My favorite game is “I’m The Producer!” Wanna play?

Back when I watched football more regularly, they had a feature called You Make The Call!  They showed a play from an actual game and then you got to play referee, deciding things like if Joe Montana’s pass was intentional grounding or not (can you tell how long it’s been since I’ve watched football regularly?).

After a commercial, they’d reveal what the correct call was.

(Note to the all those NFL executives reading this blog – bring this feature back.  The surge of interest in reality television and interactive entertainment makes it a natural for today’s audiences.)

I like to play this game with Producing!  Ready?  Here’s the “play” . . .

There has been a tremendous amount of excitement and buzz around the latest revival of The Scottish Play at BAM.  Of course, talks to moving Mac-You-Know-What to Broadway have been heard all over Joe Allen’s.

This production seems to have the two things that are necessary for a revival: a star and a new interpretation.  And this one has a bonus – a “you must see this performance” review from Ben Brantley!

So, here’s where the game begins:

You’re the Producer.  You get a call from Mr.
Schoenfeld of the Shuberts who says, “Kid, I put my grudge with that bald British guy from Star Trek
behind me.  I’m giving you the theater with my name on it.  But I need to know if you want it right now or I’m going to give it to the touring company of Dora The Explorer, ok?  That little Dora and her monkey make me laugh.  Plus that show grosses more in merchandise per week than Journey’s End grossed during its entire run.  The catch is that Dora wants the theater for a year, so you have to guarantee me a year.  Do you want it, or does my theater turn into Crocodile Lake?”

Gulp.  What do you do?

The first thing you do is ask Mr. Schoenfeld for some time to make a decision.  Business is not your final Calculus exam.  Business is an open book test.  You need some time to take a look at research.  If anyone ever tells me that I have to make a decision right there on the spot, I walk away.  Period.

Mr. Schoenfeld gives you fifteen minutes.

Better, but no time to make a budget.   And considering he does have another offer, you can’t begrudge him wanting to move quickly.

So what would your plan be?  Take the theater and just see what happens?

Oh no, you’re too smart for that.  Let’s look at the last twenty years of commercial theater productions of Shakespeare.

Show                        Year        Star                            Performances

Julius Caesar             2005       Denzel Washington      112

Macbeth                    2000        Kelsey Grammer         21

A Midsummer’s . . .    1996        None                          78

The Tempest              1995       Patrick Stewart            95

Hamlet                       1995       Ralph Fiennes             110

Merchant of Venice     1989        Dustin Hoffman           103

Macbeth                     1988        Christopher Plummer    85

(Not as many as you thought for 20 years, right?  I was surprised too.)

Ok, what have we learned? (Besides the obvious fact that formatting tables in blogging software blows?)

  • Commercial Shakespeare productions have slowed in the last decade.
  • If you’re gonna do Shakespeare, have a star.
  • Macbeth is a popular title to revive.
  • Average length of run is 86.29 performances or 10.79 weeks (8 shows/week)

And there’s your answer.  While certainly the length of the runs of the majority of these shows were based on the star’s availability (and the lack of it), there is no data to suggest that you could sustain a long run of a commercial Shakespearean production (if you had more time, you’d analyze all of the grosses of these
productions, especially the trends at the
end of the runs).

You’d call Mr. S. back, and tell him that you can’t take it for a year.  You’d show him the data (numbers are the best negotiators) and tell him your plan is for a 12 week limited run with a hope of an extension, but that’s it.  He’d be overwhelmed by your market savvy and give you the theater.  Then you’d call your GM and figure out how to recoup in 6-8 weeks.

Did we win the game?  Did we make the right call?

Unfortunately, there’s no referee with a rule book to tell us if we’re right.  But there is recoupment, and you just gave yourselves a lot better odds at getting there by doing even the quickest bit of research.

If you hadn’t done your homework you might have done a standard play
budget that recouped in 6 months to a year and you’d be wishing you
were at the bottom of Crocodile Lake when your investors came looking
for you.

Play this game often.  Every time you hear buzz about a show, think about how you’d get it to the next level. Where you’d produce it.  If you’d produce it.  Then keep a list of these notes.

The fun is checking back in on those shows a year later to see how you did.

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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.