Rant alert: Stop telling me you can’t afford theater tickets!

I was teasing an industry friend of mine the other day who shall remain nameless (although I am biting my fingertips right now–I so want to type it) because he hadn’t seen Miss Abigail’s Guide . . . yet.  I was actually going to let him off the hook when he pulled me aside and said, “Ken, listen, in all seriousness, I am going through a tough time right now . . . and I haven’t seen ANY theater because frankly, I just can’t afford it.”

My first thought?  Pity.  When someone says, “I can’t afford it,” about anything, your heart goes out to them, right?  It’s the ultimate out.

But I had a theory, and I decided to test it out.

“NAMELESS PERSON,” I said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Ken.”

“Have you seen a movie in the last month?”

“Well, yes, I have.”

“Have you seen more than one movie in the last month?”

“I’ve seen two.”

“Ahhh, I see.  But you can’t afford the theater, right?  You just spent at least $25 on movie tickets.  You know about TDF, right?  You know about 20at20, right, where you can see shows for $20?”

He didn’t answer.

I could have pressed on . . . “Did you have popcorn when you were at the movies?  Oh, and do you drink Starbucks?  Watch Netflix?”

But the point wasn’t to embarass him . . . the point was to demonstrate how the problem isn’t price.  The problem is value.

Here was a theater person, who was claiming that theater tickets were too expensive . . . who chose to go to the movies instead.  The movies were of a greater value to him.

And that’s our problem.

There are cheap ways to see theater.  Period.  And people who can’t find $20, $30, $50 or yes, even $120 to see a show don’t value the experience enough to work at finding that money.  (And please, don’t challenge me to say that you’re different and you really don’t have even $20 to see a show, because I will come to your house and do an audit on your life and find $20 somewhere, I promise.)

And if theater folks won’t work at finding those extra few bucks, how are we going to get ordinary folks to do it?

So the next time you find yourself saying “Theater tickets are too expensive,” stop yourself.  Man up and admit it.  Say, “I don’t find enough value in going to the theater.”

If we admit the problem, maybe we’ll come closer to a solution.

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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.

What will happen to Broadway if Spider-Man is a hit?

When the work started back up at the Hilton Theater recently, it felt like that moment in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when, after years of silence, smoke started coming out of the chimneys.  “The Oompa-Loompas are back to work!  They’re making chocolate again!”

Well, unfortunately for the Producers of Spider-Man, they don’t have Oompa-Loompas to do their pre-production.  Their labor costs a lot more than a free room and all the chocolate you can eat.

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding what’s going on in that theater.  Everyone’s waiting to see what will happen on opening night.

Me?  I’m more interested in what happens after opening night.

Spider-Man is the biggest show that Broadway has ever seen.  I’ve compared it to the movie version of Titanic and Avatar before, as it has the potential to create that kind of tsunami-like splash.

But what happens in the aftermath?

First, let me state how much I’m fantasizing about Spidey-success.  That same post I linked to above talks about the potential it has to bring new audiences to the theater, to bring more rock-star composers to the theater, and to re-energize our market by giving us one of the most unique events we’ve ever seen.

It could be a game-changer.

It could also drive up capitalizations and costs quicker than Clark Kent can change into Superman.

We’re an industry that swings for the fences.

And regardless of how out-of-whack some of our labor rules may be, or or royalty pools, or GM fees, and so on . . . when you get a hit, none of it is out of whack.

And that’s why the fees are so high.  The unions, vendors, and so on, keep the rates at high levels to make sure that they have what one Producer I know calls “Bonanza Insurance.”

I call it Phantom Insurance.

And those rates and fees will always stay high, as long as there is one show that defies the odds and mints money like the Oompa-Loompas mint . . . uh . . . mints.

So, if Spider-Man sets a new bar . . . will the unions and creatives and Producers have to set a new one as well?

Me? I’d rather have a whole slew of hits than just one super-sized hit.  So when you hear, “If Spider-Man can do it, ” even if it comes out of your own mouth, make sure whatever you’re discussing makes sense (and ‘cents’) for your show.

Because Broadway musical budgets 50 years ago were less than a million bucks.

Now the average is getting closer to 15 million.  That’s an increase of 1500%. And inflation has increased.

What will the average be in 2060?

10 Ways to green your show or theater. Come up with an 11th and win $100.

It ain’t easy bein’ green, as Kermit would sing.

It takes extra effort and sometimes some extra bucks.  It’s just like joining a gym!  But it’s time we all got together to make sure our planet has some rock-hard abs.

And that’s why I set out to write this post giving you 10 ways to green your show or theater, until I realized . . . the Broadway Green Alliance had already written it!

What?  Don’t know what the BGA is?  From their website:

The BGA (formerly Broadway Goes Green) was launched in 2008 as an ad hoc committee of The Broadway League. The BGA brings together all segments of the theatre community, including producers, theatres in New York and around the country, theatrical unions and their members, and related businesses. Working closely with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the BGA identifies and disseminates better practices for theatre professionals and reaches out to theatre fans throughout the country.

On their site, they list several ways that your designers, shops, office mates, etc. can green the work that we do.

Some suggestions:

  • Shop from local vendors instead of having items shipped across the country.
  • Design with LED lights (or other energy efficient instruments) whenever possible.
  • Reuse set and costume pieces from previous productions

For more ideas, visit their site here.

But wait . . . you don’t get off that easy.  Why don’t we use this forum to come up with some more super specific ideas to green your shows, theater or workplace.  Comment below on something you do or can do to get on the green train.

Extra credit if your idea saves money and saves the environment.

Ok, I’ll kick it off.

Everyone recycles paper, right?  Right?  But before you put it in the bin, make sure you’ve used the second side of the page.  Use it as scrap paper, fax machine paper, or I have a second “draft printer” that I fill with only half-used paper.  We don’t go through life drinking half a cup of coffee or living in half a house, right?  Why use only half the paper?

Alright, your turn.  And come up with something better than mine, will ya?  In fact, lets up the stakes.

The environment is priceless, but let’s put a prize on it anyway.

$100 (or 100 “green” backs) goes to the best idea commented below. My staff will be the judge.

We close the polls on Sunday at 11:59 PM EST, and I’ll announce the winner on Monday morning’s blog.  Comment away!  (Email subscribers, click here to get to the blog and register your potential winning comment.)

A panel on (gulp) How to Raise Money. And I’m on it!

The most popular question that I get emailed to me from readers is, “How do I raise money?” or its derivative, “How do I find investors?”

And unless your uncle invented the straw, you’ve probably found yourself wondering the same thing.

My uncle certainly didn’t invent the straw, or the even that thing that squeezes a tube of toothpaste to make sure you get out every drop.  So, I have to ask myself this ‘meaning-of-life’-type question just about every time I set out to raise money for one of Broadway or Off-Broadway shows.

So where do you find investors?

This Sunday, August 15th, at noon, The Off Broadway Alliance will host a panel that sets out to answer this very question entitled, “Off-Broadway Financials:  How to Raise Money and Where to Spend It.”  Panelists include Producer and GM, Jamie Cesa, Marketing Guru, Hugh Hysell, Producer and Legal Eagle, Bruce Lazarus and me!

The panel is free, but it does require you to RSVP.

So come to the panel, and together we’ll see if we can come up with some great ways for all of us to raise money for our shows.

And just like every panel you ever attend, you should come a little early and plan to stay a little late.  You’ll do some networking, and maybe you’ll even find someone who wants to invest in your show.

Oh, and if that’s not a good enough reason . . . there are donuts.

RSVP here, and I’ll see you on Sunday at noon.  If you come, make sure you say hello!

(Oh, and Uncle Barry?  I really don’t care that you didn’t invent anything.  You taught me how to play Monopoly, and I wouldn’t trade those days for the world.)

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UPDATE FROM KEN:  This panel is long gone, but if you’re still looking for information on how to find investors and raise money for your show, I’ve got the answers for your.  Click here for info on how to learn how to raise money for your show. 

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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