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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What is the success rate of movies-to-musicals anyway?

I’m going to admit it.

Not only do I read Michael Riedel’s twice-a-week Broadway gossip column in the NY Post, but I actually enjoy his stuff . . . even when he’s cracking on one of my shows, and he certainly has.  Deep down the guy loves theater, like all of us, and frankly, some of his columns have been a lot more enjoyable to read than a whole bunch of shows I’ve seen over the years.

In last week’s column, Michael wrote something that made me want to dig a bit deeper.  While slamming Sister Act before it has even gotten to our shores, he said . . .

This is yet another one of those screen retreads that, with few exceptions (“Hairspray,” “The Producers”), have been draining the joy out of musical comedy.

When I read it, I nodded in agreement.  I think all of us feel that movies-turned-musicals are a more miss than hit business, right?

But let’s go to the numbers.

By my count, I’ve got 21 movie-to-musicals in the last 10 years.

And I’m also counting that 7 of them made money.

That’s a 1 in 3 recoupment ratio, which easily trumps the anecdotal average of 1 in 5 that we all quote.

Not so bad, right?  All of a sudden a whole bunch of you when straight to your Netflix account to see what you could turn into a musical, didn’t you?

Well, it gets better.

When you look at the number of those shows that might not have recouped on Broadway, but ran over a year (thus increasing potential subsidiary life, etc.), the number jumps to 14 out of 21.

Now Michael wasn’t talking commercial success . . . he was talking about his own definition of joy.  And, frankly, I know exactly what he’s talking about.

But from an investor’s perspective (and an audience’s as well, since longer running shows means more folks are seeing them), there has been more joy than we may want to admit.

Finish this sentence, kids. “Music is . . . “

I play basketball in a league that uses public high school gyms all over the city.

Normally, the only thing I notice is how crappy the condition of each school is. (How can a gym not have a working water fountain?)

Last week, I noticed a 2nd grade art exhibit on the walls called “Music Is . . .” The teacher obviously asked the kids to draw a picture finishing that sentence.

Here are a couple of the drawings:

Photo2

Photo3

What you’d expect, right?  Music is expressive, sweet, coolio, etc.

Here’s another one . . . and I think you’ll see why this one jumped off the wall and practically punched me in the face.

Photo

Music is . . . LimeWire.

Now there’s something I’d bet not one of us would have answered when we were in school.

For those of you who don’t know what LimeWire is . . . it’s online peer-to-peer sharing software that allows users all over the world to trade music, movies, etc. It’s the type of service that has gotten the record and movie industries all wired up over the past decade.

And now, this is what some kids think “Music is . . . ”

That begs the question . . . What is this kid going to expect from his entertainment when he is 20 . . . 30 . . . 40?

I’m not sure, but you can bet he’s not going to expect to pay a lot for it . . . unless it’s truly exceptional.

Music, movies, theater . . . they aren’t going anywhere.  But people are going to expect a lot more from their entertainment than ever before.

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When I went to my fifth gym that didn’t have a working water fountain, the NYC public schools went on my list of charities that I support.  Seems odd to support a government-run institution, I know . . . but we could yell and scream about how our government doesn’t do enough . . . and the kids will continue to suffer while we’re yelling and screaming, or we could just do something about it.

If you want to help NYC public schools, click here.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just have to spin it.

Last week, the Hair Spin Team aka Press Department taught us all a lesson in how to get attention for our shows.

Hair announced that they were having an open call audition for future replacements in the show. They didn’t care if you were from Washington, DC or Akron, Ohio.  They didn’t care if you were repped by William Morris or your Uncle William. They were going to give you the chance to audition for a place in the tribe.

The story got picked up by the New York Times and Gawker.

You know what’s amazing about this story?

It’s not that amazing.

Shows, movies, reality TV shows and more have been doing open call audition stunts for years. It certainly didn’t take a professor in public relations to come up with this story.

But what it did take was the astute realization that sometimes you don’t have to create the most outrageous story to get coverage.  Sometimes you don’t need to break world records, or create custom menu items, or even let virgins get in free.

Sometimes, to get good press, you just have to give people an honest and simple story that taps into your audience’s hearts and minds.

Now that I think about, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing on the stage as well?

(What’s cool about the Hair story is that there’s a built in follow-up feature on any kid that actually gets cast from that call.)

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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