A View From the Mezzanine


Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters and James Lapine on the set of Into The Woods.

Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters and James Lapine on the set of Into The Woods.

Source sibella-hallward


daphnemir:

Disney animators with Helene Stanley, human model for Sleeping Beauty. (source)

Source alice-curious-labyrinth13


Tourists Increase Share of Broadway Ticket Sales

futuretenant:

The line outside the TKTS booth in Times Square.Ruth Fremson/The New York Times The line outside the TKTS booth in Times Square.

Tourists accounted for nearly two-thirds of the tickets sold for Broadway shows last season, according to the Broadway League’s annual demographics report, released on Monday.

The new study, based on audience questionnaires passed out at 81 individual performances of 31 different productions between June 2011 and June 2012, showed that tourists accounted for 63.4 percent of Broadway ticket sales, up from 61.7 percent in the 2010-11 season. Foreign visitors accounted for a full 18.4 percent of tickets.

The 2011-2012 season was the strongest in history, with more than 12.3 million total theater admissions, Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of The Broadway League, which issued the report, said in a statement. Ms. St. Martin also pointed to a slight increase in the diversity of the audience, with Caucasians accounting for 77.8 percent of the audience, after spiking to 82.5 percent last year.

Otherwise, the survey reflected a continuation of long-term trends towards an older, more female audience. The average audience member was 43.5 years old, down slightly from 44 percent last year. A full two thirds of the audience were women, holding close to last year’s figure but up significantly from 58 percent in 1980-81.

The typical Broadway theatergoer reported seeing four shows in the past six months. Plays tended to attract heavier repeat attendees, with the typical playgoer seeing six shows in the past year, compared with four for musical-goers.

And die-hard theater-lovers continued to drive a significant share of the box office. Those who saw 15 shows or more made up only 5 percent of the overall audience, but accounted for 29 percent of admissions.


Just as smartphones revolutionized how we avoid talking to each other and food trucks changed our tolerance for eating while standing on the street, the emergence of data science as a vehicle for expression is going to radically change how we create. It gives us a new way to tell the story of the world around us. Even if it’s just to find out how racist our current location is.


CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 10:  The Groupon logo is di...

If you follow business news, you’ve undoubtedly heard that Groupon, after going public a few months ago at $20 a share is a fire sale at under $5 at the moment, or as Crain’s columnist Joe Cahill puts it:

“Groupon, Inc., hatched four years ago has gone from vibrant adolescence to droopy middle age faster than a time-lapse video of the life cycle of an orchid.”

Eloquent.

Amidst all the negative press and analyst downgrades, the key factors in investor sentiment seem to be a sharp decrease in the daily deals business in general, and the formation of Groupon’s new “goods” division, in which they are the direct retailer of, well, goods. The latter being a problem because,  for a business that was basically just a website, it puts an inventory liability on the balance sheet.

I won’t pretend that I’m a hot shot business analyst, or a top echelon executive, but neither is Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, who gets the credit for creating the daily deal industry, but may also get the credit for nose-diving it into the ground. To say “I bet he wishes he took the 6 billion from Google” sounds like quite an understatement at present. I think though, that I know how Groupon can save itself. After all, Groupon is a essentially a website, and I have three of them that I run off my home computer.

Actually, that’s inaccurate. Groupon is an email marketing campaign. Groupon sends a daily email that hawks vouchers for half-off or more on products or services provided by other companies. Groupon generally takes 50% of the proceeds and pays out the rest to their client well after making sure they have all of the cash on hand and the clients have provided the goods or services to the customers. If I said I wanted you to invest money into a company that did this 5 years ago, you’d probably laugh in my face, because why the heck would anyone give you their product for 1/4 the asking price? They’d have to be nuts! If you could prove to me that businesses would actually flock to your service, it’d be a different story - but that’s not how  Groupon started.

If you were a Groupon member when it was new and all the rage, you may recall the actual meaning of their name:

Group + Coupon = Groupon

Originally, you would get an offer in your email in the morning, for, say, a $50 gift certificate to a restaurant at the price of $25 - but, in order to receive the discount, a certain number of people had to purchase the deal, in a sense creating a volume discount for being a part of a large group. If the number of purchasers didn’t meet the minimum, the deal was scrapped.

Since this is a theater blog, we can relate this concept directly to group ticket sales. When I price group tickets, I normally give a 50% discount at somewhere around 50 tickets (it didn’t used to be that steep, but since we’re offering daily deals and half price tickets all over the place, it’s hard to tell a group leader they have to pay more than someone who is buying two tickets when they are buying 50, but I digress…). For me to offer 75% off the price (a groupon), I’d really need to be moving a ton of inventory to make it worth it, say a group of 500 tickets.

So, when Groupon was new, you’d call up the friendly rep (probably an actor friend of yours, working for Groupon is the 21st century version of waiting tables) and say “I’d like to offer tickets to Hello, Dolly! at half price. They normally go for $40 a seat. I need to sell at least 500 to make it worth it.” The Groupon rep would say “we can do it if we make the minimum 200 people, in our experience, that’s a good minimum for theater, and as with all of our deals, you understand Groupon takes 50% of the actual purchase price, right?”. You’d probably negotiate the minimum to 300 or so, but they’d never budge on that 50%.

So, in the end, you’d be getting $10 a ticket, and looking to sell at least 300 of them and net $3000 to make the hit you might take on full price tickets worth your while. That was the original model, and it made sense, because there was a reason for the discount in the customer’s eye. “We’re getting this awesome deal because they are making money on the volume!” their subconscious consumer rationalization would go. It protected the value of the actual retail price. Groupon would slate you for a date, and they’d send an email to their members, and you’d anxiously await what would happen.

It was very special to be “selected” by Groupon to run a deal. In those days - before the app, before Groupon Goods, Groupon Live, Groupon Local, Groupon Now, Groupon Getaways, etc. - you got an email a day with one exciting deal in it. There were big businesses doing Groupons, too! I remember when the Gap did something like $50 for a $100 voucher. That’s a great deal!

At some point along the way, Groupon likely realized that A) they don’t make any money when a deal doesn’t meet the minimum, and B) they had enough businesses knocking on the virtual door that they didn’t need to have a minimum anymore. Groupon was suddenly no longer in the groups business. It also stopped being so special. Anyone with a massage parlor or nail salon or teeth whitening equipment could run a deal, and not just for a day, when of course they could sell many more tanning sessions over a 4 day period.

A Groupon stopped having the emotional trigger to the customer that they were getting a once-in-a-long-shot offer. Now, if you want a massage, just look at the email you receive every day with 30 offers on it and scroll until you find a massage. There’s bound to be one on there. If not, check Living Social, or Tippr, or YouSwoop, or any of the other 100 Groupon clones. The full retail price is no longer protected. The market is showing us that a massage is not worth the over $100 that it used to cost, but more like $60, the average price for one on Groupon (of which the masseuse gets $30).

Groupon made these changes at the perfect time too. The economy was bad. People couldn’t afford as many luxuries, and luxury businesses needed customers. Since the number of deals going out per day was now infinitely flexible, Groupon could grow - and it did, dramatically. Groupon had 3000 employees in 2010, 5000 in early 2011, and now boasts over 10,000 employees! For a website! email marketing company!

But guess what? Companies that have done a daily deal - or maybe many daily deals - have started to realize the implications on their bottom line, on their staff, on the quality of their product, and on their perceived value. Now, you don’t see as many great deals anymore. You certainly don’t see the Gap. Now you see restaurants offering a $20 voucher for $10, and it’s only valid on weekdays. There are too many offers, too much to look at and process. People are smart - much smarter than we give them credit for. They know when something is off, and because of it daily deal purchases have rapidly declined. Some people have characterized Groupon’s behavior worse. This blog calls it out as a straight up ponzi scheme, promising an introduction to thousands of new customers to businesses while taking a huge cut of the money.

Groupon had a brilliant business model. You’d make $3000 by busting the asses of your staff and paying actors and crew to put on a show for 300 people. Groupon got their $3000 for sending an email. They grew exponentially, but with very few legitimate assets. Apple has patents, Google has digital infrastructure, Wal-Mart has a hyper streamlined supply chain and real estate. Groupon’s sole major non-cash asset is it’s subscriber list, and now their solution is to diversify the company by expanding into physical inventory and trying to compete with giants such as Wal-Mart and Amazon on discount goods. Good luck.

As I see it, the only way for Groupon to salvage what was once an ingenious idea is massive layoffs and a return to the special-super-sweet-awesome-once-in-a-lifetime discount opportunities one at a time, into an estimated 100 million in-boxes once a day. Curate it again. Select only the best deals. Offer them for only a day. Return to the group model of “we’re all in this together” so people post on Facebook “Hey, I claimed this super-sweet awesome deal, and if 30 more people don’t claim it by midnight, I’ll lose it.”

It will anger investors because it won’t deliver the historical growth they expect from this company, but it will deliver a profit and sustainability. After all, it’s just an eblast, a website, and some cutesy language. They probably shouldn’t have invested in the first place.




  • Every time I take a turn on the phones I end up having an epic conversation with a crazy customer. Here's the latest - and I'm pretty sure greatest - as well as I remember it.

  • Customer:

    When do you have shows?

  • Me:

    The show runs Wednesday through Sunday Until September 23rd.

  • Customer:

    I'm looking at the session in the WTTW member guide, and wanna get tickets

  • Me:

    Sure, when are you looking at coming?

  • Customer:

    Do you have a show on November 3rd?

  • Me:

    No, the show runs through September 23rd.

  • Customer:

    I want a Saturday, do you have Saturdays?

  • Me:

    We have a show at 2pm and 8pm every Saturday.

  • Customer:

    OK, how about October, what do you have in October?

  • Me:

    The show is only on sale through September 23rd at this point.

  • Customer:

    Oh, OK...wait, that's a Sunday. I told you I wanted a Saturday.

  • Me:

    Certainly, would you like to come Saturday September 22nd?

  • Customer:

    No, I'll do the 23rd if that's the last day.

  • Me:

    Sure, would you like the 1pm or the 5pm show?

  • Customer:

    What? That's all you have? I want to come in the evening! Let's do the Sunday before that.

  • Me:

    Sure, at the 5:00?

  • Customer:

    You don't have an evening show that Sunday either?

  • Me:

    Shows are at 1pm and 5pm every Sunday. The performance schedule is the same every week.

  • Customer:

    OK, lets do a Saturday.

  • Me:

    Would you like to try September 22nd?

  • Customer:

    I guess that will work.

  • Me:

    Would you like the 2pm or the 8pm show?

  • Customer:

    Wait that's Labor Day right? I cant do Labor Day. Maybe the next weekend...no that's Grandparents day, and then we're getting into the Holidays. Can't do Grandparents day. Let's do August 23rd. Do you have a show on August 24th?

  • Me:

    We Certainly do, every Saturday at 8pm, how many seats would you like?

  • Customer:

    What about the reviews, do you have anything on the reviews?

  • Me:

    We have a list of all of the reviews on our website.

  • Customer:

    But are they any good?

  • Me:

    They've been very fantastic.

  • Customer:

    That's not very good English, but fine.

  • Me:

  • Customer:

    Hello? Are you there?

  • Me:

    Yes sir. Would you like to go ahead and purchase for the 24th?

  • Customer:

    Yeah, how much are they?

  • Me:

    {gives him different price levels}

  • Customer:

    Fine. What do you want, a credit card?

  • Me:

    Yes sir, in a moment, but first what price level would you like to sit in?

  • Customer:

    Wait, the Air Show is that weekend. Traffic will be awful.

  • Me:

    I believe the airshow will be well over before the 8:00 show.

  • Customer:

    Yeah, I don't want to deal with it, I'll have to call you back.

  • Click. 5 minutes later:

    Ring Ring (same dude)

  • Customer:

    I'd like to buy tickets to Freud's Latest Session (as if we never talked)

  • Me:

    (pretending to not know who it is) Sure, when would you like to come?

  • Customer:

    When does it run?

  • Me:

    Wednesdays through Sundays until September 23rd.

  • Customer:

    September 23rd, huh? OK, I'd like to come on August 9th. 2 tickets.

  • Me:

    Certainly, that's a Thursday, is that OK?

  • Customer:

    Why is there something wrong with Thursdays?

  • Me:

    No sir. Would you like the main floor or the balcony.

  • Customer:

    What's better?

  • Me:

    The main floor is certainly a better view.

  • Customer:

    I'll do the balcony.

  • Me:

    Certainly. With the service fee that comes out to $XX.XX

  • Customer:

    What! What's the service fee for?

  • Me:

    Our ticketing service charges the fee to cover the costs of ticketing.

  • Customer:

    Who's the ticketing company?

  • Me:

    We use Vendini Tickets

  • Customer:

    Who?

  • Me:

    Vendini Tickets with a V as in victor

  • Customer:

    That's kind of weird. Where are they located?

  • Me:

    I'm not really sure off hand. Boston I believe.

  • Customer:

    How can you not know? You work for them don't you?

  • Me:

    No sir. I work for the theater.

  • Customer:

    What's that annoying ringing I keep hearing?

  • Me:

    That's other customers trying to call, sir. Would you like your tickets emailed to you or held at the box office?

  • Customer:

    What time does the box office open?

  • Me:

    We're open all day, 10am until showtime.

  • Customer:

    What time is the show on the 9th?

  • Me:

    Thursdays are at 7:30.

  • Customer:

    That's it? Nothing later?

  • Me:

    No sir, the Friday and Saturday shows are at 8pm, that's the latest we have performances.

  • Customer:

    That won't work, I'll have to call you back.


In the last few years there has been a rash of outdoor concert stage collapses in inclement weather, epitomized by the 7 people killed at the Indiana State Fair before a Sugarland concert. Is this a phenomena? Coincidence? Or have things in our industry changed that are causing this trend?

Let’s go fly a kite.

Outdoor concert stages are all pretty similar structures. There is a deck, usually made of platform pieces that interlock with a cross-braced support structure underneath. There is a roof structure that the lighting and sound equipment hangs from which is covered with a cloth to protect equipment and performers from sun and rain, and there are support towers that hold up the roof, at least at the 4 corners of the stage, and for very large stages, there are usually more towers concentrated near the corners of the stage. The corners are guy wired into the ground to keep the hole thing in place. It kind of resembles this:

That’s a little unfair of a comparison, but there is some truth to the fact that there are just large amounts of surface area that the wind can push against on a concert stage when you cover it with fabric, hang a giant video wall in the back, and hoist it into the air.

That last part is the problem. The roofs of these stages are meant to come down during high winds, and design them as structurally sound as you want, but if you leave that roof up in 60 mph winds, there’s a good chance it’s coming down on its own.

But what’s different now?

The one thing that has changed drastically over the last decade is the amount of weight we hang from these structures. We used to light shows like this with a couple hundred 7lb PAR cans. Now we’re using at least a few dozen 40+ lb moving lights, but in some cases we’re using a hundred of those. We are supporting video walls that can weigh a half ton or more, and as stages and crowds get larger and larger, the number of speaker arrays (probably the heaviest thing up there) grows.

The weakest link….

All of that weight amounts to an incredible downward force on the structure. A structure made mostly of lightweight aluminum. There are folks who are arguing that Europeans are using steel and that it’s unconscionable that they we are not just because it’s lighter and cheaper to transport. They argue that steel is necessary to hold up all of that weight. Here’s the problem - any engineer analyzes a structure by it’s weakest link, and generally in a truss structure like this there are two things that must let go for everything to fall apart; the guy wires, and the truss bolts, both of which are already made of steel.

A wirey guy…

Guy wires are a very misunderstood thing. Most people think they are a safety that holds everything in place and keeps it from wiggling. That’s true, but I think we underestimate just how important it is to keep everything from wiggling. Technically, guy wires keep the entire structure from twisting out of true shape in any direction. When the wind blows on the big kite, most of the force is purposefully exerted on the guy wires, which keeps it off of the truss bolts. If the guy wires break (or don’t exist), the whole structure can twist out of shape, and as soon as the truss towers are ever so slightly out of vertical, all of the force from the weight from that roof (could be 10 tons or more!) gradually shifts from being directed down the length of the towers into the ground to truss bolts at joints that start to shear apart. Those big speaker arrays, which are generally held up by one point start to swing like pendulums putting more torsional force on the structure, and the whole thing falls over like it was made of twigs.  In the picture below from the Sugarland concert, you can see where the truss towers have severed all at the same place, right where they are presumably connected with bolts to that shorter top piece:

What does all of this mean?

To me, it certainly doesn’t mean steel. I’m no engineer, but I think that’s just more weight. The truss itself doesn’t seem to be what’s failing. It might mean we need an entirely new type of structure. Or maybe it just means we need to size our guy wires bigger and place better emphasis on them. If a cable can hold up the Golden Gate Bridge, it can hold up an aluminum stage, as long as it’s sized and anchored right. That combined with strict weight limits on the roof, and maybe piling more speakers on the ground could save a lot of lives.

None of this matters.

What’s killing people is not guy wires. It’s good old fashioned excess. Look at that stage above again!  Several tons of equipment is mounted overhead on a temporary structure that’s taller than it is deep!! It doesn’t take an engineer to know when something is top-heavy! Why does anyone think that’s OK? Our outdoor stages are just too damn big. You can’t build an arena outdoors. Stop trying. Build smaller stages. Stop expecting video walls and the same quality light shows (half the concert is always in daylight anyway). What has made outdoor festival concerts great is that they’re not arena shows, the focus has always been more on the music and the fun of being outside with nature and straw hats and beer listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. If state fairs and festivals want stages this size, they need to build permanent structures. Or at least bring the damn roof down in a severe thunderstorm warning.

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