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Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

The inimitable James Corden, star of the hilarious London import, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, currently running on Broadway and nominated for seven Tony Awards, talks frankly about why touring is so frustrating for him!

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Jordan Roth and Pam MacKinnon discuss an effective audience engagement initiative implemented during tech of “Clybourne Park.”

The 2012 Spring Road Conference wrapped up with a bang at the post-theatre party hosted by NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT last Thursday night after an incredibly fun and informative few days at The Hudson Theatre, The Millenium Broadway Hotel, and restaurants and clubs throughout Times Square!

In my next few posts, I will highlight some of the panels and events that took place to give you a sense of where the industry mindset is currently at, and what people were talking about.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: OPENING OUR DOORS 

HOW TO GET AUDIENCE AND HOW TO KEEP THEM?

This first early morning session on Tuesday 5/15 was led by renowned New York theatre producer and Jujamcyn Theaters President, Joardan Roth where he, along with his CLYBOURNE PARK director, Pam MacKinnon discussed actual examples where they were able to engage potential audiences in unique ways.

The session started with the basic question: “Why are we inviting people in to our show in the first place?” The answer was simple and seemingly unremarkable enough: to educate and entertain. A producer wants his show to inform people in some way, while also leaving them with a feeling about that information, with the hope that audiences will then act in a positive way on that information that will potentially get the word out even more about the show. To engage people successfully, though, you need to find a way to make people feel as though they have a sense of ownership in relation to the show. In other words, you want people to feel compelled to root for the show, and you want them to feel motivated to act as advocates, or ambassadors for the show.

To that end, Mr. Roth spoke of an initiative that he and his creative team tried out on CLYBOURNE PARK. During their tech, CLYBOURNE PARK invited students studying theater tech at Fordham Univesity to observe the entire tech process, and blog about it on Broadwayworld.com. These students not only learned a lot themselves about how a professional show works from an insider’s view, but they also essentially became guides to others who were outside of the process in that the students took their personal, behind the scenes experience, processed it, and enthusiastically told others about it. These students became advocates and ambassadors for the show. One of the Fordham students attended the morning session and said that she could not wait to see CLYBOURNE PARK after her experience, that she felt a part of it all in some way even though she was not technically a part of the show, and that she was rooting for CLYBOURNE PARK to win the Tony.

Apparently, when the blog launched it received around thirteen thousand hits within the first day. By the end of the first week of posts, the blog had received over one-hundred thousand hits. Mr. Roth’s feeling was, once people read a number of the blog posts about behind the scenes at CLYBOURNE PARK, what was the next thing they were then going to potentially want to do? See CLYBOURNE PARK!

Some conference attendees raised concerns about the risks of this idea, including how so much can potentially go wrong during tech, and how was that handled? Also, what about the possibility of a negative blog post? In response to these concerns, Mr. Roth and Ms. MacKinnon said that in their case the creative team had felt confident that nothing major would go wrong in tech because the show had already had a production in New York and LA, so everyone knew what they were doing. Also, there was an understanding at the beginning of the relationship between the show and the students that the blog posts would be vetted and edited by the show prior to being put up.

Another example that Mr. Roth gave as a way he engaged people personally in relation to CLYBOURNE PARK was via his Twitter account. He created a contest essentially looking for the best answer to the question: “#iwanttogobackstage at Clybourne Park with Jordan Roth and why?” This simple (and free!) initiative had a 1-2-3 marketing punch…

1) It encouraged people to share their thoughts publicly

2) It created more fans

3) And the backstage tour with Jordan Roth and the winner would be filmed

One final example Mr. Roth gave with regard to how CLYBOURNE PARK was planning to engage audiences in a unique way was through a relationship he fostered between CLYBOURNE PARK and the Discovery channel program “How Stuff Works.” CLYBOURNE PARK would be the first theatre production to appear on “How Stuff Works” showing how stuff works behind the scenes of a Broadway show. In addition to the TV show, “How Stuff Works” also has a website that receives millions of hits and downloads, and the program is also one of the Top 10 podcasts on iTunes.

As the session was winding down, attendees questioned how ideas like these could feasibly apply to the Road. The Road is far more limited in many ways compared to Broadway in that shows on tour move from place to place in most markets after just a week, and so it’s challenging to implement techniques like these when a show is only in town for such a short period. Going back to his opening remarks, Mr. Roth basically encouraged The Road to simply start thinking about reaching audiences in creative, proactive ways that make people feel “invited in.” One suggestion he made to the presenters was to send ambassadors to other markets that have the same shows arriving at their theaters earlier in the season. Those ambassadors could then start blogging about these shows way ahead of time, getting the local audiences back where they’re from excited and better informed about upcoming shows, and creating buzz well in advance of these shows coming into town.

Mr. Roth was a dynamic and generous speaker who proved through example that there are plenty of innovative ideas out there to bring in more audiences, and I have no doubt he will continue to discover new, smart ways to connect his projects with theater-goers.

I look forward to telling you more about other topics that were covered at the conference, so be sure check back here at The ROAD 101 soon!

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Broadway Across America Theatrical Conference 2012 Key West, FL

I just arrived back from Broadway Across America’s biennial theatre industry conference. This conference has been around for many years and is where all the top industry professionals involved in producing and presenting from around North America and other continents converge in a warm and inviting setting in chilly January to see what hot projects Broadway Across America has cooking, as well as other producers.

The BAA conference is always jam-packed with lively and informative panels with top people in the field. A major theme this year related to technology and how emerging programs and platforms are beginning to support the theatre industry’s foray into dynamic pricing, and also how mobile and tablet devices will most definitely be key in driving more sales and excitement around shows.

Also at the conference were entertaining glimpses of several productions that are currently in development or on the boards, and which you will likely see on Broadway, and potentially on the Road sometime in the next several years. These creative presentations included highlights from GHOST, HANDS ON A HARDBODY, FLASHDANCE, LEAP OF FAITH and ONCE, among others.

Despite the still shaky economy, the mood at the conference was bright and the outlook for the industry extremely positive. There was a great deal of excitement about the creative presentations and a warm sense of community amongst the attendees throughout the magical 3-day gathering. I was reminded once again of how fortunate I am to be in such a special field that is unlike any other.

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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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The 2010 Spring Road Conference is underway and there have been many interesting panels and breakout sessions.

A session I attended yesterday was called, “Reimagine…” where a panel of esteemed Road Presenters from across the country discussed their experiences with programming and producing smaller shows in their markets.

The panel included, Jeff Chelesvig, President & CEO of the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, Judy Joseph, Vice President of Programming at Straz Center for the Arts, Gina Vernaci, Vice President of Theatricals for Playhouse Square Foundation and Randy Weeks, Executive Director of Denver Center Attractions and was moderated by Tom Gabbard, President of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

The general message from the four panelists was that they all like to present and produce smaller shows when they can, but that, ultimately, smaller shows can be very costly in the long run, so they have to plan and choose carefully, and even then the results aren’t always successful.

There have been success stories, though. In October 2002, Chelesvig programmed a show called TRIPLE ESPRESSO into the newly created 268-seat theater space in the Masonic Temple in Des Moines. Though only a three-person show, he put it on the Broadway Series and hoped it would run for eight weeks.

It ran for sixty-eight weeks.

For Vernaci, JACQUEL BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS was a big success story, running for two and a half years in their cabaret space. She admitted, though, that just when you think you have it all figured out, you realize you don’t have it all figured out, and you have a “train wreck,” as when she created a show from dollar one without a subscription load-in and had difficulty covering costs. She also made bad chair choices. Her subscribers were apparently used to the comfy style chairs in the mainstage theaters, not the hard chairs and high backed stools she selected for the cabaret space.

Weeks had great success with small shows when at one point he had two titles run for a total of eight years. He said his train wreck happened when he chose to produce a fantastic, but esoteric production that he loved, THE LAST FIVE YEARS.

What about a long run for a small show? Joseph remarked that doing small shows on subscription for, say, four months could be very cost prohibitive, even with the small cast because the performers would need housing, for example. To make it work in those cases, she likes to use local talent and designers. She also noted how hard it is to market small cast shows that are unknown. When asked to define a small cast show size, Joseph replied, “as small as possible,” and specifically said that an eight-person show is as high as she’ll ever go. Weeks said he currently had a show running that had only two performers.

Each of the panelists said they liked to co-produce shows with other presenters or producers when there was the opportunity to work with people they knew and trusted. Working with a partner takes some of the risk out of producing smaller shows. Additionally, each entity has something to contribute, and they can also each learn things from working with the other.

So what’s the takeaway? While seemingly inexpensive on the surface, the small show is actually tougher to produce and present in many ways than the large-scale show with a known title. Unless you have a surprise hit, the potential financial return is very small in relation to the time and attention required to get it up and running and properly marketed, making it a risky proposition. That said, small shows also have the potential to be long-running successes, and they also offer theater-goers a more intimate experience. So, while the overall news spelled out here will likely be discouraging to those who have small properties that they are hoping to tour, it was heartening and encouraging to hear how these presenters were still interested in producing and presenting smaller shows at their venues, and how they are continually looking into innovative ways to make this happen.

So, maybe your small show will be the next big “small” thing that runs for sixty-eight weeks in Des Moines.

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APAP 2010

One of the biggest theater conferences related to The Road is APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters). A lot goes on in the three or four days that this conference takes place. There are panels, showcases, networking sessions and the Expo Hall, which is basically where booking agents set up booths to promote the shows they are selling. APAP is a great opportunity to meet presenters, booking agents, a diverse array of artists, and to get your own project out there. That said, there are LOTS of people trying to do the same thing, so there’s a potential to get lost in the shuffle. If you’re attending the conference for the first time, see if the APAP conference staff can provide you with a mentor. I was a mentor at APAP a few years back, and was glad to answer questions and help the people I was matched with feel less overwhelmed by the experience. Don’t worry if you don’t have a mentor though. Just organize your time wisely, (it goes quick and there’s lots going on!) and don’t feel shy about networking with people. One bit of advice though, especially in the Expo Hall where business is being conducted, try not to interrupt a conversation, and if you are making a pitch, keep it short and sweet!

Have fun, and good luck!

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