WARNING to all underlying rights holders: Look at our history.

Last week, I talked about how we’re in what I call The Independent Theater Era on Broadway (and actually –  the embrace of Once On This Island by audiences and critics that I’m oh so grateful for, further proves the point).

It’s our audience’s current appetite for originality, as well as the history of our biggest hits, that have me a bit perplexed as of late when it comes to the demands I’m seeing from some underlying rights holders who have been approached about a musical adaptation of their work.

Let me back up.

In case you’ve never heard that term before, an “Underlying Rights Holder” is anyone who is in control of a property that is being adapted for (in our world) a theatrical treatment.  For example, the author of a novel, a movie company, the controller of a musical catalog, etc.

And when approaching one of these URHs, you cut deals for dollars, approvals, billing, etc.

Now, of course, the URH is in complete control and can, and should, ask for whatever he/she/it wants, especially if they could care less about a musical or play ever being made (Negotiating Tip! The best negotiators are the ones who don’t give a @#$% if the deal happens or not).

But if they do want a deal to happen, then they should take another look at the requests they’re making.

Because just look at some of the biggest hits of the last few years:

Dear Evan Hansen – based on an original story

Come From Away – based on history and interviews

Hamilton – yes, they did base this on a book, but there is an argument to be made that they didn’t have to . . . it’s a treatment of historical facts

And look at the longest running musicals of all time!

I count 50% of the musicals in this category that are either based on public domain material (Phantom, Les Miz) or on other unique source material (A Chorus Line, Disney’s movies – of which the subjects were public domain, and of course, the stage producer is the same as the movie producer, so there aren’t any URH roadblocks).

With a historical 50/50 shot at super-success with original or public domain material, and with the recent trend of what’s hot on Broadway, these URH (or more specifically, their lawyers) should tread lightly when asking for too much control if they want to participate in the current Broadway gold rush.

Because I’ve been hearing Producers grumble lately that adapting something not only costs more, but ties a creative noose around your neck (too many approvals, often from people who have never created a musical before), and it just takes a heck of a lot longer.

And as a result, more and more (including me) are just starting to walk away.

 

Are we in the Independent Theater Era on Broadway?

The mid to late 90s ushered in a new age of filmmaking.  It was the era of the “indie,” as movies outside the traditional studio model, many of which were lower budget, featured fewer stars and had more artsy themes, started to dominate the box office and the awards shows.

They were made for less but could gross just as much as a tentpole, making their profit margins higher while being more adventuresome than their big studio counterparts.

Many would say that it saved the art of filmmaking.

As I looked over the grosses for last week and thought about the shows on the boards, I couldn’t help but wonder (with a smile), are we at the onset of the Independent Era here on Broadway?

Just look at some of the shows that are crushing it . . .First, of course, we have Hamilton . . . a piece born entirely out of the brain of one individual.

But then we have the Best Musical winner, Dear Evan Hansen, doing $1.9mm, after its “star” left the building, and certainly not with typical Broadway subject matter.  Oh, and has anyone realized that there are only 8 people in that show?  They don’t even have enough for a 5-on-5 Basketball game, never mind a giant tap number.

Come From Away?  Yep.

And oh wait, what about this season’s The Band’s Visit, which just did $1.3mm!

Sure, sure, Disney is still crushing it, and the superstar-driven revivals will spit out their sliver of profit . . . but the real art AND commerce is in these independent shows.

You know what else about those shows I just mentioned above?  They are all produced by individuals, not by corporations (and I know all those people calling the shots on the shows . . . and they are strong, visionary, take-no-prisoners people who wouldn’t let a tank get in the way of what they want to do).

So yeah, we’re in the Independent Era. And it’s awesome.

You know what happened after the Independents started crushing it in Hollywood?  The big studios started to buy them out.

Could that happen here?

(Speaking of the Independent Era – subscribe to the blog here to make sure you get next week’s write-up delivered straight to your inbox – because I’ve got a warning for those who may have gotten too big for their britches.)

 

Broadway Grosses w/e 11/26/2017: Give Thanks for Thanksgiving.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending November 26, 2017.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Podcast Episode 140 – Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director, Mark Hoebee

WARNING:  The story that Mark Hoebee tells on this podcast will make you sweat.

It’s about when Paper Mill Playhouse, which costs well over $10 million to run every year, had only $6k left in the bank.

Ugh.  My stomach did a backflip just typing that.

And it was just about then that Mark took over the wheel as the captain of the ship.  Imagine being promoted to take over the Titanic after you hit the iceberg!  Who wants that job?!?

Well, Mark looked at that iceberg in the rear-view mirror and trudged forward.  And thanks to him and the good people of the Paper Mill community, Paper Mill turned it around, won a Tony Award, and has put multiple shows on Broadway with a bunch more circling the runway.

Tune in to this week’s podcast to hear what it’s like to run one of the most powerful regional theaters within kick-ball-change distance of Broadway as well as . . .

  • What Broadway had to do with the Paper Mill’s recession.
  • How he looked at himself as an audience member, not an Artistic Director, in order to program his seasons.
  • Working with commercial producers on out-of-town tryouts.
  • Why Cameron Mackintosh started stumping for Paper Mill.
  • The difference between the relationship with the consumer on Broadway versus the consumer at a Regional Theater, and how we can learn from each other.

Musicals are becoming more dependent on regional theaters to help launch our shows.  Listen in to hear why Paper Mill, under Mark’s leadership, has become such a wonderful launching pad for new shows . . . maybe even yours.

Click here for the link to my podcast with Mark!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

 

25 Years of Things I’m Thankful for on Broadway this Thanksgiving

I’m coming up on my 25th anniversary of working on Broadway.  Yep, in just a few weeks, I’ll be celebrating the date of “the call” I got from a mentor recommending me for a Production Assistant position for the Broadway run of My Fair Lady.  It was the best Xmas present I’ve ever received.

A lot has changed on Broadway over the past twenty-five years.  And while, yeah, a lot still needs to change (which is one of the reasons I started this blog), I thought I’d take a blog on this gobble-gobble day to remind us all that many things have changed for the better, which means things can and will change even more as we head into the next twenty-five years of all of our careers.

So, here are ten things I’m thankful for on Broadway this ThanKSgiving that weren’t always the case . . .

1. You can pick your seat!

When I first starting buying tickets to Broadways shows, the only thing you could choose was the section you wanted to sit in (orch, mezz, balcony).  Imagine how disappointed 17-year-old me was when I got to City of Angels after it won the Tony and I was much further back than I hoped.  🙁  I swear I didn’t enjoy the show as much because of that.  Now?  We’ve got seat maps, and some ticketing companies offer you “views from your seat” perspective.

2. The TKTS booth was remodeled!

I’m sure it was cutting edge when it opened, but the old TKTS design always looked like dorm furniture to me.  Now, the beautiful design is a tourist destination.  People are drawn to the booth just to sit on the steps (and the more people near our storefronts the better).  And, the renovations went on inside the “trailer” as well . . . you can pay by credit card now!

3. The America Musical has returned!

When I first got here, we were still in the midst of the British invasion.  Now, I loved those poperettas . . . and still do.  But it has been great to see us take back one of the few purely American art forms for ourselves with shows like Rent, Hamilton, Book of Mormon and more.

4. Disney became an audience developer!

Beauty and the Beast on Broadway was an experiment twenty-five years ago.  And, not only did that experiment work and breed many more successful Broadway productions, but Disney created a whole new generation of theatergoers in the process.  The boom we’re having today?  It’s partly because of the seed that The Mouse House planted twenty-five years ago.

5. Crowdfunding is a thing!While The Jobs Act may still not be wildly used for Broadway or Off Broadway shows, Kickstarter, Indiegogo and more have given struggling artists a platform to get their art off the ground.  Because, like it or not, to make stuff, you need money.  Now there’s an easier way to collect it (although you still have to convince people to give it to you!).

6. Cheaper tickets are more accessible!

I know theater tickets are expensive.  But not ALL of them are expensive.  8th row center of Hamilton is expensive.  But most shows have lesser priced options nowadays . . . maybe in the back of the house, or at least through a lottery.  And discounts can be found just a few clicks away instead of having to find a coupon.  Consumers today have more ways to find more economic ways to see theater than we had decades ago.

7. You can find out if your advertising is working!

In the old days, all that we had was “spray and pray” advertising.  Big print ads, big TV buys, etc.  You bought them, crossed your everythings, and hoped to G-D that sales increased.  But you had no real way to know if what you did was actually working.  Now, with digital advertising you can not only target audiences who you KNOW want to see your show, but you can also ignore audiences that you know do NOT want to see your show . . . and you can find out exactly how much each initiative sold!  We’re smarter marketers now than we were then.

8. Unions are more flexible than they were.

Just like it’s easy to say ticket prices are too high, it’s easy to blame the unions for expenses being too high.  But over the past few decades, I’ve found the unions to be understanding of changing technology (reduction of minimums in orchestras at theaters), changing marketing channels (the new media rule), and the challenges of producing on Broadway in the 21st century.  Remember, their job isn’t to make our jobs easier.  Their jobs is to protect their members.  And I’ve found more of an understanding that the success of a Producer means success for everyone in that production than ever before.   (Oh, and it’s not like the success rate has changed in either direction over the past 25 years – it’s still only one of five shows that recoup.)

9. Broadway is an international brand.

There are Broadway shows in every corner of the globe now.  From Australia to across Asia to South Africa to Argentina.  We weren’t anywhere near the global entertainment superpower that we are today way back when.  And the more theater there is in the world, the better our business and art is tomorrow.  We’re like soccer . . . all of a sudden, we’re everywhere and everyone wants to be a part of us.

10. We’re back in the movies and on TV!

Hairspray, Chicago, Rent, Phantom, Evita, are just a few of the films that have been released over the past twenty-five years that not only did well at the Box Office, but also goosed the box offices of the running shows here!  And then came the live telecasts of shows like Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and Grease on major TV networks.  And HBO has taped a few.  And BroadwayHD was born.  Just like Disney created a new audience a couple of decades ago, the telecasts and movies are creating another one right now.

So see?  Things aren’t so bad.  I know it can get frustrating thinking about all the things wrong with Broadway, but a lot of things have gone right and will continue to do so as long as we have passionate people like you who read this blog and go out and help make that change happen.

Oh, and that brings me to  . . .

11. You.

I didn’t know all of you twenty-five years ago (some of you might not have been born).  But I’m so thankful that I’ve come to connect with so many of you online and offline.  Thanks for reading.

And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

 

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