Industry Interview: A Little Perspective- Ken Davenport Wants to Teach You How to Produce for Broadway
Theatre is a multi-faceted industry built on collaboration, creativity and commitment. Whether you are a writer, director, producer, or any other profession within the theatre, it's essential to know how each facet of our business works together to put on a production.
Do you know exactly what a General Manager does? How about the inner workings of a Broadway marketing team and crafting the ideal ad plan for your show? Any idea how much Entertainment Lawyers cost, and how to negotiate with your own attorney?
If you are pursuing a career in the theatre, or trying to get your show from the page to the stage, it's important to know the answers to these questions, and more. So, how do you get these answers and get ahead of the game?
On November 10-12, Broadway producer Ken Davenport will bring theatrical minds together for the Producer's Perspective Super Conference and he's telling us all about it!
How did your popular blog lead you into the world of conferences?
For me, as much as I'm a big proponent of online communication, whether it be blogging or listening to podcasts... there is no substitute in any industry for getting people in a room to talk about things. Everyone gets whipped up into this frenzy of excitement and inspiration. I wanted to expand what we had been doing online to a live conference. Of course, that's true for any industry. I go to conferences all the time and I always emerge so excited and energized to do something with what I learned. This is even more important for the theatre, where our job is to get people to show up live and in person and share a common experience. So, it seemed like a natural evolution.
Who are the ideal attendees?
What we're finding is that it's people who want to create and develop theatre. That is exactly what I wanted to do when I started out and frankly originally I wasn't quite sure what that meant. I used to meet with people and say "Oh, I want to write. Oh, I want to act. Oh, I want to produce!" So, I wasn't quite sure, but I knew I wanted to create and develop theatre.
We have a lot of writers that are looking to self-produce or find producers and understand the business of it. We have a lot of producers, because there aren't a lot of places where they can learn this information, who are looking for writers. I'm hoping a lot of collaborations will come out of it. We have a whole bunch of people who are coming who aren't sure yet, but they know that theatre is what they love and what they want to do and they're hoping to find the path that's best for them.
How have you put together a program so that people will come out of this ready to hit the ground running?
How we've designed it is just like a show develops. We have a panel with great writers where we'll talk about how to find an idea for the theatre, how to develop it, what's the first step when you have that light bulb moment? Then we literally have Steve Cuden who wrote a book called "Beating Broadway" about structure and writing a musical specifically. Then we start to get into the specifics, like you have this script, now what do you do with it? How do you get it in front of producers? How do you self-produce? Hiring a general manager, directors, of course raising money... all of those things. We try to hit on all of the different elements in the life cycle of a show to get you from the page to the stage.
How did you pick the speakers for this event?
I look for super smart, super passionate, inspirational speakers that have had a lot of success. I also look for a lot of self-starters. People who over the past few years of me doing a podcast told me great stories about how they went their own way. Some of them designed their own major in college, started producing on their own, self-produced or self-funded their own thing, or in a scrappy self-starter way, got their show up to the attention of other folks.
Were the speakers excited to participate? Do they like sharing their knowledge or do they feel protective of trade secrets or things like that?
I think all of the speakers said they would love to be a part of this because there aren't a lot of opportunities for these folks to hear these stories. It's one of the reasons of course I started the blog, and especially one of the reasons I started the podcast. They know what it's like to be all of those people sitting in the audience. They also know that the next generation of theatre producers and theatre writers are going to be out there. They want to help inspire them.
What does doing something like this do for you?
I'm a big believer that the world is a better place if there's more theatre in it. So what this does for me, and what all the things that I do do for me, is ensure and energize the next community of theatre makers. So, if out of this comes a collaboration which leads to a play, if out of this comes someone being energized to go make ten calls to raise money for their own show to get it up on its feet, if more theatre is created as a result, it's a success. I think that's good for all of us.
It seems like you're looking for new projects as well, since the VIP experience they get to pitch to you directly?
Yeah of course. My eyes are always open. I'm a big believer in that you never know where the next Hamilton is going to come from. Lin-Manuel Miranda was once the guy in the back of the Drama Book Shop just doing his little skits and he was starting to work on it and put it together. You never know. And I go through my every day talking to people, listening to people, and this is an opportunity where I can literally hear new ideas spoken right to me.
Where are the attendees coming from? Is it more from the tri-state area or are people flying in from all over the place?
All over. Certainly we have a core here but this is a great opportunity for people who have theatrical goals and ambitions to come in for a weekend and get a real immersion into the city and to the business because they just don't get access to these people in other ways.
You've also set up a wide range of activities. They can see shows and talkbacks and network with each other?
It's all about the energy that's created in the room. We can curate a great weekend for them but it's all designed to get them talking and moving and frankly, taking action. That's my goal of everything I do- to get people to do something, because when people take action, great things can happen. I say all the time that there are great ideas all over the place but the ones that make a difference, the ones that change theatre or change the world, are the ones that people take action on. The goal of the conference is to get people to do just that.
What sort of things are being covered in the conference that you wished someone had told or taught you when you were starting out?
I am excited about Steve Cuden's "Beating Broadway" story structure because often I think writing is thought of as this very mystical experience, where someone sits down at a typewriter. We forget that so much of it is based on science and actual structure that's existed for thousands of years. So I'm excited for that because whenever people have a system or structure in place it always helps them make their pieces better. I can't say they didn't teach me that, but I just didn't really want to pay attention because I thought it was boring. I think Steve's lecture is going to be much more user-friendly, especially using musicals as an example.
Our money-raising panel is going to be really good because it's a real, practical, in the trenches guide to one of the things I hear over and over is the most difficult thing for people to do. Unfortunately it's part of the business. It' just the way it is.
If people can't make the conference that weekend, are things being taped? Can they watch parts online later or do they have to wait for the next one?
There may be some available in the Producer's Perspective Pro, but this is solely for people that come. I really want people to be in the room. I want people to be there to witness it, to meet fellows that are just like them. The type of people that we want are the type of people who say, "Hey, this is really important. I'm really passionate about this. I know my weekends are few and far between, but I'm going to take a weekend and go because I really want to get to the next level."
Click here to register today.
Ken is a Tony Award-winning Broadway and Off Broadway Producer. In 2004, he formed Davenport Theatrical Enterprises and began producing his own shows. His "first born" was The Awesome 80s Prom, which ran for 10 years, followed quickly by the Outer Critics Circle Award-Winning Best Musical Altar Boyz, and My First Time, which has been seen in over 20 countries worldwide. He was the first producer to have three shows running simultaneously Off Broadway.
He returned to Broadway soon after and since then has produced Deaf West's Spring Awakening, 13, Speed The Plow, Will Ferrell's You're Welcome America, Blithe Spirit, Oleanna, Chinglish, Godspell, Kinky Boots, Macbeth, The Bridges of Madison County, Mothers and Sons, It's Only A Play and The Visit, as well as Daddy Long Legs and That Bachelorette Show Off Broadway. Ken is also the Executive Producer of North America for Andrew Llyod Webber's Really Useful Group.