How to drive your non-profit into the ground.

I got into a discussion with a board member of a fiscally challenged non-profit theater over the weekend. (Is there any other kind lately?) I asked her what she thought were the biggest traps that non-profs could fall into, and what were the most important elements to a successful non-commercial theater.

After talking about donor bases and subscription models and audience developement, she and I pretty much came to the same conclusion that the most important asset a non-profit could have was an Artistic Director with the right attitude.

She and I have both seen quite a few theaters led by Artistic Directors who chose to use the theater as their own personal “play”-ground.  Rather than blending the mission statement with what the audience wanted, the ADs chose selfish seasons, satsifying their own desires rather than their audiences.

And that’s a quick way to drive away a consituency . . . and in today’s world of high ticket prices and oodles of other forms of entertainment, it’s five times as hard to get them back if they bolt.

It’s a challenge for ADs, because their job is to serve a mission, challenge an audience, stretch, push, educate, etc . . . but they must remember that if the audience doesn’t enjoy what they are seeing, they’ll go somewhere else.  Period.

In fact, I’d say ADs are like politicians.  We hire them to be smarter than we are . . . to take us into a new day . . . to have our best interests at heart (even when we might not realize it’s in our best interests).

But disappoint us?  And we’ll try the new guy faster than you can say “bankruptcy.”

My two tips to ADs out there?

– Find out exactly what your audience wants using surveys, focus groups, or even an online contest to pick your season.

– Find a way to give them what they want while stretching them at the same time. (Just because they want a musical, doesn’t mean you have to give them No, No, Nanette.)

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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My reaction to today’s Tony Award nominations.

Well I got a Satisfactory “C” or 75% on my Tony Award nomination predictions.  How did you do?

I missed one in the Best Play nomination category and one in the Best Musical category.

In Best Play, I went with the almost-Pulitzer Bengal Tiger, which was pushed out by The “Mother” With The Hat (as Matthew Broderick called it on the Tony Awards live stream).  MF with the Hat has had quite a ride, with a first weekly gross of only $217k, a Michael Riedel article saying it was going to close in a week, and now . . . grosses of $600k-plus and a chance at Tony Gold!

In Best Musical, I tried to outsmart the Tony Award nominators, and got outsmarted in return.  Rather than go for two artistic choices, they stuck with just one, Scottsboro Boys, and gave the fourth and final spot to the original Sister Act. (I assume Sister’s original score is what gave it the advantage over Priscilla and its jukebox score.)

What else surprised me?

– My jaw is still on the floor that Daniel Radcliffe was snubbed for his superstar turn in How To Succeed.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed that someone’s hard work and all around awesomeness wasn’t rewarded.  Was this a response to last year’s backlash that too many Hollywood stars were given award attention over Broadway stars?  That would explain the lack of noms for the star-driven, Oceans 11-like cast of That Chamionship Season.  (Now, will Radcliffe prove the better man and host/present anyway?  I’d bet yes.  But nominators?  Be on the look out, he just might throw a Furunculus Curse spell on you)

– Many a show and a performer were affected by something I’m now calling “The Scottsboro Syndrome.”  It’s when a closed but critically acclaimed show sneaks back in and gets a lot more nominations that anyone ever expected.  Catch Me’s score and choreography were just a few that were felled by “The Syndrome.”

– In this incredibly crowded season, a lot of shows were left without even a single nomination including Wonderland, Pee Wee, Elf, Ghetto Klown, Rain, A Free Man of Color, and a bunch more . . . most of which would have been included if we still had a Special Theatrical Event category (hint, hint).

What surprised you?

Now that the nominations are out, it’s time to start handicapping the actual awards!  I mean, come on, is there anything more exciting for a theater fan than the 6 weeks between nominations and the big day?

And it’s also time to try and win stuff!  Look for the announcement of our Tony Award Pool later this week!  Big prizes!  Big fun!

Click here for a complete list of The 2011 Tony Award Nominations.

 

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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FUN STUFF

– Take the Broadway Investing 101 Seminar in NYC and in Minneapolis!  Click here!

– Take the Get Your Show Off the Ground Seminar in Minneapolis on May 15th.  Click here!

– Come to the Social in Minneapolis.  Click here!

– Win 2 tickets to see Chicago on Broadway.  Click here!

I usually don’t write about world events, but . . .

. . . the events of the last 24 hours have been some of the most dramatic I have ever experienced so I felt I had to comment.

For ten years this country has been in the midst of a great drama that began with a tragic inciting incident in 2001 and yesterday, had a explosive climax far away in a Pakistani city called Abbottabad.

And now, the audience of the world can experience the joyous release of the denouement as the curtain finally falls.

A standing ovation to the heroes in Abbottabad, the heroes in Washington, and most importantly, to the heroes who watched this drama unfold from above.

My theory on casting: someone for everyone.

Ken Davenport, Broadway, Off-Broadway, Theater, Theatre, Producer I was recently asked about my theory on casting shows, especially when considering stars.  Do I like one big blockbuster name?  Or do I like to cast a "package" of lesser known names, but more of them?  

In other words, if casting my show was like roulette, do I put my millions on one number, or do I spread it around?

Ideally, the way that I like to approach casting is the "buffet approach," which means there is someone in the cast that appeals to the many different demographics that might end up at my show.  The more groups I can appeal to, the more potential there is for ticket sales.

For example, let's say my lead actor is someone that appeals to the primary 45+ female Broadway demo.  I'm in great shape, right?  So when considering who I'll cast around that lead, I might look for someone that appeals to the husbands of those 45+ females.  So, when the female says to husband, "I wanna go see Ken's Show," the husband is more inclined to say yes.

But don't stop there. Maybe there's another name I can find that will appeal to a teen demographic.  And maybe someone that can appeal to the teen's grandmother.  And all of a sudden, I have a show that four people want to see, so the wife says, "Let's bring the whole family," and I've sold 4 tickets instead of 1.  

The buffet approach . . . where no one goes hungry because there's an actor to satisfy everyone.

Of course, all of this calculation about casting must occur after asking yourself the following and most important question about casting anyone . . .

"Will they be any good?"

Because at the end of the day, you may get butts in seats with a certain name or with a package of names, but if they disappoint their audience, you'll be disappointed when you see your grosses. 

 

(Got a comment?  I love 'em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what's on your mind!) 

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What do theater and golf have in common?

Ken Davenport, Broadway, Off-Broadway, Theatre, Theater, Producer, Golf

I tried to get into golf at least three times before I was twenty five.  Just couldn't do it.  I was way too impatient.  I wanted more action.  It was expensive.  And it seemed like a "old guy's game."

In the last five years, I've picked it back up.  And I've actually enjoyed it (!!!).  

Golf, like wine, is one of those "acquired tastes."  It's easier to enjoy and appreciate after you have a few decades under your belt.

Sure, there are a lot of young players that get into the game, but I'd bet the majority of new players every year are aged 45 and up.  (I spent yesterday with an 87-year-old man who just picked it up last year and now plays every day.)  

Could it be that theater is an acquired taste, as well?  Aren't people more likely to start going to the theater more often once they have more disposable income, and maybe even more time . . . putting them in their 40s or 50s, after their jobs are more stable, their kids don't need babysitters, etc?

Makes sense, right?

So when we talk about "audience development," why do we automatically only think of getting kids to the theater?

I'll tell you why, because those kids are the audiences of 20 years from now, and it is essential to train them to enjoy the theater now . . . so they will see it and support it when they reach theatrical puberty.

But Marketing 101 says that if we want to develop a "new" audience in the near term we should focus on the group that is more inclined to come now . . . aka "the forties."

So in addition to an audience development program for young folks, we need an audience development program for middle-aged folks!

What could we do to reach this demo?

Is it partnerships with real estate companies that give everyone who buys a home two tickets to a show as part of their housewarming gift?

Maybe in addition to a Kids Night on Broadway, we need some kind of Take-a-40-Year-Old-to-Broadway initiative.  It'd be like a Broadway buddy program where ambassadors get a free ticket to take a forty-ish friend that normally doesn't go to the theater  to a show.  

Singles events?  2nd marriage events?  A direct mail to people who take fancy cruises?

How about . . . Get a prostate exam, get two tickets to a show?

(Ok, forgive the last one – I'm a teensy bit jet-lagged)

My point is that no one could have gotten me to even think about getting on the golf course 15 years ago.  Now?  If the right marketing initiative got in front of me, I'd buy the clubs, the balls, and maybe even the ugly sweaters.  

There are lots of folks out there who are ready to acquire the taste of going to the theater.  We just have to find them, and give them a reason to get started.  

 

(Got a comment?  I love 'em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what's on your mind!) 

– – – – –

FUN STUFF

– Take the Broadway Investing 101 Seminar.  Click here

– Win 2 tickets to see Blue Man Group Off Broadway.  Enter the Sunday Giveaway here. 

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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