7 Lessons we can learn from Book of Mormon.
Sure, Book of Mormon won Best Musical this year. But in my opinion, it should be up for a Producing Prize as well.
The Producers made a whole bunch of great calls on this show that have helped turn it into the biggest hit Broadway has seen in years.
Here are 7 of ’em.
1. Size matters, but not the way you think.
Conventional wisdom says, if you’re producing a big musical, you need a big theater, right? Nope. By putting Mormon in the more reasonably sized Eugene O’Neill Theater, which has a play-like capacity of just over 1,000 seats, the Producers have created a Cabbage Patch Kid-like craze for those few tickets. Think about it. Spider-Man has almost 5,000 more seats a week to fill. Guess which show has to work harder to sell out? And we all know when someone can’t get something, they want it oh so much more. (I get asked for Mormon tickets 4 times a day). The smaller theater positioned the Mormons to look like a big hit, even if the response wasn’t what it was.
2. Never forget who got you here.
The authors have always been appreciative of their South Park fans, who they knew would support them in their first few months on Broadway. When ticket demand soared, the show announced a free (!) performance on July 1st for the diehards that might not have been able to get (or afford) a ticket. The show will pay a pretty penny to do that 9th show that week. But it’s not always about the bottom line. The Producers took a page about of every book of just about every religion and are sharing their good fortune with others. It’s the Mormon/Christian/Buddhist/Etc. way.
3. Who’s in that show again?
Whenever I’m talking about shows these days, the first question people ask in in this star-driven world is, “Who’s in it?” Yet, I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that about Mormon, and the cast happens to be out-of-this-world. Yes, some might argue that the South Park authors are the star, and certainly that pedigree helped get the piece to Broadway. But the real star of the show . . . is the show itself. The Producers remembered that of the 10 longest running shows in Broadway history, only one had a star. (Click here to find out which one.) And shall we talk about some of the shows that flopped this year that had big names attached? The best insurance policy a show can have is a great script and a great score, period.
4. No tickets to sell? Advertise more.
This issue is debated in a lot of Producing circles. One camp will tell you that a sold out show not only makes you money at the BO, but also increases your profit margin, because you can reduce your advertising costs, since there aren’t many tickets to sell. More revenue, less expense. But another camp will tell you that to make sure you get your roots firmly planted in the tough New York City theatrical community, you have to keep hitting your audience with impression after impression, even when they can’t get tickets (which will yes, make them want them even more – see point #1). I’ve seen no reduction in the amount of Mormon advertising out there, and on this show, I think it’s the right way to go. Everybody’s talking about it, so having it everywhere only fuels the fire and feeds the frenzy.
5. Q: When are you going to Mormon? A: June, 2012.
True story. One of my best friends from high school showed up to the O’Neill last week with his legitimately purchased tickets, only to be turned away . . . because his mistakenly bought his tickets for next June, not this June. Sad times. That’s right, you can buy tickets for a year from now! (Restricted to Amex only, but still.)
There’s a school of thought to keeping your “buying window” small, in order to force everyone to fill all the seats you have (Granted, Mormon doesn’t have many seats now). I’ve always believed in opening up the window and allowing people to purchase much further out. First of all, as an investor once said to me, “if someone wants to give you money, take it!” And that doesn’t matter if the money is for tickets for next week or next year. Get that commitment and get the bucks in the bank. Second, in an age when getting people to buy in advance is sooo difficult, why wouldn’t you allow the few people that plan ahead to secure their seats now. And if you close, or have to change schedule? Big whoop. It’s always easier to give a refund than to get someone to make a purchase.
6. If Demand > Supply then increase Prices.
The day after the Tonys, ticket prices for Mormon shot up. I know, I know, we all bemoan how high ticket prices are for theater these days, but to quote my dear friend Ulla from another high-priced-hit . . . “When you got it, flaunt it!” It’s a business, and as long as there is the demand, and as long as you don’t look too greedy (see the greed-neutralizer in #2), raising prices is something you as a Producer must consider. The mistake would have been NOT to raise prices.
7. Hasa Diga Convention!
If you asked me last year if a new musical would open cold in NYC without an out-of-town tryout, no festival run, no nothing, I would have told you it would be a cold day in the spooky Mormon-version of Hell before that happened. And then it does. Every “rule” is right, until someone breaks it. It took guts to do it, but the Prods proved that every show has its own path. As a Producer, you have to pick the right one for your show no matter what conventional wisdom says.
The story of Mormon is just beginning. Do you think Oscar Hammerstein ever thought there would be a musical that used the C word in a lyric? It’s a fascinating case study in the changing and evolving Broadway audience, and it’s a fascinating case study in stellar producing.
I’ll be watching as the months and years roll on. I expect we’ll see some even smarter things in the future.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.