Your Most Important Influence . . . The Audience
There are two types of new shows that reach Broadway. The first type has done an out-of-town try out where they run the show for a short season at a regional theatre hub. Essentially testing the show out in front of an audience. The second type is rarer. They hit Broadway as their first stop. Come in cold, without the buzz behind it from a successful season outside the theatre capital. One may not be better than the other, but there is a definite advantage from one of these strategies.
One of the biggest issues on Broadway at the moment (and, don’t get me wrong, it is a good issue to have) is that there are shows queuing up to get a Broadway theatre. The supply of theatres isn’t even close to reaching the demand. And this has encouraged more shows to skip the tried-and-tested route to Broadway.
Rather than mounting a new show in a regional theatre location such as New Jersey, Boston or Washington D.C., some shows are jumping on the opportunity to get their show straight onto Broadway whenever a theatre becomes available. There are pros and cons to both methods.
If you don’t take the vacant theatre now, another opportunity may not come up for a long time. Case in point is new musical Tuck Everlasting which will reach Broadway early next year. It originally tried to break into the theatre capital back in the 2013 season but has been biding its time until the opportunity came up again in 2016. On the other hand, what if the show isn’t ready for an audience yet but producers jump at the opportunity to grab the vacant theatre?
Which strategy is better?
I am usually one for the controversial tactics. Strategies which shake up the traditional methods and try out something new. But on this topic, I am taking the safe bet.
The most dangerous thing you can do when releasing a new product is to skip the testing phase. In order for this product to be successful, it needs to appeal to audiences and in the theatre you only get one chance. By putting the show in front of an out-of-town audience you are able to get feedback directly from the people you will be selling it to in the future. Do the jokes hit properly? Does the emotional climax of the piece actually resonate with the viewers? Does the story, that the creative team have been working on so closely in isolation, actually make sense to the audience or is their assumed knowledge?
Benji Pasek & Justin Paul, two up-and-coming musical theatre writers in New York, summed this up perfectly in some promo videos for their most recent show Dear Evan Hansen.
The note that you really have to listen to is the audience . . One person can say that ‘This needs to change’ and another person can say the complete opposite. But if you have 500 people in a room and no-one laughs at a joke, then it’s not funny. Or if you are not hitting the emotional intent of what you are trying to do then you need to change it. We are really excited to have an audience there to tell us what we need to keep working on.
Too often audiences are thought of as heathens who don’t get the artistic vision of a piece. But isn’t the whole aim of putting on a show to convey this artistic vision to the people sitting in the chairs and move them in two and a half hours. If that is the case, then you need to get their input on how they are moved!