Lauren Interviews

Talking Broadway post COVID19 with Tony-Award Winning Producer, Ken Davenport..

June 09, 2020 Lauren Conlin, Ken Davenport Season 2 Episode 27
Lauren Interviews
Talking Broadway post COVID19 with Tony-Award Winning Producer, Ken Davenport..
Show Notes Transcript

Ken Davenport is a Tony Award Winning Producer, and host of the 'Producer's Perspective' podcast and blog. He's one of the most knowledgeable guys in the industry; we talk all things Broadway and what he thinks the future has in store, post COVID-19, for theater-goers, performers and more. 

Speaker 1:

You are listening to red covered Monday food with your host Lauren Conlin . [inaudible] .

Speaker 2:

Hey guys. And welcome to red carpet rendezvous. I'm your host Lauren Conlin. Um , I hope everybody is hanging in there. Oh my gosh. 2020 has been a complete shit show. Um, hopefully you guys heard my bonus special episode with my friend Teresa White . She founded the buy black 30 challenge. Um, so if you didn't listen, you should, because Theresa outlines ways that everybody can help the black community right now because you know, we all really need to stand in solidarity , um, and recognize the black lives matter. So if you didn't listen to it, go back and listen now, or you can follow her on Instagram at Theresa TV or by black 30 challenge. So, okay. Today's episode. I am just so, so excited , um, to bring you guys Ken Davenport. He I've been a huge fan of him for a long time, and he is a two time Tony award winning Broadway producer. And he's the founder of the producer's perspective, blog and podcast, which is fantastic if you're not familiar. Um, he's also been doing these great live interviews on Facebook recently, which are so much fun. Um, he got the Broadway 2012 revival cast of Godspell together for a reunion, the cast of alter boys, and he's just making quarantine life for the Broadway community and fans a whole lot better. So Ken's been a producer for a long time. He's produced shows like kinky boots once on this Island. Um, he won Tony's for both of those , um, the awesome eighties prom, getting the band back together and just so many more. So I just wanted to pick Ken's brain on the future of Broadway and his predictions regarding the future when it's coming back and , and just so much more because he is so knowledgeable and he's, he's just a great resource , um , for everybody to have access to. And I just felt super lucky. So I hope you guys enjoy Broadway .

Speaker 3:

So in your wildest dreams, Ken , could you have ever imagined anything like this, a Broadway shutdown for six to nine months? No, I, you know, ever , I actually blogged a year ago almost a year ago that we were due for a correction because I've actually looked at the data and every it's like every 3.6, seven years, we have a dip we're just like the stock market or other things. There's like a natural correction. And it usually coincides with the presidential election, the Olympics and the leap here . Like I've just figured it out. So we were, we were like going, I was like, Oh, we're going to have this thing, but never in a million years, what I imagined it would be something like this. Right ? In fact, we've a lot of people talk about the business of Broadway and some of the art , the older rules that we have, or some of the things that are difficult to change. And , and I've said, you know, most of this stuff will never change. The only way anything will change significantly is if we have another dark period on Broadway where there's a number of theaters that are not filled. And I actually said the way that the industry was going, I didn't think that would happen except for one reason, which is there was a terrorist activity in New York city. And that's the only thing that I thought could ever I ever would have imagined, could slow down the industry. And then of course here comes something that not only slowed it down, it stopped it in time .

Speaker 2:

Insane. I am with you. I never, in a million years could have imagined this would slow down, obviously Broadway, but everything else in the entire world. I mean, I got here. I was one of those people that I didn't even bring jeans to New Hampshire. I'm like, we'll be back in a week. It's fine. They'll sort it out. I mean, I didn't, I just didn't believe it. So I'm guessing, I thought about this than I, you know, if you, you never thought anything like this would happen. So you clearly didn't have any sort of backup plan in place. Not sure what a backup plan would look like, but you never, you never thought about this, right? You never kind of said, well, what if something happens? What would we do?

Speaker 3:

No, you don't like, this is you just never, Broadway is one of those industries where the show must always go on. Right? This is all that we know. In fact, when Broadway shut down, I really do believe that it was the domino for so many other people around the world to realize this was serious because people start , if Broadway shut down, this is real. Something is going on because all of a sudden people's reaction was, Oh my gosh, how could, how could that happen? So, yeah, you don't, you don't plan for something like this. However, I will say, and I've been talking a little bit about this on social, like every company, every industry, and every person should have multiple simple ways to keep themselves going multiple revenue streams, multiple, like all it's like, if you talk to the most successful people ever, they all have multiple revenue streams. They don't just rely on one thing, correct . The theater. Unfortunately we have been relying on one thing and one thing only, and that one thing has been pulled from us . So it's very difficult, obviously shows and everyone that works in that theater, is it a very difficult spot?

Speaker 2:

Right? Right. And, and not that anything could come close to this, but in your experience and in your career, did you ever encounter a disastrous is to where you were just like, Oh my gosh, we're never going to bounce back from this. And now looking back thinking, Oh, you know what, we did bounce back and kind of look what's happening now.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. You know , look , that's actually the thing that I try to do every day when I'm going like, Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? I moved to New York city in 1991 when walking through times square was not a pleasant activity. Right. It was not a good place to be. And now of course it's, well , right now it's to serve it. But now it's filled with tourists and you can sit on the red steps and have lunch. I mean, it's a wonderful place to be, and it will be again. So that was number one. We obviously came a lot, a lot further from that. And then the other of course was September 11th. Like people thought no one will ever come back to New York. People will flee. There'll be still, there will be another one. Like all of these things,

Speaker 2:

a hundred percent.

Speaker 3:

I came back from that. And what I keep saying is we came back faster than anyone anticipated. We would come back. So while this is massively different, I just predicted last week that I think when we come back, we will also bounce back faster than people for that .

Speaker 2:

I did. I saw that I saw your email and I really appreciated your positivity. Um, when it comes to this stuff and Broadway, I, I keep thinking in my head though, about ticket prices and I'm reading different things, different places, and I'm seeing, okay , well , um, you know, we can't fill a theater anymore. So what does that mean to us that are buying the tickets? Are we going to have to spend like $5,000 on a ticket? Like there's all these things that I think people are wondering where, when it comes to Broadway, just because I don't think that, I mean, and this again, it's my , my opinion. And I don't, I don't know anything, but when things do open up, I don't think that we're gonna be able to fill the theaters as, as fast as, as we couldn't before. Do you agree with that?

Speaker 3:

You mean purely from selling tickets?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And just from a standpoint of, of , um, okay , well, social gatherings are accepted right now, but you know, we can't, we can't pack a theater. We've got to keep the limit to, let's say 300 seats filled. I mean, is that for you as a producer and, and, you know, you've , you've got a lot going on. Is that even worth opening a theater or are you guys just going to bleed money?

Speaker 3:

It's a great question. And you're going to see a blog for me this week, which is going to talk about why I believe social distancing doesn't work for the theater. So I do not believe you will see theaters open up Broadway theaters or off Broadway theaters saying, Oh, we're only going to do it at 25% capacity. We're not a restaurant we're providing an experience for that audience. And that experience is much, much better when every, whenever we see this full, when the everyone's in there with you've been to a show or a movie or something that isn't sold out, it just doesn't feel the same thing. Right. So I don't believe we're going to come back until we can deliver an experience similar to what we had before. There'll be a lot of changes of course, getting to that place. But I, I, I said that I believe will be out longer and therefore we'll come back stronger. You have to remember, we're a word of mouth industry. Word of mouth is what sells tickets far and away by anything else that we do word of mouth is best. And we have a full theater and tons of people sharing an unbelievable, exciting experience, and then telling all their friends. So we'll be out longer, but we'll be stronger as a result.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Cause I was, I was going to ask you , um, and , and that makes perfect sense. And , and to me that that's sort of my thinking is aligned with yours. But , um, you know, first it was July and then it's September. And now do you, you probably don't have any inside information, but you probably think it's going to be longer than September. I'm guessing.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. There was an article last week from the Broadway league, the chair woman who said that it would probably, she was optimistic about January, I think 20, 21.

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh. I did not. Are you kidding? I didn't even read that. She was awesome. I'm going to cry. That's actually really heartbreaking. Oh my gosh.

Speaker 3:

But again, that's in it . That's one of those things that I think, you know , everyone is really airing on this . Not only the side of caution, but also we know how we want to come back and we don't want to come back when people are nervous or you imagine yourself being in a play and there's a quiet moment in a play and someone coughs , if you're not comfortable being there or there's still uncertainty, you're going to be pulled out of that experience.

Speaker 2:

That's so true. That's so true. Oh my gosh.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . I was in a theater on the 10th of March. So two days before Broadway shut down and I was in Cleveland, wasn't even in New York state. And when people were rustling about, or like, there were many people that were just like what's happening and you couldn't focus as much. So we'll want to wait until we can figure out the protocols to make everyone feel comfortable and we'll get there. We'll get there.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. No, that's, that's so, so true. You're so right about that. Someone coughs and everyone's going to be like, dude, get out or, you know what I mean? You can't even cough anymore without people thinking that. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . Actually what you just said is I believe what we will achieve very shortly and by that is that we're going to experience this cultural shift. We're already seeing it. Like seeing people with masks is not what it was even a week ago or two weeks ago. It's just more accepted. Now. I walked out in the streets in New York city and the people that look odd are the people without bags , like months from now, it's going to be like, it is in many other countries in the world. Right . Other thing that's going to happen is it coffin will be the new smoke in that. When you look at a smoker now and you're like,

Speaker 2:

yeah, exactly.

Speaker 3:

The one that costs public will be a social pariah, like get home, do not come to work while you're staring .

Speaker 2:

I know I thought about that the other day because , um, outdoor restaurants are open here in New Hampshire and my husband and I went to one and I just had a tickle in my throat, but I sat there and turned purple Ken . I was like, I will not cough. I will not be that person right now. So I was like, can I have water? It was it's crazy. But , um, so my, one of my babysitters that we use, she's an actress and she's sending in self-tapes for national tours. I'm kind of like, and I'm like, do you actually think that's going to happen? And she's like, honestly, I'm just doing it because my agents are telling me to , but you know , she's halfheartedly doing it. She's like, I don't even think it's going to happen. So I don't really, I don't really know what's going on. So I was kind of curious about that. Like why would national tourists we'll be trying to cast things right now?

Speaker 3:

Well, look, restaurants are open in Vermont, right ? Or New Hampshire. Your restaurants are open in New Hampshire. Restaurants are not open here. Restaurants will eventually open here. The other countries, the other States around the country and the other countries around the world are at different stages and will open up different tours should open up before Broadway because they're playing States that just have looser restrictions and they'll figure out the protocols faster. There's a production of South of Phantom of the opera in South Korea. That's been playing last several weeks. Like , you'll see mega churches start to like in Texas, they'll open up. Right. That was social distancing first, but eventually, while we're still in the city here on lockdown. So I actually do expect towards regional theaters community theaters to open up before Broadway, which helps us because we can actually learn. And the people that go to Broadway shows 65% of them are tourists. Hopefully they'll come back. Yeah. They will have started to get used to the idea of gathering in their locations, wherever they live. Right. Every time someone goes to a restaurant or a mall, they just start to get a little bit more comfortable. Right. And then when they do go to the theater, it's not the , it's not, when people go to a Broadway theater again, it will not be like jumping in the deep end. It will have waited into gathering by that point. So there'll be,

Speaker 2:

I can imagine being an actor though on stage . I know you're not supposed break the fourth wall, but looking at everybody in their masks , it's going to be so weird. They're going to be like, Oh , we in a black mirror episode, like what the hell is going on?

Speaker 3:

That's the other reason why we can't have social distancing work because we could, even if we could do it in the audience, we can't do it on stage. We can't do it in orchestra credits . We can't do a backstage, so.

Speaker 2:

Right, right. Um, and do you anticipate just, you know, like you said, you're not diving into the deep end right away, but when things open up, I'm just curious about just cost cutting. Um, in terms of, of the shows. I mean, I know that I was in shock when, when frozen said D you know, like basically Disney can't afford to keep frozen running. Um, cause to me I'm like Disney, you have the most money what's going on here. Like, this is what does this mean for everybody else? But do you anticipate just like actor salaries being caught and just production cost is going down in general. When, when things reopen,

Speaker 3:

look, we're going to enter into a new economic reality and things will be different. No question and things will be slow to come back. So I do think producers like me, general managers , just like F look, people in general, every human being right now on the planet is examining their budget differently than they did before. And that is going to go up and down the is going to do it personally, the producer is going to do it with this company or her company. Like it's, everyone's going to have to look at their finances for the new economic reality until it gets back to where it was before and beyond. So yeah, you'll see a lot of tightening of belts for sure.

Speaker 2:

So going back to what you said about Broadway, you know, potentially reopening in January and people having to , um, find other means to make money and to, you know, to just sort of make themselves relevant, I guess, what, what are the next steps here for, for Broadway performers and actors and even people behind the scenes? Because I just feel like everybody right now is getting zoomed fatigue a little bit, you know, it's amazing what everyone's doing, but I mean, how long can you keep up these zoom performances of, you know, the cast of, you know, company doing the, into the woods opening? I don't know how long can we keep doing this for and , and what do you think the next steps are for people until January, I guess?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Well, we'll, we'll see. We're not, you know, we're not even sure. So it's going to be challenging for a lot of people. What I'm most worried about is the number of artists, the number actually of staff members on Broadway shows or in marketing companies that will not be able to stick around the Broadway industry and wait as other industries open up, right. They'll need to make a living. They may have to jump and run. It's going to be very, very hard. Um, so, you know, looked at pivot , television and production on film will to pick up before us. So hopefully some of the actors will be able to participate in that commercials. Of course, we'll still, they're still happening.

Speaker 2:

And the voiceover it's from home, I don't know.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. There will be opportunities as well, and people will have to reinvent themselves a little bit. Uh, and then hopefully we'll create new models in the future where we'll be able to provide people with income through streaming or other source .

Speaker 2:

Right? No, that's, that's a really good point. I saw broadway.com was going to have a channel. And , and so again, I'm, I'm fully appreciative of what everyone is doing. I just keep thinking to myself how long can this last for, but , um, let's just talk about you for a second. So your first Broadway credit was 13. Um, yes. I actually love that show. I loved the music I loved , you know, dare be . But what, you know, that was only on Broadway for two to three months. And , and forgive me if this is sort of a cliche question your career, but what did you, what did you take from that, from that show and just, what did you learn from and apply it to your other shows that have been so successful?

Speaker 3:

So that was an interesting time as well. I talk about these moments in our history where things looked very dark, that 13 opened in the fall of 2008, right after the financial crisis, reared its ugly head. Uh, and the last thing that a family of four wanted to spend money on was a musical , uh , especially one that was unbranded. So what we found at that point was the people were still going to Broadway, but they weren't going to two or three shows like they would, they would go to one. And , uh, Billy Elliot was playing across the street from us. So we found that if a family of four was going to go see a musical, they were going to go see Billy Elliot instead of 13 . Uh , and this happens a lot. I mean, this is the challenge with unique and original material on Broadway. I produced a show last year , uh , two years ago now called getting the band back together , um , which was a huge audience, favorite credible reactions . Everybody loved it. People saying to me, it's going to be the next Jersey boys. Like you wouldn't believe the audience reactions, but at the end of the day, when faced with pretty woman or mean girls yeah. Or get the band back together, even if someone's been told, we have a very cluttered environment, so much competition, even if someone's been told you should go see this brand new show, they're going to make the decision based on the devil. They know, versus the one they don't, because it's expensive. It takes time. It's all these things. And people are risk adverse when it comes to Broadway. Right . So that's why I have such respect for shows like dear Evan, Hansen and Hamilton and even, or Hades town, like these shows that breakthrough. Uh that's that's a real challenge.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. That's it, that's a great point. I do wish I could unsee pretty woman though. I don't want, yeah. I'll never get that two hours back, unfortunately. But yeah. Anyway, I , uh, I know, I know you have to, but I don't. So, but no two of my favorite productions , um , ever are , um , once in a silent and which, you know, you brought back, which was, Oh my gosh. So incredible to me. And then the Godspell revival in 2012, I actually got engaged that night and it was like, so yeah. So I , I know it's yeah, well not, I wasn't like on , I mean, after my husband saw it, he was like, Oh, I'm such an idiot. It's so immersive. I should have like, I'm like, yeah, you idiot. Like what the hell? But , um , no, the whole experience for me was just incredible. And you know, I make my daughter listen to the a hundred pair of singing to , um , beautiful city all the time. It was just, it brings me back. But I guess you could also say that I love the circle in the square theater. Um, and , and I'm guessing that you do as well, but , um, what, just for me, for my knowledge, what made those two shows so special for you?

Speaker 3:

Well, both of them they're , they're similar in nature, right? Both of them part ensemble driven. It's really a small group of people telling a story and there's, you know, are obviously principal players, if you will. But really everyone participates in the story. Both I'm a big believer in immersive or somehow allowing the audience to participate in the production. Both of those , uh, did just that , um, whether we were , we had our Godspell reunion on the live stream.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . So good. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

But just thinking about the mosh pits or when we brought people up on stage and then similarly it wasn't a silent how people won't weave through the audience

Speaker 2:

and the animals. Are you kidding? Like that was incredible. I was like, that's a goat. How do you get a goat on Broadway? It's just like, yeah. They both were just so magical. And I don't think you can ever beat norm Lewis singing, reign that to me, I was like, Oh my gosh. Uh, I, I wanted to like crawl up on stage and just be like, can you just go in the back of me and just sing it's me up and nobody else. And that's the creepy. Um, but what is your favorite Broadway theater?

Speaker 3:

Probably theater. My favorite probably did well. It's interesting circle. I have a special place in my heart for that because it's so unique and different than all the other probably theater , the Broadway theater that I love that I really would love to have a show in is probably a theater that I will never have a show in because it's, the Richard Rogers were handled

Speaker 2:

so funny.

Speaker 3:

Great, great theater . Um, the other one actually that I recently was reminded of upgraded theater. It is because I'm not it as often because most people is the majestic or Phantom of the opera.

Speaker 2:

Uh huh.

Speaker 3:

Big theater and also has raked seating like the Rogers , but people forget about it because Phantom has been there for 30 years, like, Ooh , that theater, but I'm fortunate enough to work with Angela Weber's company. And uh , so I've been there a little more often lately and yeah, it's a beauty

Speaker 2:

that's I love hearing that. I was curious about that. I was like, I wonder which theaters are his favorite? I'm just going back to Godspell really, really quick. You , um, for that one, you crowd funded that one. Um, I believe, and I don't think you ever did that again, if , if yeah . So was that just too many hats in there in the ring there when you did that?

Speaker 3:

Well, I know crowdfunding Godspell was the first ever crowd funded Broadway musical ever. We did a very specific type of offering. You're usually Broadway investors, 50,000, $25,000 is the average, but often they can be, people can invest much more and I wanted to do something different. Steven Schwartz said to me, I asked him what Godspell was about. And he said, God's bill is about a community of people coming together. So I'd like to marry up my business model or my marketing initiatives with the artistic message. So I thought, what if I brought together the largest community of investors and producers? So we had over 700 investors in the show for as little as a thousand dollars at a time. And yeah, it was a very difficult logistical process. And um, I found it more fun. So it wasn't that there were too many, have we used to do shareholder meetings? We used to do all sorts of stuff, bring everyone together to raise the money, raise a marketing arm. Like I had 700 people out on the streets shouting about that show from their rooftops. So the short answer of why I haven't done it again, one, it was a very arduous process and logistically challenging too . I just don't like to repeat myself. I like to do, I like to do different things with my marketing initiatives and find what's unique about each that I can do.

Speaker 2:

So this is why you're a genius. This is actually you explained this to me is this is, you know, this is why you've got a genius brain here and why you were so good at this that I did not expect that answer. So I love it. Um , okay. Last thing, if you just want to humor me, I'm just going to give you a couple choices and then you have to just sort of pick one without thinking. Okay. Okay . Okay. Let's do it. Okay. So Steven Schwartz or Stephen Sondheim

Speaker 3:

shorts,

Speaker 2:

Godspell or Jesus Christ superstar. I'll you both or Rameen karma Lou

Speaker 3:

for me,

Speaker 2:

Romeo Chita Rivera or BB new riff BB . Okay. Smash on NBC or bossy on FX . Yeah, me too. Me too. Um , guys and dolls are the music, man. Dear Evan Hansen or Hamilton Lim is or Phantom the lap when Tracy lends her David Mamet. Oh gosh . That's the hardest of the mall. I know. Right.

Speaker 3:

Really. I've had some very challenging moments, very difficult.

Speaker 2:

Oh, okay. All right. I'm going to go out and go to Tracy , but I respect that. I respect that. Thank you so much. This has been so informative and so fun for me and I know that our listeners are going to really appreciate it and really love it. So yeah. Thank you. Um, so that was Ken Davenport, everyone , um , as a huge Broadway fan, I found our conversation. So eyeopening and so interesting. And I hope you guys did as well. Um, if you like Ken, you should also subscribe to his podcast, the producer's perspective. It's great. And he just has some great guests on, so, okay. Thanks for listening guys. If you like this podcast, don't forget to rate and subscribe on Apple. It would mean so much to me until next time.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] thanks for listening to red carpet, Monday food until next time.