Where the @$&# is Broadway anyway?

If you asked a NYer where Broadway was, they’d probably point you to the street that runs the length of Manhattan.

If you said, “No, where’s the Broadway they talk about in books,” they’d probably look at you funny,  maybe point you to Times Square and say that’s where most of the theaters are.

They’d have to explain that Broadway doesn’t have an exact physical destination.

Which is why I think it’s time we give it one.

I did something I’ve always wanted to do this weekend and made the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, two tourist destinations that do a very good job of telling you exactly where you are and making a tourist attraction out of it.

How do they do it?  The old-fasioned way.  With a sign.

The Hollywood sign is one of the most famous landmarks in the LA area.  It screams from the hills that you have entered the land of the silver screen.  It even has a website!  And on that website the sign is described by Hugh Hefner as “not simply a sign but a symbol of inspiration.”

In Vegas, when you’re driving down the strip towards the man-made mecca in the desert, you are first greeted by the infamous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign which was put up in 1959.  It even has a Wikipedia entry!  And more importantly it has a place where you can stop your car, get out, and have your picture taken next to it.

On Broadway . . . we’ve got . . . eh . . . uh . . . huh.

We don’t seem to have a symbol or sign that we’ve entered the theatrical capital of the world.  Sure there are street signs that say Broadway, and there’s the statue of George M. Cohan in Duffy Square, and maybe even the Red Steps and the TKTS booth (but I’m not sure we want a discount destination representing where Broadway begins).  But nothing that says, “Broadway is here!”

So if we don’t have one, maybe we should make one. Maybe it’s a marquis that sits in Times Square.  Or a lit sign on 42nd St.  Or maybe the sign is written in the sidewalks (which reminds me of this blog I wrote about our own Walk of Fame).

Is this cheap?  Or even practical?  Probably not.

But I guarantee that we’d have a ton of tourists taking their pictures in front of it, and it might even inspire a few more to actually take in a show while they are in town.

And maybe, if we’re lucky, it would even have its own Wikipedia page.

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A Will It Recoup Update. How is Broadway doing this Spring?

You forgot about this contest, didn’t you?

Back in February, we launched our second ‘Will It Recoup’ fantasy Broadway investment game and put a Kindle on the line.

The name of the game says it all (just like the name of your show should reflect exactly what your show is about).  It’s your job to pick the winners from the floppers in the Spring season.

So how are you (and the Broadway Producers) doing so far?

Here’s what we know and what we don’t:

A View from the Bridge: RECOUPED!
The Miracle Worker: Did NOT recoup.
A Behanding in Spokane: Did NOT recoup.
Next Fall: Did NOT recoup.
Looped: Did NOT recoup.
Red: RECOUPED!
Lend Me A Tenor: Too soon to tell.
Fences: RECOUPED!
Enron:  Did NOT recoup.

So that makes a total of 3 Broadway shows out of 9 that have recouped already. That’s a pretty bountiful Spring, considering the statistical average is 1 out of 5 (although it is certainly not a coinky-dink that two of the three shows that have recouped featured Hollywood mega-stars Denzel Washington and Scarlett Johansson).

Still, the game is not over.  We’ve still got one show on the fence.  We could have quite a good year if it falls into the win column.

How are you doing?

Well, there are 27 of you who picked those three shows to recoup, and the five shows that did not.  27 of you are still in the money!

So…it all comes down to Lend Me a Tenor.

See you in August!

Guess what? The Tonys aren’t about reaching new audiences.

The Tony Awards ratings dropped a disappointing 8% this year, despite one of our most celebrity-studded presentations ever.  We had Green Day and a NY Jet and more Hollywood stars than the Betty Ford clinic.

So why didn’t tons of new viewers tune in and get hooked on showtunes?

Because it’s still a three-hour presentation about the very nichey subject of theater.  And if you’re not a theater fan, most likely you are not tuning in, I don’t care who you dress up in a gown and teach an R&H song to.

Are my football-loving and Budweiser-drinking friends from suburban Massachusetts all of a sudden going to give up three hours of their lives because a NY Jet has a 45-second intro to a musical?

Is the JetBlue pilot who flew me from Tampa to JFK but lives in Houston and has never seen a show in his life gonna feel so compelled to turn on the Tonys just because he loved Sean Hayes’s character from Will & Grace?

Or is my Brooklyn-based little brother, who works as a sound engineer mostly in the hip-hop scene (although he has worked a few sessions of Broadway musicals), gonna take time out from mixing beats to watch the number from Fela?

The answer is no, no, and whatever the word for ‘No’ is in Nigerian.

But don’t be depressed.  They were never the audience.  Sure, we’d all love it if millions of viewers turned on CBS just to catch a glimpse of Denzel in a tux, but that’s just not what happens.  Do a few more folks tune in because we’ve got a couple of folks from Glee?  Probably . . . but it’s not enough to make any noticeable difference.

And that fact has never been more noticeable than this year, with the almost double-digit drop in ratings.

But don’t be depressed, because IMHO, our mission with the Tony Awards isn’t about reaching new audiences (especially since it’s not working anyway).

Our marketing mission of the Tony Awards, should be energizing our core audience, the ones that tune in year after year, and to try to excite them so much that they . . .

  • See one more show per year than they usually do.
  • Bring a friend to a show who would not have gone on their own.

Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. Rather than focusing on trying to reach past our 20%, we should focus our efforts (and our awards shows) on that 20%, the faithful who are tuning in.  The show should whip them up into such a Broadway frenzy, that they go out and preach its importance as entertainment louder than the year before.

Because here’s what we know:

  • Word of Mouth is what sells everything.
  • People fall in love with the theater after being introduced to it by someone else.

New audiences don’t buy Broadway because they see a clip or a star on a Tony Award show.  They fall for what we do because they are dragged to it by someone else.  I didn’t have any clue what I was going to see when my Mom dragged me to Les Miz when I was 16, and I had been involved in the theater since I was 5.  But that performance changed my life.

I had never seen a Tony Awards before then.

And I’ve never missed one since.

We need more doctors.

In a recent Riedel (aka #37article, Neil Simon was referred to as the “Doc” of Broadway, having punched up and polished a whole bunch of Broadway scripts in his heyday. Apparently he even wrote a couple of zingers for Pulitzer Prize-winning, A Chorus Line, including the line, “I thought about killing myself, but then I realized to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant.”

That one line has probably been worth thousands of laughs over the years, wouldn’t you think?

And if A Chorus Line benefited from a last-look by another writer, couldn’t others as well?

Hollywood doctors and polishes its scripts all the time.  Did you know that Schindler’s List got a once-over before it went in front of the cameras?  (This kind of work is more prevalent in H-town, because the scripts are not owned by the writers, but by the studios.)

This kind of work doesn’t happen on Broadway as much anymore . . . when it does happen, it’s usually when a show is in trouble.  But what about making a very good script great with a fresh pen?  Doesn’t Jay Leno hire other writers to make his monologue the funniest it can be?  Doesn’t Barack Obama hire several speech writers to make sure his arguments are that much more convincing?

If you’re a Producer, think about whether or not your script could be just a bit better with some spit and polish.

And if you’re a writer, welcome the chance for someone to make your work look even better.

What’s the West End doing right that we aren’t?

2009 was a thermometer-bursting year for West End theater.

Despite the world economic crisis, the West End set a record with a yearly gross of £504,765,690 or approximately $786,134,270, which is a 7.6% increase (!) from the previous year.

But that’s not what’s got me curious/burning with envy.

Even us tea partiers can keep the grosses going up year after year, thanks to our yearly price increase.

What’s remarkable about the London figures is that they’ve also managed to increase their attendance at the same time, by a whopping 5.5%, to a 2009 total of 14,257,922 theatergoers.

And this was all in the midst of a monumental recession!

Huh.  An increase in gross and an increase in attendance.  Isn’t that exactly what’s supposed to happen?

But it’s not happening here in the colonies.  We’re on track to see a drop in attendance for the third season in a row, despite slight increases in our grosses.

What is London doing right?

Is it the half price booths on every block?  Is it because they let you eat and drink in the theatres?  Is it because Hollywood stars seem even more willing to do West End productions than Broadway productions?

Is it because they have a Queen and Princes and say things like “bollocks”?

Nica Burns, the President of the Society of London Theatre (their version of our Broadway League), had this to say about the increases:

Britain’s artistic community continues to create exceptional work. The extraordinary quality and breadth of productions available nightly in London explains these record figures in such a difficult year economically.  Excellence is everything – look no further than London’s theatre which adds a great deal more to London’s revenue than just the ticket price.

Well said.  This is a product-driven industry on both sides of the ocean.  My only quibble is that I’d trade the word “excellence” with the phrase, “The Rumpelstiltskin Factor.”  When people are willing to give their first born away to see a show (whether or not it’s any “good”) that’s when numbers are going to increase.

If we had 12 Steady Rain-like shows with 12 Hugh Jackmans, our mercury would be rising, too.  12 Wickeds, 12 Will Ferrell’s and so on and so forth.

Still, it can’t just be that.  These increases suggest a different sort of energy occurring in the West End than is occurring here.  And I’m not quite sure what it is.

But I tell you this . . . I’d almost be willing to give them back one of the colonies in exchange for the secret.

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