Producers, consultants and entrepreneurs gathered yesterday in Manhattan’s Theater District to fantasize about Broadway 20 years from now in what was billed as the first annual “TEDxBroadway.”
Some things, however, kept them focused on the here and now. Anna Wilson, for example, an actress sitting down front wearing almost nothing above the waist except a pair of strategically placed pink butterfly pasties and a pink flower necklace.
Provocative, pie-in-the-sky and occasionally silly, TEDxBroadway takes its name from the 27-year-old “TED” conference, which brings together people in the technology, entertainment and design industries, among others. The Broadway version was organized by three tech-savvy youngish Turks: Damian Bazadona, founder of the advertising and marketing firm Situation Interactive; Ken Davenport, a producer and entrepreneur; and Jim McCarthy, head of Goldstar, a marketing firm offering discounted tickets to arts and entertainment nationwide.
Wilson and Rachel Benbow Murdy, in drag with a mustache and fur coat, wore their costumes from “The Donkey Show,” a raunchy off-Broadway musical that updated “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They cheered loudly as Randy Weiner, a “Donkey Show” co-creator, gave a talk about integrating nightlife and theater.
About 250 people attended the event at New World Stages, paying $100 each. They included one of Broadway’s most out-and-about theater owners and producers, Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theatres.
Davenport said TEDxBroadway wasn’t a typical industry confab.
“It’s like a business focus group,” he said. “Broadway tends to be 10 years behind every industry.”
Actor and two-time Tony Award host Neil Patrick Harris appeared in several brief video bits, delivering off-the-cuff prescriptions for Broadway’s woes. “I think every show should star Hugh Jackman,” he said. “Look at his track record.”
He also suggested placing drink holders at every seat “I find the more I drink, the more I enjoy the show,” Harris deadpanned. “I like Tom Stoppard’s ‘Coast of Utopia’ plays, but I love ‘Rock of Ages.’” (The latter show was one of the first to sell alcoholic beverages in the aisles.)
In a more serious vein, several speakers lauded social media as a way for shows to sell themselves without expensive advertising.
Steven Gullans, a managing director with Excel Venture Management, a Boston venture-capital firm, said theatergoers down the road may choose shows based on information from “smart,” specialized social networks. They may hook themselves up to sensors that would monitor their reaction to shows, with networks sharing those reactions with other theatergoers.
Matt Sax, an actor, writer and hip-hop performer, did a charming rap suggesting, among other things, that producers use the Internet to gauge interest in their shows.
“Let’s get the public’s opinion before we drop a million dollars,” he said.
Where else will Broadway find tomorrow’s audiences? Vincent Gassetto, principal of the Academy of Applied Mathematics and Technology, suggested New York’s 1.1 million public-school students. He described taking his entire middle school in the South Bronx to a performance of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” It was the first Broadway show for most of the kids. They treasured the experience, he said, as did he.
“That day was definitely the highlight of my 20-year career,” he said.