One of the best things about the New Economy is that it's spurring New Ideas. Sure, we have no alternative, but the point of writing a column like this is to highlight the upside of the downturn.
Enter Ken Davenport.I gave Ken that theatrical entrance because he's one of the most innovative producers on (and off) Broadway. I would say he thinks outside the box, but that expression is such a cliche it's back inside the box, buried in bubble wrap, packing peanuts and that plastic packaging so tight you risk cutting off your hand with scissors to get it open.
Called the "P.T. Barnum of Off-Broadway" by the New York Times, Ken is the only independent producer to have three Off-Broadway shows running at the same time: Altar Boyz; The Awesome 80s Prom; and My First Time, the last of which is the first show to rely on "user-generated" content, which sounds a bit like raw sewage but is really made up of losing virginity stories submitted to the website.
That kind of ingenuity applies to his other endeavors like -- imagine this -- an iPhone app that's actually helpful. Entertainment Weekly called At the Booth "the best thing to happen to New York theater since, well, the introduction of the TKTS booth."
I suppose so, though I think the best to thing to happen to New York theater is Spiderman because it gives theater geeks something to talk about during the slow months.
But that'll soon be yesterday's news, hopefully not on the obituary page after some poor chorus boy falls on his head from 50 feet above the stage. By then we'll all be talking about Ken's newest innovation:
Enter People of Godspell.
This fall, Davenport will produce the first Broadway revival of the show that accounts for most theater geeks knowledge of the Bible, Godspell. Better yet, it will also be the first crowd-funded Broadway musical ever.
"Many people have asked me why I have chosen to produce Godspell in this manner, Ken writes on the website. "The answer is simple. As Stephen Schwartz, the Academy® and Grammy Award®-winning composer of Wicked, Pippin and Godspell, once told me, "Godspell is essentially about a community of people coming together."
So, what better way to produce it than by creating a community of its own."
Traditionally, (though not in the Fiddler on the Roof sense) the minimum investment in a Broadway show can range from $10,000 to $100,000, but the price of admission to be a Person of Godspell is just $1,000.
I know, a thousand bucks. You could spend more on premium tickets to Spiderman.
I love this idea so much I want to kiss it and hug it and take it home to introduce it to my family. It's egalitarian, it's innovative and, more crucially, you get your name on a Broadway poster.
For those of you who haven't read my novel How I Paid for College (and what's up with that?), my experience playing Jesus in my high school production of Godspell made such an impact on me that I wrote about it 20 years later in my novel, which, incidentally, is called How I Paid for College. So it feels appropriate to me that the first time on Broadway is as a Person of Godspell. Not to be confused with a Person of Interest. Which is not to be confused with an Interesting Person.
But the People of Godspell will be interesting because they'll have something to talk about at cocktail parties. Producer-stuff like "gross participants," who sound like gaseous people with questionable hygiene, or "net participants," who sound like they've had to be rounded up. Or "sinking fund," which isn't just about Titanic: The Musical.
Personally, I'm finding the experience both enlightening and gratifying. My first novel (did I mention it's called How I Paid for College?) is about how artists make their way in the world. As someone who's struggled to understand the business end of anything -- and who's started writing musicals -- I'm excited to participate in making Broadway history.
Feel free to join me. Well, not free. But just a thousand bucks.
And that, my friends, is The Upside.
Broadway Revival of 'Godspell' to Be First-Ever 'Crowd-Funded' Musical