Sunday, April 20, 2008

On Ken Davenport and Comping

Interesting post from my colleague, producer Ken Davenport, on the subject of comping. Read it and definitely respond. My questions below are probably going to earn me his enmity, but I ask these questions in the spirit of professional discourse; I hope that's the spirit in which they'll be taken. OK, here's an interesting excerpt from Ken's post:

....It would not be unheard of for a Broadway show to have 10,000 comps during the first year of a run (think papering for previews, trade deals, etc.)

That's $5k - $10k. That's some expensive paper, isn't it?

So what if we took a lesson from mail order companies that offer FREE products as long as the customer pays for the "shipping/handling"?

Here's my proposal that I'm going to institute at my shows this week: Charge $1 processing fee for each comp to cover your costs. And, if you can get that fee up front, you'll also get a stronger commitment from the consumer to actually show up for the show, as comp ticket attrition is one of the biggest problems with papering....
My first question is: Would this include critics? I'd assume not, but believe me, people bitch about having to dole out a few hundred comps for critics, such as Tony and Drama Desk voters, too.

Frankly, though, it's hard for me to summon up the necessary boo-hoo at a show like Young Frankenstein, where you know the capitalization is larger than the gross domestic product of Vanuatu. Thus, my second question: Isn't this really about trying to preserve Off-Broadway as a viable playground for commercial production?

If it is -- and if we're talking about just $5-10K -- given the size of Off-Broadway budgets, my third question: Would a processing fee would really make a difference, and if so, a difference to whom? Would actors see that money? Would it enable commercial producer to take bigger risks on bigger casts? Isn't this really about commercial producers covering their asses? If the margins are that tight, isn't the Off-Broadway commercial producing model...fucked?

More generally, if it is not unheard of for a Broadway show "to have 10,000 comps during the first year of a run," my fourth question: Doesn't that suggest there's something even more dysfunctional about the marketing models for commercial theatre in New York than we even know? Will a processing fee really address them meaningfully? How?

My fifth question: If it is not unheard of for a Broadway show "to have 10,000 comps during the first year of a run" -- and the show is huge monster hit -- why should anyone feel sympathy for the commercial producer having to subsidize those tickets up front? True, that's always going to be a small minority of commercial producers, but couldn't one simply argue that that's simply the cost of doing business? And if one wants to drum up business by "papering for previews, trade deals, etc.," doesn't it suggest that commercial producers want to have things both ways -- to reap all the benefits and take fewer and fewer of the risks?

That's more questions than Passover. I know, I know. Discuss.

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Jen Ryan's Brain said...

why dont big name producers (disney, Sillerman, et als) voluntarily pony up $1 per comp to go to an off-b'way development fund?...hell even to BC/EFA...or the actors fund...they could take it as a tax writeoff and "lose" nothing.

Anonymous said...

Would a processing fee make a difference? Let me ask you a question. If you saw a $5 bill on the ground, would you pick it up? I bet that $5 is a pittance to your overall budget, but you'd grab it if you could.

It may seem like a small amount, but $5-10k could cover losses for a week, which could keep the show open another week, providing work to all.

89% of all commercial off-broadway productions fail to run longer than 6 months, never mind recoup. 1 out of 30 may recoup. 4 out of 5 Broadway shows fail to make their money back.

Are the models dysf**tional? You bet. But do we just use the F word and give up? As people in the industry, we owe it to each other to try to find small, simple solutions to help provide shows longer life spans, and therefore more work for the actors and everyone involved.

And, also, one of my reasons for this implementation is to reduce comp attrition, which is a horrible problem and waste of time and resources.

Thanks for the comment on the post and keep 'em coming!