There’s nothing worse than losing when you should win.

I play chess.

I have since I was a kid.  My dad taught me.

I gave it up for a while, but I got re-bit by the bug when I saw Falsettos on Broadway in the mid 90s (the show features so many numbers about the game, the United States Chess Federation should have sponsored it).

I’m a decent player.  As decent as someone who loves to multi-task and has mild ADD can be in a game that requires your utmost concentration for long stretches of time.

The thing about chess is that in the first few moves of every game, you can tell if your opponent is going to be a formidable one or not.  Which pawns do they move?  What about those knights?  Do they try to control the center?

If they don’t follow any of the classic, by-the-book opening routines, you know that they are weak players.

Here’s what happens with me:

When I see a player make a few moves that indicate a lower-level of play, I get sloppy.  I write them off.  I think I don’t have to pay attention.  It’s going to be an easy win, right?  Why work so hard?

And that’s exactly when I end up hanging my queen.

This doesn’t only happen in chess.  It happens everywhere, including business, Broadway, and life . . . where the stakes are much, much higher.

There is no easy show.  There is no sure thing.  Every show you do requires your “A” game.

And if you don’t want to give it, then you shouldn’t sit down at the table to play.

Trendspotting: websites create groups where there were none before.

To paraphrase Falsettos, something good is happening.

We all know the internet brings like-minded people together.  That’s the theory behind newsgroups, chat rooms, forums and niche social networks like my own BroadwaySpace.com.  (Before I ever met him in person, I e-met Jeff Marx, composer of Avenue Q, on the old rec.arts.theatre bulletin board.)

And now, websites are popping up all over with the goal of taking those like-minded people and monetizing them, and making the individuals happy about it in the process.

How are they doing it?

By collecting these many like-minded individuals in one place, the websites create group-like leverage and therefore increased buying power with products and brands that these individuals enjoy.

Here are a few examples of these types of sites:

1.  Meetup.com

Do you play board games in Minneapolis?  Are you an athesist in Detroit?  Do you love theater in New York City?

Answer yes to any of these questions and there is a MeetUp for you.  And if there isn’t one for you, then you can create your own and like a magnet attract folks to you.

By nature these Meetups encourage an activity (without pressuring because it’s all online invites), and then a social interaction around that activity.

In other words . . . people do stuff, and then they talk about it.  Uhhh, isn’t that the goal of marketing a product?

(BTW, you should join the Theater meetup.  You’ll see that it’s sponsored by BroadwaySpace, because, well, because I’m no dummy – these are where the theater lovers are!)

2.  Gilt.com

This is where it gets fancy.

Gilt is about luxury brands.  We’re talking Marc Jacobs, John Varvatos, and lots of other Italian names that I know I’ll spell wrong so I won’t even try.

News flash . . . luxury brands have overstock too.  So the brands give the overstock to Gilt, and Gilt adds a little scarcity by announcing the sale for a very limited time each day, and bingo, sales up the wazoo to its millions of members.

Oh, and did I tell you that you can’t just sign up for Gilt?  You have to be invited.  Yep, it’s the ol’ Gmail trick.  And they niche it down to different sites for men and women.

Here’s an invite from me, if you want to check it out.

And by the way, check out their sister site while you’re there, called jetsetter.com.  Jetsetter sells luxury travel.

Theater tickets will be next.

3.  Groupon.com

Groupon’s tagline says it all . . . “Collective buying power.”

They convince all sorts of vendors, from manicurists to speed reading instructors, to give them crazy deals, with the promise that they only have to come through on the deal if they deliver the minimum number of buyers.

For example:

I sell cupcakes.  I will sell them to Groupon for 75 cents each but only if Groupon sells 1000 of them.

Instant group!

If you’ve never experienced a Groupon, the process is actually fun.  When the Groupon minimum is reached, it’s like you’ve won something . . . even though it means you’re spending money.

That’s what we call a B to C win-win.

Check it out here.

4.  Groupget.com

And lastly, introducing Groupget, which is basically Groupon for theater tickets.

Groupget is still early in its rollout, but it’s using the same theory as the above sites.  We know the theory works, so you can bet your Groupget I’ll be watching to see if the movers-and-groupers behind it can get it to work in practice.
We’re going to see more of these as the individual’s power to influence is increased by the internet, and by products like the new and exclusive Google Wave, which allows real-time communication and collaboration between multiple participants.

Think about it . . . if you’ve got a lot of friends on Facebook, you’re a mini-collective of your own, which means everyone that we speak to is a potential group sale.

The web is naturally becoming millions of mini-webs inside itself, which makes it easier for you to catch customers.

In defense of the screen to stage adaptation.

While watching Honeymoon In Vegas the other night, I took a twitter poll asking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down on the idea of making Honeymoon into a musical (a project that is currently in development).

Thanks to my recent linking of my twitter and facebook status, I got a flock of a lot of responses before you could say “Wasn’t Sarah Jessica Parker in that movie?”. Here are a few:

Enough with the “from the screen to the stage” and “remake” crap, please.

There are so many amazing new works we can enjoy… 🙂

I totally agree with this [the above post] in the nicest way possible. 🙂

Aren’t there any original ideas?

I think they need to start bringing originality back to Broadway.

No more musicals that were movies – unless it’s Beetlejuice!

Yikes.  Insert sound of clawing kitty here.

Original sounds awesome.  And it’s what I’d prefer any day of the week.  But it’s not as easy, prevalent or desired as you think.

I’ve written about the rise of screen to stage musicals before, but this time, let’s look at stats on originals:

This season, there will be only three completely original new musicals on Broadway that were not based on any pre-existing source material, movie or otherwise:  13, Title of Show and The Story of My Life.

What do they have in common?  I’ll give you a hint.  They all closed.

Last season, there were only three original musicals on Broadway as well:  In The Heights, Passing Strange and Glory Day (plural cruelly omitted purposefully).  Kudos to Heights, but disappointment for the other two.

Two seasons ago?  No originals.

Three years back?  Two:  In My Life and Drowsy Chaperone.  Chaperone worked in a small window, and then went away.

Four years?  Two:  Brooklyn and Spelling Bee (The Bee was actually based on an improv play, but since the play hadn’t achieved any sort of notoriety, we’ll include it here).  The Bee succeeded but the Brooklyn investors would have been better off buying a bridge.

What’s interesting about these stats is not the winners.  I just named 10 shows and 2 recouped and that’s consistent with the commonly quoted stat that 1 in 5 shows make money.  We’re on par.

What’s alarming is that the other 8 shows were very quick flame outs, resulting in a loss of the entire capitalization or close to it (or in some cases, maybe even more?).

Now, all you tweeters  . . . knowing these much higher risk statistics, are you really surprised that Producers and Writers look to source material before their own brains for ideas?

Flip the analysis around and look at some of the most successful musicals during that same five year period:  Wicked, Jersey Boys, Lion King, Mamma Mia, and so on with un-originals and so on.

In fact, look at the longest running musicals of all time:  Only 2 originals in the top 10 (I don’t count Oh! Calcutta!)

I love an original musical.  Falsettos is one of my favs.  But the fact is that their artistic degree of difficulty is exceptionally high (and those critics that scream about lack of original ideas on Broadway should score them like Olympic gymnasts and give them extra points for the attempt).  The financial risk is the highest, and they have a recent history of lower returns.

The truth is, some of those originals I mentioned above were simply not very good.  And despite the statistical history, a great show can always make this post null and void.  So anyone dissatisfied with the lack of originality on the GWW (Great White Way), should get out there and write a great show and I’ll be the first to line up to produce it.

But we do have to remember that Broadway is a very specific place.  It’s a very thin slice of real estate in the center of the world.  Producing and creating theater is different from producing and creating Broadway theater.  And original just doesn’t always work here, whether we like it or not.

Think about it this way.  Broadway is like a museum.  You know, like MoMA.  Unfortunately, not every painter gets his art hung in MoMA, no matter how good they are.  It’s a museum of modern art.  The people that go there, go to see a specific type.  That’s what they want.  And the curators have to pick shows that are not only going to satisfy their patrons, but are going to thrill them.

That doesn’t mean that painters of other styles should stop painting.  It just means that MoMA might not be the place where their art has the best shot at success (interestingly enough – a heck of a lot of painters adapt their images from subjects or landscapes, don’t they?)

So don’t blame the Curators or the Producers or the Writers.  You might just want to pick a different museum.

Still sticking to your guns and think that what audiences really want is originality?  We wondered that same thing on 13 . . . and then we tested a tag line that called the show the most “original new musical on Broadway” (Title of Show used a similar hook).  The results were as follows:

6% of those surveyed were definitely interested in the show based on that tagline.
15% were intrigued by the tagline.
79% of those surveyed said that this tagline “made them NOT interested in seeing 13.”

These results are another example of what those of us on the inside would prefer is not necessarily what the majority of our audience prefers.

So maybe that Beetlejuice idea isn’t so bad after all . . .

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