What’s Grosser Than Gross?
Not knowing what your industry’s grosses are.
At the first meeting of the Off-Broadway Brainstormers,, founded by the Executive Director of New World Stages, Beverley D. Mac Keen (who is one of the most foreword thinkers I know), a proposal was made by now president of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, George Forbes, to collect grosses from all currently running Off-Broadway shows, in an effort to truly understand our own economic impact.
It was one of those very simple proposals that made perfect sense. How can we formulate budgets, contemplate theater sizes, etc. without knowing what our market bears. Right?
Well, believe it or not, this idea met (and still meets) with resistance from some of my fellow producers.
The League and The Brainstormers came up with a great policy to address some very valid concerns:
– We made agreements with the ticketing companies so grosses would be sent directly to the League so no additional work would be required on behalf of the production.
– The grosses would be sent to one person at the League, and only three high-ranking individuals would have access to the show’s individual data, and would sign confidentiality agreements never to share the information.
– No show’s individual grosses would ever be released to any party.
– The aggregated data would also never be released unless a committee at the League approved of its use.
Despite all of these efforts to keep the data confidential and to install safeguards so that it was only used for the good of the industry, many producers still refused to allow their grosses to be reported.
Most simply say that they don’t want their grosses getting out to their competition.
I kind of understand this, but, uhhhh, remember the confidentiality agreements and the fact that only 3 people can access the data??? And that we’re not releasing an individual show’s data, but only looking at the combined results? Oh, and this is my favorite part . . . do these producers remember that these numbers are sent to unions every week? ATPAM has a sliding scale compensation that is based on gross so they have to send them the numbers. Most likely their show has an SSDC director on a royalty pool, which means that union is getting their information (and the director and the director’s agent, and his assistant, etc.). If there was “competition”, wouldn’t the unions be the competition more than The League? Add the advertising agencies (which we already know leak like the Titanic), box office personnel, managers, etc. to the list of people that already get grosses, and you’ve got more people who know your business than a public company!
I mean, really, are three more people who sign confidentiality agreements and work for the League going to all of a sudden open up your show to attention from the National Enquirer? (If only!)
Sorry, but no one, other than the people trying to figure out how to solve the Off-Broadway problem, cares that much.
Sharing your grosses publicly (like Broadway shows do in Variety) is up for debate, and I’m not sure where I stand on that just yet, but sharing numbers in a private, protected environment for study and analysis is not only smart, it’s essential. And just like your mom told you, it’s just plain selfish not to share.
What are people afraid of? That we might see some low numbers? Guess what, with all the Off-Broadway shows that come and go, I think we have a clue that you’re not doing so well.
And besides, we learn from the bad ones. It’s just like learning to ride a bike. You learn more when you fall off than you do when you don’t.
So why do some of these very smart people choose not to opt-in to this program? Look, I’m a control freak. As an Off-Broadway producer, I’m not in control very often. I think that most producers are just like me. And they are refusing to release their numbers (even though they are released other ways), because it is one of the few things that they can control.
If any Producers out there are struggling with this issue, let me know. I see a therapist once a week to help me get over it and would be happy to give you a recommendation. The industry will be better off as a result.
P.S. What do you think of Broadway shows publicly sharing numbers in Variety? I’ve turned my comments on, so comment away if you’d like (yes, even you Mom).
Tomorrow, November 24th at 9am, A Beautiful Noise: The Neil…
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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.