Life is an open book test.

On a Friday afternoon during my first few weeks as an Assistant Company Manager at Show Boat back in 1996, two firemen came up to our office at the Gershwin theater and said there was a water main break nearby, and there might not be water servicing the building for the next 8 hours.

We had a show in 2.

The firemen made it clear. No water?  No show.

Uh-to the-oh.  We were sold out.

About 30 minutes later the situation resolved itself, so all was good.

But my boss later asked me what I would have done if he hadn’t been around to deal with the issue.  I told him I would have called the GM and the Producer and kept them abreast of the situation, etc.  I told him I would see if we could hold the curtain to give the firefolks more time to fix the situation, etc.

He told me all of that was correct, but he said that I forgot to call a few more folks.

“Who,” I asked.

“Ken,” he said.  “You’re not the only Broadway show in town.  There are a ton of other theaters nearby, and they all have shows tonight too.  And you know most of the managers, right?  Call them.  Find out what they are doing.   Use our network to make sure everyone is taking similar actions.  Imagine if you decided to cancel the show, and you find out that the show down the block found a way around it.  Remember, life is an open book test.”

I was reminded of this concept today because I was faced with two different paths to take with an issue on one of my shows.

Thankfully, because of the lesson of the firemen, I knew to use the network of people I trust in the biz to listen to my problem, hear my proposed solution and and then offer their honest expert and objective opinions on what they would do in a similar situation.  I’m not talking about “Yes” men or women. I’m talking about people that would poke and prod me like a lawyer taking a deposition.  I want people to challenge me.

I have five people on my speed dial that I call in situations like this.  And even when I hear things I don’t want to hear, I’m always glad I called.

If you don’t have a a network of “shows down the block,” then you should get one.

Because doing business in a vacuum . . . well . . . it sucks.

 

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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– 69 Days to Godspell!  Read the day-by-day account of producing Godspell on Broadway here.

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Where did that job come from?

Just the other week, I was talking to a very well-respected Producer who has been around for quite a few Tony Awards. He wanted some advice on hiring an internet marketing firm. I was giving him a few tips on how I pick my internet vendors, when he interrupted me and said, “You know, Keith, it wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t have internet marketing firms.”

He was right, of course – not about my name, obviously, but the guy has so many Tony Awards, I’d let him call me Steely Dan if he wanted to.

He was right about the late birth of the Internet Marketing Director.  This industry, as slow to adopt new technology as it is, didn’t start driving down the information super highway until the early 2000s.  And believe you me, we weren’t breaking any speed limits back then.

And that got me thinking.  As  producing plays and musicals on Broadway has become more complex, more complicated, and . . . duh . . . more expensive, we’ve seen quite a number of names and jobs get added to contact sheets.  For example, the Technical Supervisor was a role that was born in the 80s when the Mackintosh musicals made their way onto the scene with their chandeliers and barricades and heavyside layers, oh my!

Obviously, that position was a necessary addition to the team.

The only problem with adding new positions to rosters in any industry, is that once you add something, it’s usually hard to take it away.

I found myself at a cocktail party recently inhabited by a lot of industry vets, including Producers, General Managers, Designers, etc., so I started asking them for a list of Broadway jobs that are around today that weren’t around a few decades ago.  Here are just a few that gigs that they told me weren’t on every show that they saw popping up more and more as the norm:

  • Casting Director
  • Marketing Director
  • Internet Marketing Director
  • Dance Music Arranger
  • Technical Supervisor
  • Physical Therapist
  • Assistant Company Manager
  • Make-Up Designers
  • Music Supervisors
  • Production Sound Person
  • Production Assistants
  • Etc.

Obviously, most shows produced in our modern times require the majority of if not all of these positions to make sure that we’re producing first class, top-notch, Broadway quality entertainment that we can charge $130+ for.

But do all of them?

It depends on the show, of course. If you’re doing a two person play versus a fifty person musical you’ve got some questions to ask.

Could someone that is on the team already be thrown a little more money to do the work required, thus saving half a salary?  Could anything be done in house by the Producer?  If you started work earlier  on a show and paid people earlier, would everyone have more time, and therefore require less personnell support during crunch time?

I don’t know.

I do know that it’s a Producer’s job to never just accept what has been done before.  In today’s world of ballooning budgets (which is the reason why ticket prices are what they are), It’s your job to ask the question . . . is this position, set piece, box of paperclips necessary for my production?

Are there any jobs that you think have been added to a show’s payroll that might not be needed on all shows?  Comment below (email subscribers, click here to comment).

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What do I look for when I hire a marketing person?

 

My answer?

I look for someone who wants to be a Producer.

And now that I think about it . . . what do I look for when I hire a Company Manager?

I look for someone who wants to be a Producer.

What do I look for when I hire someone to run errands for the office?

Yep, I look for someone who wants to . . . you know . . . produce stuff.

I was talking to a wise business owner the other day who put this theory to me very simply.  “Ken,” he said, “I always think 3 positions ahead when I’m interviewing someone for a job.  You want someone who wants to grow.  You want someone who is hungry.  You don’t want someone who wants to be comfortable.”

A lot of people are scared to bring on employees that want to do what they do, that could compete, that could rip-off ideas, etc.

But from my perspective, these are exactly the people you want working for you.

And when they are ready to move on and do their own thing, I’ll be happier than they will be.

Because I will have helped produce a Producer.

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I know I mentioned that I’d have a juicy announcement today, but we had to delay 24 hours to tie up a couple of loose ends.  But an announcement is coming.  Tomorrow.  And if you’re a fan of this blog, and of doing things a little differently, then I think you’ll like it.  Tune in.

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.

Merch madness means you’re mad if you don’t have merch.

I’ve worked on some stinkers of shows.

And you know what?  No matter how short the run, we’ve always sold some t-shirts.

T-shirts and other pieces of merch are social proof badges that audience members can showcase in their own communities which elevate their status.  How high that status goes depends on the show and the value of the brand (Wicked = high, In My Life = low).

Thanks to the high price of theater tickets, getting a buyer to tack on a $20 t-shirt is easier than in other industries (how many times have you seen a merch stand selling $20 t-shirts outside a movie theater?).   Some merch buyers may subconsciously want to demonstrate to the public that they were able to afford that ticket.  Others may feel the need to demonstrate how passionate they are about a show.  (Theater has a way of creating some passionate people.  Need an example?  Watch the YouTube of Jared’s Broadway Musical Museum Apartment below.)

In other words . . . Got merch?  If the answer is no, then get it.

I don’t care how big or small your show or your theater is, you should have a merch line.  You don’t have to have a perfume line, but at the very least you should have a t-shirt and a button (I always advise merch sellers to have at least one less-than-$5 item for the budget-conscious consumer that still wants to buy).

Profit margins for merch are high, so take advantage of it.  A Company Manager friend of mine once worked on a flop that ran out of money before the show finished its run.  He had no money in the bank to load-out the show!  How did he pay the crew for the load-out?  He paid them in cash out of the merch sales . . . and they got everything out and everyone paid.

Thanks to the plethora of t-shirt sellers now available to you online, and to the low minimums now required for purchase (check out CafePress for the simplest of stores), it’s truly possible for everyone to make money selling merch . . . and that money can be used to offset your production and operating costs.

Which begs the question . . . if merch is almost always a money maker . . . why do Broadway shows outsource the merch to companies that only pay them a royalty?

Shouldn’t shows work the small startup costs necessary to operate a simple merch company into the capitalization of a show?  Isn’t that ancillary revenue stream a good diversification for the show and therefore a benefit to the investors?

I think you know the answer.

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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