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Talking with Ken Davenport About Democratizing Broadway

09/23/2010 08:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • James Sims Content Strategy Director, Center Theatre Group

Ken Davenport wants to democratize the mostly elite inner circle of Broadway producers, and he's attempting to stir things up by reaching out to everyone for help in getting a new musical funded through the concept of crowd sourcing. Meaning, he wants you to invest a few bucks in his show.

"So many people have been waiting for this kind of opportunity," Davenport told me over coffee just before he was set to appear on the Fox Business Network to discuss his new theatrical endeavor. "There are a lot of people around this country that love theatre and now they can have a chance to get involved and support it."

Davenport Theatrical is reviving the Stephen Schwartz musical Godspell - a feat recently tried and failed by another team - through a crowd-funded business model. He has put a call out to people, including readers of his blog and followers on Twitter, to help raise $5 million through micro-investments of at least $1,000.

This 38-year old Broadway producer believes so much in his idea that he was willing to turn down a trusted investor early on in the process just so he could make room for potentially 5,000 investors that could chip in small amounts to get Godspell on the stage. "I turned down a six-figure check," Davenport said with a look that acknowledged the potential folly in such a move. "It was a very difficult thing for me to do."

The Broadway business model, up until now, has traditionally relied on a small group of moneymen to put in sometimes upwards of $1 million in order to fully capitalize a production. Davenport admitted that many of his theatrical peers prefer to limit the number of investors so that they can manage each of their individual needs.

But, this entrepreneur is confident that he can give each of his crowd-sourced investors, many likely new to the Broadway money game, a personalized experience. "I don't want anyone to feel like they are just a shareholder in Coke," Davenport said. "I've been on the phone all morning calling investors from all over the country. That's part of the experience, and I felt that I could give that to several hundred or a few thousand people."

Davenport expects a varied group will bring money to the table, some with motives that likely differ from the traditional Broadway investor. He described a few inquiries made since he announced this new project earlier in the week, including someone who will ask for a Godspell investment for Christmas and another that plans to gift a piece of the production to their fiancée.

Like those intrigued by the notion of putting $1,000 into a musical, Davenport tries maintaining a forward-thinking mentality when dealing with an industry that is notoriously behind the times, often by about 10 years. He recently cut in line ahead of the popular discount ticket TKTS booth by creating his own iPhone app that monitors what shows are up for sale each day, something that the Theatrical Development Fund has been resistant to do. "A reason TDF may not have pushed it, and other companies haven't pushed it, is that [Broadway's] core audience is older," Davenport told me. "Now it's important to dedicate time and resources into making sure that we are ready to serve the younger generation."

And, Davenport sees no reason why everyone shouldn't be interested in the idea of investing in a Broadway show. "The myth has always been that Broadway is a crazy place to put your money. At the same time, these people are putting their money in risky vehicles because someone from Goldman Sachs told them that they should," he said. "All of a sudden, the risk level of the markets has made Broadway seem a little more attractive."

As for the viability of reviving a musical that failed to raise enough money the last time it tried reaching Broadway, Davenport thinks the time is right. "A few years make an incredible difference. Think about the La Cage aux Folles revival that ran five or six years ago. The one now feels so different to the audience... Godspell now is more timely than it was two or three years ago." He promises this latest revival to be "the most unique production of Godspell anyone has ever seen."

If nothing else, this crowd-funded project has put a musical based on religious gospels, that premiered on Broadway in the late '70s, back in the headlines. "We just put 'Godspell' on the map. All of a sudden people are talking about it again."