When it comes to making it big in the musical theatre industry, many new, aspiring theatre creators and producers often jump headfirst into attempting to produce the next Off-Broadway hit. However, proper planning and strategizing are key to success, especially within your show’s early development stages. When you take the time to make a strategic plan, you may learn among other things that Off-Broadway may not be your initial goal, and there may in fact be alternative routes to take.
Here are some initial strategizing techniques:
What’s in a Name?
Everything! The name of your show is your brand, so think long and hard. Make it easy for people to remember and relate to. Stay away from those that have gone before you, or you may wind up confusing your audience. Remember that the show’s name will inspire your artwork (the “title treatment”) and will guide your marketing plan throughout the life of your show.
What’s the Big Picture?
Determining everything your show needs takes time, patience and collaboration. First, utilize the organizational structure and creative team you have assembled thus far to begin fleshing out your plan. Do you need a staged reading? A workshop? A developmental lab? If your show is a musical, can you weave in a concert performance?
If you are able to engage a General Manager, that should be your first hire. They can help you answer many of these questions along with budgeting. Any of these options may be an appropriate stepping-stone to test your material while simultaneously building brand recognition.
Then, think about other avenues for the material besides the live stage. Include film, streaming, a TV series, podcast, cast recording – anything and everything. Look into all the buckets that exist for the material and discern what order they can come in.
Overall, is Off Broadway truly the first stop on your journey? If not, what is?
To Tour or Not To Tour: That is the Question
Another option to keep in mind: Would your show benefit from a tour before or after it makes its way Off Broadway? Could several regional developmental productions prior to New York be the ticket? Or is Off Broadway simply a stop on a tour? If that’s the case, there are additional elements to consider, such as the adaptability and sustainability of your physical production elements which should be built so that they can withstand the travel as well as be assembled and disassembled at each location. Working with your design team to fit the set, costumes, lighting, and sound equipment in one truck, and insure they are easy to load-in and load-out, will save you time and money, as well as make your show more attractive to presenting venues due to reduced time and labor costs. Mapping out an effective travel route for your tour is also important to save time and maximize engagements and potential revenue. Working with an experienced booking agent will help.
Can I Fly Solo?
Many producers develop one-person shows as an inexpensive and low stakes option. This theory can be true at times, however, the fact is that with most solo shows, audiences want more bang for their buck unless the show features a notable star or performer. This factor is not only important from an audience perspective, but also the theatre owners’, as they receive a percentage of box office revenue and other potential income streams from a successful engagement. So getting your desired theatre for a solo show may prove challenging.
Press Objectives and Assets
Press and publicity is what we call “earned media”. You, and if budget permits, your publicist, will discern which elements and angles of your show are right to present to media outlets and in turn for them to present to the general public.
To earn this media, identify your primary and secondary objectives. Your primary objective most often is “selling tickets” or “getting butts in seats”, but what is your show’s secondary goal to serve its specific needs? Could it be reaching a certain audience, offering a specific experience, or conveying a certain message? Once you discern these goals ask yourself more questions including: Who is your target audience? What message will move them? How should they engage with that message? When and where should you present your show?
Lastly, once you have answered these questions, you can begin identifying the show’s assets that can best suit these needs, which can include the title treatment (Is the name or brand easily recognizable? See above.), the synopsis (Is it relatable to a wide audience range), the music (Is there a song with mass appeal?), and the cast (Do they have star power to pull people in?).
Identifying your press objectives and goals, as well as the accompanying assets that can achieve those goals is essential to promote and present your show in the optimum way.
Timing is Key!
When deciding on a time to open, take a step back and examine the playing field to see when is most conducive for your show and attaining the audience you want. Look at your competition, including other Off Broadway and Broadway shows running or about to open. Are they pulling from the same audience pool?
To optimize your timing, first identify the worst times to open, then work backwards. The spring months (mid-March to early June) are a difficult time to open Off Broadway. It is “awards season”—The Tony Awards, the Drama Desk Awards, etc.—which brings out high-voltage competition and expensive ad and marketing rates which Off Broadway budgets have difficulty competing with. Once the Tonys conclude, media rates drop and editorial space becomes more available. Therefore, the summer months are a good option, especially with audiences off from school and work and tourists in town. Once we move into fall and people begin going back to school and work, audiences dip. Late October into November and into the holidays can work, as long as you open well ahead of the expensive holiday media timeframe. The next prime time for opening is mid-February (Valentine’s Day) into early March.
Finding a perfect time to open can be a juggling act of pros and cons. However, being aware of what your show has to offer will adjust your opening campaign to best suit your needs. Of course, if you have a major star or media sensation, all bets are off.
Where Do I Belong?
Finding the right theatre for your show should be one of your top priorities when strategizing for your Off Broadway show. Just as you would begin to think of an open floor plan or the perfect backsplash for your dream home, there are various elements to consider when thinking of the right theatre.
First and foremost, consider the size of the house. Based on your ideal audience and your show’s appeal, ask yourself how many seats you think you need to sell each week to cover your operating costs and make a profit. Set expectations that can be accurately met and sustained. Deciding how many seats you need will narrow your search tremendously.
Next is location. Are you considering placing the show within the Broadway Box (from 41st-54th Street between 6th and 8th Avenue in Manhattan)? If so, consider the competition within. On the flip side, you will benefit from high volume tourist traffic in the area. If you choose to avoid the Broadway Box, downtown Manhattan is good option when considering smaller, more intimate theatres.
Another element to consider is accessibility. Is the theater accessible via train, bus, and subway? Is there parking nearby? Is the building ADA compliant for audiences from the disabled community?
Furthermore, think about the theatre’s local community and market, including its local audience development resources and community engagement tools. Does this theatre utilize resources that can attract and reach that audience you are seeking? Does it have a mission that is in line with your own? Perhaps your show is unique and could thrive, not only in a four-wall theatre, but in an alternative and immersive third space. If this is the case, and you intend to tour or license the show later, you must make sure it can be replicated in other alternative spaces or else you will be bound to your initial creative environment.
When optioning your show, the first thing a producer should consider is what rights they are getting and when they are getting them. The “what” is the “initial bundle of rights” (production rights, development rights, right to sell merchandise/cast album, and the right to advertise/promote the show) which get transferred to the producer for a limited period of time, called the “option period”, where the producer is able to develop the show and work toward a further goal, laid out within the agreement.
This is why within your strategic plan you must know where your show is heading beforehand. The catch is that when acquiring these rights, you often need to prove you are going to achieve the intended goal within the option period. If you are not able to achieve the goal, the rights revert back to the author. but if you are, then you achieve the additional rights to produce the show in other cities or countries, to license the work to other producers, etc. As the original producer, you will have the ability to share in a percentage of revenues, based on the number of public performances you initially present, for all major categories of subsidiary rights income (audio/visual, professional, stock & amateur licensing, and revivals).
The percentage in which you vest depends on how long the show runs, with a maximum of 40%, usually for a period of 10-20 years after the close of the Off Broadway run. If you feel you have a strong show that will have a long life after Off Broadway in stock & amateur productions, etc., make your best efforts to meet the threshold. In addition, the potential to reach 40% of subsidiary rights income can be an impressive pitch when seeking your initial investors.
Thinking about Off Broadway?
If you’re setting your sights for an Off Broadway run, it will serve you well to set up a consult to evaluate your current development path and set goals for what’s next. To set up a consult with one of our development pros, email us here.
Cover photo: FOUND: A NEW MUSICAL. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.