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Welcome to the final installment of The Road 101’s “Acting On The Road” series with guest, Patrick Oliver Jones. This interview was conducted in mid-May. The Road 101 is so grateful to Patrick for taking the time out of his busy schedule on the road over the past six months to check in with us to let us know what it’s like out there on tour. We’re super excited to see what’s next for Patrick down the road, and wish him all the best!

THE ROAD 101: How long have you been out on the EVITA tour, and what were some of the highlights for you?

Patrick Oliver Jones: Rehearsals started last August, and I’ve been with the show from the beginning. We’ve been to some wonderful cities like Chicago, which is probably my favorite city to visit in the US, as well as new cities for me like San Antonio, which has a beautiful river walks that wind their way through the heart of downtown. The real highlight, though, are the people I’ve worked with and come to know. The cast is not only fantastically talented onstage but a pleasure to be with offstage as well. Each person is perfectly suited to their role and the friendships formed during these last nine months are ones I look forward to continuing long after the tour has ended.

TR101: I hear that you will be leaving the EVITA tour a little early. What’s next for you?

POJ: Yes, my last day with the tour was May 9. After a much-needed vacation and then a few days back in NYC, I started work in upstate NY at the Merry Go Round Playhouse to do Mr. Banks in MARY POPPINS. We open Wednesday, June 4 and have a spectacular cast of veterans from the Broadway and National Tour companies as well as those new to the show like myself. Once Poppins closes, I will make my way down to St. Louis to play the Grinch in SEUSSICAL. As it turns out, our director and production stage manager from EVITA were part of the original Broadway production of SEUSSICAL and they gave me some of the rich history and creative process of this unique show. My last 3 years have been filled with ensemble work in two national tours. I am truly looking forward to taking on two iconic principal characters in these upcoming shows. It’s set to be a wonderfully fun summer!

TR101: Do you plan on going out on the road and performing in tours again in the future?

POJ: At this point my sights are set on work in NYC. Life on the road is fun and involves going to some great places, but I moved to the city years ago with the goal of working in the city. So now is the time to concentrate on that. With so many workshops and shows on and off Broadway, I’m excited for the chance to perform in new works, including readings and concerts. Should a tour come along in the future that has a great role and a wonderful creative team, I might be persuaded to hit the road again. But for now, I’m happy to set my roots firmly in NYC!

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Well, another fabulous Spring Road Conference is in the books! If you are not familiar with this annual industry conference, check out my posts from previous conferences, such as this one, which will give you a basic overview.

It was a hectic week, filled with a variety of panels, creative conversations, lunches, cocktail parties, networking and shows. What was clear was how far the conference and the commercial theatre industry as whole has come as far as going more digital. The entire program for the conference was available through the Guidebook app and could also be viewed on a pdf. Conference binders were still being distributed, but I have a feeling that by the 2016 conference, the binder option will be gone completely. Also, a number of sessions were dedicated to digital and there was a “Digital War Room” where conference attendees had the opportunity to take advantage of one-on-one sessions with digital pros from various media outlets and social channels, as well as expert media buyers and strategists in the Broadway industry.

There were a multitude of panels on a whole variety of topics. Below is just a sampling of a few sessions…

“’IT’S A GREAT TITLE FOR THE ROAD,’ AND OTHER MYTHS”

This was a jam-packed session that had a lot of vibrant back and forth. Are certain titles right for the Road, but not New York City? Does a tour need a celebrity and what qualifies as a celebrity really as far as someone having enough of a “name” to sell more tickets? Is the summer really not a viable time for tours, or is that one of the many “myths?” There were no hard and fast answers, but it was definitely an airing out of viewpoints and I would say that chances are good that some of discussions will remain in the back of people’s minds when it’s time to think about a possible summer booking, deciding on whether a certain name should be involved, and if a title really will be strong enough to tour.

“WHAT IS THE GP?”

This was another packed and lively session. With the implementation of dynamic pricing, the GP (“Gross Potential”) is no longer the hard and fast largest possible gross for an engagement. People generally felt that the GP was still necessary when making pricing and budgeting decisions, but in this session it became clear that producers and presenters were beginning to become more thoughtful about what this number really represented and considering it a little differently than in the past. No universal approach surfaced during this discussion, but I suspect that in a few years time there will be a more cohesive industry-wide approach on what the GP really means. Perhaps there will be a new definition, as the GP these days seems more like a threshold number that the producer and presenter agree they would like to meet, and exceed.

“THE MILLENNIAL MARKETING MYSTERY”

In this session, guest speak Cathleen Johnson, President of Cathleen Johnson Tourism Consultants, LLC presented data on the “millennial” generation, a generation she insisted we all needed to really pay attention to and understand for the theatre industry to continue to thrive down the road. Johnson pushed the importance of tailoring marketing to attract this newer generation, considered to be an “alpha influencer” in the decision-making process among their peers as well as their parents’ generation. In additional to Johnson, three millennials were also on the panel and they commented on her data. Much of what Johnson said made sense to me, as well as to the millennials on the panel, though, I also felt some of her findings also applied to me and I am definitely NOT a millennial! That said, I think the overarching point was that it was important for marketers of theatre to be aware of the purchasing and social habits of the members of this group when implementing marketing and ticket pricing and discount message strategies.

“MEETING OF THE BROADWAY LEAGUE’S LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL”

This was an exciting and informative session where the panel and several presenters in the audience described recent accomplishments in the political realm, including opposing legislation intended to prevent venues from thwarting deceptive broker practices and advancing tax credits that encourage investment in theatre. These major strides notwithstanding, the big takeaway from this session was how important is is to begin having relationships and dialogue with local, state and federal electeds BEFORE a major issue presents itself, so you don’t have to start from scratch getting these politicians to pay attention to you when a challenge comes up related to your theater or theatre enterprise, and you need them most!

I only touched on a few aspects of the conference here. To really get a feel for this conference and its exciting vibe you must experience it first-hand! If you are a new producer, presenter, marketer, or booking agent looking to learn more about the Broadway and commercial touring industry and to meet the professionals who work in it, I highly recommend that you gain the credentials to join The Broadway League and attend this annual conference. League membership and the conference may seem pricey to some, but if you plan on being in this industry for the long haul, then it’s definitely a worthwhile investment!

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SPIDERMAN - WSJNow that it’s lights out for the most expensive show in Broadway history, SPIDERMAN – TURN OFF THE DARK after a widely reported troubled run, does the show have a chance of spinning a new web somewhere else?

Maybe.

Check out this article in The New Yorker  that discusses ways of making lemonade out of a Broadway lemon. One of the ways is on The Road. I talked a bit about this in a recent post. The New Yorker article broad strokes things a bit about The Road, as making any show that goes out on tour a commercial success — Broadway flop or Broadway success — depends on a combination of smart producing, thoughtful season programming, attentive day to day management, and expert tour marketing. These missing details aside, however, there are plenty of useful takeaways here. Especially the reminder that “Theatre is a business, yes, but it’s a weird one.”

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Actor, Patrick Oliver Jones. Currently on the road with the First National tour of EVITA

Actor, Patrick Oliver Jones. Currently on the road with the First National tour of EVITA

So, I am really excited about this post! I mostly talk about facts and figures and numbers and behind the scenes business stuff here, but the truth of the matter is, while these are all important aspects of the theatre touring industry, we can’t forget, hello — there are people on stage, too!

Which brings me to the latest in The Road 101’s “Voices From The Road” series. I am so lucky that actor, Patrick Oliver Jones, currently on tour with EVITA, stumbled on to The Road 101! Despite how busy he is, Patrick kindly agreed to talk about touring from an actor’s perspective in general, as well as his own personal experience.

This post is Part One of what will potentially be three posts. For these future posts, The Road 101 will check in with Patrick down the road to see how things are going, and what other interesting observations he has about the world of theatre touring …

THE ROAD 101: Patrick, thanks so much for taking the time to give The ROAD 101 readers insight into your experience being an actor on tour! Could you tell us little about your background? Where you’re from? How you got into the performing arts as a career? Anything else you’d like us to know about how you got into the business?

Patrick Oliver Jones:  I grew up in Birmingham, AL and had my first taste of performing in my church’s third grade choir. That grew into singing roles in Christmas, Easter, and other productions. But my first actual musical was FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in the ninth grade. I played Mendel, the Rabbi’s son. I had braces and thick plastic glasses and didn’t really look the part, but I was so excited to just have lines and little solos here and there. Throughout high school I performed in a musical every year, but I still wasn’t sure about theater as a career, until I got a singing scholarship at Samford University. It was the summer after my freshmen year that I got my first professional acting job as part of the ensemble in a summer stock theater company. During that summer I was cast as Pharaoh in JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT and I absolutely loved it! Getting to sing and move like Elvis in such a fun role was totally exhilarating to me, and I knew that I wanted to continue doing more of that kind of work. Since then, except for a brief two-month stint as a car salesman (you gotta do what you gotta do), I have been blessed to make my livelihood from performing.

TR101: For this tour of EVITA, how did you find out about the auditions? What did you need to prepare? What was the process like? How long before you heard that you got the part, and from whom? And once you heard you got the job, how long before you had to get yourself packed up and out on The Road?

POJ: In late March of this year, my agent lined up an audition for me with Telsey Casting, the biggest theatrical casting agency in New York. I was going in for the Peron understudy and to be a part of the ensemble. At this initial audition I was to prepare a song of my choice for the music director and one of the casting directors. A week later I got a callback and was given a packet of music to learn, about 20 pages total, that included ensemble parts as well as Peron solos. I had never sung the EVITA score before, and it has some tricky parts in it. Even though I had just a couple of days to learn it all, the music director was so friendly and understood how difficult the music was to learn in such a short period of time. She helped put me at ease as I sang through the sides for her and the associate director, and it certainly made for a much better audition experience. (I am constantly reminded in moments like that how much those behind the table want those of us who audition to succeed. Getting nervous is part of the game for actors, but we have to be mindful that they want us to do well because that makes their job more enjoyable and easier in casting the show.)

About two weeks later I was notified from my agent about a second callback…this time for the choreographer. It was to be a 90-minute session of going through different sections of the show. Usually dance callbacks have around 10 people or so (as they are looking for several ensemble parts at once), but as it turned out it was just me and one other guy at this dance call. It was comforting to know that I had a 50-50 chance of getting it, but it was also nerve-racking to be one-on-one with the choreographer, especially since I am not a dancer and it takes me a while to pick up choreography. But I must have done well enough, because three days later on April 8th my agent called and said I booked the tour!

However, rehearsals wouldn’t begin till August, so I had several months of continuing auditions and booking other work until then. To be honest, by the middle of July I still hadn’t signed a contract for EVITA. It wasn’t till I read my name in a press release announcing the cast on Playbill’s website that I knew for sure I was in. A couple of days after that, I went in to my agent’s office and finally signed my contract.

TR101: How much of the business aspect of The Road, including the complex behind the scenes ticket pricing, budgeting, contracting and settlement operations, are you and other performers aware of while you are out there rehearsing and performing?

POJ: Being a part of the Actors Equity Association, the union governing both actors and stage managers, we are aware of some of the finances going into a national tour like this. You see, Equity has created about 11 different tiers and categories of contracts for touring productions. The Production Contract, which includes Broadway, has five tiers and the Short Engagement Touring Agreement (SETA) has six categories. Based on our average weekly guarantees/flat fees and box office receipts as well as things like number of actors hired and trucks used, this touring production operates under the SETA contract. Though SETA salaries are far below that of the Production Contract, it is possible for us to make above our contractual weekly salary. If revenue ever exceeds expectations during a particular week on tour, this is called “overage” and the EVITA cast gets to share in those increased profits along with the producers and presenters.

Ticket prices vary widely from venue to venue. Tempe, Arizona has house seats going for $73 while in Los Angeles they top out at $125. The cast and crew are not usually given comp tickets or discounts to the shows. However, presenters will sometimes offer such deals on specific days if ticket sales are lagging or they want to fill the seats for a particular reason like opening night or press night. This gives us a chance to have family and friends come see us at reduced rates, which we are always grateful for.

TR101:  It must get a bit exhausting out there every once in a while, or performers get sick. How does the understudy situation work on your tour of EVITA?

POJ: Our show has a lot of group numbers and once the curtain opens most of us in the ensemble are quickly changing costumes going from scene to scene. As a result we don’t get many breaks in the show, which can be hardest on those in the dancer tracks. Because of this and the difficulty of the choreography, we have already had three people out on injury so far and we’re only in our fourth city. Thankfully, we have four swings (two male, two female) that cover all 18 of the ensemble tracks (nine male, nine female). To simplify what the swings have to learn through the rehearsal process, each swing focuses on 4-5 ensemble members to cover at first. However, eventually each swing must learn all nine ensemble tracks of their respective gender.

So far the process has been fairly seamless as they simply fill in for whoever is out of show. That can be due to illness, injury, or if someone is swung out of show, which is what happens when one of us in the cast is allowed to watch the show from the audience. This is particularly helpful to an understudy like myself to watch a performance to see what the principal I cover does on stage. In the unfortunate event that we had more than two male or female ensemble members out (knock on wood!), then our dance captain who is also one of the swings would devise a split-track, where portions of those ensemble tracks would be covered at different times throughout the show, depending on their importance to a scene.

TR101: What is your favorite aspect of being a performer on The Road and what is the most challenging aspect for you?

POJ: The best part of being on the road is the traveling. Being paid to go to cities like Chicago, Orlando, or Seattle is truly a delight, especially when I have friends or family there. While there is the downside of living out of a suitcase and dealing with long lines at the airports, there is the benefit of seeing wonderful cities across the country, especially those I’ve never been to before, and embracing my inner tourist that I keep hidden in New York City.

The most challenging aspect is the schedule. Most of our stops last one week, then it’s on to the next city. Performing six days in a row with two shows on Saturdays and Sundays and then traveling on the seventh day makes for a very long week. The weeks often run together and it can be difficult to realize what day it is. In cities where we stay two weeks or longer, then we are able to savor a full day without traveling or performing and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the city.

TR101: How are you enjoying being in Los Angeles right now? 

POJ: Interestingly back in 2005, I was deciding the next step in my career and debating whether to live in New York or LA. It was Broadway and the ever-abundant theater opportunities that eventually led me to choose New York, but I have always been attracted to the TV and film production here and enjoy visiting sunny Southern California with its beautiful weather, temperatures in the 70s, and less frenetic pace of life than NYC. Fortunately, we are here for three long weeks and our show and rehearsal schedules allow us to avoid most of LA’s famous rush hour traffic. As a result I’ve been able to go to TV show tapings of Let’s Make a Deal and Chelsea Lately, drive out to the beach and pier in Santa Monica, stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and go hiking in Teluca Hills.

TR101: Are audiences different from city to city? If so, in what ways?

POJ: In our first three cities (Providence, Chicago, St. Louis) audiences were pretty much the same…quiet. I mean it is basically a musical biography that begins and ends with a funeral. Furthermore, it is completely sung through so listening is imperative to not miss any dialogue or the storytelling. However, once we got here to LA the audience was a vocal part of the show for the first time. Scenes were getting chuckles and applause that we hadn’t had before. I’m not sure how to explain the change, but those here in Los Angeles seem to grasp the ironic and sarcastic moments that others have either not understood or at least were not vocal in their understanding.

TR101: Would you be interested in giving us updates on how things are going for you as you travel with EVITA to other cities?

POJ: Absolutely. Just let me know how often you’d like updates and what types of info would be most beneficial for your blog. I’m happy to keep you posted! 🙂

 * * * * *

Patrick Oliver Jones is currently on the road with Evita (Peron u/s), having recently finished the Equity national tour of The Addams Family (Lurch, Mal u/s). Off-Broadway he starred in the world premieres of The Extraordinary Ordinary, Magdalene, and Swiss Family Robinson (NYMF). Regionally, Patrick has led a revolution in Les Misérables, made ladies swoon in Beauty and the Beast, antagonized Quixote in Man of La Mancha, and spent his days mooning in Grease. His dramatic works include The Tempest (Ferdinand), Look Homeward, Angel (Eugene), and To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (David). On camera he has co-starred in BLUE BLOODS and LAW & ORDER: CI as well as numerous national commercials in the U.S. and Canada. www.PatrickOliverJones.com

 

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Tony Award-winning Best Actor in a Musical, Billy Porter as Lola in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical,  KINKY BOOTS

Tony Award-winning Best Actor in a Musical, Billy Porter as Lola in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, KINKY BOOTS

With the Tony Awards behind us, talk has started about what shows will tour in 2014-2015. My personal opinion has been that, while receiving a Tony Award is wonderful, it doesn’t have a major effect on whether a tour will succeed.

Here’s a post from a few years ago where I talk about Tony Awards and tours.

The Columbus Dispatch, per this article from a few days ago, also has some opinions.

What about you? What’s your opinion?

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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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With the 2012 Tony Awards behind us, it is now much clearer which shows will have a tour in the 2013-14 season. Even before it’s numerous Tony wins, ONCE The Musical announced it would be going out on The Road.

I believe ONCE, though, could potentially face some challenges on The Road. The show is based on a film, but it was a small indie film, and because the title lacks the kind of name recognition that a more widely-released movie does, the show is probably going to need some sort of “sellable” name in the cast to give it a bit more of a boost in attracting single ticket buyers. ONCE will be on subscription, but being on subscription alone is no longer a guarantee that an engagement will be profitable. I believe selling single tickets will more than likely be necessary for the engagement to go into decent overage in larger theaters, more or less so depending on how reachable break-even is, what the labor costs are, the rate of the weekly guarantee, and just overall how shrewdly and economically the touring production is built.

And that is what is possibly going to be the biggest challenge – how to successfully build an intimate show for The Road that will sometimes be presented in very large houses. Yes, ONCE is now on Broadway, but the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater only has a capacity of just a little over 1,000, which practically feels like a black box in comparison to some of the gigantic houses on The Road such as in Atlanta, St Louis, Costa Mesa, Portland and Toronto. That said, it is the responsibility of experienced producers to know The Road, and to know how to build all sorts of shows to work in the many different kinds of houses throughout North America. So my concerns about the intimate and delicate ONCE fitting well in large houses could very well end up being completely quashed, which is what I’m certainly hoping for! After all, the show did make an incredibly successful transfer from New York Theatre Workshop to Broadway when many doubted that the scale of the story and overall show itself would translate in a Broadway house. Other shows making Off-Broadway to Broadway transfers have not always had such good luck.

Here is a recent article that touches a bit on ONCE and some concerns about it playing in a larger space, suggesting if the show can be persuaded to do a sit-down at a smaller theater, that this would be the ideal scenario.

I tend to agree, but I’ve been wrong before…more than once.

TORONTO STAR

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