Unusual industry event looks ahead
This week, Broadway types are just as likely to be talking about holograms and genomics as they are about ticketing and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” lawsuits.TEDxBroadway, a day-long conference organized by a trio of legiters, aims to get theater folk thinking ahead — way, way ahead: The theme of the Jan. 23 event is “What Can Broadway Be in 20 Years?” It’s an unusual confab for the small, close-knit industry, which usually focuses more on day-to-day concerns of putting up and running a show. It’s also an event that could make waves precisely because the community of Broadway movers and shakers is relatively small. Organizers estimate attendance of between 200 and 250, ranging from producers to general managers to marketers to theater owners and avid fans. The group will include a sizable chunk of the people making Broadway business decisions. “We were thinking, ‘Isn’t there a different kind of discussion we could have that doesn’t focus on the small handful of tactical decisions we all usually talk about?’ ” says Jim McCarthy, CEO of online ticketer and promoter Goldstar, one of the conference organizers. “The theme allows you the freedom to go crazy, because you’re almost certain to be wrong.” McCarthy teamed with Damian Bazadona, head of digital marketer Situation Interactive, and producer Ken Davenport (“Godspell”) to present the event, a licensed, independently organized offshoot of the high-profile idea-salon TED. Jujamcyn Theaters, Broadway.com and Google, among others, jumped onboard to sponsor. Held in one of the Off Broadway venues at New World Stages, the event has gathered some of the usual suspects and subjects, such as Jujamcyn prexy Jordan Roth talking about customer experience and show content, and Columbia U.’s Gregory Mosher discussing the role of cultural institutions in the future. But there’s also an eclectic group of offbeat participants and topics on the docket, including TED’s Juan Enriquez, who will examine the anthropological effects of the technical revolution on auds and the biz; and Vincent Gassetto, principal of a math and tech-focused middle school in the Bronx. The goal is to get legiters thinking more broadly about lessons that can be learned from other disciplines and businesses. Take the airline industry: It doesn’t seem to have much in common with theater, but its version of dynamic pricing has become a common tactic in helping stage productions secure long runs through the ups and downs of seasonal consumer demand. “I hope the conference plants the seeds for some of the bigger decisions that need to be made down the line,” Bazadona says. Another reason the conference could prove influential: Broadway attracts a core group of theater avids who want to be in the business for the long haul. “We’re all lifers,” notes Davenport. Recorded videos of conference talks will be made available online after the conference, with the possibility of one or more of them showing up on the TED website and app. And the future-planning doesn’t stop at the conference’s theme: Organizers are already expecting TEDxBroadway to become an annual event.