Beyond Broadway: Home Field Advantage
Ok, let’s start with a refresher from our conversation with theater marketing expert Clay Mabbitt:
Marketing has two parts. The first part is identifying who’s going to love what you’re creating. And then, the second part is showing them why they’re going to love it.
Alright then. Let’s consider a certain kind of theater that might just love what you’re creating.
Through the magic of electronic communication I have gathered some representatives of these theaters (which, for added suspense, shall remain nameless for now), and I’m going to come right out and ask them: Would any of you be open to producing the premiere of a new musical?
Elena Kent (EK): “Yes.”
Tracye Caughell (TC): “Yes!!”
Jenny Shaheen (JS): “If we were passionate about the show and felt that we could market it for the space, we would welcome the opportunity to bring something new to our audiences.”
Cindy Sheets (CS): “I think we would certainly produce an original musical. We’ve produced original plays in the past, so I imagine this would be a logical next step for us.”
(Writers, is that enough to get your attention?)
That’s so exciting! Have you ever done one before?
JS: No, we haven’t.
CS: Most we’ve done during past years were Broadway productions.
EK: We have not produced a non-Broadway musical except our current one, Forbidden Broadway.
That wasn’t on Broadway, but it did have a pretty lengthy commercial run in New York. Have any of you produced something new?
TC: We have produced new musicals twice.
Now we’re talking. What were they?
TC: The first was High School Musical, which was a huge part of pop culture for a few years. It was everywhere!
Um… yes. I am familiar. If I understand correctly, this was new to the stage, since it started as a multi-gazillion dollar hit movie. But—speaking as a writer—is there any chance your other new musical was maybe a little less established?
TC: The more satisfying experience for me as a producer was tackling A Little Princess [with music by Andrew Lippa and words by Brian Crawly]. I was captivated by the music, which I heard in a concert version of the show at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
(Note to writers: Get your work out there, in whatever form you can.)
A Little Princess is an interesting case. On the one hand, it’s a show that’s having a real life outside of New York without a Broadway production. On the other hand, both writers have Broadway credits, and the script is commercially licensed through MTI.
So, what I’m hearing is that all of you would be open to new work, but none of you have produced an actual premiere. The exciting news is that there are so many musical theater writers out there that plenty of unproduced material is available. Do you have ideas on how you would find a new work to produce?
EK: Accept submissions and peruse scripts.
TC: I periodically attend the NYMF festival in New York City that showcases new works. I also try to chat with book and music writers and keep track of what they are working on.
JS: We’ve never gone looking for one but have stumbled across a couple that inspired us, so we took to the Internet to hunt down the rights holders.
There is a subtle paradox here. First, these are the channels theaters are using to find new material, so be sure you are using them, too. Second, none of these theaters have actually produced a show that they have found in this manner.
How do we bridge this gap between the fact that these theaters are open to producing new musicals, and the reality that they are not doing so? Part of the answer can be found in their very name: Community.
That’s right. These are Community Theaters.
CS: Town & Gown is a non-profit community theatre [in Stillwater, OK] operated completely by volunteers.
JS: My husband, Dana, and I began producing musicals [as Chameleon Productions LLC in Arroyo Grande, CA] about 18 years ago after we met doing community theater. We primarily do musicals, but occasionally look at dramas.
EK: Be Theatre is a small performance company [in San Angelo, TX] that focuses not only on performances, but community involvement and outreach.
TC: Children’s Musical Theatre of Bartlesville [OK] is an amateur theatre company that focuses on producing musicals with youth performers. Typically we do full-scale musicals cast entirely with young people, ages 7-17.
Not only do amateur and community theaters outnumber commercial or regional theaters, and not only are they staffed entirely by people who are passionate about theater, but they are woven into their communities in ways commercial theater can only dream of. Their actors are part of their community, their audiences are drawn from their community and they choose their material specifically to speak to their community.
So go back to our paradox: these theaters are open to new musicals, are even looking for them to some extent, but have not produced any. What’s missing? A personal connection with the show (a.k.a. community).
Full disclosure: two of these theaters I’m speaking with have expressed interest in my musical adaptation of The Giver. Jenny, how did you get interested in the show?
JS: My daughter saw a staged reading of it in San Francisco a couple of years back and came home raving about it! I think our community would support it because it’s such a classic story. The cast is very attainable, and the message, beautiful.
That’s, like, three levels of community right there. Tracye, how did you get interested in The Giver?
TC: The writer was a local guy whose mother and I chatted about the progress of his work.
Boom. Community. (Also: thanks, Mom.)
This isn’t to say that any theater is obligated to produce your work simply because they live in the same city as you. Your work has to be good, has to match their vision and tastes, and has to be a good draw for their audience.
But even if they’re not interested in your current project, keep building that relationship. Make yourself helpful. Follow Rob Gardner’s example and cater your next project to their specific needs.
Because, who knows? A production of your work may be closer than you think.
What is your favorite musical?
JS: Pretty much anything from Sondheim, but most likely Sweeney Todd—our most artistically solid production that also happened to be our most financially unhealthy. Go figure…
What is a dream project of yours?
TC: I believe many shows that don’t find a NYC audience can find eager audiences elsewhere. A recent example of that is Big Fish. It was one of the most intensely moving and fun shows that I have ever seen. Hands on a Hardbody is another musical that I think will be well received across the country. I would love to produce both of those shows someday!
As a musical theater practitioner outside of New York, what does success look like to you?
EK: Full theatre, excellent work, rave reviews and no drama within the production! Most especially, bringing new people into our theatre and introducing them to performance art done in a professional way, with professional level talent from artists and performers.