What should a Producer study? A Producer’s curriculum in detail.

I got an email from a college student this week who knows she wants to be a Producer.  There’s no question about it. She’d declare it as a major . . . if she could.

Her school has a theater major and a business major but it doesn’t have a “producer’s track” . . . and not many do.  Even my alma mater only has a minor (and until we can turn Producing theater into a more stable and viable career choice, I’m not sure many will).

Since her school hasn’t spec’d out a plan for producers-to-be, she asked me what I thought she should study on her way through school.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m a big pusher for producers to take standard business courses as they’re coming up, from accounting to marketing to contract law (and there are still times I wish I had taken a few more myself).

But mostly I advised this focused young woman to take theater classes.  I told her to take a directing class, with people that want to be directors.  Take an acting class with actors.  Take a writing class with writers.  Take a design class with you-know-who and so on.

These are the people that are going to be on your team in the future.  Learn their language.  Learn what makes them tick.  Learn what they want out of a show.  And by doing so, you’ll learn how to help solve their problems.

Theater is one of the most collaborative art forms there is, and part of a Producer’s job is to make sure those collaborators are working at their absolute best with each other throughout the long process of developing and putting on a show.  By making an effort to learn their craft, and by understanding more of what they go through on a day-by-day basis, you’ll be able to earn more of their respect . . . and you’ll be able to help them do their best work.

Oh, and another part of a Producer’s job is to be able to spot talent.  By sitting in these classes, you’ll have the inside scoop on tomorrow’s superstars.

That’s right . . . the next Tony Kushner, Joe Mantello and Al Pacino are sitting in a class somewhere this very second.

By sitting among them, you’ll be able to spot that talent, and snatch them up for yourself . . . before I do.

(And for those of you out of school?  All of this still applies.  There are umpteen classes for theater artists all over the country, and even online.  And great business classes, too.  There’s no excuse to not know anything anymore. It’s all in front of the screen you are staring at right now.)

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What a difference a year and a half makes at Hair.

Ok, it’s time to take a scroll down blogger lane to re-read this entry I wrote in August of ’08, after I attended a production of Hair in the park, pre-Broadway.

The entry is about how I got busted by Tibor, the fascist usher, for taking a still photo on my iPhone of the post-curtain call dance party.

Read it, then come back.

Now, jump into a time machine to present day and read in this New York Times article how Hair just jumped from the ’60s to 2010 by striking a radical agreement with the unions that allows the show to shoot the dance party on video, and then post it on their website for sharing, and tagging, and more, oh my!

Unique events are what is working on Broadway.  Hair just took its most unique quality, and bottled it up for everyone to see and share.

Super shout-out to Joey Parnes, the GM who fought for this, the Unions, for understanding that giving up a little control gains us so much more in marketing and therefore future employment opps, to the Producers for the big five-figure investment, and to Damian Bazadona and the guys and gals at Situation Interactive, for continuing to push our industry to utilize technology to solve our marketing dilemmas.

Oh, and one more shout out . .

Take that, Tibor!  Na-na-na-na-na-nah!

———-

PLAY “WILL IT RECOUP” TODAY!  Only 4 days left!

Click here to play!

My response to the demise of the Oleanna Take-A-Side talkbacks.

Oleanna got people talking.

So one of our early marketing strategies was to try and whip up our audiences into an even greater frenzy so that they would talk even louder and longer.

One of the rev-up devices we used was the “Take-A-Side” talkback series that featured a moderator and celebrity panelists, from former Mayor Dinkins to Fox TV correspondents to Tovah Feldshuh to University Deans to harassment litigation experts, and so on, all discussing the issues of the play and allowing the audiences to ask questions and make comments.

Everyone who I spoke to felt like the talkbacks made the experience of going to the theater even better.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mamet disagreed.  As Michael Riedel reported back in November . . .

Alas, Mamet hated them [talkbacks]. He never attended one, but he’s against them on principle, believing that his play should stand on its own and not be picked apart by “experts” on the law, feminism and campus sexual harassment policies.

It’s always tough to hear that your author doesn’t like something you want to do, especially when that something is helping market your show.

The analogy I use when describing why Mamet or any author would be opposed to such an initiative is that some authors are like painters who don’t want a fancy frame around their piece of art.  They just want you to look at the picture and only the picture.

I get it, and I respect it.

Of course, you and I know that the right frame can actually draw eyeballs to look at that picture in even greater detail.  And that’s one of the producer’s jobs . . . to attract eyes to the art.

As hard as it was to hear that our author couldn’t stand one of our initiatives, we soldiered on . . . until, that is, we needed some help.  We had to make a compromise, and the talkbacks went the way of the public-health option on the current health plan bill.

Was I disappointed?  You betcha.

Let me be perfectly clear.  I have the utmost respect for Mr. Mamet, his artistic integrity, his resolve, and because he’s a brilliant f-ing writer.

But getting people to attend the theater is getting harder and harder (as the NEA keeps telling us), and since our producing hands are handcuffed by so many other things in this business, we need to have the freedom to exercise good ideas when we have them (it’s not like we had a guy in a Gorilla suit standing out front trying to get people to buy tickets).

The more restrictive we make it, the more those Authors may find Producers sitting out the next one.

I know I’ll be sitting out the next Mamet.

—–

Don’t forget to vote for the 2009 Producer of the Year

Make sure you cast your vote by Sunday, December 27th at 8pm.

The winner will be announced here on the blog, on Monday, December 28th.

VOTE NOW

A marketing axiom in two parts.

The bad news is . . . a great marketing campaign can’t save a bad show.
The good news is . . . a bad marketing campaign can’t kill a great show.

The position known as Missionary: Part II.

There’s a five step process to making the most of your missionaries.  Surprise, surprise, they are the same steps that you’d take if we were talking actual missionaries here.

Here we go:

THE FIVE STEPS TO A SUCCESSFUL MISSIONARY PROGRAM

  • Find them.
    • Create missionary magnets both online and offline to find the people that will best represent what you have to offer.
  • Train them.
    • Get them familiar with what they’re preaching about so they are authorities on your subject.  Remember, they will be representing you.
  • Give them the resources they need to go out into the world.
    • Missionaries can’t travel far without help.  Give them the tools they need to make their job as easy as possible. It’s a jungle where they are going.
  • Reward them when they return.
    • It’s tiring work.  They deserve a reward.  And it needs to be more valuable than money.
  • Repeat
    • Go back to step 3.  Give them more resources and keep this program looping like a roller coaster.

What’s great about a successful missionary program is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Great missionaries will take steps 1 and 2 out of the equation for you in the future, because they’re going to find great missionaries.  The program becomes like an ethical Amway in that your 1st tier Missionaries will find your 2nd tier and your 2nd tier will find your 3rd tier and so on, until your missionaries are in every corner of the globe doing your word-of-mouth marketing for you.

So that’s my definition of The Missionary Position.  But frankly, you can call these folks sneezers, connectors, influencers or purple tubas for all I care.

The fact is that a missionary by any other name would sell as sweet.

But call on them often, because they are the most economical yet most valuable marketers you have.

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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