You make the call: would you take the group and change your show?

The fight between Art and Commerce is like the fight between Cats and Dogs, Republicans and Democrats, Lindsay Lohan and the law.

As a Producer you may be faced with tough decisions all the time.  You’ll have artists who want to add more scenery to a scene that you know won’t result in more ticket sales . . . but you’ll want to do it, because it will make the show’s statement stronger.  You’ll have marketers that want your star to appear on Howard Stern . . . even though your star hates Howard like Lindsay Lohan hates paying for expensive jewelry.  And you’ll want your star to do it because maybe Howard reaches an audience that is right for your show.

Or . . . you’ll be faced with the real-life decision that came across our desk here at DTE last week.

Here’s what happened.  And pay close attention, because just like my favorite part of watching football when I was a kid, I’m going to give you the chance to “Make the call!”

I have a division at my office that sells group tickets to Broadway shows.  A few weeks ago we got an inquiry from a group of 500 people that was looking for a show.  Yep, 500!  That’s 1/3 of a big Broadway house, which means quite an impact on a weekly gross.  We suggested a few shows to the group leader that we thought were appropriate for this group, and the leader went off to scout them.

The group came back and said there was one show that they specifically interested in.  “Great,” we said and started to place they order.

There was just one problem.

The group explained that there were a few moments in the show that they thought were objectionable, and unfortunately, because of the mission statement of the organization, they would not be able to book their group (of 500!) if those moments were in the show.

Insert dramatic chords here.

The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.

But would the show make the alterations to satisfy this group?

Insert more dramatic chords here.

Obviously there are a lot factors that would be involved in this decision, like when the group is looking to come (what time of year and what performance during the week), how well the show is doing, how much the group is paying, etc.

But if you’re a commercial theater producer, the question is whether you would be willing to ask your creative team to make the changes to their work to accomodate this bonus to the bottom line?

And that’s the question I’m asking you!

You make the call.  Would you change the show for the group?

Comment below!  (Email subscribers, click here to add your comment).

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 8: Rina Saltzman, Company Manager

Before I was a Producer, I spent about 10 years as a Company Manager for Broadway shows both in NYC and on the road.  And I loved every moment of it (except that time when a blizzard snowed my company in at the Best Western Westward Ho in Grand Forks, North Dakota).

Today you’re going to read the answers to our 10 Questions from one of the industry’s favorite CMs, Rina Saltzman.  I’ve worked closely with Rina on several occasions, and let me tell you something, the woman knows how to take care of a company. Count yourself lucky if you find yourself in her cast or crew.

Take it away, Rina!

1. What is your title?

Company Manager

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

Billy Elliot National Tour, which is in a lovely long sit-down in Chicago.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I would describe my position as the day-to-day business manager, in-house marketing manager, HR department, Housing and Transportation Secretary, and Camp mom.

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

Some of these are not skills but qualities:  patience, a sense of humor, appreciation for the artist, some business acumen, a knowledge of union rules, patience, the ability to juggle 5 or 6 things at once, to react calmly in a crisis and to be able to talk others off the ledge (this is especially helpful in production), an understanding – if not practical knowledge – of marketing, promotions and box office procedures.  Oh, and did I say patience?

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

I have a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Douglass College and a M.A. in Performing Arts Management from NYU, neither of which really helped me to get to this position.  I worked in a variety of jobs, ranging from Studio Supervisor on As The World Turns to Telemarketing Director for the Met Opera’s Centennial before I became a Company Manager, all of which prepared me to work with a wide range of artists, stagehands, marketing gurus and managers.  The best training came when I got my first company management position at American Ballet Theatre – 150 dancers, staff, crew, management, travelling around the world – and I found a mentor in my General Manager – that is the most anyone could want in this career, someone who cares enough to teach you.

6. What was your first job in theater?

On the day I graduated college, a friend told me that there was a job open as Box Office Treasurer at the George Street Playhouse – as I was leaving town, I stopped in, interviewed, and by the time I reached my parents’ house in Jersey City, I had the job and moved back to my college town.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

It changes lives.  Period.  Trite as that sounds, when I was managing the Bus and Truck of CATS, we played towns that had theatrical performances once or twice a year, if that.  I watched young children literally changed by the experience, in the same way I was when my parents took me to my first Broadway show when I was 5.

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

Company Management has evolved so much over the past 24 years.  When I started, the Company Manager basically did payroll, signed the box office statement, did a settlement and arranged travel and housing on tour, now we do that and so, so much more — we negotiate contracts, we work incessantly with our marketing teams and box offices to make sure we are optimizing sales, we deal with many more complex issues within our companies, and we watch the bottom line constantly.

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

For my fellow Company, House Managers and Press Agents to be given their due within the industry.  (Full Disclosure – I am a member of the Board of Governors of ATPAM – the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers).

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

Work anywhere you can get a job – intern, answer phones at a General Management office, run for coffee in production – you will learn an amazing amount about the business just by being around the business.  Don’t scoff at the small jobs – make yourself indispensable.  One of our NLA interns worked for me as an Assistant on Billy in Chicago and for his first job out of college, he is going to be the Asst. Company Manager of Mamma Mia on Broadway.

The Producers of Hair did what?

Back when I was in the middle of my ATPAM apprenticeship and studying for my NMAM exam (the test that gets you your company management stripes and a piece of the annuity fund), I learned that the #1 rule of managing a show was . . . never cancel a performance!

We were always pushed to come up with creative solutions to problems to prevent mass refunds due to canceling.

For example . . .

Q:  What do you do if your production of Oklahoma is performing outside at The Muny and the temperature has dropped below the approved AEA temp for performing?

A:  Turn up the lights to full to heat up the stage!  Or put space heaters next to the footlights!  Hold the curtain to see if things warm up (not a good idea if it’s at night)!

Q:  What do you do if your one truck of scenery on your bus and truck of Cats jackknifes in Toledo and you’re in Pittsburgh and 8 hours from curtain?

A:  Do a concert version!  Dress the stage with spare “junkyard”-type items!  Have any other theaters nearby done the show recently that you could ask for some spare set pieces?

There were no right or wrong answers (obviously).  It was all about training the mind to think outside the proscenium.  And it worked.

So here’s another one . . .

Q:  What do you do when one of your Tony nominated principal actors is an activist for the gay marriage movement and wants to take a show off and march on Washington?

A:  Well, you cancel the show, so the whole cast can go, of course.

(insert head shaking that make your lips go bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu here)

Yep, you read that right.  And that’s exactly what the Producers of Hair did.  They listened to the passion of their employees, realized that the show had already surpassed their wildest expectations in terms of financial success, and gave up about $50k worth of profit.  They have, of course, benefited from the press, which they will receive even more of on the day they walk down Constitution Avenue.

So I’m sending out my Kudos to the Producers, the Creative Team, the Cast and Mr. Creel himself.  Guys and Gals, if this were an ATPAM exam, you would have gotten this question wrong.  But sometimes, doing something wrong is the only way to ACE an even more important test.

Oh, and let this be a lesson to all of us (including me) that generalize.  Not all actors have egos.  Not all stagehands watch TV while they work.

And not all Producers are greedy.

The Video Game follow up.

Who knew I had so many readers who were also gamers!  I got a ton of emails regarding my video game post, so I wanted to post a few quick follow ups based on a bunch of great thoughts from all of you.

  • Many of you mentioned that there were video game versions of Lion King, Aladdin, etc.  ‘Tis true, of course, but remember, these weren’t based on musicals.  They were based on movies that then became video games and then became musicals.  Could this be one of the (million) reasons that the Disney shows trounce others at the BO?  We all know that the brands are powerful before they come in to town, and this is certainly one of the elements of building that brand.
  • I agreed with so many of you who said the best shot we have at penetrating this market is in some sort of karaoke/video game.  BG commented about an “Broadway Hero” game instead of “Guitar Hero”.  I likey.
  • Looks like Lord Lloyd Webber may have beat us to the bunch of that one.  Braden and Paul sent links to this article about upcoming games on Cats and Phantom where you have to sing for your roles.  I would have preferred an action based Phantom game, but whatev.
  • Here’s a link from Gil to info on a homemade Les Miz game.  Unfortunately, it, like the Disney movies, was not inspired from the musical.  It’s a tribute to the book.  But hey, any branding of the title helps, right?
  • One reader has this thought . . . why not a musical based on a video game?  Super Mario Brothers The Musical anyone?
  • And finally, here’s a link if you want to download the Altar Boyz game I told you about, built by former employee and reader Matthew Smith.  Sinners, beware . . .

Thanks to everyone for all the cool comments.  And a reminder to the rest of you that the comments section on each entry is the place to be.  I’m lucky enough to have some smart readers so check out what people are saying and post your own.

Now, why do I have a strong desire to power up my X-Box for the first time in 6 months?

You know you’re a brand when . . .

. . . you appear on a skit on Saturday Night Live.

If you haven’t seen this clip from last week’s SNL, prepare not only for a few chuckles, but prepare ye for one of the seven deadly sins to start bubbling up upside you.

I couldn’t help but feel a little envy seeing all those shows satirized in the skit, because this kind of treatment means you’ve crossed over . . . way over . . . into the mainstream (and the Piven reference doesn’t count, although Lorne Michaels’s stock just went way up in my book).

The skit may have made fun of us, but oh how I would have loved to have been one of the Producers of any one of those shows . . .even Cats.