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.

How To “Sell Dreams” by four of Broadway’s best.

The American Theatre Wing is one of the most resourceful institutions that no one knows anything about.  Yeah, they created The Tony Award, but they didn’t stop there. They do a whole bunch of stuff including handling an industry-wide internship/networking program, supervising the Jonathan Larson Grants, and producing one of the greatest hidden treasures for people looking to pursue a career in the theater:  the Working In The Theatre video series.

There’s a Working In The Theatre discussion on just about everything, from theatrical design to cast albums.  There’s even one about Off-Broadway hidden deep in the vaults that includes a spirited conversation between me and some other Off-Bway folks.

But none of them compare to the most recent panel about . . . you guessed it . . . marketing.

ATW put four of the best pitch people on Broadway in the same room and grilled them on what it takes to sell a show.

Tune in to hear the esteemed John Barlow (John Barlow), Damian Bazadona (Situation Interactive), Nancy Coyne (Serino Coyne), and Drew Hodges (Spotco) talk about how they design a campaign, what they say to clients when they don’t like their shows, and yes, why marketing Broadway is like “selling dreams.”

Oh, and you’ll also hear one of my favorite new phrases, “It’s like buying a Big Mac in Berlin.”

Thanks ATW, and thanks to the four participants and their moderator, (Variety reporter Gordon Cox) for putting it all out there.

Click here to watch.

After you’re done, come back to the blog, and tell everyone what you agreed with . . . and what you didn’t.

A Graphic Design book about Broadway.

I e-stumbled upon a nugget of an interview recently with Barry Weissler, the Producer of the phenom known as Chicago, and Drew Hodges, the head of Spotco, one of the powerhouses in the theatrical advertising world, which handles Chicago.

What’s interesting about this interview is that it’s not in the theatre section of the NY Times. It’s not on Broadway.com or in American Theatre. It’s from a book called The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients:  How to Make Clients Happy and Do Great Work by Ellen Shapiro.
What’s also interesting is that the interview was done years ago, and features questions like, “How important is it for a show to have a website today?” as well as insights into how both Drew and Barry, two of the best in the biz, approach the creation of art for a show.
And with Google Books, you can read it without buying it.
Read here.  (p. 171)

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In other news . . .

A few links from around the web to other writers who have written about subjects we’ve discussed.

  • Here’s an interesting article about “Resisting The Desire To Discount” from Ad Age that seems like a follow-up to our discussion about whether or not discounts are eroding our market.
  • We talked about the reasons to be pretty art in this post, and now you can hear and see how that art was developed in this feature from the NY Times narrated by Drew Hodges, the President of SpotCo, one of Broadway’s leading ad agencies.  This is a great feature with some great insight on how art comes together (although a little birdie told me the art is about to change pretty drastically – my guess is that they start using photos of their cast).
  • Another article about the rising costs of Broadway from Bloomberg.  Obviously, I agree with the facts in the article, but I think they focused a little too much on the bad news.  There are still shows making money and there are still ways to make money . . . you just have to get more creative. However, I’ll shine a spotlight on the health insurance issue that Manny speaks about in tomorrow’s blog, so stay tuned.
  • There is maybe only one industry that lags behind Broadway in its reticence to take on new technology . . . and that’s organized religion.  So, when the church starts tweeting, you know twitter has tipped.  (Thanks to Adam for this news ‘tip’.)

If you stumble across anything that you think the rest of us would find interesting, please send it my way and I’ll share it!

And speaking of stumbling upon things . . . if you’re trying to be a part of the conversation in social media, make sure you stumble upon StumbleUpon.com.

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Only 9 Days until the 1st Theater Bloggers Social!
Thursday, April 23rd.
6 PM
Planet Hollywood
For more info and to RSVP, click here.
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