Wanna go to London as a Producer Exchange Student? Here’s how!

Last year I was honored to have been asked to speak to a group of young Producers from the UK who were here in NYC studying our theater, in the hopes of learning some tips and tricks they could take home.

What I didn’t know until about halfway through the conversation was that there was a group of young Producers from the US doing the same thing in London at the same time.

“What is this,” I asked.

“It’s the TS Eliot US/UK Exchange,” a student answered.

And now you’re asking “What the heck is that?”

The TS Eliot US/UK Exchange is probably one of the coolest opportunities out there, and not many people know about it.  100 actors, directors, producers, and writers are accepted into the program, and then, for a week, they simply swap cities.

And learn.

Cool, right?

The Exchange is seeking this year’s applicants now.  Click here to learn more and apply.

And when you get in, you better promise to send me a postcard.

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FUN STUFF:

–  Play “Will It Recoup?”  You can win a Kindle!  Click here and enter today!

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– Enter this Sunday’s Giveaway!@  Win 2 tickets to see Pippin star Ben Vereen!  Click here!

5 Takeaways from the LA Seminar.

Ok, ok, I’ll admit it.  I planned this Saturday’s LA Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar to take place in January partly because I wanted a break from this Godzilla of a winter we’re having, and partly because I had a craving for In ‘N Out Burger.

Well, I’m happy to report that the weather was a sunny seventy-something degrees on Saturday, and In ‘N Out Burger still has the best burger/fries/shake combo on the planet.

And better yet, I’m also happy to report that LA has some of the most passionate theater people I’ve met . . . anywhere.

We had a great session (and a great social later that evening).  Here are five of the takeaways that got tossed around:

  • Test your titles, because what makes sense to you might not make sense to your audience.
  • The rule of two:  sometimes it’s easier to raise twice as much money, and sometimes it’s easier to raise money for two projects instead of just one.
  • Diversify your development.  Spend half your time working on adaptations and half your time working on original material.
  • Critics from other cities don’t like to be told that a show is a hit before it arrives.
  • Theater people face similar issues, no matter where they may call home.

This last one is what really got me.  Before the LA seminar, and before the Chicago seminar, I remember thinking, “How will this be different from the seminars in NYC?”

And for the most part . . . they weren’t.  The same issues that pop up in The City, popped up in every city: how do I raise money for my show, how do I market my show with no money, and how do I get started?

So next time you talk to someone from another theater world, don’t think that they’re that different.  Because they’ve got the same hopes, dreams, and obstacles as you. And maybe you can figure out how to get over them together.

We sure did.

Thanks, LA, for warming my body temp, filling me with sodium and trans fats, and for introducing me to some awesome people.

I’m sure I’ll do it again soon.

And thus ends the great January Get Your Show Off The Ground tour.  Don’t forget, there’s one coming up in NYC on March 19th, and if you register by EOD today, you’ll save $55.  Click here to sign up today.

The next city where the seminar may go will be London.  Taking the temperature now, so if you’re a Brit and are interested, email me and we’ll go from there.

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Enter to win this Sunday’s Giveaway: 2 Tickets to Catch Me If You Can!  Click here.

Institutions can have personalities, too.

I recently got an email from a non-profit here in the city asking me for money.  The message said, “Please give me money.  Signed, Institution.”

Then I got an email from the Scott Elliot, the Artistic Director of the outstanding New Group, asking me to subscribe.  In addition to a much more personal letter (it was signed simply, “Scott”), the email also featured a nice photo of Scott.

Obviously, you know which one I was more inclined to support.

But it goes beyond that.

In addition to this appeal being much more likely to succeed because of the personal nature of the communication, the strategy of attaching a person (with a face) to a institution has many more long term benefits.

Subscribers, donors, etc. are much more likely to support people . . . not buildings and not companies.  That’s why it’s essential for every non-profit, every building, and every company to have a face, or a personality, that represents the human component of what they do.

When I was in London recently, I went to see Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre. When I opened my program, guess who greeted me with a letter?  Cameron Mackintosh! (Cameron owns the Noel Coward).  And the letter wasn’t just a “welcome to my theater” letter, but rather a letter that talked about the show, the actors, and more.

There are many companies around the country and in this city that are already using this strategy, but there is more that we can all do . . . and more rewards to reap from it.

Think you’ve got this covered?  Try my test to see if your company is successfully using personalization properly:  Ask 10 people who are casual visitors to your space what name comes to mind when you say the name of your venue. If they all don’t say the name of your Artistic Director, CEO, or whomever you want them to say within 3 seconds, you fail.  🙂

If you failed, or if you haven’t started yet, here are five things that person can do to expand his or her presence:

1.  BLOG IT UP!

I think every Artistic Director should blog, and it should be available right on the home page. Describe your daily successes as well as the challenges you face.  Give insider scoop on upcoming shows (photos and more), etc.  In blog form, these entries might seem more journal-like, and less solicitation-like, and you might find yourself raising money passively throughout the year.

2.  SIGNED, YOU.

Every letter, ticket confirmation, and donation request should come from one voice . . . yours.  And include photos.

3.  GREET THE PEEPS.

As often as you can, park yourself in front of the ticket takers and shake hands, get recognized, and meet as many of your customers as possible.  And don’t just talk to the Richie Riches.  Today’s single ticket buyer could be tomorrow’s subscriber.

And if you can be there at the end of the show to listen to people’s thoughts, complaints, feedback, etc., even better.

4.  SHOW FACE.

Take advice from Scott and insert your photos into your correspondence. I’d also put photos of you and your team by the box office, and other key places.  You want people to recognize you when you’re at the Duane Reade.

5.  ANSWER EVERY EMAIL

Your email should be plastered all over your site.  Let your subscribers, patrons, and more have direct access to you.  And respond. It’ll mean a lot to them . . . which will no doubt mean a lot to you.

Are these things that difficult to do?  No.  Do these things take time?  Yes.

But I have a feeling you think your institution or your company is worth it.

Never let a cash machine pass you by.

So there I am, trotting down the streets of London, on my way to a restaurant that serves squirrel, when I realized I was out of pounds.

I saw a Barclay’s cash machine on the next corner (international traveler tip: cash machines often have the best exchange rates).  Since I was still a good mile or so from my squirrelicious destination, I let it pass me by.

“There will be another one along the way.  I’ll just get cash later,” I muttered in my faux British accent (I just can’t help it – whenever I’m there I start saying things like “Bollocks!” and “Cheers!”).

Well, wouldn’t you know it . . . there wasn’t another cash machine along the way.  Not a one.

Bollocks!

The point?

When you need something . . . or when you want something . . . or when you like something . . . get it. Then.  Now.  Don’t wait.

Do you know how many people passed on Rent, probably intrigued by the melodies but thinking that they’d find something better . . . later.

Producing, creating, taking risks . . . this is hard stuff.  So it’s easy to come up with a reason to pass.  It’s harder to seize the opportunity when you find it and make the most of it.

If you don’t, you’ll end up at the end of your lonely journey with empty pockets.

3 More Things I Learned While in London.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I spent the weekend in the UK, taking in some new shows and some bland food (seriously, I love London. I don’t have to feel guilty for eating fast food, because I know I’m not missing much).

As is usually the case whenever I visit Broadway’s Step Brother, aka The West End, I walked away with a few observations about our similarities and our differences.

Here’s what I discovered this trip:

1.  The ushers in the UK are all young.

The average age of the ushers, ticket takers, and bar staff at every theatre I went to had to be about 23.  And each one of them was bubbling over with excitement and passion for the show that I was about to see.  They weren’t showing me to my seat.  They were priming me for an experience.  I’ve always thought that these positions were ideal for students of the theater . . . and even more ideal for the audience.  NYU should start a work study program with Local 306 (the ushers union).

2.  What time is the show again?

It was a light theater going trip for me this time ’round. I only saw four shows in the three days I was there.  And not one of those shows was at 8 PM.  I saw shows at 7:15, 3, 9:30 and 7:30. And I almost went to a Friday at 5.  While I was constantly checking and re-checking the curtain times all weekend because I had no idea which show started when, the alternative start times allowed me to see more theater in a shorter time.  I still wonder if a Friday at 5, during key tourist times here in the States, would work.  I’m dying to try it.  And someday I will.  Or maybe you’ll beat me to it.

3.  Times Square looks more and more like Leicester Square every year.

Everyone knows that Bloomberg has had a man-crush on the Mayor of London for years.  So many of the changes we’ve seen here seem to be inspired by successful policies there.  The AirTrain and the Heathrow Express Train, Congestion Pricing to reduce traffic (which never passed here), and now, the pedestrian walkways where streets used to be.  Heck, they even have people selling tickets to comedy shows in Leicester Square!  I’m all for it.  Leicester Square is a pretty exciting and safe place to be, drawing more crowds than ever.  If we can continue to create a more conducive environment for visitors to spend time in Times Square, just steps away from our theaters and the TKTS booth, our metaphorical boats will all have to rise.  It’s what I call The Times Square Tide.

And here’s a bonus!

4.  They drive on the ‘wrong’ bloody side of the road.

At every major crosswalk, an instruction is written on the pavement:  LOOK RIGHT or LOOK LEFT.  Why?  I can only assume its because people like me, who naturally look in one direction before crossing the street, need to be retrained to look the exact opposite direction if they want to avoid getting run over by a truck.

What does that have to do with theater?

If you’ve got a show that is working in the US, you might naturally think that the next stop is the UK.  Well, just because the folks there speak the same language (sort-of), doesn’t mean that their taste in the theater is the same.  In fact, it may be the exact opposite.  They literally may come at things from a totally different direction.

So before you cross the pond, make sure you stop, and look RIGHT instead of left . . . so you’re not hit by any oncoming traffic just waiting for you to step out into the street.

Because health insurance may be free in London, but producer insurance is not.

To read some of my past observations about London theatergoing, click here and here.

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