How To Build Your Brand For Your Next Show If You Don’t Have One.

When you open a show on Broadway, a pre-existing brand is important and essential.

Because when faced with a high-priced decision in a competitive market, a consumer will always, ALWAYS choose what they are more familiar with.

End of play.

(BIG DISCLAIMER:  a brand helps you build an advance, and gives you a head start against your competition, but it doesn’t guarantee success.  If your show doesn’t generate enough word of mouth to sell enough tickets to meet your weekly expenses, no brand, no matter how big, will survive.)

So, to mitigate your risk, you should either choose projects that have a pre-existing brand or, and here’s the much more CREATIVE APPROACH, develop that brand for your project before you open.

There are many ways to do this.

The easiest, of course, is to adapt something with a powerhouse brand that exists already.  (Think Harry PotterMean Girls, my own Neil Diamond musical, etc.)

But don’t think that’s the only way to get your show to Broadway or build an advance.

The brand could be in your creative team.  (Think Kinky Boots with Cindy Lauper or Last Ship with Sting – a perfect example of a show that built a huge advance but wasn’t something the public was interested in after the advance played off and Sting left.)

The brand could be a social media army that you build (Think Be More Chill . . . or even Ratatouille.)

The brand could be the reviews and buzz from your one, two, or three out-of-town tryouts (Think Dear Evan HansenCome From Away, etc.)

The brand could be the star or stars.  (Think Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last.)

The brand could be The Producer (Think Oprah Winfrey with The Color Purple – and notice how they stacked Oprah’s brand on top of the brand of the pre-existing material – a powerhouse parlay strategy!).

The brand can be anything you want it to be.

But there must be something?

Why?

The most important weeks of a Broadway shows lifecycle are the first few . . .  both creatively and financially.  Most new shows lose money.  The key is to minimize those losses.

A brand of any kind can do that.  How much depends on how big the brand is.

So ask yourself today . . . what does my show have that can attract an audience apart from the show itself?

If you can’t answer that . . . start building its brand today.  Because it’s never too early.  And there will definitely be “a too late.”

And if you need help identifying what yours should be . . . shoot me an email . . . I can point you in the right direction.

A mentor just said THIS to me.

This one is a quickie, but I had to pass it on, because the words kind of punched me in the face.

In a good way.

I got off the phone with a mentor of mine just a little bit ago.  This is someone I call every so often for advice about the business of Broadway, on business in general (he has given me some great stock tips), and even on fatherhood.

So I called to him to ask those questions that we’re all asking right now . . . when will Broadway come back after the pandemic?  What will the business look like?  Will my prediction be right?

In other words . . . “What should I do???”

His words?  Let me quote him:

“Ken, I have two words for you . . . ready?”

“YES, please,” I pleaded.

“BE BOLD.”

Then we hung up.

I didn’t do anything for about ten minutes.

Then I started.

I hope you’ll join me.  Because this is how we make a better Broadway and a better life for others and for ourselves.

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If you want to see a video I made of this story, click here.

 

Who I turned to when I wanted to learn this. (And how you can too.)

Last summer, in the midst of my Pandemic Productivity Phase (the other “PPP”), I vowed to finish an idea I had years ago.

And it wasn’t a show.  It was a screenplay.

I optioned the rights to a true-life story and sat down to start writing.

I have written and produced for TV and film before, just on a much smaller scale than Broadway. I actually won a screenwriting award for a pilot I wrote years ago and directed and produced an award-winning documentary and an award-winning web series.

 But a full-length screenplay?  That was new to me.

It wasn’t too long after typing the title page . . . that I realized I needed help.

And who doesn’t need help when you start something new?  Especially when you want to compete at a high level.  Olympic athletes have 27 different kinds of coaches.  Our own Broadway performers train for decades to learn to sing and dance at the highest level.

But for some reason, many people think writing is au naturel or nothing.

Not me.

That’s why I immediately drown myself in studying screenplays. From Syd Field’s classic Screenplay to the obligatory Save The Cat to Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass and more.

And they were all good.  And they all helped.

But one stood out.

And I shouldn’t have been surprised, since it’s one of the Best Selling book on Screenwriting on Amazon.com.

Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell Technique

Her book broke out the structure of the screenplay so simply, that . . . well . . . I had to meet her.

 I booked private coaching with her, told her about my story and what I wanted to do . . . and bam . . . she made my story better in about 30 minutes.

That’s when I knew YOU had to meet her.

So, in partnership with TheTheaterMakersStudio, I booked Jill for an exclusive private presentation just for you.

Jill herself will be teaching a virtual seminar on “The Nutshell Technique For Your Screenplay (Or Your Show!)” on Wednesday, March 10th at 7 PM.

You can sign up here.

In two hours, Jill is going to break down her best-selling beat-sheet for successful screenplays.  You’ll leave the Zoom Room with a map on how to tell your story.  If your screenplay is done . . . you’ll see where the weak points are that you need to bolster.

 But after my time with Jill, I can guarantee you this . . . your story will be better.  (And you’ll also be jazzed to get to work on it – because so much of how to shape these things will make so much more sense.)

And yeah, in case you’re wondering because a story is a story, The Nutshell Technique works for shows too.  (I already made three changes to a musical I’m working on as a result of my time with Jill.)

Book the seminar here.

Why we are going to need more NEW musicals when the Pandemic is over.

If theater was the stock market, I’d sell revivals short.

I know I run the risk of getting a Reddit-like backlash for this blog, but, revivals are becoming more and more a thing of the past.

Literally.

Their business model was challenged before the pandemic.  The recoupment rate for revivals of musicals was LESS than the recoupment rate for new musicals.  (See the full write-up and stats on that truth-bomb here.)

And as a business mentor of mine said to me last March, “If your business was in trouble before the pandemic, it’s going to be even more challenging after.”

It was those words that made me cut bait on two side-businesses of mine . . . and I’m so thankful I did. 

I know that from personal experience that revivals have had a tough go of it recently, having lead produced three. And none of them recouped, by the way, including two that got raves and one that won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

And now . . . after what we’ve gone through in the last year . . . they are going to be even harder to make work.

Because in one year, many of these shows have aged TEN.  Their attitudes towards racial equality, gender equality, etc, are not only out-of-touch . . . but now many of them will be uncomfortable to watch.

Which means they either won’t get done . . . or they’ll have to be re-envisioned.  (And Michael Arden can only do so many per year!)   I guess a 3rd option is that they’ll require such massive stars that the audience won’t even care what the show is.  But how long will that last?  And will the stars want to do them?

So if you’re interested in producing, investing, or performing in a revival (of a musical, especially), understand that the risks have gone up.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be brilliant ones.  But they are going to be harder to find.

 The upside?  Because there’s always an upside . . .

Theaters are going to need NEW musicals more than ever before to fill the holes left by the retired revivals.

And that’s where you come in.

If you’re a writer of new musicals, keep on writing, because the renaissance is coming.

Yep, I’m selling revivals short and issuing a STRONG BUY alert for new musicals and new musicals writers.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the structure of classics and how you can use that to create something NEW, I recommend Jack Viertel’s masterclass here.

Hit The “Pandemic Wall”? You’re not alone.

A great writer reads your mind.

They articulate something you’ve been thinking.  But haven’t put it into works.  Or even admitted to yourself.

(One of the reasons for Dear Evan Hansen‘s success is because Benj Pasek, Justin Paul & Steven Levinson put issues on stage that parents and kids were thinking about.  But not talking about.  Hence all those tears of release at the end.)  

This article, called “The pandemic wall is here,” by Maura Judkis in the Washington Post, read mine.

 

If you read #mymorningwhiteboardquotes or heard me speak at our summit (or anywhere), you’d guess that I’m a pretty positive person.  It’s true.  I am.  

I haven’t always been that way, though.  Took a lot of exercise, training, and constant evaluation and coaching to “always look on the bright side of life.”  (Insert Spamalot whistle here.)

If that sounds like staying positive is like an athlete for an Olympic event, it isn’t.  It’s harder.

 

Especially in the last 12 months.  And especially if you’re a TheaterMaker, like all of us.

So, yeah, I know the Pandemic Wall of which Maura speaks.  It’s that feeling that started up in January and has crept into February.  That . . . “Isn’t this over yet?  Wait – variants?  Wait – slower rollout than expected?  Wait – you still have to mask after you get vaccinated?  Wait – Broadway STILL doesn’t have a set start date?”

 

And that’s when you hit the wall.

 

And you want to move to Palm Springs, CA, and get a gig as a golf caddy. 

And eat pizza, binge watch reality TV from the 90s, and think . . . “What I wouldn’t give to go back to 1997.”

I write this to you today because I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve been up against this wall lately.

 

I keep banging on it, of course.  Because that’s what I do.  And honestly?  That’s probably not the best thing to do.  Because this wall is @#$%ing thick.  And swinging your hammer as hard as you can against something as almost impenetrable as this . . . you run the risk of injuring yourself.  

And then you won’t be ready when that wall comes down on its own.  And it will.  It effin’ will.

So, my friends, this is my full disclosure blog to you to say, I ain’t all whiteboard quotes and sweet and silly shots of my daughter.

 

This has been one of the hardest times of my life.  And more recently, when it should be a little easier because we KNOW that there is an end in sight, it has somehow gotten even harder.

If you’re feeling like you hit the wall . . . you’re not alone.

 

We can’t just give up though.  Life as a golf caddy ain’t gonna make you happy.  (My therapist told me that last week – without telling me that – because that’s not what they do.)

 

So here’s what I’m doing about the wall I run into.

 

Stop. Acknowledge the wall.  See it.  Feel it.  Touch it.  It’s real.

 

Rest.  Recover.

When you’re ready . . . do not try to go through it.

Because we will NOT get through this.

But we will get around it . . . if we take care of ourselves and each other.

 

Ok.  Just saying that made the wall look even smaller.  And . . . huh . . .will you look at that . . . I just got a very interesting idea for something I can do right now to make sure I’m better off than when this thing started.  

 

Thanks for listening.

 

Read The Pandemic Wall article here

 

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If you’re struggling for any reason during this time, I urge you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish) or the Lifeline Crisis Chat.

 

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