How can you tell a demographic is changing?

Times Square is one of the most coveted retail opportunities in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of people cross through the intersection of Broadway and 7th every single day, to sightsee, to buy tickets at TKTS, and, now, to shop.

But what kind of stores are popping out, now that we’ve lost Virgin Megastore and the Howard Johnson’s diner (remember that place?).

I’ve been watching the new vendors moving in very closely, because it’s going to give us an idea of the demo that is gonna be roaming through the block over the next several years.

If you stand in the middle of Times Square and spin around like a kid trying to get dizzy, this is what you’ll see:

Planet Hollywood
The Disney Store
Forever 21
Hard Rock Cafe
Bubba Gump
MTV Studios
American Eagle

And so on . . .

In other words?  Times Square is now a big, flashy mall.

And that means the mall demographic, including a heck of a lot of teens (and families), will be passing through our hallowed halls in numbers greater than ever before.

Which means that shows that appeal to that demo are going to have a much easier time finding their audience.

5 Things I learned from King Tut.

I fell prey to the ton of marketing being done for King Tut in Times Square last week, and headed on down to 43rd Street to check out what treasures the exhibitors had in store for me.

Although it may not seem like it, exhibits like King Tut are forms of live entertainment, shrouded in education.  These are multi-million dollar productions with big capitalizations, operating costs, and marketing challenges.  In other words, they have to be produced.

So, as I explored the life of King Tut, I also tried to find some gold coins of wisdom that I could apply to what we do.

Here are 5 things I learned from King Tut:

1.  It’s not the size of your pyramid.  It’s how you use it.

The priceless treasures of the Tut exhibit are currently sitting in . . . a basement.  The producers of the exhibit found a non-traditional venue, and with some smart designers, turned it into a theater fit for a king.  If you can’t find the perfect space for your show, make it.

2.  You can’t touch the mummy.  But you can wear his t-shirt.

Man, are these guys good at merch.  They get your photo taken on the way in and show it to you on the way out (I almost bought mine . . . they photoshopped pyramids behind me, for Pharaoh’s sake!).  Just like the theme parks!  And you can’t get out of the building without walking through their super-sized shop of Tut toys and trinkets.  Merch is a science, not a hobby.  It can help pay for your play. (Remind me to tell you about the time a Company Manager friend of mine paid his load-out crew on a flop with cash from the merch till.  When the cash ran out, the crew ran out.  Oh, wait, I guess I just told you about it.  You don’t have to remind me anymore.)

3.  Got your ticket?  Good, now, it’s just a couple more bucks for this.

During the check-out process, I got pitched a $5 add-on movie called Mummies.  And it was in 3D!  Just like Avatar!  What’s another $5, I thought, since I already dropped $40, and for something that sounded so cool!  In reality, it wasn’t that cool, but what did I know until I got there.  And, at only $5, there wasn’t much remorse.  Once you’ve got a customer on the hook, getting them to pay for just a little bit more isn’t too difficult, if you ask.  Tacking on an extra isn’t tacky, especially when it makes the entire experience better.

4.  Egyptians can wear funny hats too.

This is a monumental exhibit.  It’s educational.  It’s important.  And it also knows not to take itself too seriously, evident by the King Tut street team that’s been flyering Times Square wearing King Tut headdresses.  You can’t help but smile when you see one, and that’s not a bad thought to have when considering an entertainment option.  On top of that, the Tut mask is so well branded that the flyer guy can make the impression on the passerby even without handing them a flyer.  This street team strategy reminded me of the Princess Leia/Carrie Fisher team that brilliantly wore those bun-wigs while they were on the street promoting Wishful Drinking.  The best street teams think every day is Halloween.

5.  King Tut was a teen, and no one cared.

I get a lot of young folks emailing me saying that they are too young to produce, that they could never get a show up at their age.  Well, King Tut was 9 when he was crowned and 19 when he died.  In that time, he changed the entire Egyptian God structure (which had been set by his father), restored diplomatic relations with neighboring peoples, and married his half-sister.  Ok, ok, so he was born into some money.  I’m not saying you have to produce a pyramid, but age hasn’t nothing to do with what you do, unless you let it.

Advice from an Expert: Vol. XVII. My Mother The Theatergoer.

There’s always a lot of talk about the Tonys in the weeks that follow the big show.  What numbers were successful?  Could we give the plays more attention and still hold the audience’s attention?  And who fit Katie Holmes into her dress?

But the most important question for the Producers out there is . . . after watching the Tonys, what shows does the public want to see?

All of us in the industry debate this question like crazy.  But what do we know?  Most of us don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a family of four from the suburbs interested in seeing a show on their next long weekend.  In fact, I would wager that the people making the product in our industry and the people seeing the product are more different than in most industries out there.

But that doesn’t stop us from guessing.

I was in the middle of a heated discussion about my own guesses on what the public wanted to see last week, when I realized it was time to go to the source.  I decided to go to what most advertising agencies would describe as the model of a “traditional” theatergoer:  a suburban female in her 50s-60s who sees 3-5 shows per year, mostly musicals, and pays full price.

And that theatergoer is my momma.  And she’s literally been in my backyard this whole time!

I called Mom, who, of course, had tuned in to the Tonys, and asked her if she would write a mini-blog for me about her perspective on this year’s show.  Most specifically, I asked . . . “Mom, after watching the Tonys, what shows do you want to see the next time you are in town?”

Here’s what Mom had to say . . . [my comments are in brackets] “I watched the Tony Awards a few nights ago.  I love the excitement, costumes, music – even the speeches.  I often get ideas about what I’d like to see on our next NYC trip.  Before I tell you what shows captured my attention from the way they were presented at The Tonys, I thought you might find it interesting to get a few additional details about my perspective (and some of these Kenneth doesn’t even know).  [Yes, she, and about three other people on the planet, call me Kenneth.]

  • My first theater experience was 50 years ago when I saw Annie Get Your Gun.  When the stage curtain opened, revealing a real live horse . . . I was hooked!  [When people see things on stage that they don’t expect to see: kids, animals, helicopters, it elevates the experience.]
  • As a teenager, I was addicted to buying show albums, and also listening to show songs popularized by famous artists.  I loved those album covers and the summaries of the shows on the back (King and I, Mame, etc.)  [Oh, if only popular artists were covering our tunes today.]
  • I was a teen in the ’60s, which put me in the proper emotional state to grasp the power of music.  It brought people together, challenged their thinking and even caused them to take action (Hair, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar).  

And now, here are the shows that I wanted to see and the ones that didn’t interest me (there were many other shows that I had no opinion on – I’d have to learn more before putting them in the “to see” or “don’t see” category).  It’s important to remember that this is based solely on what I saw on the Tonys.  I might not see any of these shows, or I might see them all.  A lot of things may change my mind before I get to New York next, including what Kenneth thinks I might like to see or not.  [Good ol’ fashioned Word of Mouth trumps all, and I can’t believe she called me Kenneth twice in this blog.]

SHOWS I REALLY WANT TO SEE!

Memphis:  The music and the dancing were so exciting, this is at the top of my list.  (I have to admit that ‘Listen to the Beat’ sounded like Hairspray‘s ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat.’ but I loved the music and the dancing in that show, too!)  [Music, dancing . . . the keys to an audience-pleaser of a musical.]

Fela!:  I love the costumes, the music and the dancing.  The story (about using music to communicate) also seemed very interesting to me.  [See her comment about growing up in the ’60s.  What our audience lived through helped make them who they are today and influences what they want to see.]

Million Dollar Quartet:  Loved the music and the story idea and Levi Kreis’s performance.

Red:  I really liked the premise about the importance of art and what I saw of both Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne.  [Mom was disappointed to hear she wouldn’t get a chance to see this show because of its limited run.  I told her if she was disappointed, imagine how the Producers must feel.]

NAH, I’LL PASS

American Idiot:  To me, it seemed like a concert, and not a show.  I’ve heard about Green Day because my other son is in the music business, but I’ve never listened to any of their music before.  The music was interesting to me, but I’m not going to play it in my car anytime soon.

A Little Night Music:  I don’t know this show very well, so I can only base my thoughts on what I saw, but I wasn’t inspired.  I love ‘Send In The Clowns,’ but I didn’t learn anything else about the show through the performance.”
So there are Mom’s Tony Award Takeaways.

Now please remember, this is only one Mom’s opinion. And the opinions expressed here by my Mom are solely my Mom’s and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Moms everywhere or even me.

But she’s a Mom with a Mastercard, and she uses it to buy tickets.  So maybe we should listen to all of the Moms out there more than we listen to those of us on the inside of the business.

So . . . what did your Mom think?

[Update:  My mom came into the city this weekend unexpectedly.  Although she wanted to see Memphis, she ended up getting Chicago tickets instead (and special thanks to Michael at the Ambassador BO for helping her out).  Why?  “I thought your step-father would enjoy it more.”]
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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