Overheard at Angus: Volume VII

I eavesdropped on a couple of veteran producers the other day, one of whom was obviously in negotiations over a theater for an upcoming show.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Veteran #1:  I’m thinking of letting the audience drink during the show like they do at Rock of Ages.

Veteran #2:  Why not? Everyone’s doing it.  I bought my wife a sippy cup full of wine at Jersey Boys just last month. Boy are those theaters making more in bar revenue than ever before. The wine was 11 dollars!

Veteran #1:  11 dollars?

Veteran #2:  Yeah.  I had to ask them if it included a facility fee.

This conversation was funnier in person (partly because of the awesome pair of tweed pants Veteran #2 was wearing), but it also made me remember one of the downsides to capitalism in industries with challenging models.

The facility fee was tossed on top of ticket prices years ago to defray the costs of renovation, upkeep, etc. of these historic buildings.  It was getting more expensive to keep them in shape, so the theaters needed another revenue stream to offset some of the costs.

Now, at some shows, bar revenues are sky-high as drinking in your seats is encouraged.  I’d bet there is some serious found money being counted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this economic windfall was passed back to the consumer by eliminating the facility fee?

Or what about upping the price of the sippy cups by .50, as a drink tax (like a cigarette tax), and putting that towards the theater renovations, etc, making it an optional expense?

Doubt it’ll happen.  Once an income line hits your books, it’s hard to get it to disappear, even if 10 other lines follow it.

And that’s too bad . . . because the lines at our box office may suffer because of it.

The Tony Awards beat me to this blog.

The theme of this year’s Tony Awards opening number was the current overwhelming number of songs on Broadway stages from the popular musical canon.

Well, dangit, that’s what I was going to say!

But it’s more than just this year’s crop.  While leaving American Idiot a few weeks ago, I walked through Times Square and looked at all the marquees.  Connections to popular music are all over the Great White Way in one way or another.

Let’s look at all the book musicals (in alpha order) currently playing on Broadway and connect the popular dots:

A Little Night Music

Stephen Sondheim is not considered a “popular” composer, but ALNM features his only major pop hit “Send In The Clowns,” of the over 800 songs he has written.  It won a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’ in 1976.

American Idiot

Composed by punk-rock super-group, Green Day, the album of the same title also won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album.’

Billy Elliot

Composed by rock superstar (and sometimes Rush Limbaugh supporter), Elton John, who has more Grammys than a retirement home.

Chicago

What do I have to say about this composing team?  How about this:  two words repeated.  “New York, New York.”  That popular enough for you?

Come Fly Away

Speaking of NY, NY, Come Fly Away is all pop tunes sung by pop legend, Frankie S.

Everyday Rapture

This bio musical uses pop tunes to tell some of its story.

Fela!

Fela Kuti’s tunes may not have been featured on morning radio in this country, but in his homeland, his pioneering sounds were all the popular rage.

Hair

The astrological tune, “The Age of Aquarius,” held the #1 spot on the charts for 6 weeks and is listed as the 57th Greatest Song of All Time according to Billboard.

In The Heights

I got nothing on this one, except for the obvious influence of pop music of the time on the score.  So far, that’s 8 out of 9 with a direct connection to the pop world.

Jersey Boys

A bio-musical about one of the most popular guy-groups ever, who sold more than 175 million records.

La Cage aux Folles

Not only did “I Am What I Am” rank on the charts, but Herman had a hit with “Hello Dolly” in 1964 when the Louis Armstrong recording knocked The Beatles out of the #1 spot!

Mamma Mia!

The gold-record standard of the jukebox musical still has ’em dancing in the aisles and grossed almost $800 million last week, almost 9 years after its opening.

Mary Poppins

The Sherman Bros have should get an award for having so many awards. Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, and more.  Their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious songs have been sung by the masses for years.

Memphis

David Bryan, the composer of Memphis is the keyboard player for a little known band called Bon Jovi.

Million Dollar Quartet

Some of the greatest classic rock tunes, and classic rock characters, are featured in this jukey musical.

Next to Normal

Outside of his musical theater work, Composer Tom Kitt is the founder of The Tom Kitt band, and his work on American Idiot led him to be hired by Green Day to provide arrangements for their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown.

Promises, Promises

Promises Composer Burt Bacharach has written 70 Top 40 hits in his lifetime, including “I Say A Little Prayer For You” and “A House Is Not A Home” which were both integrated into this revival.

Rock of Ages

Mamma Mia but with 80s tunes.

South Pacific

How many covers of songs can a composer/lyricist have?  R&H’s tunes were all over the place in their day, and are still used in pop culture today.

The Addams Family

Like In the Heights, there’s no real strong connection to the pop world here.  That makes 18 out of 20 with direct connections to the pop music world.

The Lion King

Another one by Sir Elton.

The Phantom of The Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber is like a modern day R&H when it comes to his theater songs becoming standards.  Streisand, Manilow, and Mathis are just a few of the folks that have covered and scored hits with “Memory” alone.

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein was successful in the popular idiom in another way . . . the classic way.  He grabbed a couple of handfuls of Grammys in his day, including one for Lifetime Achievement.  He wrote for the movies, for shows, for choruses, and more.  His stuff was everywhere.

Wicked

What Andrew Lloyd Webber is to the UK is what Stephen Schwartz is to America.  He is our most popular successful composer, with Grammys and Academy Awards and more, oh my.  “Day by Day” was a Top 40 hit, and he has even written songs for Five For Fighting.

There you have it.  24 musicals on Broadway and 22 of them with direct connections to the world of popular music.  Some looser than others, I’ll admit. And some are chicken-egg questions (Did their pop success come from the theater work or vice-versa?).

But my point is not that you need to be a successful pop artist to be a successful Broadway composer.  In many of the cases above, the Broadway success came first.

What I am saying is that the overwhelming lack of degrees of separation between successful Broadway composers and the world of pop music suggest that there may be a characteristic that binds the two.

And that characteristic is melody.

So if you’re a composer looking to get a show up on Broadway, you might want to make sure your songs have some similar characteristics to what’s on the radio.  I can’t tell you how many demos I listen to (or stop listening to) where the composers seem to be after some sort of intelligentsia award, instead of just writing a song that people might enjoy hearing in their car, or while cleaning their room, or while they are finishing a blog at 2:08 AM (Lady Gag
a is on in the background on my Sirius radio).

I’m not saying that theater songs have to be Britney-like trite or super-simplistic (God knows Green Day isn’t trite, and Elton’s stuff is some of the richest musical and lyrical material you’ll ever listen to).

But they’ve all got melody and hooks and songs that people like to sing along to.

And that will put you at the top of charts and the Tony Awards.

At the Broadway League Conference: Day 2/What’s the “deal” with the road?

Day 2 of the Broadway League Spring Road Conference was filled with some great events, from a panel on how to engage the African American audience, to a discussion on the evolution of the current Broadway production of Fences, led by Mr. Denzel Washington himself (they served extra water at that panel, to prevent half the crowd from fainting at the sight).

One of the more spirited conversations was a discussion of the current deal structure for Broadway touring companies (the ‘Broadway League’ is somewhat of a misnomer, since a large majority of its membership is compromised of presenters/performing arts centers (PAC) all across the country).

There are currently three basic deals being brokered right now for touring shows like Wicked, Jersey Boys, Dreamgirls, etc.

1.  The Guarantee

Under the terms of a GD, a local presenter pays a fixed fee, or a guarantee, to the Producer for showing up at the theater with a show.  In addition to this fee (which can range from $250k – $400k for the big shows), the Producer usually receives a royalty (usually 10% of the NAGBOR), and a split of profit (usually 60/40%) AFTER the Presenter has recovered all of his/her expenses (advertising, stagehands, etc.).

Guarantee = More risk for the Presenter, less risk for the Producer.

2.  Four-Wall

The four-wall is more of a straight rental situation.  The Producer agrees to rent the facility from the Presenter, and pay all expenses associated with the Production.  There is usually some profit built in for the Presenter, but the bulk of the upside is for the Producer.  All the shows produced on Broadway in NYC are four-walls.

3.  Terms

The Terms deal is a hybrid deal designed for Producers and Presenters to “meet in the middle.”  An example of a Terms deal would be a 75/25% split of the gross, after advertising expenses were taken off the top of the gross.  Or a 80/20% split after advertising and stagehands costs were taken from the gross.
Brett Sirota, a partner at The Road Company (a ‘wicked’ big booking group), and an absolute expert in this area (and a pretty damn good poker player as well), revealed that for the first time in his recent memory, almost all the deals he has done for the coming season are “Terms” deals or as it was also called, a “Shared Risk Deal.”

Some pros/cons to the Terms deals were as follows:

  • Without getting a guarantee, the Producer may close the show early if it doesn’t perform well.  When that happens, a performing arts center might end up with no product, despite having sold a subscription on the back of that show.
  • For Presenters a Terms deal really depends on those terms, and in some cases, especially with blockbusters, the Presenter is better of with a guarantee because there is much more upside potential.
  • Some Producers of big shows have signed Terms deals, knowing that they were giving more money than necessary to the Presenters, in the hopes of encouraging the Presenter to book the show for a second, third or even fourth time!
  • Since only one out of five shows recoup their investment on Broadway, Producers look for guarantee arrangements because they are easier to sell to investors who may have just lost money in the Broadway production and are now being asked to put up more money for the same product.

There were a lot of other creative ideas thrown around the room, including a development fee (in the style of a facility fee) that went to Producers to help defray some of the costs of developing product, since it is getting so expensive, and since the markets depend on new product to survive.  There was a suggestion to have a seminar on the costs of running PACs around the country so Producers could understand why a Presenter’s expenses are what they are.

But one of the most enlightening comments was a statement about the road in general, and how conversations like the one in that room at the Crowne Plaza hotel were good.

Because the road is not made up of one stop or one show.  It’s a continually flowing entity that connects all of us.  It may start on Broadway but it circles around the country and eventually winds its way back here.  So, it’s important for us to come up with deals that work for all parties.  That’s the definition of a successful negotiation.  A win2.

One more day of the conference.  Until tomorrow!

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This Broadway Pro is a loser.

A big loser.

Like the BIGGEST loser.

Hugh Hysell, who owns one of Broadway’s biggest marketing firms, is making a bid to be on NBC’s The Biggest Loser.  (You might remember Hugh from Vol. 2 of our 10 Qs for a Broadway Pro.)

I feel sorry for the other folks trying to get on the show.  Hugh is a Marketing Director, for calorie’s sake. Of course he’s going to come up with a fun and theatrical way to demonstrate why he’d be the best contestant.

And sure enough . . . he did.

Hugh’s video application is below . . . and it’s already been written up on a bunch of blogs and featured in the NY Post.

(My favorite part about the video?  Notice how Hugh chose to shoot a portion of the vid on 52nd St . . . right in front of The August Wilson Theatre and Jersey Boys.  Yep, you guessed it . . . Hugh does the marketing for Jersey Boys.  Now that’s a Marketing Director.  Even when he’s stumping for himself, he’s got his clients on his mind.)

Go get ’em Hugh!

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 2: A Marketing Director

I got some great response from the first edition of 10 Qs for a Bway Pro, so I thought I’d roll out Volume 2 this week.

Last week we talked about advertising . . . this week, we explore the more ambiguous world of marketing with none other than that Broadway Marketing Guru, Hugh Hysell.

I’ve worked on a bunch of shows with Hugh, from babies to biggies, and Hugh always brings the goods.  Why?  You’ve got to love what you do if you’re going to do a great job.  And if you spend five minutes with Hugh, you’ll realize that Hugh loves his job . . . and those fingerprints of love are all over every show he does, not matter how big or small.

Here are 10 Qs with Hugh!

1. What is your title?

I am President of HHC Marketing, a multi-division marketing and promotions company specializing in Broadway and Off-Broadway.  HHC’s divisions include full service marketing for Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows, BroadwayBox (running the advertising department for their sites including BroadwayBox.com, LunchTix.com and TicketsThisWeek), and TheMenEvent.com (the city’s largest Gay email list, which I use to promote my full service clients).  I am also President of Teams on Broadway (our Street Team Firm).  Often, in playbill listings, we are referred to simply as “Marketing” and many shows refer to me as their “Marketing Director.”

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

On Broadway, HHC is working on Looped, Jersey Boys and Fela!.  Our Off-Broadway clients include The Temperamentals, John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean, The 39 Steps, Flying Karamazov Brothers’ 4Play, The Irish Curse, Looking for Billy Haines, Yank, Leslie Jordan’s My Trip Down the Pink CarpetSigns of Life, as well as some shows that have not been announced yet (sssshhhhh – I can’t tell you).  Teams on Broadway is currently providing the street teams for Fela!Memphis and The Miracle Worker.  Yes – we did the Princess Leia team for Wishful Drinking. 🙂

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I run a very active marketing company that seeks out, negotiates and administers marketing programs for our clients, often without spending a dime.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Creativity, people skills, charm, drive, follow-through, and strong attention to detail.  As a theatre marketer, as funds are usually quite low, one needs to be very creative and think out of the box.  Our goal is to form effective, attention-grabbing promotions that directly influence the ticket buyer.  You then have to charm promotional partners to help you make your plans come thru.  At the same time you have to be able to drive yourself to fully administer every minute detail of a promotion.  A marketer has to walk the line between being a creative artist, a charming pal, and an anal-retentive, highly-organized business person.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

As my mother says, life provides you opportunities for your transferable skills.  I was trained as an actor (BFA UNC-Greensboro, MFA University of Florida).  My acting career was largely in touring theatre where I used my creative skills in the rehearsal process, and anal-retentive skills to keep the performances solid over months and months of doing the same show.  I think these skills have been very useful to me as a marketer.  After I left acting, I knew I wanted to enter the business world of theatre, so I became an intern at Richard Frankel Productions, where I moved up to be Associate General Manager of an Off-Broadway show, which then went on to tour and then on to play in Vegas.  At the same time, I was producing a show in the Fringe that did very well, and I moved it to an Off-Off Broadway venue for an extended run.  That run proved to be my true training to be a marketer.  I had no money to promote the show, but with the advice of a Broadway marketer, I did lots and lots of promotions (bookstore, internet, nightclub, bars, barter ads, etc).  The show stayed alive, and I recouped my investment.  The marketer who mentored me (Scott Walton) later  hired me, and together we grew his company, and in 2002 I bought him out.  I have never taken a marketing course, but I do teach it at Columbia.  Mom is very proud.

6. What was your first job in theater?

My first paid job was as an actor with the Kaleidoscope Theater out of Providence, RI.  We did summer tours of kids’ shows to the music tents in New England (Warwick Music Tent, South Shore Music Tent, etc.).  I played a cat in Pinocchio and the Genie in Aladdin (with a 12-year-old Joey Pizzi as Aladdin and Pinocchio).

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theatre is adventure, escape, entertainment, enlightenment, education, magic, joy and sorrow all rolled up with beautiful images, soaring music and inspiring words  Life meets Art.  Love it.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Audience development.  The audience needs to grow (so there are more people to buy tickets).  With the arts being cut in education, we are not developing kids with art in their lives.  Without that exposure, how will they learn about art in themselves and thus appreciate the art of others?  We need theatre that cultivates new audiences, and allows them to discover the richness that theatre can provide.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

Make theatre cheaper to produce.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

The word ‘marketing’ can mean so many things, and even in the industry that title can refer to different jobs depending if you are working in the commercial or not-for-profit sector.  I would suggest that an aspiring marketer first get an internship in NYC within a theatre marketing firm, press office, or general management office. Learn how shows are marketed and why those decisions are made.  Knowing the current environment allows you to help it grow and adapt to the ever-changing consumer environment.

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