They showed me statistics and I slowed down.

I was doing about 70 MPH down the West Side Highway last week when I heard a public service announcement commercial on the radio about the New York City speed limit of . . . 30 MPH.

“Yeah, right,” I thought. Who goes 30 in the city?  The guys pushing their carts of fake Louis Vuitton bags probably get up to 35 MPH easy.

The ad continued, “It’s 30 for a reason.”

Ok, you’ve got my attention. Give it to me, NYC DOT.

“Hit someone at 40, there’s a 70% chance they’ll die.  Hit someone at 30, there’s an 80% chance they’ll live.  That’s why it’s 30.”

I put my foot on the brake immediately.

Why?

Because I, ignorantly, had always thought speed limits were arbitrary.  Just made up numbers designed to keep us all under a bit more control.

But no, there was a reason.  A reason, backed up by facts and figures that I certainly couldn’t argue with, and I’m not sure many people could.  And something I will never forget.

What does this have to do with what we do?

We work in a complicated industry with a lot of very passionate people on both sides of every negotiation.  Too often, “drama” gets in the way of swift, practical resolutions.

The quickest way to a mutual agreement is to help the other side understand why things are a certain way, and explain to them the statistical reasons behind it . . . not yell and scream and call them names.

Because the best result of a negotiation is when both sides win.

A TV version of the commercial I heard is below, which, coincidentally, has a Broadway theme.

 

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Overheard at Angus: Volume VII

I eavesdropped on a couple of veteran producers the other day, one of whom was obviously in negotiations over a theater for an upcoming show.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Veteran #1:  I’m thinking of letting the audience drink during the show like they do at Rock of Ages.

Veteran #2:  Why not? Everyone’s doing it.  I bought my wife a sippy cup full of wine at Jersey Boys just last month. Boy are those theaters making more in bar revenue than ever before. The wine was 11 dollars!

Veteran #1:  11 dollars?

Veteran #2:  Yeah.  I had to ask them if it included a facility fee.

This conversation was funnier in person (partly because of the awesome pair of tweed pants Veteran #2 was wearing), but it also made me remember one of the downsides to capitalism in industries with challenging models.

The facility fee was tossed on top of ticket prices years ago to defray the costs of renovation, upkeep, etc. of these historic buildings.  It was getting more expensive to keep them in shape, so the theaters needed another revenue stream to offset some of the costs.

Now, at some shows, bar revenues are sky-high as drinking in your seats is encouraged.  I’d bet there is some serious found money being counted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this economic windfall was passed back to the consumer by eliminating the facility fee?

Or what about upping the price of the sippy cups by .50, as a drink tax (like a cigarette tax), and putting that towards the theater renovations, etc, making it an optional expense?

Doubt it’ll happen.  Once an income line hits your books, it’s hard to get it to disappear, even if 10 other lines follow it.

And that’s too bad . . . because the lines at our box office may suffer because of it.

The word is . . . transparency.

We’ve all heard the word “transparency” spoken by our politicians so many times over the last couple of years, that you’d think our primary export in the U.S. was Saran Wrap.

Although the word is a bit overused at this point, I can’t help but want to borrow it for our industry.

Just like the government got a little bloated over the past few years, so have we.  We were a bit more flush in the 90s than we are now.  It’s always been difficult to produce (and it always will be), but it was certainly easier in decades past.  And as Producers we need to act like our current politicians and try and slim ourselves down, which means we need to ask the appropriate questions and push our vendors, service providers, unions, etc. to get rid of their pork.

How do we do it?  The word is . . . transparency.

To be honest, I don’t blame some of the unions and service providers for some of the expenses we’re charged, no matter how little sense they make.  Why?

Study your producing history and you’ll get it.

A lot of folks got screwed back in the days of the birth of Broadway by guys in top hats who skipped town, abused actors, etc.  We’re still a relatively young industry and I believe that a lot of the adversarial tension (and unfortunate precedents) in some of our current relationships has to do with leftover baggage from some of my producing predecessors back in the early EARLY days who . . . well . . . blew it.  Read that Merrick biography.  As much as I admire so much of what he did, and his passion for this biz, he left so many bad tastes in people’s mouths, I can’t believe any of his partners even stayed in the biz.

How do we overcome some of this dysfunction?

Transparency.

Producing isn’t what it used to be.  And the more Producers are open and honest about our business dealings, and the more we are willing to open up some of our business practices for our partners to see (so that they can understand what we deal with on a day-to-day basis), the more we’ll be able to heal some of those fifty-year-old wounds.   Some of the best negotiations I’ve had were times I’ve said, “Here.  Look at the numbers.  You tell me what you would do with these economics.”

We can’t just sit around and say everyone is against us.

We have to accept the fact that we may have been responsible for some of this ourselves.

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