Broadway theaters went dark on March 12 when government officials enacted new restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Our friends at TheaterMania, Rosemary Maggiore, Publisher (@RoeMaggiore) and David Gordon, Senior Features Reporter (@MrDavidGordon), join AudienceView’s CMO Mike Evenson to share their viewpoints on how theater is staying alive during these uncertain times when the shows can’t go on. The trio discusses how this business interruption is impacting the theater industry globally, highlighting the heartwarming moments that have happened as a result.
TheaterMania is the place for those interested in live theater and the performing arts to connect with like minded people to learn about what’s going on and understand how they can engage. TheaterMania delivers a combination of news that people need to know and fun, lighthearted content – which is needed more than ever.
Unobstructed: House seats (EP. 3)
Announcer: You're listening to Unobstructed, your view on the live events industry.
Mike Evenson: This episode of Unobstructed is frankly brought to you because I need a pick me up. My name is Mike Evenson, I'm the chief marketing officer at Audience View. And like many of you out there times are tough. And we're going through this unprecedented situation that has had an impact on our industry that I don't think anyone ever contemplated and we're just kind of taking it day by day. So, I needed a pick me up and nowhere better to go than the heart of New York City. Believe it or not right now where things are crazy right now, but I've asked two people who are responsible for shining a light on the theater industry, to come join me today. Rosemary Maggiore, the publisher of TheaterMania and David Gordon the Senior Features Reporter of TheaterMania, Rosemary and David, thank you for joining me. First of all, how is your health and how are your families right now?
Rosemary Maggiore: Well, thanks for having us and thanks for asking that. That's how I feel every conversation starts these days. My family's doing well, we're in lockdown at home, just outside New York City. Our little town is right in the epicenter of where one of the largest breakouts happened. And being that New York is so densely populated, we have to really be extra careful. So, we're playing by the rules, staying home and knock on wood. So far, so good health wise.
David Gordon: Yes, same here. We're in Astoria, Queens, but we're pretty okay knock on wood. We don't leave the house, which is actually really nice. It's nice to just have time.
Mike Evenson: Yes, and for a brand in an organization that's going to theater every single night and covering every aspect of it. What a departure and what a change for you, David, and for your colleagues.
David Gordon: Yes.
Mike Evenson: To not be able to go see, to go see shows every day.
David Gordon: It's funny, it certainly makes it, I'm on so many minds about this because on the one thing I miss it terribly. But on the other hand, I didn't realize just how sort of spent that I was until I had these past three weeks and longer to just sort of sit and not have to consume a play a night. Which is a blessing and it's a blessing and a curse because when you see so much, you just sort of lose, you lose your ability to distinguish between anything. Whereas a casual theater goer will go see a show on a Friday night and instantaneously know, if they loved it or didn't like it. Whereas I'll see five things in a row and think to myself, well all of those just blended in. So, this has really made me sort of appreciate just what I'm able to do because I have time to think about it more.
Rosemary Maggiore: Well I think it's different because there's no FOMO, you know, it's not like we're home individually because one of us is sick. Nobody's seen anything.
David Gordon: Right.
Rosemary Maggiore: So, it's like a worldwide pause. Timeout.
David Gordon Yes.
Mike Evenson: So, while you guys aren't sick of Netflix, the rest of us are, and we're ready to go out and see a show. So that it's funny how that paradigm shifts.
David Gordon: Yes, well you still can.
Mike Evenson: Yes.
David Gordon: [Inaudible 00:03:51] time.
Mike Evenson: Absolutely. So, you know you guys spend every single day kind of covering live theater when this started happening in New York and you started to see it across the country and around the world. How did your mind shift as you started thinking about, not just your individual perception and perspective about what was going on, but what the theater goer was going to experience? What the artists, what the performers, the producers, everyone in this ecosystem was all of a sudden faced with a challenge that they'd never experienced before. What was going through your minds as you started to think about, well what does this mean now?
Rosemary Maggiore: Well I could vividly remember the week that this was really coming to fruition because it did happen very quickly.
David Gordon: Yes.
Rosemary Maggiore: Yes, there was, I remember I was in London for the Watson Stage Awards and there were the first talks of this virus going around and I remember coming back and saying, nah it's not that big of a deal over in London. We're talking about it a lot more here in New York, but still we weren't changing our lives yet. We were going to theater; we were going to work. We were riding the subway and within a matter of days we went from that behavior on say a Monday, to Thursday the Governor announcing at 5:00 PM that Broadway was going to go dark. And it was like the world came crashing down because we were dancing around this unknown a little bit and without those rules in place, everybody was still going forward with their lives. And then it became this devastating reality that not only would I not see those shows I had planned to see the next week, but artists and performers whose entire livelihoods depended on this industry were suddenly just out of work. So, I think it was, things have changed since that week, but that week was just devastating.
David Gordon: It was a really fascinating thing to experience, mostly because I grew up in New York City. I'm a native and I've been going to the theater. My parents started taking me when I was seven or eight to see shows. And I remember after 9/11 the theaters were closed for a couple of days and you know, Giuliani did his press conference where he said, now's a great time, you could probably get tickets to see The Producers. And there was all the solidarity they the Broadway community filmed a I Love New York commercial in the middle of Times Square and Liza Minnelli saying New York, New York at the first game back at Shea stadium that year. And now we don't know what's going to happen because it's not like there's no contingency plan for this; 9/11 close the theaters for two or three days.
There were shows that were affected, but it was mostly because people weren't coming into the city, they were afraid. Now shows were affected because they don't have money to physically reopen. And we've gotten two Broadway casualties already, there's Martin McDonagh's Hangmen, which I was supposed to see the Saturday after the theater is closed. And Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Laurie Metcalf that both folded within the first week I think of the shutdown. They didn't have enough money to pay rent I would imagine; they couldn't physically pay people for however long [inaudible 00:07:34] was going to be. Virginia Wolf is probably a different story because Laurie Metcalf is eventually going to have to go back to LA to finish filming The Conners, the new season of the Conners. So, they're on a tighter schedule, but Hangmen I think just didn't have the financial reserve for it. And I'm sure we're going to see a lot of other productions just like that too.
Mike Evenson: The thing, I brought such positive people onto the show today to talk about a theater. No, just kidding but.
David Gordon: It's a really sad thing.
Mike Evenson: It really is, and I'm not trying to diminish it at all. And, I think we're frankly on the front end of the long-term kind of disruption that this will have on the industry and hopefully everyone can just hang on as long as they possibly can to keep this art form, not just alive but thriving. But I do want to kind of turn our attention to kind of the innovation and the great things that have come from this time period. So, in this kind of stay at home, self-isolation, quarantine, there's been a lot of innovation, there's been a lot of uplifting moments that are just seeming to grow from here. And I know your roles are designed to cover these things. What are you both seeing that, that you think is, is going to be a moment in time and it's just kind of keeping us entertained for now versus, you know, what could potentially be a longer lasting impact on the industry as a whole?
Rosemary Maggiore: Well, I personally think that you're right, it's a moment in time. You know, the beauty of theater versus film or other arts form is that the audience is experiencing a once in a lifetime live event and performance that can never be replicated again. It's been around a hundred years, sorry hundreds of years. And it's a very intimate relationship between the performance, performers and the audience and, that will not die. That's going to come back, it's on hold for the time being. But I think that what we're seeing now is that people are so passionate about this art forum and they don't want to lose that connection. So, they're trying, whether you're a performer or a viewer, you're trying anything you can to get even a piece of it. So, while a recording would never replace the live event form, it's a nice way to keep these relationships going.
So, you know and thank God this happened during the era of social media because we have these platforms that allow multiple levels of creativity. And I'm seeing the barrier between people come down. So, there's a much closer, because we're all at home, you know, we're all in the same boat. There is a much closer relationship between performers and followers. I think that performers are just as desperate to interact with people. And we're all in our own worlds, I love that I'm seeing connections being made overseas like across the pond. And you know some of the content that we're sharing in the U.S. from our sister site in the U.K., it's all being consumed very well. Whereas in the past we might've lived in our own little worlds a little bit more. But I'm seeing people in general open up a lot more and companies are, whether it's a theater or a media company are sharing much more. They’re sharing free content, they're streaming, live streaming events, they're posting recordings, there's social media challenges popping up left and right. So, it's a creative time.
David Gordon: It's really making a lot of these theater companies both in New York City, the country in the world really look at how they make content in a different way. Because in New York, you know, the U.K. and Europe has stuff like NT Live, where they broadcast plays at the National Theater and elsewhere around the U.K. in cinemas. We don't really have that here in New York, we don't really have that at all here in New York for Broadway. Usually because the unions are so stringent about finances and what gets done, you know it's very telling that the Broadway productions of Kinky Boots and the King and I were filmed in on the West End, because that's just where it was easier to film. There were fewer regulations I would imagine.
Now you have all of these companies that are bending over backwards to put up streaming content. Half of it is old archival stuff that they've gotten permission from all the unions to do. Half of it is the shows that were currently in production when the shutdown happened, that they're putting online for donations, donate $15, you'll get to see a great new play from off Broadway's Rattlestick Theater. And the Siblings play, it's a great play and that's happening at the Goodman in Chicago, it’s happening at Berkeley Rep. It's happening at American Conservatory Theater; it's happening at Theater Wit. And these theaters are literally figuring out a new way to create this media to bring this medium to audiences, which probably never would have happened had this whole thing not gone down.
Rosemary Maggiore: And new ways to make money too.
David Gordon: Yes.
Rosemary Maggiore: I mean there, you know it's a way of reaching people who, I think you're right, David, to say that. I think this is a change that'll stick because if there is a way that a show could bring content to someone who was never going to make it to their theater anyway, because maybe they live halfway around the world.
David Gordon: Yes.
Rosemary Maggiore: You know that's something that, why wouldn't they continue to do that?
David Gordon: You know just today; the National Theater of London launched a video streaming on their YouTube. Every Thursday they're going to put up a full production that was broadcast as part of NT Live for free on their YouTube for a full week, and then they're going to replace it with another one. And today they started with One Man, Two Guvnors, which is one of their more successful shows, it was on Broadway, James Corden won a Tony for it. It started screaming at 7:00 PM in the U.K., which is two or three o'clock here. And I looked at it, within the first five minutes of the broadcast starting, they've 200,000 viewers and they have raised 20,000 pounds.
Mike Evenson: Wow.
David Gordon: You can donate too, and that sort of thing is unprecedented you know it's like.
Mike Evenson: You have to wonder, you have to wonder how yes, how the medium will change over time. And I mean, I think what's happening is, you know, because we're in such a difficult time, I think a lot of these organizations are doing what they can to buoy spirits and kind of keep their, keep everyone engaged and entertained. And so, the monetization is really not, you know, front and center.
David Gordon: Right.
Mike Evenson: That will change over time, especially once, you know, once the theaters open again and people start going to live events, I mean, there will be this, you know this kind of a decision point where organizations will have to figure out, is entertaining the masses is trying to reach beyond our hyperlocal audience. Is that something we want to do, or you know, is that, is not that not going to be what we're about? So, I think it's going to be fascinating to see how these theaters and organizations decide to engage, create engagement strategies locally and around the world.
David Gordon: I think that hardcore theater fans are going to come back in droves when this was all over.
Rosemary Maggiore: Yes, I do, I mean, I think there's also the money you mentioned. There's a different motivation right now to spend that money. You know there's a motivation to help keep theaters alive that are struggling at the same time our own economies threatened. So, what this looks like when we're all back to normal, I think will be very different than what we're seeing today. The emotions will be different, but it is a good time for us to re-examine the ways we do things. And there's so many things about theater that have just desperately needed an overhaul. Like some of the things you've mentioned David, just with the rights issues and the unions and making content available is one of those things. So, does it need to be so complicated and protected?
David Gordon: Right. And I think, I think this is ultimately giving a lot of these centuries old organizations a push in a direction that they needed to go in but were all too afraid to do.
Rosemary Maggiore: It's true, if you think about what happened to the music industry when digital streaming came along or even the film and TV industry with Netflix and streaming. You know, is this the time for live events to face it's change that it's needed.
Mike Evenson: No, you're absolutely right. It literally took pirated music and the deconstruction of that economy for music distribution to change. And I personally think everyone's, I think a lot of the stakeholders are better off because of it. And I think one key group in the theater industry in my opinion, that has a real here is the artists themselves. I think when you look at music and you look at sports, the ability for kind of those star performers to be household names and to create a strong individual brand, even not for the A list sports stars. Everyone has a chance to do that, and I think that we've spent a lot of time talking about the theaters themselves or the productions. But there's so much talent out there, and I think this is a real opportunity for those individuals to kind of step up and become personal brands, and I think we're seeing that play out on social media.
David Gordon: Yes, I absolutely do. And it's teaching people how to do different things too. You know everybody, there's the service now called Cameo, which is where for 25 or 50 or a hundred dollars, you can pay to get a recorded message from someone from their list who you might like. And it's like a birthday party, a birthday present, anniversary present, and all of the Broadway people that are on it are now donating all of their fees they would charge for the actors fund or to Broadway Cares, to organizations that are helping the industry recover from this. And the connection, the connections just in general from that one app alone are incredible. Even if it is just like a, hi, I'm so and so happy birthday. Thanks for being my thing. You know, even if it's that sort of thing, it's still a connection that happened in a more personal way than even tweeting something. And I think Instagram and Zoom and all of these other services that are now popping up, Tik Tok, even Tik Tok has managed to turn Beetlejuice into a property to be reckoned with.
Rosemary Maggiore: Yes.
David Gordon: I think all of that is just going to help the artists further develop their own personas, their brands online.
Mike Evenson: So how has this time, obviously there aren't shows happening. So how Rosemary have you kind of shifted the lens around what TheaterMania and What's on Stage are covering and what you're deciding to, to focus on?
Rosemary Maggiore: Well, it's two things. I mean, we wanted to be a supportive presence for our theaters, our friends in the community. We recognize that we have a really powerful platform with a very engaged audience. And you know, normally we're a business of course, and we have our newsrooms, but we also have to keep the lights on. But we wanted to gear and make this about how we can help and give voice to the theaters that might be facing a crisis situation or have some really interesting content that they didn't normally or hadn't previously released. How do we also serve our consumers, our audience who's hungry to know what's going on?
Give us the news we need to know, but also balance it with some fun stuff. You know, let's have fun with this. We all have a little bit of time, like David said, so how do we engage them, and you know we popped up this really fun quiz yesterday on What's on Stage that's doing very well, and we think people need that distraction too. So, there's really got to be a nice balance, and the response we've gotten from theaters who we've reached out to say, Hey, we're here has been just so wonderful. Thank you for helping us, here's this thing we're doing. And some of the things I'm seeing are just so heartfelt, everything from the New York Youth Symphony created this challenge for young musicians. I happen to have a daughter who's a young musician, so I thought this was particularly interesting. There's so many high school musicals and high school musical performances that are getting canceled, are not going to happen. So, they started a hashtag challenge called please don't stop the music to help keep their youth engaged. So, kids could perform and use this hashtag and other people will see it. And you know, dreams are being squashed, so there's these various methods that have popped up to keep it alive.
And I think you may have seen our own Broadway hashtag challenge Brett Broadway Handwash Challenge hashtag, B-way handwash challenge. Where we started by asking some known personalities to sing their favorite Broadway song for 20 seconds while washing their hands and naming a charity that they wanted to recognize and make a donation to or a theater. And it's grown to be nationwide, international, young people, professionals, unprofessionals everybody's getting in on it because again, like I said, everybody wants to connect, and they want to help. So, I think it's TheaterMania and What's on Stage, it's our job to respect what's going on and be sensitive to it. You know, and at the same time deliver a real balance of news and entertainment.
David Gordon: People are really responding to the entertainment now; my favorite example so far are the Rockettes are offering dance class every Thursday on Instagram live at noon Eastern standard time. And I posted about it this morning, it was a one-off thing, I wasn't really thinking anything of it. There wasn't much information and it was very short. It's been shared on our Facebook now just about 5,000 times, all in five hours.
Mike Evenson: That's great.
David Gordon: And they're, last I checked, there were 600 comments on it. And so, people are really looking for stuff like that, stuff to take their mind off the news while connecting. I looked at the comments I was like, wow, we'd never think the Rockettes would have, we never learned to dance, it's like a Rockette.
Mike Evenson: And the Rockettes, I mean have been around forever.
David Gordon: Yes.
Mike Evenson: And so, as you mentioned Beetlejuice and t's so great to see some of these revivals if you will, and just a heightened interest and Rosemary, you're right, people are home they are. They do have time on their hands, and they want to participate. I think that's a key thing too, we can only kind of sit around and watch so much. I think having an opportunity to kind of engage with that content, participate in some way, learn The Rockettes dance, I think that, that kind of innovation and those campaigns that are going out there are fantastic. So however long this lasts, it's just going to be fascinating to see how these engagement opportunities continue.
Rosemary Maggiore: Well, the other thing I just want to add is that, you have to also remember, people are under a tremendous amount of stress right now. So, it's not just that we're stuck at home, but there’s people who, especially those who suffer from anxiety, are really scared. They're scared about getting the disease, they're scared about the economy, they are feeling socially isolated and that's really troubling. So, on top of everything else that is so uncertain, we're dealing with people who are really going through some personal struggles. Maybe they're far away from their loved ones and that's giving them anxiety. So, I think there's just such a cacophony of emotions happening and people feeling like they're not doing enough. So, you see something like the Rockettes, and not only is it fun and just a diversion, but it might actually make someone feel a little accomplished to go and learn something from a Rockette, you know? So, there's that piece too.
Mike Evenson: Are either of you going to give it a try?
David Gordon: I might actually,
Mike Evenson: I think I might need to do 10 weeks of yoga first before I even attempt something like that.
David Gordon: My wife and I had become obsessed with Tik Tok, so we're just trying to learn all these different Tik Tok. I could never figure them out, so I just flail my arms wildly. But that's our diversion like that and we're re-watching Frazier on Hulu.
Mike Evenson: Nice. Yes, no, it's a great opportunity to dust something off, and we've gotten into the board games and puzzles and it's gone old-school for us, which has been really great. So, well I really appreciate what TheaterMania and What's on Stage are doing to keep people entertained, to keep people informed. For those that don't know, TheaterMania is the place for people interested in live theater and performing arts to connect with likeminded people, to learn about what's going on and understand how they can engage. Like we've heard that from David and Rosemary a lot today. They bring in combination of news that people need to know and fun, lighthearted content, which clearly is needed more than ever. TheaterMania is run by theater people who understand the addiction to the art and the industry that will come back and is alive even though people might not be able to interact with each other physically right now. There's no question we're seeing it happen on social channels and all over. David and Rosemary, thank you so much for participating in Unobstructed today and stay safe out there in New York okay.
Rosemary Maggiore: Thanks for having us.
David Gordon: Thank you.
Mike Evenson: Thanks to everyone for joining this episode of Unobstructed. As I said, it's been a tough time for our industry, but it's moments like this that they keep me excited about keeping this industry afloat, and soon we will be able to go to live events again. Until next time.
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