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The Curse of the Experienced Eye

Ken Davenport recently talked about how he enjoyed Broadway shows much more when he was younger. Part of the reason he has a harder time now is because he analyzes the show with the eye of a producer. The other reason is because when he was younger, he was often ignorant about disparaging news about a show in the absence of social media and websites and thus approached each show without any bias.

I am much the same way. I can’t attend a show at a place I have worked earlier because I feel left out of the social interactions and behind the scenes activity that I was once an initiate of. I also have difficulty watching a show that I have contracted in because I want to be backstage checking things out.

As Davenport says “As a theater pro, I know I’m enjoying a show when I’m not thinking about what went in to making it.” In my case, it is a question of whether the show is of sufficient quality and interest to me that I want to sit in the audience for the whole show rather than watching from the wings or attending to various details.

I was wondering if other arts people out there had a similar experience to Ken Davenport and my own.

I don’t have any problem attending and watching the entire performance I don’t feel personally invested in. But there are other complications that have resulted from my training.

Attending shows first became a chore when I had to write a critique of it from some perspective. With the onus of either taking notes or trying to remember what went on, the shows weren’t as enjoyable any more.

Today, without that responsibility, it is easier to enjoy a performance. Except, now I dread being asked what I thought of the show as soon as the curtain comes down. I usually beat a quick path to the door so that I can have the time to digest what I have seen without being pressured to respond.

Often I know there was something I didn’t like about the show, but it can be difficult to pin down what it is exactly in the moments after the performance.

Then there is the issue of knowing the show wasn’t great quality and watching everyone else fly to their feet to give a standing ovation. It is times like this that I wonder if it is better to have a discerning, critical eye and know the show barely deserves enthusiastic seated applause, much less a hair trigger standing ovation or would I be happier having not developed that skill so I could just sit there and enjoy the show without reservation.

It is something of a two edged sword since the same skill will reveal delightful, intriguing choices that deepen your appreciation of artists’ work.

Some of this is unavoidable and just the cost of growing up and experiencing the world. My high school science teachers removed some of the magic from my childhood by explaining the reality, but later that same knowledge was the basis of a different sort of awe about the world.

So does anyone else face issues like this? Do you have similar circumstances where you can enjoy yourself and then others that require a degree of self-restraint?

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Breaking Hearts Away From Broadway

Broadway Producer Ken Davenport wonders why Broadway doesn’t do an American Idol type audition either having open auditions or putting casting directors on a bus to tour the country.

The basis for this suggestion is that it would get a lot of people engaged in the process–not only the people who auditioned, but all their friends and family as well. And they would remain engaged over a longer period of time, keeping the show present in their mind during the rehearsal period, leaving them primed to want to attend once it opened.

“You don’t think all those people that audition in the coming months will be more enthused about watching Season 13 when it rolls around? They’ll tune in to say, “Who beat me?” And they’ll be proud to tell their friends, “I auditioned for that.” By involving people in the process, they expand their audience.

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Why doesn’t every Broadway show have open calls, allowing anyone and their brother, Equity or not, a chance at Broadway stardom? We did it for Godspell, and we had lines around the block (and collected emails). So many people said it was their dream just to be seen for a Broadway show, and they would never forget it, even if they went back to their day job the next morning. Sure it’s a cost, but you don’t think you’d make that back in press and tickets? And just imagine if you found a cast member from that casting net. Oh the articles!”

One of first thoughts was about all those experienced actors that have been honing their craft and hitting the pavement for years. Where does this leave them? What message does it send about the performing arts?

There is a long tradition of unknowns being “discovered” so I am not put off by the prospect of someone getting a lead role with little effort. It has been known to happen. Much the rest of the cast would probably be comprised of experienced people and the producers probably shouldn’t be looking for the lead parts like You’re The One That I Want” did for the revival of Grease.

My biggest concern is that in an environment where people think orchestra musicians shouldn’t want to get paid for “having fun” performing, an American Idol type process for casting Broadway shows would send the message that just about anyone could circumvent the hard work involved with performance and just walk into a part.

Where most performers work to become suitable to be cast in a variety of roles and shows, the only thing you could say for sure about a person cast in this manner is that they are suited to play this character in the dynamics of this particular production.

Certainly, they might have the ability to do a credible job in many roles. My concern is that the general public would believe that success in this specific endeavor validated their ability to perform well in multiple roles. There is a big difference between what you need to bring to each role. But it will appear that anyone can be a performer after a few hours of competition and coaching.

Best situation would be if the process wasn’t televised because the meat of the casting and coaching process would be edited out leaving people with the wrong impression of the process. After watching someone get asked about the character choices they have made, why they reacted to another person in the manner they did and if they understood the time period in which the show was set, people would get the sense that there is work involved in preparing for a production.

As part of coaching, this makes for boring television. As the basis of biting criticism from a panel of judges, it might be very exciting, but it is rather far from the mind numbing reality of a real audition process. I am not sure anyone is well served in the long term by injecting that sort of unrealistic melodrama into an audition process.

But an untelevised national casting tour that mixed competitive drama with an emphasis on the fact that this was the exception rather than the rule to having a performance career could be productive.

The title of this entry comes from the old saying “There’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway.” I do agree with Davenport’s perception that people would be happy just to have the opportunity to try out for a Broadway show. That could be turned to a constructive end if an effort was made in conjunction with the auditions to encourage people to become more involved with their local performing arts organizations, reinforced the value of a liberal arts education and disseminated the idea that talented people didn’t/shouldn’t need to go to New York, Chicago or LA in order to work.

Of course, my agenda and that of television and Broadway producers probably don’t intersect in a lot of places.

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Helping The Rising Tide Lift All Boats

I have been following The Producer’s Perspective, the blog of Broadway producer Ken Davenport, for a number of years now. While I don’t have solid evidence, I suspect he is not like other Broadway producers. He is often curious to learn about the audiences for Broadway shows, where they are coming from, what motivates their purchasing decisions, etc. While this may seem like basic marketing surveying, the information doesn’t really exist so he is often sending people to query folks standing in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square.

Taking some inspiration from Zappos, he decided to create a toll free number to have his office staff answer questions about Broadway to help dispel the notions his surveyors and focus groups discovered people have.

Well, that’s exactly what I thought . . . so then I wondered . . . why doesn’t Broadway have a hotline? Why doesn’t it have a toll free number that people can just call to find out stuff? Ivory Soap has one. Coke has one.

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Yep, we created 1-855-SEE-BWAY (733-2929) to help answer your questions about Broadway.

It’s staffed by a bunch of the nicest Broadway theater lovers you could ever imagine (they also happen to be my staff, in a very Zappos-inspired “we all answer the phone including the boss” structure), and we guarantee we’ll get you the answer to whatever question you have about Broadway theatergoing.

Need to know what’s playing? Need to know at what times? Price of tickets? Suitability for kids? Location? Parking? Restaurants nearby? Sure, we got that. And if we don’t, we’ll get it for you. Promise on our autographed original cast recording of Company.

Oh, and before you ask . . . no, we’re not selling anything. This isn’t about us trying to make any money. This is about a service that should exist. And needs to exist if we’re going to grow our audience (just like Zappos increased theirs).

I bring this up not so much to promote his service (though I think it is great thing to offer) but to wonder if this signifies that arts organizations are moving toward a more collaborative “tide raises all ships” approach and a way from a competitive “ne’er the twain shall meet” stance.

About six years ago I wrote about an effort by the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to provide people with information about all the performing arts in town rather than solely about themselves. I am not sure if they sustained the effort, especially when the economy got worse, but I took the fact that they were even considering it as part of their business model as an encouraging sign.

This year I am partnering with three different groups to present as many shows. In the past, we have partnered with maybe one other organization and the sharing of responsibilities (and revenue/expenses) was not as extensive. I am not sure about next year, but I hope to continue similar relationships even with the additional work it entails.

There have also been times I have assumed other organization’s obligations so that the show can go on. Perhaps as involved as I am in this type of activity, I am seeing a trend…or wishing for one, where it doesn’t exist yet.

I am all for making the effort to turn it into a trend though.

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Info You Can Use: Crowdfunding Legislation Update

Thanks to Ken Davenport’s post on the subject, I discovered the bill to facilitate crowdfunding I wrote about at the end of October is nearing approval. The House (H.R. 2930) approved the measure early in November and the Senate’s proposed bill (S. 179) is in committee.

As discussed in my earlier post on the subject, the existing rules for inhibit small investments made by many people because S.E.C. rules kick in after threshold of 500 people. These bills provide a little more leeway.

William Carleton has a good comparison of the passed version of H.R. 2930 and the proposed S. 179. Of most immediate concern to most people will probably be that where the House bill places the per investor, per year limit at the lesser of $10,000 or 10% of annual income, the Senate bill caps investment at $1,000. The North American Securities Administrators Association apparently agrees with the Senate on this point.

At that level, and given the level of required reporting and investor notice, I wonder if it will be worth it to too many people to attempt crowd funding in this manner. But again, I am thinking in terms of the investing prospectus one receives. Presumably, there will be less information to provide to investors in the case of crowdfunding efforts.

Trent Dykes at The Venture Alley provides the details of the House bill. I was particularly interested to see what sort of protections an investor had against fraud.

Not that it isn’t enough motivation to defraud, but you can only raise $1 million annually using the exemption provided by the bill ($2 million if you provide audited financial statements.) In addition to providing warnings of risks to potential investors and sending a collection of information and reporting to the S.E.C., one protection people will have is that the money will be held in escrow by a third party until 60% of the target amount has been raised. Presumably, if the amount has not be raised by the target deadline, additional arrangements must be made to retain it. There are also provisions that ensure the people handling the offering and cash management are qualified to some degree. People with a history as a “bad actor” as determined by the S.E.C. will be prohibited from offering investment opportunities.

As I am not an expert in investing law, I don’t know how vulnerable these arrangements are to fraud. Presumably, moreso then your typical investment opportunity. Individuals will just have less of their personal fortunes exposed to the fraud.

For some people in the arts, this might offer a viable alternative to the non-profit model. I imagine the return on investment might manifest as a hybrid of traditional donor benefits and cash. Providing preferential treatment to encourage people to remain emotionally invested in the organization in addition to paying out cash dividends will probably help keep them financially invested in the company.

Hopefully the limitation on the investing level will insulate arts companies from demands to operate themselves to maximize investor return. Even if the cap is set at $10,000, people aren’t going to be getting immense returns enriching their bank accounts (at least not for a few years). Who knows, perhaps a company will realize so much success thanks to this, they will grow to the point the will be subject to regular S.E.C. investment rules.

Now that this form of investment looks to pass the hurdle of legislation, how long before the arts community will pass the mental hurdle of considering anyone who uses it to finance their operations as selling out their purity and ideals?

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