10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 1: A Broadway Mad Man.

Today on The Producer’s Perspective we’re introducing a brand new feature, which is a spin-off on my Advice From An Expert articles.

In “10 Questions for a Broadway Pro,” I ask . . . yep . . . a Broadway Industry Professional 10 Questions!

We’ll talk to all sorts of people involved in the modern theater and get their perspective on their job, their role in the biz and what they’d like to see change.  We’re gonna hear from Casting Directors, Marketing Directors, Press Agents, and more (let me know if there is a position you’d like to hear from).

The inspiration for this feature came from my first gig on a Broadway show.  I was the Production Assistant on the Barry and Fran Weissler revival of My Fair Lady, starring Richard Chamberlain and a 23-year-old Melissa Errico.  My duties included everything from getting Richard his fresh-off-the-bone turkey sandwiches to typing up the rehearsal schedule on a Mac Classic.

And it was one of the greatest times of my life.

The best part about the gig was that I was exposed to a whole bunch of people and positions that I never knew existed before.  The job gave me a chance to see who was pulling the curtain strings of Broadway . . . and made me realize that I was even more excited about being behind-the-scenes rather than in them (I was on the actor-track).

I used to ask everyone involved in the show questions about what they did. Thanks to their answers, I learned so much about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do.

So, I thought I’d give you a virtual experience of what I went through back then, and introduce you to not only the biggest players on Broadway whose names aren’t on the marquees, but also help us all understand what exactly they do on a day-to-day basis.

First up is one of Broadway’s own Mad Men, Drew Hodges, the founder and CEO of SpotCo, one of the two Broadway heavyweight ad agencies.  (Drew also happens to be #21 on BroadwaySpace.com’s 50 Most Powerful People.)

Having sat in many an ad meeting with Drew, I can tell you that he’s one of a very rare hybrid that combines incredible business acumen with unbridled creativity.

Without further ado, here are 10 Questions with Drew!

1.    What is your title?

Founder, SpotCo Advertising

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

Next Fall, Million Dollar Quartet, La Cage, Memphis, A Behanding in Spokane, Chicago, The Pee Wee Herman Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Hair, A View From the Bridge, Billy Elliot, Fences, Time Stands Still, Red, In The Heights,  The 39 Steps, Avenue Q, West Side Story, Come Fly Away, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Present Laughter, The Miracle Worker, Blue Man Group, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Love Never Dies.  In no particular order.

3.    In one sentence, describe your job.

We create identities and sell tickets for live theatrical events.

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

Creativity, marketing, problem solving, humility, humor, and fast thinking.

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

I owned my own design studio doing advertising and design for entertainment – film, cable, and the recording industry – for 12 years. Before that, I got a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts.

6.    What was your first job in theater?

I did the poster for The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart for Tom Viola and Roger McFarland.  It’s a portrait of my right hand.

7.    Why do you think theater is important?

It creates joy and outrage, both often when we need it most.

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

Conservatism, and too many cooks.

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

That every challenge be met with humor and poise, rather than blame.  The team is always better when unified and caring.

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

If you wanted to work in advertising for theater, there are several paths to take.  If you are a graphic designer, video editor, web designer, etc., we just look for a great portfolio that has vibrancy, a sense of humor as a person, and the ability to move fast.  A love of theater is not essential, and often times, I like that people bring a more diverse palette to our Broadway materials.  If you wanted to be an account person, a writer, etc., a passion for theater is a great help.  A sense of marketing, or marketing courses as a background are nice.  We have several people from the BMI workshop, and the producing program at Columbia.  We also have people who have worked at other more traditional ad agencies, and that knowledge can be a huge help, when combined with the joy (or the heartbreak) of theater.

Because Drew is the kind of guy that always goes a little further in everything he does, he also answered a bonus question.  When asked what kind of advice he would give to someone that wanted to be a Producer, he answered as follows:

Surround yourself with the best people, and be willing to understand that every friend you have will tell you your project is perfect.  You need to listen to real people, and if your advance is falling, people don’t like it as much as you think.  The opposite is also true- if your advance is climbing, no matter how slowly, people are genuinely loving your show and you should keep going.

Want to hear more expert advice from Drew but don’t have a show that he can advertise yet?  Listen to some of his American Theatre Wing panels here.

Priceline for tickets?

Ticketmaster and Priceline formed a partnership last week.  The deal is pretty simple:  Priceline is going to provide Ticketmaster customers with access to its hotel and travel deals.
I had to wonder, will the deals ever flow the other way?  Could this be the beginning of an online ticket liquidation system?  Stubhub, but for less?
True, the theater has some ancient last minute liquidation systems already in place (TKTS booth, TDF, etc.), but I wonder if there will ever be a push for an online auction model, like the original Priceline model, where shows could put up tickets at the last minute, set a threshold for what they would accept, and allow customers to bid for them.
It could be a way to get rid of unsold inventory and put a few more bucks in the till.  But, it could also be a way to train our audience into waiting until the last minute for a deal.
Do I think there’s room for it?
I actually do . . . but I would take such a system and merge it with a stubhub, making it an auction for the upside, the middle and the low.  Customers would go to bid on going-fast Billy Elliot tickets and leftover Chicago tickets.  And with enough care, planning, and monitoring, I’d bet some shows could get more than the half price that they are getting from the booth . . . and in advance.
I mean, why would a customer wait online, when they can go online?
And if didn’t work, and it did end up just being a bargain bin for Broadway tix?  Well, I’d yank it down. But it’s worth an experiment, as is most everything.
I mean, the TKTS booth had its non-believers, I’m sure.

Have we seen the last of the looooong running musical?

I’ve written about long running shows by decade before, but I felt the subject deserved another look as a whole.  So, as of this Sunday, take a look at Top 10 Longest Running Shows on Broadway:

Show # of Perfs Year Opened
1 The Phantom of the Opera* 8907 1988
2 Cats 7485 1982
3 Les Miserables 6680 1987
4 A Chorus Line 6137 1975
5 Oh! Calcutta! 5959 1974
6 Beauty and the Beast 5461 1994
7 Chicago* 5236 1996
8 Rent 5123 1996
9 The Lion King* 4821 1997
10 Miss Saigon 4092 1991
*still running
5 of these marathoners or 50% of the longest running musicals on Broadway are from the decade of glorious growth, the 90s.
30% are from the British Invasion of the 80s.  And the remaining 20% are from the 70s.
Let’s take a little trip further down the long runner list, shall we?  Here is a list of the 11th – 30th Longest Running Broadway Shows:

 

Show # of Perfs Year Opened
11 42nd Street 3486 1980
12 Grease 3388 1972
13 Fiddler on the Roof 3242 1964
14 Life with Father 3224 1939
15 Mamma Mia!* 3184 2001
16 Tobacco Road 3182 1933
17 Hello, Dolly! 2844 1964
18 My Fair Lady 2717 1956
19 Hairspray 2642 2002
20 The Producers 2502 2001
21 Avenue Q 2446 2003
22 Cabaret 2377 1998
23 Annie 2377 1977
24 Wicked* 2342 2003
25 Man of La Mancha 2328 1965
26 Abie’s Irish Rose 2327 1922
27 Oklahoma! 2212 1943
28 Smokey Joe’s Café 2036 1995
29 Pippin 1944 1972
30 South Pacific 1925 1949

There are only 2 musicals on this list that are still running and have a shot at cracking into the top 10:  Mamma Mia needs another 2 years, and Wicked needs 4.  I expect both to make it, which will give the 2000s (or the “aughts”) 2 spots in the top 10.

If you keep going down the list, there are 3 more musicals that are still running that could conceivably have a shot:  Jersey Boys (#54), Mary Poppins (#89), and Billy Elliot (too far down to count).  Jersey Boys has probably got a chance, thanks to its low overhead, but I doubt the other two will go the distance.
If those falsetto-singing boys from Jersey make the cut (and they still need another (gulp) 7 years), then that will give the aughts a 30% representation in the top 10 longest running shows.  Not so bad.
But if they don’t, and if the Mamma Mia movie madness wears off and that show doesn’t make the cut, we could be looking at only one show from this decade to be in the Top 10.
And is it just me, or does it seem like there isn’t anything on the horizon that has twenty year staying power?
Then again, the day before Rent opened on Broadway, I bet no one thought it would run for 5123 performances.

My Top 5 Tony Moments from Last Night’s Telecast

In no particular order, here are my top 5 favorite nuggets from last night’s Tony Awards Ceremony:

1.  The “Is He Ok” Moment

Not sure what the cameras caught, but Bret Michaels of Poison took a little too much time on his exit after his rockin’ opening number . . . and caught an incoming drop in the head.  It knocked his cowboy hat right off his head, and the hat stayed on stage for several minutes as a reminder of the carnage we had all witnessed.

2.  The “Did You Forget Something” Moment

Did anyone else notice that Liza didn’t have an envelope when she went out to announce the winner of Best Musical?  Why do I get nervous every time I see her do anything?

3.  The “When Did They Write That” Moment

Kudos to the writers for drafting that clever closing number while the show was going on.  Ok, I’m sure they wrote some stuff in advance, but, nevertheless, it’s always great to go out with a few laughs.  And there were some doozies in there.

4.  The “You talk.  No, you talk.  No, you talk” Moment

Watching and waiting for one of the Billys to speak after they won their historic award was some of the finest silence on television.  Those kids are a living example of, “They don’t even have to do anything.  They just have to stand there.”

5.  The “I Made A Big Star Blush” Moment

Hugh Jackman made Sarah Jessica Parker blush years ago when he got her involved with a Boy From Oz number.  This year, it was Gavin Creel all up in Anne Hathaway’s bizness during the Hair number, and when he crawled off her, she buckled over with laughter and let out a big smile like she was a 12 year old girl at a combination Miley Cyrus/Justin Timberlake concert . . . with backstage passes.  And guess who showed up at the Hair party later on . . .

I had a lot of favorite moments from last night’s ceremony.  Overall, I thought it was a terrific show (although from what I “hear”, there were a ton of sound problems that we didn’t experience at the show itself).  How do I judge it?  Well, I think back to when I was a teenager and used to watch (and tape) the Tonys from my small hometown in Massachusetts, which seemed thousands of miles away from Broadway.  If I think “the kid inside” would have liked the show, then I give it a thumbs up.

And this year, the 16 year old had a blast and would have played it over and over again on his VCR.

I’ll have the results of the Tony pool soon. Stay tuned.

And tomorrow I’ll tell you how I did in my predictions, and where and why I went wrong.

What did you think of last night’s Tony Awards?  Comment below.

My Tony Award Predictions

Ok, here they are, as promised:  my predicts for what the 800 or so Tony Voters will select as the winners of this year’s Tony Awards.  To clarify, this is not what I think should win, nor is it what I necessarily voted for myself, but rather this is who I expect to be standing on that stage on Sunday night.

Drumroll, puhleeze.

BEST PLAY:  GOD OF CARNAGE

The French can be snooty and smelly, but neither of those adjectives apply to French writer Yasmine Reza or her work of “Art.”  Her star-studded, super-grossing ($900k for a play?), smart yet accessible comedy (complete with barf jokes) will win out over the primary competition, Labute’s reasons to be pretty.

BEST MUSICAL:  BILLY ELLIOT

The Best Musical landscape is similar to Best Play.  Another import, this one British, squares off against a smaller, perhaps more challenging, American musical, Next to Normal.  Unfortunately for all you patriots out there, the British and Billy will take the big prize of the evening.  And seeing the 147 kids in the show storm the stage at the end will be a sight to see, so stay up!

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:  TOM KITT & BRIAN YORKEY, NEXT TO NORMAL

The Americans strike back here, as N2N deservedly picks up the score trophy.  This award also comes with a note from many voters that reads, “Sorry we didn’t vote for you for Best Musical.  We loved your show, but . . .”

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL:  LEE HALL, BILLY ELLIOT

For awhile, I thought N2N would pull a Urinetown or Falsettos split (and take both score and book while giving up the big prize to a more commercial choice, Millie and Crazy for You, respectively), as the voters like to reward writers of challenging work.  The upset of the night would be if the voters tipped their hat to Hunter Bell and the TOS crew with an award.  But frankly, I just don’t think enough of them saw the show last fall to make that happen.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY:  THE NORMAN CONQUESTS

Great revivals were like foreclosures this year . . . on every block!  (Too soon?)  This category would have been even tougher to pick, had the nominators not forgotten about some of the fall shows (specifically, The Seagull).  Norman gets the girl in this category, partly for its great production, and partly because of the degree of difficulty in staging three British comedies and running them in rep  (I’d also bet that a bunch of voters voted for Norman while only seeing one of the plays.)

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL:  HAIR

The Most Improved Show award goes to Hair this year.  Luckily, West Side doesn’t need it with its Wicked-like grosses (it’s a revival!).

BEST SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT:  LIZA’S AT THE PALACE

Obviously, I’m praying that I’m wrong with this one.  Will’s got a chance, thanks to the phenomenal success of the run and because it’s fresh in everyone’s memory.  But a Hollywood A-lister bringing down Broadway royalty seems like a long shot to me, so I’m putting my money on the safe bet. That’s ok.  I’m still happy having put my investors money on the other guy.  🙂

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN  A PLAY:  GEOFFREY RUSH, EXIT THE KING

This is the easiest to call, which is unfortunate for Raul Esparza, who deserves to have a couple of trophies on his mantle.  But God knows, he’ll have more chances to get up on that stage, as I don’t see him making an exit anytime soon.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN  A PLAY:  MARCIA GAY HARDEN, GOD OF CARNAGE

There is a 60 second section in God of Carnage where Marcia doesn’t utter a word.  But you can practically read her thoughts as if they were written in a bubble above her head.  She wins for that moment alone.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN  A MUSICAL: THE THREE BILLYS, BILLY ELLIOT

Tatum O’Neal, Daisy Eagan , Anna Paquin.  Voters love to give a kid a trophy.  And the only thing better than one kid nominee  . . . is three.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN  A MUSICAL:  ALICE RIPLEY, NEXT TO NORMAL

In an example of the Hollywood Rain Man syndrome (where playing a challenged individual of any type, physical or mental, gives you a boost at award time), Alice will win for her terrific portrayal of the challenged mom in N2N.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN  A PLAY:  JOHN GLOVER, WAITING FOR GODOT

This one could also be called the Best Spitter Award (previous winners would have included Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening).  John wins for saying the most with the least to actually say.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN  A PLAY:  ANGELA LANSBURY, BLITHE SPIRIT

There is currently only one woman who has won five Tony Awards.  After Sunday, there will be two.  Watch for the standing ovation when Angela takes the stage.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN  A MUSICAL:  CHRISTOPHER SIEBER, SHREK

The guy is on his knees for the whole show for Shrek’s sake!

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN  A MUSICAL:  HAYDEN GWYNNE, BILLY ELLIOT

Hayden hits a trifecta here:  Outer Critics, Drama Desk, Tony.  That much momentum can’t be stopped.

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY:  MATTHEW WARCHUS, GOD OF CARNAGE

For awhile, I thought Matthew’s two noms would split his vote, but then I saw I took another look at God’s grosses ($900k for a play?), and realized that he would take the Tony on the back of the show’s success, and deservedly so.

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL:  STEPHEN DALDRY, BILLY ELLIOT

For awhile, I was calling a bit of an upset here, because without Diane, Hair would not be the hit it is.  But at the end of the day, I think the majority of voters will give it to Daldry for the sheer magnitude of the work he did in directing Billy.

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY:  PETER DARLING, BILLY ELLIOT

When dancing is a major part of your plot, you better win choreography!  Hands and toes down, Darling is the winner.

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS:  MARTIN KOCH, BILLY ELLIOT

Big show + big score = Tony.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY:  DEREK MCCLANE, 33 VARIATIONS

The other nominees in this category are mostly stationery sets, so Derek’s “musical” set wins.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL:  IAN MACNEIL BILLY ELLIOT

They had to drill a giant hole in the basement of the theater to allow for that house to come up through the ground, like a man from a mine, but it’ll earn this man a Tony.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY:  DALE FERGUSON, EXIT THE KING

Whenever Kings and Queens are in a play, the odds for winning a costume award jumps up tremendously.  Normally, I’d say give this one to Mary Stuart, but I’m going with Dale, for the absurdist suit of armor.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL:  TIM HATLEY, SHREK

Costume awards go to designs that stand out, and in a field of nominations that include one show about the 60s and two shows about the 80s, Shrek certainly stands out.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY:  HUGH VANSTONE, MARY STUART

On Broadway, “rain” is an electrician and a lighting designer’s job. It rains in Mary Stuart. And that’s cool and memorable. So it’ll rain a Tony on Hugh.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSCIAL:  RICK FISHER, BILLY ELLIOT

With the design awards, sometimes bigger is better.  The bigger the show, the bigger the budget, and the more toys the designers have to play with.  In this case, bigger is Billy.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY:  RUSSELL GOLDSMITH, EXIT THE KING

This is a tough one.  Your guess is as good as mine.  I went with the sounds of a dying king.  Creepy.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL:  PAUL ARDITTI, BILLY ELLIOT

Paul will win for excellent work, yes, but also for a syndrome I call, “Tony By Association.”

So that’s it!  Make sure you tune in on Sunday to see how I do!  And don’t forget to make your picks on my Tony pool!  There is only 2 days left to play and win $500!  Click here.

If you’re not following me on Twitter, click here. Just like last year, I’ll be tweeting from my $900 seat (yep, that’s how it costs – crazy, huh?) and I’ll fill you in on everything that’s going on from inside Radio City, including the not-suitable for airing, in between commercial breaks stuff.

If you don’t yet have a place to watch – try Times Square!  The Tonys will be on the Big Screen!  With the new blocked off streets, it should be fun.  Tweet me from there if you go. I’d love to hear what the party is like.

Oh, one more prediction before I sign off:  during the telecast, I predict there will be two Jeremy Piven jokes.  🙂

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