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Archive for May, 2009

For the production of THE PRODUCERS in Berlin The Admiralspalast theater has been draped in giant red flags bedecked with black pretzels and sausages -- a satire on the swastika flag, illegal in postwar Germany.

For the production of THE PRODUCERS in Berlin The Admiralspalast theater has been draped in giant red flags bedecked with black pretzels and sausages -- a satire on the swastika flag, illegal in postwar Germany.

The Road has gone global.

A number of shows that have played in New York City and North America have moved beyond our shores in search of further life. In recent years the Nederlanders brought 42nd Street and Fame, among other well-known titles to China, with a giant entertainment complex for Beijing also in the works to be able to bring more shows. Broadway Asia Company is also producing shows in Asia, and Wicked is all over the globe, just to name a very small handful of examples.

There is already often a difference between what works on Broadway and what translates on The Road here in North America. Sometimes shows that do well in New York for a variety of reasons don’t have the same success on The Road. Blockbusters like Wicked, Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia! however seem to transcend cultural differences not just regionally here in the States, but also internationally. Wicked grosses in London have been consistently high and worldwide grosses for Phantom of the Opera have also been staggering.

What about other shows that make a go of it overseas though? Is high-grossing gold always guaranteed in them there international hills?

Two recent home-grown Tony Award (TM) winning, critically-acclaimed musicals, both of which had national tours, do not seem as though they resonate as successfully with overseas audiences as they did here in the States.

Spring Awakening was a critical hit on Broadway and drew a solid following in New York, and continues to appeal to audiences in certain markets around the country, but The New York Times reports that Spring Awakening in London will be closing after a “painfully abbreviated run.” The Producers attained box office grosses that were enviable both in New York and on The Road. The recent launch of The Producers in Germany recently though, doesn’t look as though it will be the same slam dunk according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Critics are raving it seems, but it is ultimately the word of mouth of ticket buyers and butts in seats that makes or breaks the success of a show. The Producers ended it’s run early in Vienna due to poor ticket sales — will it suffer the same fate in Berlin? Why didn’t Spring Awakening succeed in London the way it did in New York? Did the themes of both of these shows somehow get lost in cultural translation? Or, perhaps, did their themes translate too well, and touch a cultural nerve?

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David van Zyll de Jong

David van Zyll de Jong

There are many, many skilled people who make The Road happen. Sure, there are the performers, but the performers would be hard-pressed to get from one place to the next, have a paycheck in their hand each week, and generally know what the heck was going on if it weren’t for the Company Manager.

Company managing a show that stays in one place is one thing, but doing this job over many months, possibly years, while moving from one place to the next on The Road, is another.

I am very fortunate to know one of the nicest, hardest-working company managers out there, David van Zyll de Jong. David is out on tour and I recently asked him some questions about the life of a company manager, what a company manager actually does, and what this job is like on The Road.

ROBIN: Hey David, thanks so much for taking the time out of what I know is a very busy schedule to chat with me. So, how long have you been a company manager and what projects have you worked on?

DAVID: I’ve been company managing for about 5 years. I got into it by working as a marketing intern for Barry and Fran Weissler’s company, National Artists Management Company (NAMCO). I worked closely with Scott Moore on advertising and marketing strategies for CHICAGO (NY, London, tour) and WONDERFUL TOWN on Broadway. The company manager who opened WONDERFUL TOWN took notice of me and when she went back to the CHICAGO tour, took me along as her assistant. Working as a company manager is really about a solid and communicative work ethic and learning from all your experiences – ultimately cultivating a great reputation and solid management style.

ROBIN: I know you do a lot and it may be hard to really explain things in detail, but can you describe in broad strokes what a company manager does and how that translates to being a company manager on The Road?

DAVID: Company managing is fairly similar in NY and on the road, but with some distinct differences. For those that don’t know, commercial theater productions are each (for the most part) separate business entities. The company manager is responsible for the day to day operations of the business. The basics of the job are the same: company payroll & benefits, accounts payable & receivable, dealing with contracts (being sure they’re properly routed and executed), verifying box office statements, settling with the house/presenter, and generally being a watchdog for the business. Company managers are the main center of communication between artistic staff, actors, producers and technicians. It requires a great attention to detail and a good mind for troubleshooting.

Managers on the road deal more with housing and travel and generally deal a little less with the marketing and press that NY managers handle. It’s also very different to live among the company. In New York, you do your job and go home. On the road, these are the people with whom you live, go out and eat almost every meal. It’s really like an extended family and the company manager is a caretaker of sorts.

ROBIN: The travel aspect sounds like it could be tiring, but also very rewarding. Where are some of the most memorable places you’ve been?

DAVID: I’ve been fortunate to be paid to go to some really fantastic places. My favorite cities on tour have been Honolulu, San Francisco, Anchorage, San Diego, Boston, Minneapolis, Vancouver, and Greenville, SC (surprisingly). The greatest thing about going to all these places is getting to really understand what the rest of the country is like, how they think, how they live. It can vary greatly from one region to another.

ROBIN: Holy smokes, you’ve certainly been around! Where are you right now?

DAVID: I’m currently in Denver and am gearing up to head to San Francisco for a 7 week engagement. It’s so wonderful to have something like that to look forward to. As SPAMALOT has been touring now for three and a half years, most of the engagements are only one week. It’s great to sit down for so long and really get to know the city and the people.

ROBIN: Sounds like it’s been a really memorable experience. What’s down the road for you?

DAVID: SPAMALOT just announced that it will likely close on October 18. I’m looking forward to getting back to New York and re-establishing myself there. That’s the thing about working in commercial theater…there’s always change. Shows open, shows close – and you have to really put yourself out there to score the next gig. It was a big challenge to accept that when I started working in theater (I grew up with parents that really just had one job for many years). But I realize that it’s one of the rewards – there’s always something new!

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David van Zyll de Jong is a New York based company manager who has enjoyed the varied experience of working on Broadway, off-Broadway, on workshops, showcases and on the road. He has worked with stars such as Richard Chamberlain, Patti LaBelle, Wayne Brady, Gregory Harrison, John O’Hurley, Suzanne Somers, and countless other talented actors, designers and producers.

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Ready, SET, Tour!

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The Equity News reported in their October/November 2008 issue that Actors’ Equity Association and The Broadway League were in negotiations for a new Touring Contract. Tours not on a high tier in size and scope, and that tend to tour only smaller markets as split weeks and one-nighters, have been forced to use Production Contract tiers designed for more expensive shows that typically do full weeks in larger markets, making it very challenging for these smaller commercial shows to go out as Equity tours. As a result, many shows that fall within this category have elected to go out non-Equity.

According to this edition of The Equity News, it was the Union’s belief that a new contract with lower tiers would “increase work weeks and create more job opportunities from employment that has traditionally gone to non-union shows. Negotiating a separate contract allows for language that best suits the smaller tours in the current environment. Equity and The Broadway League mutually determined that a contract focused solely on these lower categories is the best first step in recapturing the road.”

Kristin Caskey, who co-heads Fox Theatricals and serves as Chair of Marketing at The Broadway League, and Alecia Parker of NAMCO, announced last week at The Spring Road Conference that an agreement for more flexible tiers of the Production Contract had, in fact, finally been reached.

In very broad strokes, the new Short Engagement Touring Agreement, or SET Agreement, provides musical tours that have Guarantees between $160,000 and $277,000 and a maximum of 10% NAGBOR more accessible minimum weekly salaries for actors and stage managers. There are more moving parts to the SET Agreement than I will go into here, but the details of the agreement were designed by both The Broadway League and AEA to protect the interests of their members, while at the same time offer viable options that ideally will incentivize producers of less-expensive commercial shows to send their shows out as Equity tours.

It will be interesting to see over the next few touring seasons how often the SET Agreement is taken advantage of, what its impact will be on AEA employment, and what effect this in turn has on The Road from a financial standpoint, if any.

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Jane Fondajane fondaOne of the great things about the Spring Road Conference (and there are many great things) are the “Creative Conversations,” which are panel discussions with casts, directors, writers, etc., involved with shows currently running on Broadway.

You might wonder how hearing actors talk about their characters and why they became involved with a project is relevant at a conference devoted to the business of The Road, but the talks are a great opportunity for producers to provide presenters a more enhanced and personalized experience of their shows.

I was fortunate enough to attend three of these conversations this year. One was with the cast of 9 to 5 the Musical, one was with the cast of God of Carnage, and the last one I managed to squeeze in to a very busy day was with the cast of 33 Variations, a play I am looking forward to seeing tonight.

All of the “Creative Conversations” I attended were terrific. The performers were engaging, enthusiastic and often very, very funny. Of the three “Creative Conversations” I made it to though, my personal favorite was with the 33 Variations cast. In addition to her being a compellingly honest and entertaining interview guest, I am a great admirer of Jane Fonda’s film work (if that makes no sense to you, rent They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Coming Home and Klute, to name just a few awesome films with awesome Fonda performances. And…okay…I admit…I did aerobics in my dorm room to her audio tapes), and her co-stars, Zach Grenier, Colin Hanks (yes son of Tom, and yes, he looks exactly like a younger version), and Samantha Mathis were also a delight. It was apparent how invested they are in this play — freely expressing their joy in being a part of it, and making clear their tremendous affection and respect for one another.

I managed to get in a question, asking the actors how they each mentally prepare themselves before each performance of the play. Though, I admitted to them, I hadn’t yet seen the production (which elicited funny “No pressure!” and “See us afterward and tell us what you thought!” responses), I knew it was an intense piece, and figured that climbing into their characters performance after performance might be challenging. Jane Fonda’s response was a fantastic surprise. To learn about her unique preparation before each performance of 33 Variations, and to also get her general take on the 2009 Spring Road Conference, check out Fonda’s Blog post from May 7th:

http://janefonda.com/the-spring-road-conference/#more-2062

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2009 Spring Road Conference

2009 Spring Road Conference

Every year about this time The Broadway League hosts the Spring Road Conference, where presenters from all over the country, along with booking agents and producers, gather in New York City for three to four days to attend panels, engage in round table discussions, see shows (lots of shows), and mix and mingle at the many cocktail parties and after-theater parties.

What with the economy still on very shaky ground with no concrete end in sight, the theme of this year’s conference is “Changing The Game,” with a focus on how the commercial presenting and producing community can better diversify and develop audiences through innovative marketing strategies.

The opening speaker was Ben Self of Blue Stage Digital. Self was the mastermind behind Preseident-elect Obama’s internet strategy, and his energizing presentation on Tuesday really drove home the point about how the internet has become the portal through which we can best reach out to others. This applies to the theater industry as much as it does a political campaign. He reiterated, though, that having a personal touch is key, and reaching out through accessible websites and more individualized emails, as opposed to old-style press releases and generic email blasts, is more necessary now than ever if you expect to build relationships and sustain support for your organization.

Other panels at the conference involve discussions about how the economy has been affecting the presenter “from ticket sales to sponsorships,” and the producer “from project development to investor relations,” and tomorrow there will be a session that expands further on themes in Ben Self’s opening discussion.

Even in an age, though, when email and social networks seem to prevail, nothing will ever replace the good old-fashioned conference, where you can interact live, exchange and initiate new ideas, and really get to know people beyond the computer screen.

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Cynthia NixonLin-Manuel Miranda

The 2009 Tony Award (TM) Nominations will be announced Tuesday morning by two previous winners, Cynthia Nixon and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Just a random aside — I find it kind of humorously coincidental that the nominations are being announced by two people named “Miranda.” Though, with the origin of the name Miranda meaning “worthy of admiration” it is certainly a fitting association for the theme of the day — recognizing theater artistry worthy of admiration by nominating it for this esteemed award.

 

There’s only room for one winner though, of course, per category. This includes Best Musical. So what happens to the shows that don’t make it past Best Musical nominee on June 7, 2009? Is being a nominee for Best Musical good enough to launch a successful National Tour, or do only the winners take all? Let’s take a look at some nominated and winning musicals from recent years and see what shakes out…

 

BRIDES vs BRIDESMAIDS

In 2002 Thoroughly Modern Millie was the winner for Best Musical, and while it enjoyed a healthy tour that ran from 2003-2006, grossing over a total of fifty million dollars, one of the nominees from that year, Mamma Mia, is not only still on The Road enjoying a popular and lucrative tour, according to this recent Variety article, but is still running strong on Broadway with recent great white way grosses hitting over $875,000, and the show at nearly 100% capacity according to Playbill.com 

In 2003 Hairspray won the Best Musical prize. The show only recently ended its Broadway run and is still represented on The Road. That same year, Movin’ Out was one of the nominees, and though it did not win Best Musical and its run on Broadway did not equal the length of Hairspray‘s run, The Movin’ Out tour has still managed to maintain a presence on The Road.

The big year, of course, is 2004, with Avenue Q taking Best Musical over its fellow nominees, one of which was Wicked. Both tours are still out there going strong and both shows are still represented on Broadway, but Wicked, despite not winning the Tony Award (TM) for Best Musical that year, along with receiving mixed reviews, has become a a phenomenon, with road grosses consistently breaking BO records, houses selling out regularly, and multiple tours going at once, along with sit-downs in the U.S and internationally.

2005 brought us Monty Python’s Spamalot, the Best Musical winner of that year. The Spamalot tour began in 2006 and has remained on The Road since, though The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a nominee for Best Musical that year, was also represented on The Road for several years, including a healthy sit-down in Chicago.

In 2006, the blockbuster Jersey Boys took the Best Musical prize and, much like Wicked, seems to be unstoppable both on Broadway and on The Road, as evidenced by consistently hefty grosses. That said, The Color Purple, a Best Musical contender that year, is in its second year on The Road, and beginning to schedule returns.

Spring Awakening came away with the Best Musical Tony Award (TM) in 2007 and has been enjoying a National Tour this year. However, Disney-branded Mary Poppins, which made it to only nominee status that year, hit The Road running in March and is going strong.

2008 brought four less than conventional Broadway offerings into the Best Musical race with Cry Baby, In The Heights, Passing Strange and Xanadu, and of the four it was In The Heights that took the award. Xanadu, however, will also be hitting The Road. It will be interesting to see how the tours of both of these shows fair outside of the Big Apple.

 

AND THE NOMINEES ARE…

Which brings us to tomorrow when we learn which of this year’s new Broadway musicals will be among the 2009 contenders. Though winning is the ultimate goal of course, we can look at recent history to see that winning may not necessarily be everything. Also, while being a nominee for, or winner of, a Tony clearly supports a show’s chances of touring, there are a host of other factors that contribute to a show getting out and succeeding on The Road. Heck, we haven’t even gotten to the nominations yet and Shrek The Musical has already announced its 2010 National Tour launch! Guess the green guy doesn’t have such a low self-image after all.

For a complete list of Tony nominees and winners from all years since the award’s inception in 1947, check out this link at BroadwayWorld.com.

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