another building.

He continued:

“Yeah.  We find we get better seats when we buy last minute. Whenever we try to get something in advance, we always get crap. But if we go online the day before or even the day of, we usually find gold.”

When I heard this, I wanted to move . . . to Tallahassee. There’s something wrong with a ticketing purchase process that reinforces full-price buyers to wait until pulling the trigger.

So what’s the problem?

There are probably a few issues at work here, but I’d bet a couple of full-price tickets to Red that the issue most at work is that theaters and shows are holding too many of their best locations for House Seats, etc.  House Seats (or quality locations held for use by the Producers, Theatre Owners, Actors, Designers, etc.) that are not used get dumped back into the general pool of available seats 2-3 days before each performance, which is why there is sometimes a flood of good seats available closer to the performance.  My neighbor was probably getting the tickets held for the Set Designer, or one of the Principal Actors, etc.

The problem is . . . there are so many people that have House Seats in their contracts, that up to 75 prime orchestra seats can be held . . . for every performance.  I mean, is the Set Designer or Principal Actor really going to use 2 or 4 seats every night???

In survey after survey, our audiences tell us that the #1 thing that they want is a great seat . . . and we’re holding them back.

By serving our own selfish needs, we’re causing our customers to do one of three things:

– Not buy at all (there’s really no better seat than on your own couch).

– Wait until something better opens up, thereby decreasing our ability to build advances.

– Find better locations elsewhere . . . translation:  they are going to brokers.

That last one is the most ironic.  Everyone in our biz has been concerned about the huge amount of business going to third party ticket brokers.

Well . . . news flash:  we’re part of the reason our audiences are seeking them out.

We’ve got to find a way to give our customers as much access to the best seats possible.  And one of those ways is to decrease the number of house seats we all hold.

Then, after we’ve decreased the number of house seats . . . we can start charging for them.  (For more on house seats, click that link)

A test case for a “troubled” (?) musical.

– Disappointing out-of-town reviews.  Check.

– Disappointing message board buzz from early out-of-town previews.  Check.

– Director replaced.  Check.

– Michael Riedel taking swings at the show on an almost weekly basis.  Check.

The Addams Family had all four of these unfortunate items marked off the “troubled musical” checklist well before “it” came into town.

Now that TAF has been in performances for a few weeks, let’s look at some more of what The Addams Family has to buzz about.
– w/e 4/18/10    $1,261,490

– w/e 4/11/10    $1,240,377

– w/e 4/4/10      $1,391,177

– w/e 3/28/10    $1,302,707

– w/e 3/21/10    $1,328,460

– w/e 3/14/10    $1,192,213

Now, all of a sudden, some people talking smack on a message board back in October, about performances in Chicago, doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

Producers, actors, authors, etc. are constantly worried about bad industry buzz and how it will affect a show. No one wants the label of a “troubled” show.  Well, if ever there was a test case that proved that there is a giant chasm between what our industry hears about the development of a show, and what our audience hears about the development of a show, The Addams Family is it.

TAF feels like a big Broadway musical.  It has stars.  It has a powerful brand.  It has a powerful brand that’s funny.  It already feels musical because of its popular theme song.  It is about a world that provides for spectacle.  Etc.  Etc.

And all of those elements are what a huge majority of the Broadway audience wants to see, no matter who is replaced or who is writing what.

Don’t worry about what insiders may say.  Worry about what your audience will say.  They are the ones who actually pay for their tickets.

And when they really want to see a show, they’ll have no “trouble” paying premium prices.

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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