3 More Things I Learned While in London.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I spent the weekend in the UK, taking in some new shows and some bland food (seriously, I love London. I don’t have to feel guilty for eating fast food, because I know I’m not missing much).

As is usually the case whenever I visit Broadway’s Step Brother, aka The West End, I walked away with a few observations about our similarities and our differences.

Here’s what I discovered this trip:

1.  The ushers in the UK are all young.

The average age of the ushers, ticket takers, and bar staff at every theatre I went to had to be about 23.  And each one of them was bubbling over with excitement and passion for the show that I was about to see.  They weren’t showing me to my seat.  They were priming me for an experience.  I’ve always thought that these positions were ideal for students of the theater . . . and even more ideal for the audience.  NYU should start a work study program with Local 306 (the ushers union).

2.  What time is the show again?

It was a light theater going trip for me this time ’round. I only saw four shows in the three days I was there.  And not one of those shows was at 8 PM.  I saw shows at 7:15, 3, 9:30 and 7:30. And I almost went to a Friday at 5.  While I was constantly checking and re-checking the curtain times all weekend because I had no idea which show started when, the alternative start times allowed me to see more theater in a shorter time.  I still wonder if a Friday at 5, during key tourist times here in the States, would work.  I’m dying to try it.  And someday I will.  Or maybe you’ll beat me to it.

3.  Times Square looks more and more like Leicester Square every year.

Everyone knows that Bloomberg has had a man-crush on the Mayor of London for years.  So many of the changes we’ve seen here seem to be inspired by successful policies there.  The AirTrain and the Heathrow Express Train, Congestion Pricing to reduce traffic (which never passed here), and now, the pedestrian walkways where streets used to be.  Heck, they even have people selling tickets to comedy shows in Leicester Square!  I’m all for it.  Leicester Square is a pretty exciting and safe place to be, drawing more crowds than ever.  If we can continue to create a more conducive environment for visitors to spend time in Times Square, just steps away from our theaters and the TKTS booth, our metaphorical boats will all have to rise.  It’s what I call The Times Square Tide.

And here’s a bonus!

4.  They drive on the ‘wrong’ bloody side of the road.

At every major crosswalk, an instruction is written on the pavement:  LOOK RIGHT or LOOK LEFT.  Why?  I can only assume its because people like me, who naturally look in one direction before crossing the street, need to be retrained to look the exact opposite direction if they want to avoid getting run over by a truck.

What does that have to do with theater?

If you’ve got a show that is working in the US, you might naturally think that the next stop is the UK.  Well, just because the folks there speak the same language (sort-of), doesn’t mean that their taste in the theater is the same.  In fact, it may be the exact opposite.  They literally may come at things from a totally different direction.

So before you cross the pond, make sure you stop, and look RIGHT instead of left . . . so you’re not hit by any oncoming traffic just waiting for you to step out into the street.

Because health insurance may be free in London, but producer insurance is not.

To read some of my past observations about London theatergoing, click here and here.

10 Things I learned about London

About a year ago, I blogged about three of the biggest differences I noticed about the London theater experience. Since I was there for a bit more time this visit, I was able to notice a few more things about the London theater experience that I thought were worth sharing.

So here they are, in no bloomin’ order!
It’s not as easy getting a British audience to their feet (If you’re curious, the quickest and biggest ovation I saw was for Priscilla).
We may love Oliver here, but they LOVE IT, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH over there. You know how the Bald Eagle is the National Bird of the US?  Oliver is the National Musical of the UK.  (I also heard recently that the authors of Les Miz were inspired to write their epic after seeing Oliver.  Apparently, they wanted to write a French National Musical.)
Take anything to your seat: ice cream, fancy pink drinks (Priscilla, again), even Coke brought in from outside (that was me).  Their theaters are older but they’re happy to clean up after you if it makes you happy.
In this country, Shakespeare seems to equal stuffy.  At The Globe, it was fun, and probably more authentic.


Look at this pic.  It looks like a standard cast board that you’d see in any theater, right?  Wrong.  It’s actually a video cast board. In several theaters, the cast board and the understudy boards are on video monitors. More aesthetically pleasing, easier to edit, and cheaper in the long run.  Why don’t all of our theaters have these?  I hate when we get beat.
Our mayor failed to get London’s idea of congestion pricing passed, but he did manage to shut off traffic in Times Square.  Guess what other square doesn’t have traffic?  Leceister Square.  I wonder what Bloomie will bring from Britain next?  Multiple TKTS booths, I hope.
Yep, they take the money anyway they can get it in the UK. If you’re willing to offer a discount to your show for a future date, the TKTS booth will sell it for you.
Many of the larger theaters have room for large bar areas, where folks can sit, have a drink and socialize before their show.  It makes going to the theater more of an experience, to say the least.  At all of the shows I went to, the theaters let people in the building (but not to their seats), 1 hour before the show began.  I bet their bar revenues are bigger than ours.


Two of the largest theater owners in London are Cameron Macintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and you can feel their presence in their buildings.  And it helps that people actually know who they are (helped, no doubt, by their reality TV shows).  I also got a sense of a real attempt at keeping audience members within the theater chain.  Look at this picture of a wall of posters of shows. It was taken from inside the box office at, yes, Priscilla again, promoting all the shows playing at the Really Useful Group theaters.
2 PM, 5 PM, 3 PM, 7:30, 8 PM, etc.  It’s confusing and curious.
And here’s a bonus 11th thing I learned this trip . . .
Maybe it’s because I’ve been there a few times in the past few years, so I’m more comfortable finding my way around now. Maybe it’s the fact that they speak English, so I don’t feel like a tool because I’m uni-lingual.
Or maybe I like London because there just seems to be theater on every bloomin’ corner.

The game on Broadway has changed.

http://www.theproducersperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/my_weblog/6a00e54ef2e21b8833011570a4d6bd970b.jpgAnd by game, I mean traffic.  And by Broadway, I mean the actual street.

The picture in this post is of Broadway (que Ripley).  Those are chairs down there.  And people sitting in them . . . in the middle of the street, where taxi cabs and City Sights buses once fought for the same slice of the street.
No more, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg.  Traffic is now closed on Broadway from 47th to 42nd street and the street is a a big pedestrian mall.
And since a chunk of that real estate saddles up against the TKTS booth, you can bet that it’s going to affect ticket sales. But how?
  • There will be more room for pedestrians to walk, talk and interact, therefore the importance of a great street team is even greater than it has been in the last 12 months.
  • The importance and value of outdoor advertising in Times Square (billboards, etc.)  just went up, as more pedestrians should flock to the area (and if those chairs stay, so will the pedestrians, soaking up a much stronger impression from that advertising).
  • How people physically approach the booth is going to change, and so should booth business, as more people will be simply walking closer to it.  More people in closer proximity puts more pressure on the the booth promoter for your show (yes, I’m sorry to say, but those many people that stand by the TKTS boards and shout, “Any questions?  Anyone need help,” are actually being paid by specific shows to “guide” you towards the right decision (which is the the show they are being paid by).

The environment has changed.

And that means there’s a new opportunity.  It’s your job to find it.
(BTW, I’m predicting grassed over streets in Times Square in 10 years or less.  And nothing will make me happier.  Thanks, Bloomie.  I’m sorry your congestion pricing didn’t pass, but this is a great alternative.)
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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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