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Archive for April, 2009

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According to Variety last week, tourists helped boost Broadway sales and it was the “well-established, large-scale tuners” that, per usual, benefited from the “tourist-driven box office, as evidenced by the continuing boffo sales posted by the likes of Wicked ($1,539,124), The Lion King ($1,386,276) and Mamma Mia! ($1,005,981).” Read the entire Variety piece here.

 

SAFETY IN (MUSICAL) NUMBERS

Not surprisingly, The Road in 2009-2010 looks as though it will generally be following a similar pattern, with the programming of musicals and special attractions nudging out plays. Safer, popular titles will also abound it appears, as Presenters announce their upcoming seasons.

A story in The Naples Daily News touts Jersey Boys, which will be headlining the 09-10 season at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, as “arguably Broadway’s most popular musical since its debut in 2006.” The article continues, “Other shows in next season’s “Broadway Series” will be Grease, featuring American Idol winner Taylor Hicks; Spring Awakening, winner of eight Tony Awards; Cirque Dreams Illumination and the return of Beauty and the Beast.” For the complete story, click here. The Mirvish Theatre in Toronto is also looking mainly to musicals for 2009-2010 to “provide upbeat escapism and variety for audiences during the economic slump. ” For more of that story, click here.  The Progess Energy Center in Raleigh, NC also has mostly well-known, comfort food titles coming up next season in their Broadway Series South, as does The McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Ca, marketing their subscription series as “Broadway Blockbusters,” and Shea’s Theater in Buffalo has programmed Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof and Grease, each of which has “played Shea’s at least once in the last 10 years.” For more of that article from The Buffalo News click here.

 

SEASON DOWNSIZING

It also look as though Presenters are being more cautious as far as how many shows they are taking on for 2009-2010 in comparison to past seasons, with PACs whittling down the number of shows in their subscription package offerings.

The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center is one example of The Road playing it a bit safer, offering one less national tour on its subscription season in 09-10, according to a recent article in The Baltimore Sun.  Their season will also “be composed of risk-free crowd-pleasers.”

“We definitely want to be responsive to the economy,” says Stella Benkler, the center’s executive director. “We’re cutting our subscription season from seven shows to six, which means the cost of subscriptions will go down. The average ticket price will not increase.” For the whole article, click here. 

 

MAY THE ROAD RISE TO MEET YOU…

I suspect that The Road in 2010-11 may be as conservatively programmed as 2009-2010, possibly more so if the economy is still in the midst of sorting itself out. So what does all this mean for the producers and artists out there who hope to get their original and worthy projects out on The Road, competing not only against revivals and returns, but also more movie to stage musical adaptations than you can shake a stick at?

It’s never going to be easy, but with originally conceived shows such as Spring Awakening, In The Heights and even the large-cast, emotionally intense playAugust: Osage County making it to Broadway, and ultimately The Road, with no stars, and not-so-safe topics, it seems clear that there will always be room for new and refreshing work alongside the safe stand-bys.

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A couple of posts ago I talked a little bit about what a theatrical booking agency does and why you need one to book the tour of your show.

“Yeah, pfh, okay, ” you snort, “that’s all well and good Robin, but how the HECK do I actually GET one of these guys to take on my freaking show?

Well okay, pfh, fine.

BEFORE YOU START

Before you even think about contacting a booking agent, you need to do your homework. Check out the booking agency websites and see what shows they have on their rosters. Know the kinds of shows they book. Know the kinds of shows that are currently in demand. Go see one of the agency’s shows when it comes to your town and use that to your advantage when you introduce yourself.

Important to note: Booking agencies shy away from having shows that are too similar on their rosters. If, for example, your show has Chinese acrobats and the agency’s roster you’re looking at has a show with Chinese martial artists, chances are pretty slim that they will take on your Chinese acrobat show. Even though your show is something that falls within the realm of what they book, the shows are too alike and would compete for the same slots. It’s also preeeeeetty likely that the producer of the Chinese martial arts show has prevented the booking agency from taking on any shows that are too similar due to a conflict of interest.

RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS

Before resorting to cold-calling or emailing a booking agency, see if you can find an “in.”

More than ever as we try to navigate these troubled economic times, many folks looking for jobs are being told to use every possible relationship they can think of when trying to get a foot in the door to land a meeting or interview.

Not a newsflash, but the theater biz is also about relationships. If you can find someone who can link you to a booking agency, someone who has had a working relationship with one, or someone who booking agencies desire to have a relationship with (even better!) chances are much greater that someone from that agency will either meet with you, or come to see your show. If you don’t have anyone in common with a booking agency, and your show isn’t getting a level of buzz that would generate their interest, chances are slim that you’ll get more than a polite “thanks, but no thanks” response, if any.

GENERAL MANAGERS

One good way to get your foot in a booking agency door is through a General Manager. So when you’re getting your show’s management team together and you’re shopping for a GM, you might want to take into consideration whether the GM has already managed a show that eventually went on successful tour, or is someone who has a recognizable name in the industry. If a GM has the ear of a booking agency and recommends that someone come and check out your show, chances are pretty good that someone from that agency will attend. To get a sense of who the General Managers are out there, and what projects they are working on, consider subscribing to the Theatrical Index.

PRESENTERS

“Now that’s all well and good, Robin,” you snort once again, “but I don’t live in New York, and my show isn’t going to play in New York, at least not right now, so that GM idea, yeah, it may be a good idea for some folks, but for me — not so much.”

Despair not, my friend. (And work on that snorting thing, will ya?)

If you don’t live in NYC, but things are far enough along with your project that you are getting a production of it, chances are you live in, or near, a town, or city with a well-known performing arts center! In that case I would strongly advise that you get the attention of any local presenters that you can, and get them IN to see your show. There is a vast network of Presenters out there, and many of them talk to each other, and just about all of them have relationships with booking agencies. If a Presenter sees your show someplace, or better yet, PRODUCES your show at their PAC because they love your show so much, chances are they will be chatting it up to industry folks with whom they have relationships — including booking agents.

YOUR KID’S BEST FRIEND’S MOTHER’S BROTHER

There are plenty of other ways to find a connection to a booking agency, and it may not be through a traditional industry person. The key is to get yourself and your work out there because you never know who you’re going to meet.

Below is a link to a Chicago Sun-Times piece by Linda Wiener designed for older job-seekers, but I thought what she advises could also be applied to discovering ways you may be connected to someone who’s connected to that someone you want to meet! Her tips on making a concise pitch can also apply to making a pitch about your show and clarifying the goals you are seeking for it. Keeping track of contacts you make in this business, and using names when you can, is also essential and I like the list she offers of where to look for potential networking connections.

http://www.suntimes.com/monster/news-advice/1333452,build-job-network.article

Maybe the booking agent went to the same university you did. Maybe you’re both from the same town. Maybe that drunk guy with the weird hair from the groom’s side of the family who you were chatting with about your show happens to be friends with a booking agent. Maybe the brother of your kid’s friend’s mother is a booking agent, or knows one.

So just be the creative, hopeful person you are, and be on the look out for those networking opportunities. Then don’t be surprised when you look down and find your foot in a booking agency’s door.

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RENT in Pittsburgh at The Benedum

RENT in Pittsburgh at The Benedum

Greetings from Pittsburgh where I’m settling this weekend. No, I’m not relocating to Pittsburgh, I’m settling the Pittsburgh engagement of the First Class National Tour of RENT, featuring Adam Rapp and Adam Pascal.

When an engagement of a show ends its run in a market there must be a settlement, or what you might think of as a “closing of the books.”

THE SETTLEMENT IN BROAD STROKES

The Presenter of any engagement holds the income generated from the ticket sales. This income will be used to cover the following:

  • Any taxes and facility fees
  • Ticketing commissions
  • The payments to the Company
  • The Presenter’s fixed expenses
  • The engagement’s documented expenses

GROSS BOX OFFICE RECEIPTS (GBOR)

The gross income for an engagement, including any taxes and facility fees, are called the Gross Box Office Receipts (GBOR).

To begin, any taxes and facility fees are deducted from these gross monies. Also all box office commissions come out of the GBOR. The Presenter receives a specific commission percentage for tickets purchased via different points of sale — subscription, groups, internet, box office, etc. (These commissions will cover the ticketing commissions the Presenter must pay to the credit card companies, etc.) All of this information is included on the settlement.

NET ADJUSTED GROSS BOX OFFICE RECEIPTS (NAGBOR)

Once all these deductions have been made, the remaining monies are now the Net Adjust Box Office Receipts (NAGBOR.) 

From this NAGBOR — the net monies — the Presenter hopes there is enough left to completely cover any payments to the Company (ie: the Guarantee), and all documented expenses and fixed expenses. Documented expenses are the expenses directly related to the engagement and require receipts and back-up, all of which must be given to the Company Manager in time for settlement. 

IN A NUTSHELL…

Settlement takes place “behind the scenes” during the final performance. The Presenter and the Company Manager are plugging in all the aforementioned data into their respective documents and work toward coming up with equal numbers.

All sounds pretty simple, right? Just plugging numbers in? It can be, but it can also be a long process if numbers aren’t matching up, and one or both sides can’t figure out where the discrepency is hiding. Also, there can be disagreements about certain charges called direct company charges. Direct company charges are charges the Company pays that are not covered in the Presenter’s fixed package. A Presenter may charge the Company directly for things like internet access, rehearsal space rental, if any damage was done to the theater, etc. Sometimes a Presenter will charge the Company for something that the Company doesn’t feel it should pay, and if this is not resolved to one side’s satisfaction, chances are the disgruntled side will sign the final settlement documents “under protest.”

Settlement is the final step in the long process that has involved many, many players — producers, booking agents, contract managers, presenters, marketing companies, press agents, operations teams, ticketing managers, and ultimately, yes, the weary settler, who’s hoping she gets out tonight at a decent hour so she doesn’t have to go to sleep at midnight again on the Tap Room’s delicious, but bulky cheeseburger.

Burp.

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Pollstar Booking Agency Directory

Pollstar Booking Agency Directory

Theater booking agencies are an essential component of the commercial touring business. Booking touring shows is a much more detail-oriented process than you might imagine, and it requires a tremendous amount of time and attention, so you want these specialists to handle this work. In addition, booking agents maintain strong business relationships with many, many presenters and promoters, relationships that they have spent years cultivating, so they know who all the players are, and how best to interface with them.

Theatrical booking agencies are generally divided into two areas:

THE AGENTS

The booking agent deals exclusively with “selling” a producer’s show to presenters and promoters, while also trying to figure out the best way of routing that show from one market to the next – not an easy task, as the agents are selling to presenters who are also buying shows from other agencies, and so there is often fierce competition for a finite number of dates. Agents are also busy attending booking conferences around the country, and going on road trips to get in some face time with presenters, and to check out how their clients’ shows are doing.

Important to note: Booking agencies don’t make money while they’re booking a show, only during the weeks when that show is eventually on the road touring. Also, agents typically begin to book shows one season or more in advance in coordination with the presenters’ programming timetable. So, for instance, we’re now in April 2009, so chances are that the booking agencies and presenters are well into booking the Fall of 2010, and are also likely holding weeks in the Spring of 2011…and in some cases, even beyond that!

THE CONTRACTING STAFF

The contracting or operations staff of a booking agency deals exclusively with the presenter or promoter buying the show once a booking commitment has been made. From that point forward, the contracts manager begins the process (often many months long!) that eventually leads to a fully-executed contract. On the way, there will be a plethora of details that need to be negotiated with the presenter – ticket pricing, expenses, load-in logistics, tech rider issues, the tweaking of contract language, and so on. Also, once the show is on sale, the contracts team is responsible for tracking and organizing daily sales reports, also known as wraps, and forwarding this data on to the show’s producer.

THE BOOKING AGENCIES

Below are links to the most well-known New York City-based theatrical booking agencies. These agencies deal primarily with First Class National Tours and Non-Equity tours of popular titles, as well as some smaller-sized shows, family shows and special attractions to round out their rosters.

AVID TOURING

http://www.avidtouring.com/

AWA Touring

http://www.awatouringservices.com/

BIG LEAGUE

http://www.bigleague.org/

THE BOOKING GROUP

http://www.thebookinggroup.com/

BROADWAY BOOKING OFFICE

http://www.bbonyc.com/

CAMI

http://www.broadwaycat.com/

http://www.cami.com/

OFF BROADWAY BOOKING

http://www.obbnyc.com/

ON THE ROAD

http://www.ontheroadbooking.com/

THE ROAD COMPANY

http://www.theroadcompany.com/

WILLIAM MORRIS

http://www.wma.com/

These are certainly not all the theatrical booking agencies out there. There are agencies located all over the country booking many different levels of theater. For a more comprehensive list, consider investing in the Pollstar Booking Agency Directory.

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Welcome to The Road 101. This blog was created to offer very basic information and insights into the business side of the commercial theater touring industry, also known as “The Road.” If you are a producer, writer, composer, or any combination of those three, who feels you have “THE perfect show for touring,” but have NO idea where to begin, or have some basic clue as to how it works, but are hungry for more information, this is the blog for you! The Road is a complex, ever-expanding and contracting universe that is best navigated when entered into with at least some general understanding. While I don’t claim to have all the answers (I, myself, am still learning new things about this nuanced niche of the theater industry on a daily basis), I do hope you will find information here that is helpful, and I encourage you to check back now and again for topics and tidbits, and maybe even some enlightening discussions along the way. Thanks in advance for reading, and I look forward to your questions and comments.

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