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Archive for May, 2011

WONDERLAND

THE BOOK OF MORMON

Several weeks ago, WONDERLAND closed on Broadway after a brief run. In an earlier post, I predicted that this show may have some troubles on the Great White Way. That said, many smart, seasoned people were involved with the production of WONDERLAND on both the business and creative sides, and so a lot of experience and care was likely put into how they proceeded. While there is always risk in theatre, I suspect that they felt the title and familiar, accessible subject matter were less risky than most and would have a mainstream appeal in New York, and eventually on The Road. With the Broadway production ending so abruptly, though, a life on The Road for WONDERLAND is uncertain, especially given all the competition from other shows jockeying for position in the 2012-2013 touring season. I did not ever get to see WONDERLAND, but, clearly, something did not come together here.

At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s THE BOOK OF MORMON, a strong risk with its potential to offend, and so presenters who see it and love it are in a quandary. How will audiences mostly used to tame blockbusters and revivals respond? Is there a risk of offending and losing subscribers?

In my mind, THE BOOK OF MORMON presents a perfect opportunity to shake up, invigorate and, dare I say, “save” The Road with its potential to expand the audience base and prove that quality, original musicals that have something to say CAN work and are worth the risk.

Below are a couple of articles, one out of Kansas City and the other out of Pittsburgh that discuss THE BOOK OF MORMON and the dilemma facing local presenters.

KANSAS CITY STAR

Risky, satisfying shows make their way to Broadway

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZZETTE

Stage reviews:  ‘Book of Mormon’ is best news of Broadway season

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A special guest from WAR HORSE visits the Crowne Plaza Ballroom.

The 2011 Spring Road Conference ended on a high note late last Thursday with a fabulous closing night party hosted by THE BOOK OF MORMON. A wonderful finale to a fun and educational few days.

Over Wednesday and Thursday, there were several more panels on a variety of industry-related topics, but first, a couple of additional takeaways on ticketing and pricing, which I talked about a bit in my previous post…

One presenter, Gina Vernaci, the Vice President of Theatricals at PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland revealed that she and her staff were able to increase their subscriber base, in part, by no longer offering a “mini-package” option. In my previous post, I mentioned that a number of markets out there offer “flex packages” to try and entice those people who may not want to get locked into an expensive full subscription package. Even though Vernaci said she realized that not offering a mini-package was counter-intuitive, she decided to give it a try, offering instead more affordable packages for her entire season of seven shows. Vernaci also looked at her house and did some re-pricing. As it turns out, applying both of these ideas worked well for her market, as her sub load-in increased to approximately 22,000. Another point that someone made during these discussions was how important it was to not set ticket prices too high. The argument being that it’s easier to raise prices than to lower them. Having to lower a ticket price sends a different message, and not a positive one, compared to keeping prices steady, or raising them, which implies a greater demand.

Switching gears a bit, Wednesday morning opened with a fascinating talk called “Making Your Case” during which panelists and audience members described their recent experiences in Washington where the push is on to get the theatre industry on the radar screen of lobbyists and politicians. One of the panelists included the esteemed Broadway producer, Tom Viertel, Chairman of the Board at Scorpio Entertainment. Viertel announced the impending formation of a Legislative Council that will include theatre industry professionals from each state, who will be liaisons between the theatre industry stakeholders within their state and elected representatives.

One major lobbying effort that the theatre industry has been working on relates to securing tax breaks for theatre investors that are similar to the tax breaks that investors in film and investors in U.K. theatre productions receive. A bill in support of this tax break initiative for theatre producers is reportedly being considered in Washington, and it was announced that Senator Charles Schumer of New York will likely be introducing it in the next several weeks.

A main takeaway from this panel discussion was that while there are professional lobbyists out there, we all have to be our own lobbyists and get out there, get to know our public officials personally, and “make a case” for our industry.

Switching gears again, another illuminating seminar that was popular among conference attendees was called, “A Vision Of The Digital Future” where professional digital marketers, along with the SVP of Digital Operations at The New York Times, discussed the ways in which social media drives real time experience, and how “mobile” is now the biggest trend in digital communication. The panelists also all agreed that these days it has become imperative to brand your product across platforms in order to allow users to access your brand in variety of ways.

The panelists also stressed that gathering research and data to determine and understand your audience was the key to help you best decide on branding strategy and that data analytics should be used to drive decisions on how one chooses to invest time and money in social and digital marketing strategies. You need to look at your consumers’ habits, see what platforms they use and understand how to integrate the media that your consumers are using.

The panel encouraged those in attendance to really think about how to use social media and emerging technology to further the experience and relationships with subscribers. “Geotargeting,” the capability of determining where a website visitor is located, came up often as a popular method to proactively reach out to consumers in order to deliver content in an interactive, spontaneous and fun way. “Geotagging” was also suggested as a way to get word out about a show. For example, find a way to get a patron to use an app while in your theatre that allows her to let people know she’s there and that allows her the capability of letting people know out in the world right then and there how she feels about the show.  The other major takeaway from this discussion was the importance of content. Your audience is expecting something valuable and exclusive, so the content of your message must offer something they can’t see, or get, anywhere else.

Because theatre is live, it is always going to be a unique experience that people can’t get anywhere else, but it is clear that if theatre is to remain alive and thrive in this country, we must collectively fight the good fight and advocate for the performing arts on a political level, and also stay in step with the fast-moving times by embracing the digital world and using it to our best advantage.

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The Spring Road Conference is an annual New York City event coordinated by The Broadway League where presenters, booking agents, producers and other stakeholders in commercial theatre touring come together for panels, networking and to take in the current Broadway offerings that will possibly be touring in the 2012-2013 season. Check out my post on The 2009 Spring Road Conference if you are interested in seeing some of the topics that were covered that year.

With regard to this year’s conference, which is still underway as I write this post, there have already been several engaging panels and creative conversations. The theme of this year’s conference is “Road To Success” with a focus on how the industry is starting to re-think how to reach and retain ticket buyers in an age that is becoming increasingly digital and spontaneous.

The first panel on Tuesday was entitled “What Is The Industry’s Commitment to Subscriptions?” where the main takeaway was, yes, subscribers are necessary, and will remain necessary because they form the foundation that gives the presenter the ability to buy shows. The members of the panel, who included producer, Kevin McCollum, Amy Jacobs of Nina Lannan Associates, and Randy Weeks, President of The Denver Center for Performing Arts also all agreed that one of the main ways to keep and increase the subscription base was to include a blockbuster on season. When a season doesn’t contain a blockbuster, subscriptions will often go down. So, it is important to have an anchor every year if possible. An interesting fact that came up was that JERSEY BOYS is considered the last new blockbuster to come along, which apparently makes this the longest stretch since 1972 since there’s been a new mega-hit.

The panel also agreed that it is especially crucial now to find unique ways to make subscribers feel special, and reward them for their loyalty in order to retain them. It’s so easy to buy tickets these days with people being able to go on the internet, their iPad, their iPhone, et. al. at 3am to make a purchase if they want to, that presenters need to provide a strong sense of value to subscribers beyond just sub discounts. It is important to give a loyal subscriber of, say, 10…15 years a different and better experience than the single ticket buyer, who may just attend shows once every few years, and to come up with ways to show subscribers that they are cared about. That said, the presenter also still needs to spend time trying to turn a single ticket buyer into a subscriber. So, ultimately, it’s a bit of a balance that needs to be figured out.

Another point brought up was related to communication and that it is key that presenters reach out to subscribers regularly so subscribers feel engaged, and to also reach out to them through a variety of different media since people are getting their content in so many ways today, especially digitally.

Lastly, everyone agreed that it is essential to listen to subscribers and to what they care about most to best accommodate them. It was also agreed that, in general, subscribers care about these areas, and in this order:

  • Product (i.e., what shows they want to see on the theater’s season)
  • Schedule
  • Price

The Tuesday afternoon “Hot Button Topics” discussion touched on a number of issues, one of which was pricing. Many strategies were offered, including the idea of monthly pricing plans to entice new, or re-newing subscribers who may not be comfortable laying out a large sum of money for a subscription all at once. Another strategy that was offered, and which various presenters feel has been successful in their markets, is the “flex package.” Though, one presenter cautioned that what may work for one market may not work as well for another, so to be careful when considering an idea that worked well in another city or town. Another perspective came from the producing side. While the producer is sensitive to the presenter’s need to retain and build their sub base and keep prices attractive, the producer only has a certain number of weeks available within a touring schedule to be able to recoup, and so they don’t want to under-price their shows. Ticket pricing is often a long and complicated process between the producing and presenting sides, and so the final scaling can sometimes take a while to negotiate.

I look forward to sharing more with you about this year’s conference in “Part 2” of this two-part post in the coming days…

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This is a quick follow-up to my last post about Broadway musicals being taped live and then screened at movie theaters across the country. After MEMPHIS‘s recent debut on silver screens nationwide, an article in The Denver Post predicts this may become a trend, but questions if this is such a good idea for the National Tours and local venues “when the movie cost $20, and seeing any musical live can run six times higher.”

After “Memphis,” make way for more screenings of stage musicals

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