You make the call: would you take the group and change your show?

The fight between Art and Commerce is like the fight between Cats and Dogs, Republicans and Democrats, Lindsay Lohan and the law.

As a Producer you may be faced with tough decisions all the time.  You’ll have artists who want to add more scenery to a scene that you know won’t result in more ticket sales . . . but you’ll want to do it, because it will make the show’s statement stronger.  You’ll have marketers that want your star to appear on Howard Stern . . . even though your star hates Howard like Lindsay Lohan hates paying for expensive jewelry.  And you’ll want your star to do it because maybe Howard reaches an audience that is right for your show.

Or . . . you’ll be faced with the real-life decision that came across our desk here at DTE last week.

Here’s what happened.  And pay close attention, because just like my favorite part of watching football when I was a kid, I’m going to give you the chance to “Make the call!”

I have a division at my office that sells group tickets to Broadway shows.  A few weeks ago we got an inquiry from a group of 500 people that was looking for a show.  Yep, 500!  That’s 1/3 of a big Broadway house, which means quite an impact on a weekly gross.  We suggested a few shows to the group leader that we thought were appropriate for this group, and the leader went off to scout them.

The group came back and said there was one show that they specifically interested in.  “Great,” we said and started to place they order.

There was just one problem.

The group explained that there were a few moments in the show that they thought were objectionable, and unfortunately, because of the mission statement of the organization, they would not be able to book their group (of 500!) if those moments were in the show.

Insert dramatic chords here.

The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.

But would the show make the alterations to satisfy this group?

Insert more dramatic chords here.

Obviously there are a lot factors that would be involved in this decision, like when the group is looking to come (what time of year and what performance during the week), how well the show is doing, how much the group is paying, etc.

But if you’re a commercial theater producer, the question is whether you would be willing to ask your creative team to make the changes to their work to accomodate this bonus to the bottom line?

And that’s the question I’m asking you!

You make the call.  Would you change the show for the group?

Comment below!  (Email subscribers, click here to add your comment).

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Paging Dr. House to the theater . . . stat.

I love me some House.

Maybe it’s because he reminds me a bit of my Dad (Dad’s a doctor who admittedly has been a bit nasty to a few nurses in his day).

Or maybe it’s because I like his style . . . it reminds me of how a great marketer works.

When House has a new patient presenting symptoms, he treats with the broadest and least invasive techniques first . . . then he stands back and watches how the body responds.  If that doesn’t cure the ailment, he tries something a bit more creative.  And if that doesn’t work, he goes at it with something totally different.  And if that doesn’t work, he tries something else, and so on, and so on, until he finally cracks it and save the poor bleeding bastard’s life.

When a great marketer gets a new show, they usually start with a broader advertising campaign that features the tried and true techniques that have worked for the most shows.  After that launch,  he watches how the market responds.  If the initial launch doesn’t work, he tries something different.  And if that doesn’t work, he tries something else, and so on, and so on, and so on, until the right medicine stops the bleeding at the box office.

No two shows are alike.  And just because one treatment or plan doesn’t work, doesn’t mean another won’t.  The point is to keep trying.  Keep coming up with ideas.  And if you’ve gotta go experimental, then go for it.

Because if theater means as much to you as it does to me, then keeping a show going may not be life or death, but it sure feels pretty close, doesn’t it?

Look Ma, that sink actually works!

Theater, by nature, is an unrealistic art form.  Unlike film which, generally speaking, tries to capture events in as authentic an environment as possible (on an actual city street, in a house, etc.); in theater, we’re putting events on an elevated stage, and scenery and such is never 101% realistic (in fact, I’d argue that the better sets are those that suggest the locations, rather than try to duplicate them).

Our audiences accept and embrace our suggestions of reality.  It’s part of the ‘suspension of disbelief’ of going to the theater.  Our audiences know that they can never see a car blow up like they can in a movie, but they’ll see a creative way of symbolizing that act.

And this is exactly why when we DO give them a spoonful of reality, it usually excites the audiences enough to remember and talk about that reality.

For example…

I saw Red last Friday, and one of the moments that got the biggest audible response from the audience was when one of the actors poured real red paint from one bucket into another.  You could actually hear everyone thinking, “Wow, there’s actually real paint in there!”  Then, of course (spoiler alert), the actors actually painted with it!

The set of Time Stands Still at MTC was a New York apartment, with a full-on kitchen . . . and it was a working kitchen!  Yep, when Laura Linney turned on the faucet . . . gulp . . . water came out!  They had plumbing!

In David Cromer’s Our Town, they fry up some real bacon, and the scent goes wafting through the air and gets even vegans craving a slice.

Theatrical design will never be able to compete with film design or any other “realistic” design medium, so why bother trying.

But, at key moments in your show, a designed-dose of reality can amplify an important issue.

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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