10 Things I Learned from Broadway Theatergoers at My Focus Groups

Over the past month, I’ve conducted two sets of focus groups for Gettin’ The Band Back Together, my upcoming Broadway Musical (there was about a 50/50 shot I was going to announce our spring opening last week, FYI . . . but another show slipped into a theater I was targeting, so we wait for the next!).

Because of the unique nature of the show, and, well, because it is set in New Jersey, I did two groups in New York (to get the New York audience’s take) and two groups in New Jersey (to get their take, and compare the difference).  What art/blurbs/etc. will work for both of these very different audiences?  Will we need a bifurcated approach?

As always, the groups were unbelievably enlightening and the thousands of dollars we spent will without a doubt save us or make us ten times that amount when we roll the show out.  Why everyone isn’t doing this for new musicals, especially ones like Gettin’ The Band . . . which don’t have a pre-existing brand/are entirely original . . . is beyond me.  Name me another industry that spends 10 – 15 million dollars developing a product and doesn’t test it before putting it in the market???

In addition to learning all about their attitudes and interest in Gettin’ The Band . . . I also learned a lot of general stuff about their theatergoing habits and what makes them tick(et).

Here are the top 10 takeaways from the focus groups that could apply to your shows:

  • Every time I go, I say I’m going to do this every month and then “life happens.”  (Note from Ken:  so many people know that they should be going more.  It’s like me and museums.  We know we should go.  But we don’t.  Theater is becoming like working out.)
  • I’m not sure you want to put faces in logos unless I recognize them.  Unknown faces just might remind me that you don’t have stars.
  • I need to know the story.  Tell me what it’s about.
  • I used to gauge how much I liked a show by if I wanted to buy the CD in the lobby no matter what the cost.  (Note from Ken:  the music is the most essential ingredient in a musical.  The root word of musical is “music” after all – so what did we expect?  It’s not a book-ical!)
  • Sometimes I think that logos are too clever for their own good.  Just tell me what it’s about.
  • I love Broadway because it’s somewhere I can go to escape work, kids, and living in the city.  (Note from Ken:  There is a great general “See A Broadway Show” campaign in this . . . it’s an oasis in the city.)
  • The leads in Broadway shows get Wednesday nights off.  (Note from Ken:  !!!!!)
  • I love the costumes and the sets of Broadway shows.
  • My husband doesn’t like going to the theater, so I go with my daughter/I go with my sisters/I go with my mom.  (Note from Ken:  We always knew that women who can’t get their husbands to go to see a Broadway show go with friends, but I was amazed at how many used it as a “family night out” with the family they may not see every day (sisters, aunts, moms, etc.).)
  • Smash is still on, right?  I love that show.

One of the reasons I love doing focus groups is to remind me that my “perspective” is much closer than the millions of people that actually see shows every year.  All of us in the biz live and breathe this stuff every single day. And it’s important imperative to remember that what is the #1 thing in our life is not the #1 thing in our audience’s lives.  They have their own jobs and their lives to deal with.  Broadway theatergoing would be lucky to be 10th on their list.

But with focus group data like this, perhaps we can figure out a way to move it up the list.  And move television viewing down.  Except for Smash.  If it was still on.  🙁


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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.