The Trends of Ten Years of New York Times Broadway Reviews. An infographic.

What’s cool about creating stuff, is that sometimes you make something for one specific purpose . . . and then you find it has a whole other purpose later on.

It happens in the pharmaceutical industry all the time.  Did you know Viagra was originally made to treat hypertension?  Imagine the surprise when they conducted those clinical trials!

This phenomenon just happened to me.  And I think you’re going to get as excited as those Viagra patients when you see the results.

Here’s what happened:

About five years ago, I started the Broadway review website DidHeLikeIt.com because I wanted to be the first to know whether the New York Times liked a show or not, without actually reading the review.  So we created this fun thumbs-up/thumbs-down guide and started emailing our subscribers a new review the moment a new show opened.  This site was an instant hit, got a ton of subscribers, and we recently released an app!

And a few weeks ago, after five years of running the site, and after filling out our archives to go further back, I realized that I was sitting on the largest bank of New York Times review data on the web (other than the Times themselves), and my data was also cataloged in a way (positive review, negative review, mixed review) that could be quantified.

Yeah, you see where I’m going, don’t you?

My mind instantly started spinning when I realized what I was sitting on!  Just think about the kind of things we could learn from analyzing that data.  You know, things like . . .

  • Everyone thinks the New York Times hates everything.  But what percentage of Broadway shows get positive reviews versus negative reviews?
  • Are the critics getting tougher over time, or are they more forgiving?
  • Do reviews affect recoupment?
  • Who gets better reviews . . . Sondheim or Mamet?
  • Are there theaters that get more positive reviews than other theaters?
  • If I’m producing a revival of a play, which critic is more likely to give it a positive review, Ben Brantley or Charles Isherwood?

So I put my infographic creatin’ assistant, Dylan, on counting up all the positive, negative and mixed reviews over the last ten years and putting it in an infographic, which I’ve pasted below, sponsored by DidHeLikeIt.com.

Ok, ok, I’m going to shut up now because I know you want to get to that data.  I’ll admit, it’s pretty hot.

Enjoy the infographic . . . share it and tweet it.  You know the drill.  Because the more people that read it, the better our industry will be.

Did They Like It- (2)

 

 

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Are we experiencing another British invasion?

I don’t know about you, but it feels like everywhere I look this Broadway season, someone is talking with a British accent.

We’ve got Curious Incident and Queen Elizabeth and that two-parter Wolf Hall to name just a few of the tea and crumpet crews that have landed on our shores this year.

So is it just me, or are the British really coming, and coming, and coming?

As much as I like to go with my gut, I like to go with the data even more, so I put my trusty assistant Dylan on the task of sorting through the last 20 years of new Broadway productions to see what the stats revealed.  (Since Dylan got a mention in the NY Post when she did some research for me on Broadway Investing, she was more than happy to dig into the archives – that and the fact that she works for me, so she kinda has to.)

We’ve prepared three graphs based on what we learned, which are below.  They are:

  • The total percent of new UK imports on Broadway over the past 20 years
  • The percent of new UK play imports over the last 20 years
  • The percent of new UK musical imports over the last 20 years

Before you go peeking at the graphs . . . pull out a piece of paper.  Come on, you know what paper looks like, don’t you?  Now, write down your guess for what each of the above %s will be.  Go on.  And then next to each percentage, draw an arrow.  Up, down, or flat.  Guess what the trend will be.

Got it?

Good.

Now let’s see if you were right.  Here are the three graphs.

 

all shows

plays

musicals

 

How’d you do?

Now how did I do?

Well, I was was right.  Sort of.  It is feelin’ blimey this year, because we haven’t had this many imports since 2007.  But it’s not so bollocks as it was in 1998 when almost 1/4 of the new shows on Broadway were from across the pond.

I’m definitely going to rerun this graph again next year.  Because, frankly, I’m concerned, and I’ll go out on a tree branch and predict that next year we will see more British imports than we’ve seen in the last two decades.

Why would that concern me?  After all, great theater is great theater, no matter where it comes from, right?

Well, it’s hard to keep our status as the theater capital of the world if more and more shows don’t start here.

And, more importantly, with the current theater crunch, more British imports mean less American writers get their shows on.

I’m really not an anti-British guy, by the way.   I love it there, and so much of their work is outstanding.  I just want to make sure our guys get their shots too.

Tune in next year, same time, same blog, to see if my prediction comes true.

 

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Why theater owners should produce more . . . again.

Back in the day, the theater owners were some of the most prolific Producers on Broadway.  They produced in part by necessity . . . if their theaters were dark and they needed a booking, they just produced a show to fill the slot.

But as theater became more expensive, and therefore more risky, and as more and more Producers raised their hands and said, “I wanna be a Producer,” the theater owners backed off and said, “Be our guest.”

But the recent announcement of theater owner Jordan Roth’s upcoming revival of Falsettos reminded me that they should all start producing again with the same frequency that they did decades ago.

Why?

I hear that one of the mission statements of current Broadway leadership is to try and control costs, after watching them climb year after year.  Plays now cost $4mm.  Musicals cost $15mm.

And their thought (and mine) is that they don’t need to.

But it’s hard keeping those costs in line.  I’ve seen a huge shift in power over the last few years to agents and vendors, as Producers get more desperate to get their shows up.  I’ve walked away from a bunch of people and projects instead of agreeing to something that would simply be a bad deal for the show, and therefore a bad bit of producing.

And while it was the right decision . . . it left me without a show to produce.  And when that’s what you want to do, it’s hard not to just capitulate.  We’re too emotional.

You know who has more power than the actors and agents and all the vendors combined?

The theater owners.  It’s harder for an agent to say no to them.  It’s harder for an actor to walk away from them.

Which is why I’d like to see them produce a heck of a lot more.

Controlling costs requires leverage.  They’ve got it, now and forever.  And it’s time they use it.  Again.

 

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Podcast Episode #4 – Tony Award winning playwright Terrence McNally explains it all.

I first met Terrence McNally when I was the Associate Company Manager on Ragtime, although I felt like I had known him for years before.  There’s just something about his work . . . the characters, the language, the intimacy, the comedy infused with the tragedy . . . that feels like a friend who holds your hand and says, “Come, I want to show you something . . . and you won’t be the same after you see it.”

Since then I’ve been honored to produce two McNally works; last season’s Mothers and Sons and this season’s big fat Broadway hit, It’s Only A Play.

And what was even a bigger honor was when Terrence accepted my invitation to be my fourth guest on my Producer’s Perspective podcast.  And oh, what an interview it was.  Terrence is celebrating his 50th year on Broadway, and you can bet he learned a lot of what to do and what not to do along the way.  And he shared some of that with me, so I can share it with you.  In addition, hear him talk about . . .

  • How he spent his first night in New York City (I’ll give you a hint – he saw a show)
  • The difference between writing a play and a musical
  • How new playwrights can get discovered

. . . and so many more pearls, he’d make an oyster jealous.

So listen in, my friends, whether you’re a writer or not, Terrence has a lot he can teach us all.

Listen on the blog.

Listen on iTunes.

Download it here.

Read the transcript here.
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Why a book writer is called a book writer and not . . .

I’m going to tickle your toes with a little tease right now . . .

I just recorded Episode #4 of my Podcast with the living legend that is Terrence McNally, and when it hits the web-waves in a couple of weeks, make sure you tune in, because does he drop some advice bombs that will blow your mind.

One of the subjects I dove into with Terrence got into the subject of writing plays versus writing musicals, since he’s a master of both forms.  He gave me a couple of great takeaways that you’ll have to wait until the 26th to hear (tease, tease, tickle, tickle), but a few of them resonated right into a conversation I overheard at a show the other day, which sharpened my own thoughts on the matter, so I had to share.

Here’s what went down.

“What did you think of XXXXX The Musical?

“Eh.”

“There were some really funny lines though.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t know why I didn’t like it.”

“I’m hungry.  Let’s get a steak.”

Too often people think snappy, witty, funny, shocking, fancy-word-filled dialogue is what bookwriting is all about.

Bookwriting is not about dialogue.

Remember, they call it a Book.  They don’t call it a A Collection of Dialogue Spoken By Characters.

No, it’s a book.  Now think about what a book is – and not a new age kindley book.  I’m talking a good ol’ fashioned hardcover book.  A book has some weight.  It has a spine.  That spine gives it structure.  That structure supports high quality, thick paper . . . on which sentences are drizzled.

The dialogue is the least important part, and, I’d argue, the easiest.

So if you’re a bookwriter, don’t get all excited if you write a line that makes people cry or makes people laugh.  Get excited when your entire show does that.  Because that’s when you’ve done your job.

And if you like this blog, just wait until you hear what Terrence has to say.  Subscribe to the podcast!

 

 

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