046 “Ken I Help You?” (a.k.a. “Winniebego and the Sharkbites”) John’s on fire—literally – and so is this episode! A review of our appearance at ROCPodfest where our 2014 American of the Year is awarded to The Cancer Dancer, we fail to imitate Robin Williams, a round of the great improv game “What If…” involves sharks in space, Shia LaBeouf, Tootsie Pops, “BJ and the Bear”, a minnie Winnie, and “The Wonder Years”, and Elsie feeds her cold with an odd but surprising End of Show Food. Special guest: Legendary Broadway producer Ken Davenport reveals how he got his name, how he got involved with the Tony Winning “Kinky Boots”, what makes a classic, inside tips on successful producing, his dream production, and a tale of stinky feet (not his). Plus—after an amazing round of “What If…” pitching adaptations of classic television sitcoms goes rogue, he discusses making Marc the offer to star in a dream role.
Well, probably not really.
At least not this show with those people, at least not right away. To understand what this all means, you’ll have to listen to Ken Davenport’s interview on “Monkey Radio with Marc”.
What Davenport actually did say is more immediately useable to anyone in theater: finding the balance of art and business is part of the trick. A producer MUST love, and believe in, the show he/she is producing. Here are a few tidbits the interview revealed:
1. If you don’t love the show you’re doing, then what are you doing with your life? Few people say at 10 years old “I want to be a giant Theater mogul”. But they might say “I want to be an actor or “I want to be a director” or “I want to be Annie.”
2. Being in business as an actor is important—-your performance frequency and fan-base, even how many Twitter followers you have—might be the scale-tipper. It isn’t just about being the best actor. It’s about being the best in the business of acting.
3. Star-power is not actually the way to success on The Great White Way. 9 out of 10 of the most successful Broadway shows were not “star vehicles”. And the one that was had actually been previously done on Broadway without a celebrity. The secret is in the engaging story or production itself.
Davenport pointed out that many successful concepts come from simply paying attention to the ideas, stories and projects that show themselves in one’s day—from the bookstore to colleagues to videos, and even the simplest of ideas. This was true for “Somewhere in Time” (he noticed this in a video store) or “Gettin’ the Band Back Together” ( a new show that started with an idea which was engineered into a prject). Even the currently running “Kinky Boots” came from paying attention to a colleague’s experience and overcoming his own doubts based on the intensity of the ideas recommendation.
The “Kinky Boots” producer is a true entrepreneur, who has immersed himself in the theater world and made a business out of teaching others what he’s learned. Currently he’s offering a new idea—a quite affordable Producing 101 teleseminar aimed at new producers to give them the foundation to move in the right direction.
Swapping absurd pitches while playing an improvisational game with Davenport at the tail end of the interview revealed something meaningful. In fun, he says “Keep Robin Williams, scrap everything else”, which ultimately means focus on what has value, lose the dead weight, and be willing to embrace something new. His company boasts a 50% success rate (productions returning a profit). And that’s gangbusters in the Broadway world! If winning less than half the time is normal, it’s crucial to embrace what works, and learn from those doing it right.
The balance is the answer. Art and business. Where the balance is—only people like Davenport have the map.
The interview with Davenport is worth a listen for anyone in theater. To ignore those who have succeeded is foolish. One thing is for sure—you cannot succeed without some effort, without really trying, playing smart, paying attention.
Davenport isn’t his real last name. He changed it to fit in with what is successful. We all have to learn to mold to what works, and not constantly reinvent the wheel. Balance that with attention to what audiences want, which is always changing. Except one thing: They want to be entertained. Yet his name is now Davenport. A davenport is something on while we rely to support us, make us comfortable, often while others entertain us. It’s good to have a sturdy Davenport on which to rely, and know Broadway is in good hands.
Maybe I’ll work with McKeon someday. Maybe Williams. My real wish is to work with Davenport. Hey–I’m no novice–having appeared in more than 40 staged productions including 9 months starring Off-Broadway, some 25 films and several TV pilots and network TV roles—hey, it could happen!
For now, let’s all bask in the glow of success and experience of a man who lights a path on a street named Broadway, and see what we can glean from his willingness to share how we can each claim a footlight.