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Change Content For Specific Audience? Good Question

Last month, Ken Davenport over at Producer’s Prospective issued a “you make the call” challenge to his readers and it ended up the most read and commented on post of April. People were still adding their opinions as of last Friday. Here is his scenario and challenge.

I have a division at my office that sells group tickets to Broadway shows. A few weeks ago we got an inquiry from a group of 500 people that was looking for a show. Yep, 500! That’s 1/3 of a big Broadway house, which means quite an impact on a weekly gross….

The group came back and said there was one show that they specifically interested in. “Great,” we said and started to place the order.

There was just one problem.

The group explained that there were a few moments in the show that they thought were objectionable, and unfortunately, because of the mission statement of the organization, they would not be able to book their group (of 500!) if those moments were in the show.

Insert dramatic chords here.

The “moments” weren’t specifically plot-related, nor would they involve a great deal of work to alter them.

But would the show make the alterations to satisfy this group?

Insert more dramatic chords here.

Obviously there are a lot factors that would be involved in this decision, like when the group is looking to come (what time of year and what performance during the week), how well the show is doing, how much the group is paying, etc.

But if you’re a commercial theater producer, the question is whether you would be willing to ask your creative team to make the changes to their work to accomodate this bonus to the bottom line?”

The responses to this challenge fell into some general camps- Sure if it isn’t that complicated; What about the fact that 1000 other people paid to see the original show? (sub-set response to this was, Sure if they want to buy the whole house); The artistic choices made were deliberate and that vision should not be compromised, stick to your guns; If you do it once, you create a precedent to do it again.

A couple of interesting points made by a commenter going by Julia was that shows often compromise their content on the basis of an audience’s physical situation: modulating strobes for epileptics, adding illumination for signed performances, captioned performances, audio described performances. Each of these changes the appearance of the performance from the original or alters the experience of other audience members who are not targets of the services.

I haven’t really addressed the issue of changing an artistic choice based on audience feedback since discussing Neal Archer Roan’s tough decisions about Bach’s St. John’s Passion and anti-Semitism. Since the discussion was still ongoing over on Davenport’s blog, I thought it might be appropriate to draw attention to the issues and get people thinking about how they might handle it.

Of course, if we are all to be honest, how we say we would handle it often diverges from how we actually handle the situation when faced with its impact on our own reputation and budgets.

One question I would add to the mix. Are you more likely to make the change if your show is on Broadway or presented by a non-profit organization? Broadway has much more profit motive to their show. The saga of Spiderman with the never ending previews, the rewrites and reissues have shown that Broadway is open to revamping content in response to criticism. (I am surprised no commenter on Producer’s Perspective mentioned that.) While they do it for more than one show, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility a permanent change might not be implemented if appeal to a wider market was perceived.

On the other hand the income from 1/3 a house means a lot more to a non-profit organization than a Broadway show. Though most Broadway shows have less flexibility in doing so, that Spiderman could afford to shutdown for a few months for rewrites is fair evidence that Broadway probably has a little more ability financially to refuse the change on principle alone.

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Grouse: What You Do When Your Salary Is Too Meager To Afford It

It looks like it was a weekend for griping about performing arts. Ken Davenport at Producer’s Perspective opened the floor on an atypical Saturday post asking people to share their gripes. He promised to make it a monthly ritual if he got more than 10 responses and he easily passed that mark. A summary of the comments in one sentence would be – “How can they charge such high prices for tickets, yet pay me so little if I can shoehorn my way into a position at all.” There are a few complaints about audiences thrown in for good measure. The general source of the comments seem to be people living in and around New York City with a few people coming form other places. The tenor of most of the comments will be familiar to you if you work in the arts at all and are familiar with the New York City scene. Those aspiring to careers are following the same path those before them followed. This includes tales of people both inside and outside the business wanting them to work for fun or for experience.

My initial thought was that Broadway won’t change because it doesn’t have to and that people need to look elsewhere for their experience. While a similar situation is just about as institutionalized outside of New York City, those organizations are at least marginally aware that they need to find a better way to run their business and interact with their employees.

Which brings us to the second post I came across. Barry Hessenius posted an entry on his blog noting that essentially every job description for an executive director and senior management of an arts organization seems to be taken from the same template without any effort to acknowledge the actual specific needs of their organization.

He provides a tongue in cheek translation of this:

“The successful candidate will be a strong leader with excellent management and interpersonal skills. S/he will have the proven ability to build productive relationships with a broad range of internal and external constituencies, and have the demonstrated ability to work collaboratively with the various segments of the community. S/he will be an experienced supervisor with the ability and willingness to mentor staff and encourage staff development. S/he will foster an atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration among staff and volunteers throughout the organization. S/he will have a strong working knowledge of programs, production, board relations and operations. S/he will have excellent financial management skills and a track record for achieving budget goals…”

Into this:

“We want someone smart enough to help us figure out a cool vision for our future (that one is stumping us); someone who will attract great talent to the staff (though we can’t pay the staff very much) and whom the staff (despite working conditions that are hardly ideal) will love and follow anyway (someone who will hopefully get them to perform above their potential, because actually we’re understaffed by all reasonable criteria). We want someone who can make various factions of the board (currently somewhat dysfunctional and at each other’s throats) work harmoniously together and take on an ever greater workload (or in the alternative someone who will assume the board’s workload for them because it’s highly unlikely they will do much more than they are doing right now – which isn’t that much). We try not to micromanage, but we still do. We’re looking for someone who can get the best out of us, but someone enough like us so we are comfortable with them; someone who will push themselves, but not necessarily push us too hard. Did we mention that we want someone who can raise a lot of money? “

I have only excerpted a small portion of his translation so you will want to visit the entry to read the whole thing. I have also excerpted a portion of his sample job description. Trust me when I say you don’t need to go to the entry to read that. You have seen it many times before. I did a verbatim Google search on a couple phrases from Barry’s sample and found a number of job listings using them. I understand a desire not to reinvent the wheel, but if you are looking for the same person as everyone else, most organizations are bound to be disappointed. There are only so many of those paradigms to go around. The truth is, most organizations are indeed looking for someone a little different from the rest.

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Be A Broadway Producer!

Broadway Producer Ken Davenport is offering the first crowd funded investment opportunity in a Broadway show. For $100/unit, ten unit minimum, you can invest in Davenport’s Broadway revival of Godspell.

Davenport had to pass an exam to become a securities agent in order to offer this opportunity.

From Davenport’s blog-

“Each investor in Godspell shall receive a limited liability company interest in The Godspell, LLC, per our Offering Circular as qualified with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States.*

In addition, every single investor, no matter how much he or she invests, will have his or her name listed on a poster outside of our Broadway theater.

Yep, you’re going to get billing.

And every single investor will also have their name listed on a new website created exclusively for this community,, as well as his or her photo, hometown, a quote, and links to their Facebook and Twitter profiles.

What do you think? Fun, right?

There may even be opportunities for opening night performance and gala tickets, complimentary tickets to previews, invitations to private cast functions and more.”

Bad news for many of you, including me, you have to live in one of the following states to directly invest – CA, CT, GA, IL, MA, MI, MN, NJ and NY. If you really want to participate, maybe you can have friends/relatives who live there and are interested in investing themselves pool your money with theirs. Not sure if you can get credit on the poster though.

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Friday As The New Wednesday? Only On Broadway!

Ken Davenport at Producer’s Perspective recently reprinted a preference survey conducted by the Telecharge ticketing service. Telecharge set out to discover at what times Broadway audiences would prefer to attend shows. The results were pretty interesting. It wasn’t really surprising to me to learn that people would rather have weekend shows start at 7 pm and that people who go to matinees like to eat after the show and those who go to evening shows want to eat before. But I found it interesting that people would rather have the weekday matinee be on Friday rather than Wednesday.

This raises the question about how well do we really know our audience’s preferences. I know that some people in my audience would prefer an earlier start time on week nights. But others need the extra time to wait for the traffic to clear enough to make it over to the theatre. Still, I am sure there is a lot I don’t know about my audience preferences.

Of course, there are other matters to consider. In the case of the Broadway study, one of the biggest impediments to changing the matinee day to Friday is that bus operators and schools don’t want to have their groups in NYC on a Friday night. Davenport notes that shows that aren’t dependent on these groups for their audience base might try some experimentation. Even if you aren’t on the 8 shows a week schedule Broadway is, there are other practical concerns like not overburdening your cast and crew with back to back performances and other time related stresses to consider.

Anyway, there are some observations made toward the end of the report that may just be interesting for their own sake, but could also drive some conversations in your offices.

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