Sunday, 30 June 2013

Aladdin and his magic lamp

Those who' s been following this blog will know by now. We (Protea Stage Production) are well underway with our second show for 2013. Our first show, Bottoms Up, directed by Margaret Todd, was a huge success. Scarcely one month break, and we are all system going again.

Protea stage is a non-profit theater production company here in Benoni. They have been around for about fourty years now and won many awards over the years.

Aladdin and his magic lamp is a youth musical, written and directed by Cameron Lowry. Cameron has been with Protea for many years and starred in many of the past productions as a child star.


I have been involved with Protea since the start of this year and wrote a few songs for the musical. This week we started rehearsals, with the first shot at the one song I wrote, A wonderful world.


Friday, 28 June 2013

5 Management principles for theater producers

Producers for musical theater are managers. They manage a business, and the basic principles of management applies in theater just as much as it applies to any other business. Here are a few management principles which a theater producer may wish to remember.


  1. Hire people who genuinely love theater. Hiring people who loves what they do can be more important than skills, training, education, experience, or expertise. Surround yourself with people who are enthusiastic about theater and about your show. Having people around who hates what they do or just hates your show, is not fun. People who love what they do will never talk your show down behind your back and will give their best to help you succeed.

  2. Set realistic expectations from the start. It is important that everybody who works with you know exactly what you expect from them. You do not want your marketing manager telling you that she will not design your posters for you or update your web site because that is not in her job description. If she does not do it, you may end up doing it yourself, and you have more than enough other things to keep yourself busy. To avoid an uncomfortable situation, have a list of what you regard as the responsibilities of a theater marketing manager (or director, musical director, financial manager, office manager, or whatever) ready at the initial interview and discuss each point with the prospective person.

  3. Teamwork comes through a process, not by hiring "team players". Most people will be a part of the team if given a chance. It is human nature to work in groups. Unfortunately it requires leadership to make it work. It is up to you to ensure an effective team by including everybody in all decisions.

  4. Do not make hasty decisions. Do not fall in the trap to make changes on the run. It is hard to change decisions already taken. Make sure you have all the facts available before you make a final decision. When a idea is raised at a production meeting, there is seldom a need to decide immediately. Take some time to think. However, do not use this as an excuse to procrastinate.

  5. Give more praise than criticism. People perform better when they feel they are being appreciated. If you criticize people too frequently, they begin to feel that you are watching them only to catch them making a mistake. They become too scared to be honest and start to lose confidence. People may become reluctant to take initiative for fear of being criticized.


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Aladdin auditions underway!

Auditions for the Protea Stage Productions musical for this year is underway. This first two days of auditions over this weekend went pretty well.

The show we are doing is called Aladdin and his magic lamp. The show was written by Cameron Jordan Lawry and is based on the classic story of Aladdin, with a few twists. Most of the music for the show will be standard well known hits, with myself contributing three original songs specially written for the show.

The show will be produced by the Protea Stage Productions. Cameron will also be co-directing the show with Michael Brownhill.

The show will feature at least 14 cast members, with a still to be determined chorus.mthis means that any voluteers are still welcome to join us. We can always fit you in as one of the towns folk, venders, guards, suitors or servants.

Last chance for auditioning is Monday night at the Tom Newby school. Do not miss out on this opportunity to be part of something magic!


Friday, 21 June 2013

Theater marketing - those who care

Last week I introduced my theory in marketing for theater productions.
Let's explore this theory in a little bit more depth by looking closer at one area of this theory, i.e. zone C. These are the people who care, but not yet knowing. To get them to buy a ticket, you need to simply inform them about the show. If you want to exploit this target market to the fullest, you must understand it better, know what they care about and where to find them. Then you can figure out how you can communicate to them.
So, exactly who are those people that care? What do they care about, and why would they want to come watch your show?
What you can assume now for the sake of this article, is that they do not care about the show itself (yet). This is evident from the mere fact that they are placed in the zone of "caring, but not knowing". In this zone you will find the fans. There are different ways to communicate to them, depending on who they are fans of. I want to look at them one by one.
Before we explore them further, I must just state the obvious. In this discussion I will assume that the show is good. Not only good, but great. If you do not have a show of the best quality, then you must go back and get the show up to highest standard before we worry about getting people to watch it.
Fans of the production company
These are people who know the production company. They are either connected with the company in some way, or have seen previous shows of this company. They are likely to come and watch your show because they trust that anything the company do will be good. As a writer / composer for musical theater you may want to find a company who has such a good reputation to produce your show. If the company has a good following, you have already sold a few tickets without spending any money on advertising. Most production companies will have a mailing list, email database, or SMS database of their regular patrons. Make sure you get permission from the chairmain or regulating committee to speak to their fans, obtain a copy of that list and exploit it. Many companies will have a facebook page and / or a twitter account. Make sure the company put an advert for your show on their web site.
If you are with a company who do not have any of the above, now is a good time to start. The best place to start collecting names for a mailing list is at the shows itself. Find out what the company schedule for the year is and help them to start the database at the earliest show on their schedule. By the time your show comes up, you may have a handy list of names to your disposal. At each show, mingle with the patrons at the front of house before the show and during intervals. Don't just put a pen and paper down in a corner. Actively pester people (in a resectful and friendly way) for their names and email adresses. Be sure to follow this up with a welcome email and an invite to like the company's (and your own) facebook page.
Fans of the director / musical director
Most directors who has been around for some time will have a following. Not many of them keep a mailing list, but some do. Some may even have a web page. Everything said about exlpoiting the production company's mailing lists above applies here as well. When sending an invite to the director's fans, make sure you mention in big letters that he or she is directing your show. Make sure the names of the directors and musical directors are clearly visible on all posters and advertising. Directors like to have their names visible and in bright lights, but make sure that you clear all advertising with them, as well as with the production company.
Fans and friends of other creative crew members
It is not very common for other crew members (set designers, stage managers, sound & lighting engineers, etc) to have a fan club or mailing list. To exploit their fan clubs, you need a slightly different approach. Ask them to sell some tickets to their friends and family. It is always a good idea to give each crew member at least one extra complimentary ticket for their trouble.
Fans of the cast
If you have a famous cast member, you must make sure that you capitalise on that fact. Ask your singers and actors if they have fan mailling lists. If they are not famous yet, make them famous. Include cast member's names on posters and advertising. I am always surprised by how few shows actually bother to advertise the cast. Newspapers like to write news stories about people. You can make stories newsworthy by including some personal fact and stories. Newspapers are more likely to place stories like "single mother with three jobs star in new musical". Those personal stories are more likely to catch the eyes of the readers, who will care to come watch the show. Ask the cast to sell tickets to their friends and family. If a cast member is connected in any way to a local art school, you have a direct line to another gold mine. Make sure you exploit it.
Fans of the songwriter / composer
Everything said above applies. I have to admit that I will go watch any show if I see Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd-Webber on the advertising. I know I am not alone. Songwriters and composers accumulate fans very quickly. If you are a songwriter or composer, start to build up your fan database from your first show and keep on adding to the database.
Fans of the show
Famous shows like Phantom of the opera and Les Miserables have huge followings. Fans will go watch these show, no matter who puts it up. If you put up a newly developed show, it is unlikely to have a dedicated fan club yet. Be sure to start building up that fan list from the very start. People who attended the first readings are likely to come to the show to see how the show has developed. People who saw the first show in a community hall is likely to watch it again when it comes up in a large profesional theater. Make sure you start collecting the names from the start. Dedicated fans will watch revivals whenever they have the chance.
Fans of theater
There are many people who will watch any musical just because they like to watch musicals. I know, I'm one. Make sure you inform them about your show. Theater fans are likely to read blogs and other dedicated theater news sites like artslink or Some of these sites offer free listings for newly developing shows or community shows. Make sure you do not miss out on these opportunities.
Talk to other theater companies in your area (professional and amateur). Ask them if they would mind sharing their mailing lists, or give you a mention in their newsletter in exchange for a mention in your newsletter. Ask them if you may advertise at their shows.
Hope this gave you some ideas on how to sell more tickets. This is not the only way, but it surely is the most effective way to start. We will look at more ideas some time.
Till then!


Sunday, 16 June 2013

From total strangers to ticket buying fans

When you produce a show, you need people to buy tickets in order to recover the costs. I have this little bit of marketing theory for you that just might help you to sell a few more tickets.

My theory hangs on two basic principles; i.e. people need to know about your show, and they need to care enough to buy a ticket.

Take a look at this picture at the left. On the vertical axis, we split people by those who don't know about your show and those who do not know about your show. In the graphic, those who do not know are placed below the horizontal line.

Then we split the people by those who do not care about your show at all, and those who care enough to buy a ticket. They are placed along the horizontal axis - those who don't care goes to the left and those who do, goes to the right.

Easy enough. This gives us four possibilities, or the four zones. We start off with all people in zone A, i.e. they don't know about your show, and they do not care enough to buy a ticket.

The objective of marketing is to mobilize people from zone A to zone D, i.e. where they know about your show, and they care enough to buy a ticket.

People are moved from zone A to zone B by informing them about your show. In zone B we have people who know about the show, but do not yet care enough to buy a ticket. You can move them from zone B into zone D by engaging with them and convince them.

A very effective long term marketing strategy is to move people from zone A into zone C. These are what we can call the "fans". These are the people who care about you and your music enough to buy any new album that you release and will likely buy a ticket to your show. It is good to have lots of fans in zone C. If you have been keeping proper tabs on your fans, all you need to do when your show is ready, is to inform them by sending them an email.

I will talk more about my marketing theory in future posts and show you how this basic idea can help you selling out every time. We will also explore how social media marketing fits into this theory.

Until then!


Monday, 10 June 2013

I had to say it in a song

Every day we experience many emotions. During any day, our emotions may change hundreds of times from one moment to the next. These changes in our emotions may be triggered by the people who we meet during the day.

It may be that taxi that skip over a red traffic light and barely missed you. You feel many different emotions. Anger, disgust, hate? You may decide to not allow it to get the better of you and drive on.

You may see a homeless person begging at the next traffic light. You feel pity. You want to help, but your wallet is locked in the boot of the car. You feel sorry that you can not help. You feel helpless.

There are many ways you can react to these changes in your emotions.

  • You can ignore the emotion.
  • You can confront the person who caused the emotion head on.
  • You can address the person who caused the change in emotion in an indirect way.
  • You can ignore that person, and discuss your emotion with a friend.
  • You can address you emotion with a complete stranger.
  • Suppress your emotion and contemplate it later on



You can write a song about it!


Here is the chorus from a song I wrote from such a moment:


"In the house of riches she was dressed so fine

Filled with shame for her mother's grime

Trampling on her dress

and she trampled on her heart"

(C) Eric Swardt


Sunday, 9 June 2013

The concept album - selection of songs

Some people asked me "Why did you not put all the songs on the concept album, and how did you choose which ones to put on?"

Fair question.

My advice to anybody thinking about doing a concept album is to aim for recording all the songs from the musical for the concept album, and if I had to do it again, I will most likely do exactly that.

So, why did I not record all the songs for The exile concept album?

The most important reason to keep in mind is the cost. It cost money to record a song. There are a total of 27 songs in The exile. I included only 16 songs on the concept album. To do all 27 songs would have more than doubled the cost.

The next thing that I had to consider is that you can fit a maximum of 70 minutes of music on a CD. More realistically, it is wise to plan around 60 minutes of music. A whole musical usually takes about 90 to 120 minutes of music. To do them all would require a double CD. Once again, that about doubles the cost of printing the CDs.

Once I have decided to do only a partial recording, the next decision I had to make was - which songs to include or exclude from the concept album.

I listed all the songs, and then first decided which songs MUST be included. i had to choose which songs are the best songs. This is very subjective to choose the best songs. Everybody has their own favourites.

Next, I decided which songs I should leave out. This decision was based purely on cost. (After all, if a song had to be left out because I thought it was not good enough, I better had to rewrite the song to improve it!). The cost factor was related to the number of singers on a song. Each vocalist charged a session fee for a song. Does not matter if that vocalist do only a single line on the whole song, and some songs needed lots of singers, each doing only a single verse or single line. Those were the songs I left out. Those "company numbers", where a whole chorus of singers do a sing-along can get very expensive. Unfortunately, as musicals go, these company numbers are sometimes also the most important ones.

I know there would have been better ways to do this. Next time (if there is a next time) I can probably get more songs out of a singer withinin a single session with a bit of better planning.

Finally, I tried to select songs which, when listening through the album, would tell at least a complete story. I did not wanted to leave out any songs which would cause the story as a whole to be confusing.


Sunday, 2 June 2013

The show is over!

It is Sunday 3 O'clock in the afternoon and the show is now over for u as we park the last trailer and head home.

For the cast and crew, actors, directors, sound man and most of the people, the show ended 10 O'clock last night. The cast had their after-party and as they slept off their head aches, we got out of the bed to strike the set down, clean the hall and move everything back to the warehouse.

While cast members talk about after-show blues I say, "thank goodness".

This show was a great experience for me. It gave me an appreciation for what goes into putting up a show. For me it was at the cost of one iPhone that I dropped into a water tub, one day at the hospital with a strained back and many tranquilizers and pain killers to keep my knees working.

For Protea it was at a huge expense, which we probably did not recover. The biggest cost of community theater is however the time of so many people who gave up so many hours of their time to bring you that 2 hours of joy. It was many hours of rehearsals, building sets, setting up the stage every night, packing stuff away after each show and striking it all down.

The average man or woman has no appreciation for all these hours by volunteers that it takes to put a show together.

Next time you watch a show, enjoy it, and then say a soft thank you to all those heroes who made it possible. And know, that those people appreciate it so much more if you enjoy the show. That is why we do it. For your enjoyment. That is what we get out of it. The knowing that somebody appreciated and enjoyed it.

Thank you to everybody who support their local theatre.