Visit Dr. Kristin Stultz Pressley, Dr. Broadway at www.drbroadway.com.
Welcome to Program Book Talk. I’m Norm Orlowski, your host. If you’re looking for a way to grow your patron base and provide a complete and total experience for your audience, our guest today will provide some great ideas. Dr. Kristin Staltz Pressley is a musical theatre historian, a passionate and energetic presenter. She has taught theatre at every level. She holds a Masters of Arts in Theatre, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Theatre. Join me now to find out how Dr. Broadway keeps patrons coming back performance after performance.
NORM: Good morning, Kristin, how are you today?
KRISTIN: Good morning. I’m doing fine. I am loving this sunshiny weather in the Southeast this morning.
NORM: You’ve got sunshiny weather in Asheville, huh?
KRISTIN: We have sunshiny weather, and it’s about 55 degrees. It’s a wonderful day.
NORM: You’re making me jealous here from Dayton, Ohio. Well, Kristin, thanks so much for joining us this morning, and I know you’ve got some exciting things to tell us about Dr. Broadway. Before we get into some of the questions, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background?
KRISTIN: Yes, sure. Thanks, Norm, for having me first of all. I’m excited to be a part of your podcast. I’ve heard great things about it. A little bit about my background is I started out like many people in the Arts wanting to be a performer. You know, so many of us, that’s kind of our gateway into the Arts is, you know, either it’s playing an instrument, or it’s being a visual artist, painting, whatever. For me, it was theatre. I loved musicals. I loved performing. And, so, I trained as an actor in college and thought that’s what I was going to do. So in fact after college, I went to New York City and, sold everything that I had and moved to New York.
KRISTIN: …and thought I’m going to make a go of it. Yeah, really. I was like all in. I was not going to – as the lyric in Hamilton goes, “I’m not throwin’ away my shot.” That’s what I was thinking. So, yeah, I was all in. But it quickly became apparent that that was not the lifestyle for me. I just, I needed more stability than the highs and lows of auditioning all the time and waiting around to know, do I have a job this week or next week. So, I pretty quickly came back to the Southeast where I was born and raised —
KRISTIN: — and landed in Atlanta, where I worked as a theatre reviewer for a newspaper in Atlanta, and when I say theatre, I should say Arts Reviewer, because I covered the Atlanta Ballet; I covered the Alliance Theatre; I covered the Atlanta Opera.
KRISTIN: All kinds of things that were happening in the Fox theatre, which ranged from concerts to comedians. You name it, I was the Arts writer.
NORM: Oh, boy.
KRISTIN: It was a great gig for a 22-23-year-old kid, you know.
KRISTIN: Yeah, it was great, and in doing that I began to love the Arts more as a patron because I was no longer participating in the Arts being on stage, I was all of a sudden in the seat. I was a patron. And I started to appreciate all those things that I’d learned about in theatre training in college and high school, but I started to appreciate them in a whole new way. So I decided after a couple years of that that I needed to get some graduate degrees. So that meant I got a masters and a PhD in theatre, and then began teaching at the collegiate level, teaching different types of theatre classes.
NORM: I see.
KRISTIN: Primarily theatre history classes, which is ironic for someone who thought she wanted to perform to all of a sudden be teaching, and not teaching acting, but teaching theatre history. So that’s really where I come from. I come from the world of writing; I come from the world of history; and I come from the world of theatre, and it really has kind of all blended together to create a little niche for me in doing what I do through Dr. Broadway.
NORM: Yeah, so, in that little niche, that’s the flash of brilliance. So tell us how that came about.
KRISTIN: Yeah, it actually came about, you know, like so many things, you just fall into them, and you can call it destiny or fate or luck or chance or the grace of God, whatever you want to call it, but, the opportunities just came to me. I was teaching at Furman University in Greeneville, South Carolina, which is my alma mater, in fact, and this was after I’d finished my PhD, and the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, which is our major Performing Arts venue in Greeneville, and a wonderful place. They had a partnership with Furman, where they were having different professors come in and speak on shows or concerts, or whatever it may be, that were relevant to that professor’s specialty. Well, they contacted the theatre department needing someone to come and speak about a touring production of Les Misérables, and you know, they heard musical theatre, and they immediately forwarded the email to me and said, “Kristin, will you go do this,” and I said, “of course I’ll go do that.”
KRISTIN: So I went and spoke at the Peace Center to – just any ticketholder could attend; it was open to all ticketholders, and we had probably 250 folks that night.
KRISTIN: And it was very warmly received. Yeah, they hadn’t done anything like that in the past. This partnership with Furman was a new thing, and it was kind of a trial run and it went really, really well; and the audience was very receptive. And so the next week the vice-president of Education for the Peace Center contacted me and said, “Hey, maybe we should make this a normal thing.” So that was five seasons ago, and we’ve been doing it ever since before every musical. So it’s nine – ten shows a year now. And then there are some other theatres that have come to hear me speak and have said, “Hey, would you come on board and do some things with us as well. So, it’s grown; but like I said, it was not something I set out intentionally to do, but it’s something that I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do.
NORM: And what was the connection that you made with us, with the Peace Center?
KRISTIN: You, actually, On-Stage does the playbills for the Peace Center…
KRISTIN: …and so I was sitting in the theatre as a patron, again, before one of the shows, and I thought, “You know, I would love to just see some more information about the play.” I wondered if the other patrons here might enjoy reading a little of background information about the show that they’re going to see, just to engage them on a different level.
KRISTIN: They’re going to see the show obviously, so they’re going to interact with it emotionally, but what if I can engage them intellectually and give them a little bit, just a background, just to enhance what they’re going to see. And, in fact, my tagline for Dr. Broadway is Educating Theatre Goers, Enhancing Theatre going. Because I truly believe the more I know about a show, the more I know about the people who wrote it, the more I know about the performers in it, then the more I’m going to understand about the show and the more I am going to appreciate the show. So that was how I found you, was through the Peace Center.
NORM: From a patron’s perspective then, why do you think that it’s important to go beyond what’s on the stage? I mean, I know in working with the organizations as we do, the dramaturgy the information that they provide in the program books is pretty robust, but yet you feel that the patron has a thirst for even more information.
KRISTIN: Yeah, I think so, and I think the reason for that is, when you look at an audience member – let’s say they get there a couple minutes early.
KRISTIN: What are they doing? Well, they’re sitting scrolling their phone, right. They’re already engaging with something. They’re probably looking at Facebook or Twitter or checking emails one last time before they shut off the cell phones to watch the show. So it occurred to me, “why wouldn’t I want to capture that audience in that 5 to 15 minutes before the curtain goes up, or at intermission, or when they go home that evening, why wouldn’t I want to capture them even earlier with content.” And like I said, I really believe that it reaches not only – you know, they’re going to have an emotional experience, particularly I’ve told you my bread and butter is musical theatre, though I’ve certainly I’ve covered and spoken on different forms of the Arts, but for me the bread and butter is musical theatre.
KRISTIN: So obviously you’re going to have an emotional reaction to that show; you’re going to experience it emotionally, but if I can engage their intellect at the same time, it just is a richer, deeper, fuller experience for them, and they begin — what I think is so interesting, you know, I’ve been doing this like I said at the Peace Center, these Peace Talks we call them, for five years.
KRISTIN: And we have patrons now who buy their ticket for the Wednesday – we do them on Wednesday nights, and they buy their tickets for Wednesday night. That’s when they come. Their series subscription is for that night, just so they can attend. And what they’re beginning to do after five years of coming and hearing these Peace Talks and reading, you know, what other content we make available to the patrons, they’re beginning to make some connections between, “Oh, that’s the guy that wrote that musical, and Oh, she directed this; and Oh, and he came through town in that” and they begin to get kind of a road map of the world of theatre in their head and see that it’s like anything else, it’s a small world. You know, we’re working with a finite number of players and they start to see how they overlap and work together, and it’s really a fascinating thing to see happen.
NORM: You know, and the thing that’s so interesting for us, and that’s why we were intrigued when we talked the first time, was the fact that any additional information that one needs to put into the program calls for additional page inventory, drives up the printing costs, etc., etc.
NORM: And because we do live in a digital world, as you said, hopefully before the performance they’re either looking at the printed program, or as you know, and as we all know, they’re looking at their smart devices. So that’s why we thought it was such a perfect marriage between Stage View, which is our digital version of the paperless program. So that there’s really no limitation on what we can put in there and would really serve the patrons well to get that education delivered to them before the performance right on their smart device.
NORM: And so that’s why I think it’s really exciting.
KRISTIN: And it’s something that, you know, I’ll carry the playbills home with me, and you can use those QR code readers and read it at home that night.
NORM: Sure. Yeah.
KRISTIN: You know, if you show up to the show late and don’t have time, it’s something that you can take with you, and the types of content that can be generated, I mean, the sky is the limit. You can write about the show specifically; you can write about a specific actor in the show. You can do a quiz, you know, if you’ve got kids involved and you think they might be more engaged by a quiz or something like that. There’s so many different ways that you can take it, and so much more information that you can provide. But, yeah, the sky’s the limit. I mean you can create any kind of content you want, and from my experience, people are really excited to get it.
NORM: We’ll get right back to our podcast, but first I just want to remind you that this Program Book Talk is only possible through the partnerships that we have developed with our 85 plus organizations and venues coast to coast, allowing them to do more with less, Onstage Publications Great Performance Guaranteed. To get a free evaluation of your program book, just give me, Norm Orlowski, a call at 866-503-1966, or email me at email@example.com.
NORM: What’re some of the most interesting things that you’ve discovered as you’ve done your research?
KRISTIN: Yeah, so, you know, like I said, I’m kind of a history junkie and a theatre junkie all at the same time, so – and musical theatre in particular. But the first thing that comes to mind is, you know, the longest musical running in Broadway Theatre history is The Phantom of the Opera, right?
KRISTIN: So it premiered in 1988 and won the best Tony for a new musical that year, and then it is still running to this day, thousands and thousands of performances later. Well, the way that idea came, and I love this image, was Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, who had already had hit after hit with Jesus Christ Super Star and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Evita, calls up famed producer, Cameron Mackintosh, also a hit master himself. And Cameron MacIntosh is in the bathtub, and I love that image of Cameron MacIntosh taking a phone call – I guess when Andrew Lloyd Weber calls, you pick up anytime, right? So all Andrew Lloyd Weber said to him was, “what would you think if I said the words “Phantom of the Opera”? And they both were intrigued by the idea, and so the two of them again, famed producer, Cameron MacIntosh and Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, who needs no introduction, neither of them need an introduction really, but they arranged for screenings of the old silent Phantom of the Opera films, the Lon Chaney version, and there are some others, they screened those films, and nothing really jumped out at them from either of those films, and so what they decided to do was to go back to the source material, and that is a book written by Gaston Leroux.
KRISTIN: And the trouble was – yeah, they could find out who wrote the book, but the book was out of print. I mean, it was, you know, about a hundred years old at the time, so they couldn’t find it. And so ultimately where they found it, Cameron MacIntosh found a copy in his – I believe it was in his aunt’s attic or her basement – that had been discarded, but nonetheless was still in the house. And Andrew Lloyd Weber got one in a used bookstore, and when they read that –
NORM: No kidding.
KRISTIN: — original source material, they decided, “this is what we’re going to base our show on”, and six billion dollars later —
NORM: Oh, wow!
KRISTIN: — it was probably a good choice.
KRISTIN: It’s a good thing Cameron MacIntosh took that phone call in the bathtub.
NORM: It certainly is.
KRISTIN: I think they’re both happy with that decision. You know, because that’s one of the – I just love that image of Cameron on the phone in the bathtub. I see him covered up in bubbles maybe wearing a top hat or something, you know? I love that image.
NORM: And that is definitely something that you would never, ever get in reading the bios from a play bill.
KRISTIN: Oh, no.
NORM: That’s wonderful.
KRISTIN: And, you know, there are so many others. For instance, here’s another one: Cyndi Lauper, we all know, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
NORM: Okay, sure.
KRISTIN: Well, she’s also a Tony award-winning composer and lyricist for Kinky Boots. Well, Cyndi Lauper grew up in New York City, and we tend to associate her with rock music all through the ‘80s and even until now she’s still touring.
KRISTIN: You know, and we think of, we think of rock music when we think of her. But what you may not know is that Cyndi Lauper growing up in New York, was in a poor family and they couldn’t afford to go to the theatre. But her mother had a record player, and every day they would listen to cast recordings, and that’s how she learned music, was by listening to the cast recordings. In fact, she specifically mentions The King and I, as one that they would listen to every single day.
NORM: No kidding.
KRISTIN: And so when she got, you know, towards – in the later part of her career – her career is certainly not over – but in the later part of her career when she was approached by Harvey Fierstein to do the music and lyrics for Kinky Boots, she immediately jumped at the chance because it was really a chance to go back to her first love. So that’s another one of those things –
KRISTIN: — that, you know, you’re not going to read that in someone’s bio necessarily.
NORM: You would never know that. No, you would never know that.
KRISTIN: But doesn’t it add to – isn’t that interesting to think about, “Wow, she got her start in musical theatre, even if not a performer, but by listening to it.”
NORM: Sure. Oh, sure. That’s great information.
KRISTIN: And then finally I – another story that I love – I grew up in South Carolina, so of course, Porgy and Bess, the Gershwin’s classic opera is near and dear to my heart, set in Charleston, South Carolina. But one of my favorite stories about that is that it’s based on a true story. In fact, DuBose Heyward…
KRISTIN: who wrote the book – yes, it is. DuBose Heyward, who wrote the book Porgy in 1925, on which the musical was based, he was the son of a well-to-do Charleston family. In fact, he was a descendant from a signer of the Declaration of Independence. And every day he would walk through Charleston down to his work as an insurance salesman, and when he did, he would pass this, basically tenement house called Cabbage Row. Now, if you know Porgy and Bess, you’ll know it was changed to Catfish Row. But nonetheless, in Charleston, you can still go and see it. Cabbage Row is what it was. And there was also a man, and that’s where a number of descendants of the free slaves lived together, and they worked and sold cabbage for instance and other vegetables and things. And there was a man who was a crippled man, as he was known. Samuel Smalls was his name, and he got around through Charleston begging on a goat-drawn carriage. And like I said, DuBose Heyward would pass these things; he would see Samuel Smalls out begging with his goat-drawn carriage, and he would pass Cabbage Row, and he married those two things to create this story that became Porgy and Bess. And like I said, it started out as Porgy, the book in 1925, and then his wife begged him to turn it into a play, and he didn’t want to. In fact, many others tried to get him to adapt it, and he didn’t want to. He wanted to keep it his story. And finally his wife kind of went behind his back and adapted it into a stage play, which played on Broadway in the late ‘20s and ran for 300 performances, which now is not that significant a run, but certainly, for that time it was a very long run.
NORM: For that time it was.
KRISTIN: Yes, yes. And then the Gershwins, of course, in 1934 finally twisted his arm and got him to agree to let them do Porgy and Bess the Opera, and so George and Ira Gershwin moved to Folly Beach right outside of Charleston and lived there for a summer to take in the sights and sounds of South Carolina before creating a masterpiece. So, so I love that story as well.
NORM: That’s a great story. You know, when you mention Charleston, interestingly enough, we just brought on board to do their programs, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. So I was wondering –
KRISTIN: Oh, wow!
NORM: So I was wondering, Kristin, would this apply also not just to the musical theatre, but also symphonies, dance companies? How would that impact?
KRISTIN: Yeah, the principles remain the same. You know, whether they’re seeing an opera or they’re seeing the Nutcracker, we still want to engage audiences in as many different ways as we can. We don’t want them to come in mindlessly and like I said, scroll through Facebook or Twitter, and trust me, I’ve done that, you know. I’m guilty of doing that myself.
KRISTIN: But if we have the opportunity to reach those patrons, this same kind of information that I have found for musical theatre that enhances my love of, say Porgy and Bess, the more I know about it, no longer just a random story about this man in Charleston, it suddenly is a real-life story, it enhances my entertainment and my understanding of that show. But that same principle applies to everything. You know, you could talk about Leonard Bernstein, famous composer. You could – there are so many things happening with An American in Paris. You could talk about when he wrote it and why he was inspired to do that. Or you can talk about famous productions. You know, there’s just so many ways to go with it, and the information is out there. You just have to mine for it and put it together and package it for your patrons. But certainly, if we want to engage theatre patrons, we certainly would want to engage symphony patrons or ballet patrons in the exact same way. So the principles still apply absolutely.
NORM: Kristin, let me ask you this, you know, what’s in it for the organization? Now, you mentioned patron engagement. That sounds pretty important, but what would be in it for the organization to do this kind of research and present it?
KRISTIN: Sure, well, you know, the organizations represent the Arts in their communities, so I’ll talk again about the Peace Center, just because that’s where, you know, I work very closely with them. But you want people coming to you for their Arts information, and if you set yourself up as providing the information that your patron wants, then they’re going to continue – there’s going to be that constant feedback between patrons and Arts organizations. So, like I said, we’ve got folks who schedule their coming to the shows around these Peace Talks that we have. They say, “this is the day I’m gonna’ go because I want to get this information,” so, you know you’ve got loyalty, patron loyalty, right? They’re coming back because they know they’re gonna’ have a value add. They’re not just buying a ticket to the theatre, they’re also buying a little bit of education with it, a little bit of Arts education with it. And people who are inclined to support the Arts are going to be people who are inclined to want more. You know, they’re wanting to – this is not a bystander kind of audience that maybe you might have with a movie. They’re investing a lot of money in these tickets, right?
NORM: I see. Sure, sure.
KRISTIN: So you want to give them as much value add as you can, in my opinion, to make it as worth their while as you can. Again, they could go see a movie for ten bucks, but they’re choosing to spend $75 to see whatever you got. You know, so these are by nature engaged audiences. And I think it behooves the Arts organizations to give that patron as much as they can, as much bang for their buck —
KRISTIN: — for the price of admission.
NORM: Well, and many of those types of patrons that are really interested are going to be more than patrons, more than subscribers. They’re going to be the major donors –
KRISTIN: Donors, absolutely.
NORM: — that want something more from their organization than just a good show.
KRISTIN: Right. Well, and, you know, I work with another theatre company in Georgia, and I have a lecture series there as well, but that lecture series instead of opening it up to anybody who has a ticket, they’ve made it only available to their major donors. So it really is a value add, and their thinking is, you know, we’ll entice – give a little carrot to them to make them want to be a part of this club that gets to come to these lectures and gets to dig deeper with these shows. And that’s only a value add for major donors. So there’s, you know, you can approach it from many different ways.
NORM: Good thought.
KRISTIN: Yeah, definitely.
NORM: That’s great.
KRISTIN: Yeah, yeah.
NORM: Well, Dr. Broadway, Kristin, I really appreciate you taking the time. Before we leave, I would like to maybe give our listeners two or three tips that they might be able to – if they wanted to try something like this – I know that they have to be going to the library and doing a lot of research, but do you have any suggestions, anything that they could just try to see if this would be of importance to the patrons?
KRISTIN: Absolutely, and I would say to start small and see if, you know, like I said, when I went in and did that first lecture for the Peace Center, we had zero thought that it would lead to anything more. You know, we want to follow the lead of the patrons, and we saw, “hey, they like this, let’s give them more.” So you might start small if you wanted to generate content for the play bills or a program book. Do bullet points, you know. Just start with a couple of little bullet points of interest. Now, what I do for most theatres that I work with is, you know, I might write a thousand words of prose, which is a much longer essay, and gives me a lot more time to kind of unpack some of these stories. But start small and just dig out some interesting bullet points. And you can, like I said, you can talk about a creator of the show; you can talk about the original Broadway production of the show or the first time the show was performed, or, you know, something interesting like that. But I would start small.
Secondly, I would find someone in your organization who is passionate about that art form. I think that’s really important.
KRISTIN: You know, you have to – I wouldn’t do what I do if I weren’t passionate about it because I wouldn’t care, right, if that makes sense. I wouldn’t care about –
NORM: Sure, sure it does.
KRISTIN: I wouldn’t care about the way Porgy and Bess was written if I didn’t love musical theatre. So if you’re a ballet for instance, find somebody in your organization who just kind of lives and breathes ballet theatre and let them dig out these little nuggets of information. So that would be my first thing, start small. You know, bullet points. Second of all, find someone in your organization who is passionate about the art form, and odds are good that you’ll have several to choose from, right? If we’re working in the Arts, we’re probably already passionate about it.
And then thirdly, I would just say be sure you make your patrons aware of it. A couple of different ways you can do that, you can always put a link – maybe you want to create content on a web page, just put those bullet points I mentioned on a web page. Well, maybe on the page where you have the ticket sales on your webpage, you could click a link to that so they can access it even sooner than when they’re getting it from the play bill. Or tease it in your promo emails so that you say, you know, come to the show and look for some more information in –
KRISTIN: — you know, your program book this time.
KRISTIN: So be sure that you let the patrons know that it’s there, I think is important.
KRISTIN: Because there’s no way to gauge their interest if they don’t know that it’s there. So be sure you make them aware of those resources. Don’t expect them to find it on their own. And like I said, if they don’t know what’s in the play bill, then they’re very likely to sit there playing on their phone —
KRISTIN: — if they don’t know that there’s more available for them. So, you have got to make them aware of that.
NORM: Well, again, to all of our clients of which now numbers over 85, almost 90, they – everybody that we work with has the StageView, and what a great way to take advantage of the StageView by providing this extra information that’s really going to engage the patrons. Kristin, thank you so much for taking the time. I think it’s very exciting. We’ll let our listeners know how they can get in touch with you for more information, and again, thank you for taking the time.
KRISTIN: Hey, listen, Norman, it’s always a pleasure. As you know, people in the Arts love to talk about the Arts. So I’m thrilled to have a captive audience.
NORM: Thanks for listening to our podcast with Dr. Broadway. If you would like to get in touch with Kristin, you can reach her through her website www.drbroadway.com.
We have lots more podcasts in store for you, including an interview with an Arts critic, as well as an interview with a principal from Wolf-Brown Consulting Firm, and an interview with the author of the Symphony of Profound Knowledge. I’m Norm Orlowski. Good selling.