The Lessons I’ve Learned at CTI
Throughout the past six seasons, I’ve worked on over 100 CTI events for more than 3,500 participants. I’ve learned a lot and met so many amazing people. Thanks to everyone who made this journey the wonderful experience it has been. I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned being “backstage” at CTI.
- There is no “one-size-fits-all” on Broadway
Over the years, we’ve gotten requests for “the Broadway budget” or for examples of “the theater contract.” Unfortunately, these things just don’t exist. What’s needed for a two-person 90-minute straight play by an author making their Broadway debut is very different than what’s needed for a musical revival with a cast of thirty. Your experience working on one show will help you on the next (hopefully), but you can’t simply copy/paste everything from before. How you develop the show, create its budget, cast it, and choose the theater will vary widely from project to project.
This may seem obvious, but one of the most frequent comments on the CTI evaluations is some variation of, “I wish the speakers would give us more hard facts and not tell as many stories.” What I’ve learned is that the stories are the “hard facts.” Hearing stories of how industry pros dealt with specific shows is the most valuable part of CTI. During our sessions, you get to learn about what they did, why they did it, and what lessons they took onto their next project. We do provide basic budgets and sometimes generalize contracts as handouts, but hearing how experts took those tools and applied them to the unique qualities of their show is how you learn how Broadway works. There’s an alchemy to theater that, I think, is unique to the medium. Trying to apply a template or a “standard” item could potentially take away from the magic that is so essential to the theater.
- Everyone knows everyone
This industry is extremely small and, as cliched as it sounds, everyone knows everyone. One of the most common statements from the wide array of CTI speakers is that this is a business of relationships. If you have a good experience working with someone, you’ll want to hire them again for your next project. If you’re looking for someone for a new position, you try finding it through connections before you post the job on Playbill. Any connections you make, however random, should be nurtured and taken seriously.
The positive side of this is that you can use the connections you have to get to know the wider theatrical community. If you meet someone for coffee or lunch, ask them, “Is there anyone else that you recommend I speak to about my project?”. You may be surprised about how quickly your network can expand.
However, this sword cuts both ways, so my advice here is not to burn your bridges under any circumstances. Even if you’ve decided that you won’t work with someone because you don’t like them, you never know who else they’re acquainted with in the industry. I’ve made the mistake of running my mouth when I shouldn’t have and it’s come back to bite me every time.
- There’s always more to learn
Theater is constantly changing and evolving; the hits on Broadway now wouldn’t have been possible, or even really considered, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. This means that there is always more to learn. For example, the rise of social media platforms has completely changed how to determine the media mix for a show’s marketing strategy.
Obviously, CTI is a key resource here. The courses offered are populated with this idea in mind. I’ve clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid here for a long time, but I do truly believe that CTI provides a level of information and access that’s unparalleled. Tom is dedicated to mentoring and teaching the current and next generation of theatrical professionals and takes great care in putting together the agendas for the events.
If you’re not able to attend a CTI event, there are countless books, podcasts, blogs, and articles from which you can learn.
- Know the audience for your show
Here’s my one bit of “nuts and bolts” advice: make sure you know who the audience is for your show. If you go to your marketing team and say that the show is for “everyone,” you’re going to get push back. One of the reasons for this is that it’s hard to craft a message that will appeal to everyone. As my marketing professor at NYU Stern would say, “You can’t boil the ocean.” Casting too wide a net in terms of audience focus will hurt your show. A narrowed segment of the potential audience will allow you to use your limited resources effectively.
Again, thank you to everyone who attended or spoke at a CTI event over the past six seasons. It’s been an invaluable learning experience for me and I’ll miss it next year. I hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday season and a very happy New Year.