Leading is not misleading.

In late November, the London production of the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption got busted for putting a quote on their marquee that said the following:

“A superbly gripping, genuinely uplifting drama.” – Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

Good quote, right?

Only one problem . . . the quote was referring to the FILM version of Shawshank, and the reviewer had gone on to say, “In almost every respect, the stage version is inferior to the movie.”

Ballsy move on behalf of the Producers, right?

I’m a big fan of pushing the envelope, especially when it comes to promotion.  On the first poster of The Awesome 80s Prom, we put a quote on the top that said, “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life!”  We listed the source as, “The Awesome 80s Movie, Dirty Dancing.

But there is such a thing as going too far, and this certainly qualifies.  David Merrick’s Subways stunt had a wink to it (and hopefully The Prom’s did too), which made them work.  The Shawshank stunt is just about pulling the wool over a customer’s eyes.

And it gives us all a bad name.

Although, I guess it did get the show some publicity.  And I am writing about it here, and I bet that a lot of you never even knew there was a stage version of Shawhank in London, so . . . dang it, they succeeded in some fashion.

However, this stunt looks like the prods could get in some legal trouble as well, and more importantly could cause bigger problems for the Producers that have much smarter and savvier ideas in the future.

And that makes this stunt just selfish.

Oh, and for a future blog?  Why the bollocks are Londoners fascinated with play versions of successful movies?  Rain Man, Shawshank, When Harry Met Sally, etc.?  Think the movie companies would ever allow those productions here?  I bet not (and I’m sorta happy about that), but I am oh so curious how one would sell.  Your thoughts?

People are talking about you behind your back. And now, you can listen.

Bad word of mouth is like a little forest fire.

Get enough bad word of mouth and those little fires will combine and be on your doorstep, smoking you out of house and theater, before you can say, “Smokey The Bear.”
Since so much word of mouth occurs online these days, there are several online “smoke detectors” that can help you monitor your word of mouth and online reputation.
And if you’re smart enough, you can actually throw some water on those fires, extinguishing them before it’s too late (insert scary fire music here).

Here are three “smoke detectors” you should be using to monitor what people are saying about your shows, and an example of how we’ve used them here in my office.

1.  The Google Alert
The Google Alert is the classic detector. Sign up, tell Google the word, phrase, etc. you’d like to track, and it will send you a daily email of all the web sites with that word, phrase, etc. in it.
Put in your show’s name (and any variation), your name, your theater’s name, whatever, and let Google do the work.  Or, put in the name of a competing show . . . he-he-he.
How have we used it?
We’ve used Google Alerts to find good reviews, both in the ‘traditional’ press and from the new media corps (bloggers).
But most recently, a Google Alert sounded an alarm about a a rogue and unauthorized production of The Awesome 80s Prom.  We were able to react swiftly and shut them down before any damage was done to the brand.  Thank God for Google, because we were about to enter into an agreement for The Prom in the same city!  That Google Alert saved that deal, without a doubt.

2.  Tweet, Tweet.

Thanks to Twitter, there’s a new type of online conversation going on now.  Luckily, there are ways to monitor it.  Twitter has a search function which pulls up recent activity on any word or phrase that you’re interested in.
Since tweeting doesn’t take much time or commitment, your brand is much more likely to appear all over Twitter than in more full length blogs or articles. Just click here to see all the recent random tweets about Altar Boyz!
In addition to the Twitter search function, there are a bunch of third party search applications like Monitter, etc. that are tracking the T-world. Here’s a blog that discusses a few.
How have we used it?
We find out who’s tweeting about us, then follow them with our Twitter and encourage those same peeps to follow us.  Presto.  We’ve now established one-on-one communication with someone we know has an interest in our brand, and are building a Twitter army.
3.  Manual Labor
This is the hardest and most time intensive but, regardless of all the auto-detectors out there, I still recommend having someone on your team doing walk-throughs of potential “danger areas.” There’s nothing better than a Forest Ranger sniffing around every once in a while.
Put someone on trolling the message boards on Talkin’ Broadway, BroadwayWorld, and BroadwaySpace.  Search the site pages for your title (use the “Find On This Page” option in your browser menu).
How have we used it?
In previews for 13, I used this detector to find similar comments of both praise and criticism.  If one person says something on a message board, it’s not as important.  But find 3 people saying the same thing, it deserves further thought (regardless of whether or not you agree).
The biggest of brands out there are all monitoring online activity.  Starbucks, Jet Blue, and so on.  And why shouldn’t they?
After all, it has been said that the greatest leaders are the greatest listeners.
It’s just time we listen with more than our ears.
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The Blogger Social is tonight!

What I learned from Hal Prince and Steven Spielberg.

I watched Schindler’s List again last night.

Schindler’s List is Mr. Spielberg’s most criticially acclaimed film.  It won a total of 7 Oscars, including one for his own personal mantlepiece and is #9 on The American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 films of all time.
And although I’ve never met Spielberg, I’d bet money that if he could be remembered for only one movie, Schindler’s List would be the one.
It’s the kind of piece so many artists want to make.
And Spielberg did it . . . when he was 47 years old, and after making movies for well over 20 years.
Seeing Schindler’s, and looking at Spielberg’s career, reminded me of some great advice Hal Prince gave me once.
I was fortunate enough to work on three of Hal’s shows (Show Boat, Candide and the workshop of Parade).  One day, I found myself in Hal’s office, telling him that while Company Management was a fantastic day job, and teaching me a ton, what I really wanted to do was produce.
And I wanted to produce the Great American Broadway Musical.
So I pitched Hal everything I had ever thought of for a show.  The biggest ideas you can imagine.  And in the middle of pitching something that I probably thought could have the musical significance of a Schindler’s List, Hal smartly shut me up . . . and he asked me if I remembered what the first show he produced was?
I couldn’t remember.  (Tip of the “Duh” – read important people’s biographies BEFORE meeting them one-on-one).
“It was Pajama Game,” Hal said.  “Don’t come out of the box trying to produce West Side Story.  That was my 4th show.  Be happy if you get the Pajama Game.  It ran for over two years, made a lot of people money and made a lot of people laugh.”
I’m sure the Pajama Game isn’t the one show Hal would want to be remembered for, just like I’m sure Jaws or Duel (or his real first . . . Amblin’) aren’t the movies Spielberg would choose.
The masterpieces for both of these gentlemen came later.  (Non-coincidental side note:  Spielberg named his production company, the one that produced Schnidler’s, after Amblin:  Amblin Entertainment).
As young artists we all want to change the world, and create the next great thing that will be remembered forever.  The truth is, we should just worry about creating the next thing . . . period.
I went home that afternoon after meeting with Hal and started working on The Awesome 80s Prom; a show that I had come up with the idea for about five years earlier, but never started because I didn’t wanted to be remembered for an interactive show that was about drinking, and dancing, and bachelorette parties.  It didn’t seem “important” enough to start.
Looking back?  Starting The “Unimportant” 80s Prom, was the most important thing I ever did in my entire life.
The masterpiece will come later.  🙂  As it will for all of you . . . once you get started.
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Only 1 Day until the 1st Theater Bloggers Social!
Thursday, April 23rd.
6 PM
Planet Hollywood
For more info and to RSVP, click here.

Favorite Quotes Volume XVI: An entrepreneur speaks about raising money.

My latest fav read as I wait (and wait) for the (over crowded) 1 train during rush hour is Entrepreneur magazine.

While Broadway and Off-Broadway theater Producers have a lot to learn from each other about the business of producing, we can learn even more about business in general from businessmen and women in other industries (too often we forget that we even are a business).

The truth is, every time we start a new show, we are opening a new “start-up” company, and many of our issues cross industry lines . . . including raising money.

In a recent issue of Entrepreneur, franchisee Jay Palmer of Floyd’s 99 barbershop, talked about his recent financing woes and his inability to get a loan.  So, he was forced to do what Producers do every day . . . appeal to a private investor.

We found a personal investor and brought him into
the shop. We gave him a shave and a haircut, [showing] him that the
concept is great and the experience is unbelievable–great music, great
vibe, great atmosphere. I wasn’t even there [when he visited the
store].  After all that, he was happy to write a check for
$150,000. He had some financial figures, but [it came down to] seeing a
stream of people coming in and out the door, knowing our customers and
our employees are happy, and realizing this is a good business.

Jay’s story once again proves that the most important P in the marketing mix is Product.

Numbers are essential.  But even the best financial plan or best recoupment schedule means bupkis unless the product is fantastic (you need fans to be fantastic) .  Think about it . . . it would be great if you could recoup your show in 3.5 weeks at 35%, and that certainly decreases the risk. But if your show is Bobbi Boland, then what good does that killer financial plan get you?

So what’s to learn from Jay the entrepreneur?

Create a great show.  Then get it up on its feet, in the most fully realized way possible (the money I raised for The Awesome 80s Prom was the easiest I ever raised – because the workshop WAS the show.)

Because if you build it, they will write the check.

Need more tips on how to raise money for your project?  Click here to read all my best practices.

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More fun from entrepreneur:  check out their list of best and worst marketing ideas ever.