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Archive for the ‘Booking Agencies’ Category

Two options with blank road signs

Greetings after a bit of a hiatus, and welcome to the 2014-2015 touring season!

Actually, the season pretty much started back in September, so we’re in the thick of it now!

But how did we get to this point? Hundreds of touring engagements will make their way across North America this season, as they do every season. What are the basic mechanics of the business that make that happen year after year? What’s the timeline?

Well, aren’t you glad you found The Road 101, because it is here where you’ll find out how that wholllle process works! A process that is a long, complex, ongoing cycle. There are many places I could begin, but for this post, I am going to begin discussing this cycle with the Tony Awards Nominations as a starting point, which typically take place at the end of April.

There are many types of shows that are out on The Road in a season and it is often a foregone conclusion that many of these will be back out there — the blockbuster, the second and third year tour, the non-Equity tour, the special attraction, and the smaller Off Broadway type show that has built its brand over many years, are just some examples.

Then, there are the new shows coming from Broadway in the current season. So, in this case, we’re talking the 2014-2015 Broadway season. These shows are the touring question marks. Which ones will make it out on The Road in 2016-2017? That’s right. Wrap your head around that for a second so you can follow along. The shows running on Broadway in 2014-2015 are being considered for touring in 2016-2017.

The Broadway 2014-2015 season is still evolving as I write this post, and booking agents (some already representing some of these shows) and presenters are watching closely which Broadway shows will make it through the season and rise to the top. When the Tony nominations come out in April 2015, that is a moment when certain shows could get a key boost, especially those shows nominated for Best Musical. Though agents and presenters are seeing shows throughout the entire season, it is typically during Tony Awards season when many in the industry check out Broadway to see which are most likely to end up being viable touring properties. A lot of this theatre-going happens during the annual Spring Road Conference, which typically takes place between the Tony nominations and the Tony Awards. Now, winning a Tony Award this season does not necessarily guarantee that a show will go out on tour for the 2016-2017 season. There are many factors that a producer and a general manager need to take into consideration before deciding if their show is viable enough for a tour:

  1. Did the show make it through Tony season in good shape both from an awards standpoint and a box office standpoint?
  2. Did the show make a good impression on enough presenters?
  3. Can the show offer a deal that presenters can work with?

Okay, so, the 2015 Tony Awards have happened and we are now in summer 2015. The blockbusters, second year tours and non-Equity tours are largely routed and slotted in for the 2016-2017 touring season. The booking agents are also more clear at this point regarding which of the new 2014-2015 Broadway shows they represent will likely make it out on The Road in 2016-2017, and which will fall by the wayside. The final part of the 2016-2017 touring season programming process is now in full swing as booking agents and presenters work through final deals and tour routing. Again, these interactions happen throughout the year, but it is during the summer and into the early fall where all programming MUST be finalized.

Why must programming be finalized by fall 2015? Because it is at this point that presenters need to then begin figuring out how they want these shows to be priced. It is important to be thoughtful about all the details that go into pricing and to consider all data and history available to maximize profit. If an engagement is not priced and discounted correctly at the outset, there is the chance that the engagement could lose money, or, conversely, it may make money, but if it was underpriced and over-discounted at the outset there is a chance of “leaving money on the table,” meaning even more money could have been made. The opportunity to maximize profit is then further exploited via dynamic pricing.

So, once the presenter decides on the pricing for a show, which includes prices for singles, subscribers and groups, the presenter then sends this pricing to the show’s booking agent for consideration, which oftentimes ends up turning into a back and forth negotiation. Again, multiply this step by many, many engagements that need to go through this detailed process. For a large company like Broadway Across America with numerous markets, the ticket pricing process takes several months to complete. During the pricing process, things move fast and timing is everything, as prices need to be agreed to by the show and the presenter and locked in quickly so the marketing teams can then get to work on creating the brochures, which will include these prices and discounts, and which need to go into the mail to subscribers by certain established deadlines.

The time is now winter of 2015-2016. The 2016-2017 pricing process is beginning to wind down as we move into March. The booking agents and presenters are making any final little programming and deal tweaks to the 2016-2017 season while at the same time are also in the process of booking the 2017-2018 touring season. Meanwhile, as all this is happening, don’t forget, the 2015-2016 engagements are currently out on the road on tour requiring constant management through the end of their tours in May or June, each engagement culminating in its own final bravo – settlement.

And now, it’s Tony Awards season again. Which brings us back to where we started.

Pfew. Did you follow all that? Yeah, I’m still learning to wrap my head around it, too, and I WORK in the business!

In the end, this is just a broad overview of how the booking and pricing cycle works as I have come to understand it. It is likely that others in the industry would have other details to add, but this should give you a pretty good sense of the general timing of it all.

If you have questions, feel free to email me anytime at robin@theroad101.com. If I don’t get back to you immediately, please forgive me. I’m probably swamped in pricing for 2015-2016.

woman-tearing-hair-out

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I’m writing this post from my mobile phone. I’ve never done this before, so apologies in advance for any typos or weird formatting!

Day 2 of the Spring Road Conference has been a full day of diverse panels and creative conversations that began at 8am. Below is a small sampling of just a few of today’s discussions…

EVOLUTION OF THE ROAD

In this panel, a group of presenters, producers and booking agents discussed general observations, as well as some of the economic challenges involved in commercial theatre touring from their varying perspectives. Here is an overview…

– In the course of laying out a tour presenters and producers feel there is room to improve with regard to balancing the strength of sub load-ins from one market to another. In other words, perhaps adjusting the deal for a show from market to market in relation to the size of the sub load-in is worth considering, as a larger sub load-in involves less risk compared to a sub load-in that is not as robust.

– Bookings are happening further and further in advance, allowing for more lead time.

– The success of family titles was seen as varying from city to city from one presenter’s standpoint. Certain cities will have more family programming over another and the popularity of family programming is not necessarily uniform across markets.

– The question of whether there is too much product out there was brought up, and how that might be affecting the success of an engagement, as well as the number of weeks competing tours are able to get as a result.

– Revenue Management: Dynamic Pricing, also called Demand Pricing, is becoming an increasingly popular and effective tool for presenters and producers to maximize revenue and the panel concurred that demand pricing has even much more potential. Demand pricing, when implemented effectively, in addition to increasing gross revenue also helps to offset show and venue related expenses that continue to increase year after year.

– On a universally positive note, the panel agreed that Broadway is becoming more mainstream. Songs are getting out there due in large part to the recent theatre reality shows, as well as TV shows (such as “Glee”) that have helped to educate a larger population about musical theatre.

– The panelists agreed it was wise to think more about seeing how to effectively harness the digital activity that goes on during Broadway runs and apply this momentum to touring shows. The first time theatre ticket buyers hear about a tour coming to their town should not be when they are being sold a ticket.

“HAVE SAFE TIX!”

This panel discussed the ongoing problems presenters have with ticket scalping websites that make themselves appear as though they are associated with the presenters and their theaters. Many presenters are trying to get state and federal legislation passed to combat these companies, as many patrons are buying their tickets from these sites thinking they are buying tickets from the actual theatre organization. These sites overcharge and also don’t provide customer support when something goes wrong. The theater then ends up holding the bag and dealing with angry, confused patrons who thought they bought their tickets from the theater. It seems presenters are fighting an uphill battle against the savvy scalpers, but they are indeed fighting hard, and have been finding better ways to educate their audiences about these sites.

CREATIVE CONVERSATION

We were super fortunate to have the leads of KINKY BOOTS along with Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper as a creative conversation. These conversations are fun, informal panels about the creative process and other behind the scene tidbits. This group had a wonderful chemistry, which is also apparent when you see the show!

* * * *

The most significant takeaway for me from this year’s conference is how much more digital the commercial theatre industry has become since I first started attending this conference six or seven years ago. Producers, presenters, and their teams are clearly beginning to embrace digital media and strategies to strengthen their marketing and ticket sales. Even the conference schedule was accessible via an app!

It’s both exciting (and a relief!) to see that the commercial theatre industry is starting to implement technology more assertively, and in creative ways. Using digital marketing and social media enables audience members to interact with the brand in a more direct and constant way, and also extends a sense of the live experience. This, combined with effectively reaching ticket buyers through all the various electronic devices we have now, and will continue to have, will help sustain the industry and make theatre remain a prominent entertainment choice for years to come.

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apap2013

If it’s January…it must be APAP!

APAP is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest conference related to The Road, non-profit arts companies and individual artists. I discussed what the APAP conference is in some detail in a previous post. You can check that post out here.

This year, the conference begins tomorrow, and runs through January 15th.

If you’re a producer, presenter, artist, or manager and in the NYC area this weekend, you may want to register for part of the conference and check out some of the action at the Hilton, and one or more of the many varied showcases.

APAP NYC – 2013

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Amy Polan Clarke

Amy Polan Clarke

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes before, during, and after an engagement takes place in each and every market. And in this case, when I say “behind the scenes” I don’t mean the backstage area before, during and after a performance. The behind the scenes action I’m referring to is related to all the complex operational details that need to be hammered out and continuously managed — deal points, contracts, technical riders, estimated engagement expenses, gross advertising budgets, ticket pricing, ticket discount strategies, and settlements, just to name a few —  and it is the theatrical booking agency that is right in the center, literally. Theatrical booking agencies solely represent the producer of a tour, but they are also the main liaison between the producer and the presenters licensing the show. So, booking agency engagement managers need to find just the right strategic balance of negotiation and diplomacy skills, and also be able to stay on top of a lot of information related to all the different shows they are booking from their roster, and all the vastly different presenters, markets and venues they are dealing with on a daily basis.

I’m lucky to know one of THE best theatrical engagement managers and Director of Operations in the business — Amy Polan Clarke. I got the chance to catch up with Amy recently over email and ask her some questions about the work she has done in the touring industry, her perspective with regard to the current state of The Road, and how producers and artists out there might connect with a booking agency and potentially get agents interested in their projects.

THE ROAD 101: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Amy. Can you describe in broad strokes what a theatrical booking agency does, and what your function has been as a Director of Operations?

AMY POLAN CLARKE: A theatrical booking agency is hired by a Producer and/or General Manager to sell, within a specified territory, performances of the Producer’s production of a theatrical show. After the agent would negotiate the dates and financial terms with Presenters in various markets, it was my job to create an analysis of the offers and submit them to the Producer, looking at the financial terms, ticket prices, history in the market, estimated expenses, Producer’s income potential and the buyer’s break even. We would go back and forth between the producer and the buyer negotiating the deal points and once they were acceptable to all, I would negotiate and create contracts outlining and formalizing the deal. I also kept a running tally of the Producer’s total estimated income for the tour to ensure that they would meet their weekly nut and updated agents as to the status. Once the tour actually began, I acted as the liaison among the agents, Producers, marketing reps, and tour personnel to keep it running smoothly. I also verified settlements and maintained summaries of grosses, expenses, income, and commissions for all performances.  We did not have a database system, so I created spreadsheet after spreadsheet for all the data.  In fact, some producers insisted that other agencies use my formats (this happened to me in the concert industry also – to this day, people are using settlement forms I created years ago). I also did operational tasks for the company such as dealing with new hires, vacation days, maintaining the website and creating the company’s annual roster brochure.

TR101: I see you’ve also been an Associate General Manager. How does that role differ from an operations role?

APC: As an Associate GM, I did similar tasks with negotiations, contracts and settlements, however also auditioned and hired talent; hired road crew, coordinated marketing and publicity campaigns and materials, secured visas and insurance for cast and crew, and handled all financial aspects of the production – budgets, cash flows, royalty statements, and P & L reports to investors. I also approved all tour expenditures and oversaw the sales and inventory of merchandise on the tour. It was much more hands-on to the actual production than being at an agency.

TR101: Wow, you certainly know your stuff!  How did you first get into the theatrical booking industry?

APC: I was the Senior VP of Touring for a concert promotion/producer/management firm where I worked for 30 years (started at age 20). I booked tours and went on the road with shows as a Tour Manager/Tour Accountant (similar to Company Manager). But in 2002 the company was bought and closed down.  I then worked as the Associate GM for an off-Broadway producer (until the show went bust), and I discovered I liked the theatrical business better than the music business so I pursued it.  Simma Levine of On the Road Booking and I had some business friends in common and she needed help.

TR101: A lot of artists and producers consider attending booking conferences in order to meet booking agents, and network. Do you have any opinions about the various booking conferences out there, i.e., WAA, Midwest Arts Conference, PAE, APAP, etc. as far as their usefulness to bookers, and to producers, or artists, looking for bookers?

APC: I think it’s important for agents to get out and meet the people you talk to on the phone all the time. That being said, I’m not sure that all that many new bookings actually come out of it. But for artists, they present a great opportunity to show your stuff to agents and/or producers who might potentially represent you. Getting them to actually come to your showcase is a whole other thing. It’s all very hectic.

TR101: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges facing a tour’s ability to turn a profit these days?

APC: Same thing as everyone else’s challenges in making a profit these days – you want to put out a quality project, but expenses are too high, sales are too low, and you have to keep the ticket prices low outside of the larger cities. And touring also has to deal with transportation costs, over which they have very little control. Sponsorships have also fallen by the wayside due to the economy. One thing I think the theatrical industry does better than the concert industry is offering so many varying ticket prices – subscriptions, groups, students, promotions, dynamic pricing, etc. The concert industry does very little of this. On the other hand, it makes it really difficult for the producer to know what his income might be. Theatre also doesn’t seem to have the scalping issues that concerts have, which is one of the reasons some concert ticket prices are so high (the theory being that the scalpers will get this price, so the band might as well get it).

TR101: Do you have any suggestions as to how a theatre producer, or theatre artist, might get their project noticed by a booking agency?

APC: Find a way to get them excited about the show. Of course everyone wants/needs to make money, but if someone is passionate about what they’ve seen, they just might invest their time in you and try to build you into a money maker.  You’ve got to have something that moves them, though.

 

*  *  *

Amy Polan Clarke is a veteran of the live entertainment industry, having worked all sides of the spectrum in both the theatrical and concert worlds – for venues, promoters, producers, performers, and agencies. She has toured as Business/Tour Manager for musical performers from the Grateful Dead to Sarah Brightman and has worked on theatrical touring shows such as Hairspray, Movin’ Out, The Producers, and Spring Awakening.

Email Amy: amyclarke@comcast.net

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ORPHEUM THEATER - Omaha, NE

Greetings from Omaha, NE where I am settling a split-week engagement of CHICAGO at The Orpheum Theater.

By this point, who hasn’t heard of the musical, CHICAGO? In addition to now being one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, it was also a successful motion picture. When people hear the title, CHICAGO chances are they know something about it. At the very least, they know it’s been around a while, and people buying tickets for the Broadway or National Tour production probably feel confident that they will have a good experience.

Over the years, I’ve met with artists and new producers who are working on a show that they’re really passionate about, that’s been really well-received someplace by audiences and critics, that’s small in scale, and doesn’t cost a lot and so, logically, this sounds like the ideal show for touring. The challenge, though, with a new, small-scaled show is convincing someone in the touring world to take it on. Why is this? Well, one of the reasons for this is that even though the bigger, known shows can be very labor intensive and time-consuming as far as deal negotiations, and very risky due to the high nature of their expenses, and the investment at stake in general, the reality is that these known shows can actually be LESS labor intensive and time-consuming to book and present in the long run, and ultimately less risky than smaller, less expensive shows that are unknown to the larger population. The smaller, less expensive, unknown show still requires the same time and attention a show with a known title or star does, if not more — complicated routing and re-routing, deal points to negotiate, technical requirements to figure out, and so on. At the end of the day, therefore, there is greater risk for less payoff with smaller, inexpensive, unknown shows, compared to more expensive shows with a known title and/or celebrity, and bigger potential profits. This reality will often make it harder for an artist or producer with a project to convince bookers or presenters to get involved for the long haul. Because booking and presenting a show is a long haul. Big show or small. Believe me.

I don’t mean to make things sound bleak. This doesn’t mean something can’t happen for your show. This just means more of a process may be required for you to get your show into the right hands. Do your research. Look out there for other shows of similar size and scope as yours. At what venues are these shows being presented? Which theaters seem to regularly champion these sorts of shows? Is it possible to connect with the producing team of a show that is similar to yours and find out how they went about getting their show booked? What booking agency did they use, and were they happy with them? Does your show make more sense as a tour, or as a sit-down? Do you have a general manager attached to your show yet? A general manager who believes in your show and who has experience GM’ing tours could be a worthwhile alliance.

So, don’t be discouraged. Just really look at your show. Know what it is, know what it is not, educate yourself about The Road, and get a sense of the touring landscape, and you will have a better chance of finding yourself on the road to getting your show on The Road.

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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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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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