We recently completed our second bi-annual Success Survey, and while the full results are only available to NAMT members who participated in the survey, we wanted to share a few interesting findings with you here.
The survey is designed to give members a sense of how various shows have done for other member theatres in the last two years, as well as identify trends such as popular titles for production and theatres’ willingness to take risks. Because “success” in art is a relative term, and our members have wildly varying missions, we ask not just for financial information, but also how audiences responded to the shows (maybe the houses were smaller than hoped for, but those who came were overjoyed, leading to good word of mouth for the next production) and if they met the theatre’s expectations (some companies program riskier work expecting to take a loss because they feel it’s important to share this work with their audiences). We also ask if the show is considered risky for this theatre – again, a relative assessment – and if marketing was beefed up to account for any such risk.
To some extent the results are skewed by who chooses to participate (for example, companies that specialize in new work development are less likely to be interested in the results of this survey, so the list of shows leans heavily toward licensed works), so I don’t want to draw any sweeping conclusions about the industry, but some interesting trends emerged nevertheless.
In the 2013 survey (which covered the 2011-2012 seasons), the shows rated riskier were largely newer, lesser known, or “edgier” titles such as Spring Awakening. This year, risk seems to be tied more to production size, with shows like 42nd Street, Tommy and Miss Saigon – fairly “safe” titles but with large casts and technical requirements – coming in as riskiest.
The most-produced show was Les Misérables, with 11 productions (our production database has 7 more not included in the survey!), followed by Mary Poppins with 8. This isn’t very surprising following the success of the Les Miz movie, and Mary Poppins‘ new availability for licensing. I expect the 2017 survey will show similar numbers for Into The Woods. In general, familiar titles appear to have done well for our members, though there were some notable exceptions, including some listed as “not at all risky” by survey respondents.
A big shift from 2013 was in marketing, with many more respondents reporting extra marketing efforts, which appears to have translated into financial success. While we don’t ask for specifics in the survey, it seems likely that changes in digital and social marketing may have made these outreach efforts easier and more effective.
It’s fascinating and encouraging to see the wide variety of shows being produced across the country at NAMT member theatres, from world premiere new musicals to golden age classics and everything in between. Individual missions vary, but the main goal is the same: to bring great theatre to their audiences. Any show can be risky if it’s not something your audience is used to, or if it pushes the limits of what your staff is used to producing. As we consistently hear from our members at our conferences, summits and roundtables, risks – even when unsuccessful – inevitably lead to growth, knowledge and experience. Besides, what’s life without a little adventure?