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.

The story of one fellow’s fellowship.

Hal Prince has been on a crusade to put the Creative Producer back in power for many years.

One of his many efforts was the creation of the T Fellowship, a program he founded in conjunction with Columbia and TDF, “committed to sustaining the finest traditions of creative producing.”

 
One of the first fellows in that program was Orin Wolf, and we’re currently seeing the fruits of his and the fellowship’s labor with Groundswell, now playing at The New Group.
 
Read this great article about how Orin found the piece, how long it took him to get it going, and how he found the people he needed to get it up.  It’s a great lesson in creative producing.
 
For more on the fellowship, click here.  And yet another thank you to Hal Prince for establishing it in the first place, because God knows, we need it.
 
Creative producers are an endangered species.  Sometimes I think that they should put several of us in a room and force us to mate in order to guarantee our survival.
 
But that would make for some frighteningly obsessive-compulsive showtune-singing offspring . . . 

A Question from a reader: “What happens if I flop?”

I was speaking to a class at Columbia today, and right after we solved all of the problems of producing on Broadway, I got this question:  “What happens if my first show right out of the box is a flop?”

I’ve gotten this question a few times before, and frankly I remember asking it to myself.

The first “anything” always seems to have more pressure, higher stakes and oodles of anxiety (shoot, I made a show about one of those firsts).

So what happens if your first producing venture doesn’t work?  Does that mean you’re dead in the H20?  Does that mean you hang your head and go back to WhereverYou’reFrom, USA to work at the local bank (if it hasn’t gone under)?

You can, I guess.  Or you can do what I do.

Whenever I feel nervous about failing with a show, I play a game called “FIND THE FLOP!”.

Wanna play?  You can’t win an iPhone with this game, but you can win some confidence and perspective.

Here’s how to play:

  • Go to ibdb.com.
  • Search for any producer that you admire and respect.
  • Scroll down and look at the beginning of their career . . . and FIND THE FLOP!
  • Then scroll UP and look at what they’ve done since then.
  • And then ask yourself your same question that got you to this game and you have your answer!  By the way, this game works great for every industry – look at the flops of Lincoln, Gates, Truman and Disney in this article )

One of the hardest things about being a theater producer ain’t union deals or authors agreements, or even the New York Times.  The hardest part about being a producer, or any business owner, is that we hire ourselves.  So if we fail, we’ve got to get up and do it again, because no one is going to do it for us.  If we don’t hire ourselves, then we don’t work.  And we have to find something else to do.  Or we don’t eat.  Period.

How do I stay motivated to hire myself?  (Can you smell a sports story coming?  Here goes . . .)

Baseball players strike out all the time.  And even if they “backwards K” three times in a row, if the team cycles through the lineup, they have no choice but to step back up to the plate again.  It’s how the game is played.

So teach yourself that you have no choice.  You’re a producer. It’s what you do.  If you had a choice you’d be doing something else.  You don’t.  So call me “Coach” if you want, but I’m not pulling you from the game.  You’re staying in, flops or not.

And have confidence that if you take enough swings, sooner or later you’re gonna hit one out of the park.

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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