TEDX Broadway 2017 review, with a focus on the three elements of this years event: Stories, People and Community. Hosted by Damian Bazadona and Jim McCarthy
TEDx Broadway came to NYC again March 21 2017, now in its fifth year, there was a full schedule and varied list of presentations to see and talk about. The March 2017 event was held at the at the New World Stages at 340 W 50th St in New York City and ran from 1 PM to 7:30PM, with a few sustenance breaks in between.
At the TEDx Broadway conference, attendees are supposed to ask themselves "how can we make Broadway better?" In the past, some cynical responses have been to get rid of TEDx Broadway altogether, but this year comes with an all new format that balances three session of stories, people and community, so there was a lot to look forward to. TEDx Broadway has taken some beatings in the past from industry luminaries and this year there was hope it was not another waste of time. One would not have considered that until this very year, this event may finally have actually been valuable to the industry. Not value in terms of the rather low price, which is set at a reasonable $100, but in terms of spending six+ hours at an event that does not provide any real value to most people who attend. Sometimes I think that the event is really just there for Damian Bazadona at Situation Marketing and Jim McCarthy at Goldstar to get their name on the bright screen in front of key Broadway decision makers, but knowing both these gentleman that cannot be the case, as both do not seem to travel with their ego, at this event anyway. It also seems that Broadway decision makers now steer clear of this event.
The one cheesy part of TedX Broadway used to be that Situation Interactive's insistence on providing an after-work party for the "Young Professionals", in which they would actively try to recruit talent from other agencies, which comes off as sneaky at best and downright egregious at worst. This year The Shubert Organization and the Nederlander Organization are the sponsor of the "Young Professionals", but the Shubert organization has had a checkered history with their own ethical values though, so time will tell how much talent poaching will go on this time around. This year's co-organizing sponsors are Jujamcyn Theatres and KBE's Broadway.com. Additional support was apparently provided by EBG, Broadway World and Theatremania.
Who are the attendees at TEDx?
As far as we can tell there are three camps of attendees at this event: The first is agency grunts catching up with old friends who have moved to new ad agencies. Then there are show producers trying to get new ideas and funding. The third group were actors writers and stage managers who use their best networking skills to work the event, because they know that Broadway is never about how good you are, it's always about who you know. The Shubert's set that standard a hundred years ago and that mantra remains true today, just ask anyone with a hot show trying to get a Broadway theatre. This years Student Program is sponsored by Disney Theatrical, subsidizing tickets for full time students attending arts programs. The three formal sessions this year are:
The First Session: StoriesAlton Fitzgerald-White: The star who appeared as Mustafa in over 4300 performances sang a few bars of "The Impossible Dream", promoting his new book and promoting his motivational service, that kept him focused and motivated during his tenure at the show.
Lance Weiner: The Director of Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia University and recognized as a pioneer in mixing storytelling and technology spoke about igniting the imagination with new ways of story telling. He spoke about storytelling design principles and the principle of "Yes/End thinking."
Tina Landau: Living up to her artist reputation and dressed like she just rolled out of bed the SpongeBob SquarePants musical director, Tina Landau talked about a cardboard box, literally. She described her favorite episode of SpongeBob SquarePants named "idiot box" where the characters get into the box and use their imagination. The SpongeBob TV show is only 11 mins long, but admits that she can only stomach two minutes of the show at a time. SpongeBob is all about surrealism and juxtaposition. Her musical is coming to Broadway soon.
Second Session: PeopleDamian Bazadona: Damian pitches his Situation Project. On the face of it, it has some great overtones, but in many ways it is an infomercial for Bazadona himself, who actually may be an evil genius and may be more of a PT Barnum than a Ken Davenport (the renowned Broadway showman). Bazadona rants for a while against Trump and his budget cuts for the arts, which really came from Obama. Bazadona then reiterates his point about 2 million tickets every year going unused, but he is dumbing it down so much and ignoring the economies of Broadway. Giving away free tickets is like giving away free airline seats, there is a reason that doesn't happen and Bazadona knows that. He brings out Broadway Girl onto the couch, but she doesn't have anything valuable to say.
Dr Desmond Upton Patton: Social worker and social media expert rants on about humanity and social media, gang violence and urban unrest. Then continues to talk about anti-Trump rhetoric. He seems to use social media to get a more complete story about his idea that social media creates violence. Totally out of this world professor who is safe behind his desk and away from the real world.
Lester Vytiak: Known as the crazy piano guy he starts by playing a few bars of some Broadway songs, then moves on to talk about Vanessa Carlton. In 2001 she placed Pianos all over NYC in the project called "Artists Sing for Hope Piano Program". New experiences were created during the public art project when the pianos were placed at various locations around NYC which were later donated to local public schools. During the performance the audience was asked a few questions, in one of them most of the audience indicated that they see themselves as artists first and business second.
Ashkon Talks About Broadway for all and his work to bring live theater to the masses.
Ela Martin Actor, 15 year old on a famous infomercial. Part of "Broadway for all" she talks about diversity, has Broadway been infiltrated by a bunch of liberal artists? This presentation started out so well and became first nauseating, then sappy and then ended on baloney.
Kanya Balakhrisna Founder of "Futures Project Imagine a Dream" is a coach for kids and is a teacher. She believes we squander the dreams of children, schools should teach kids how to dream and how to make those dreams into a reality. She volunteers at a national non profit that embeds in schools to help learn to define and develop their dreams. They have dream directors society that changes thinking about dreams.
Gus Roberson- 52nd Street project Represents an art project that makes theatre as well as other artistic projects. Children and adults are in paired mentoring programs where children's art and adult art are judged of equal merit. Some people from the project were introduced and then a performance about ice ballerinas or bananas was given, the theme was quite unclear, but it made the audience bored and hungry. Seems like the whole theme is about development programs, not addressing how to make Broadway better in any real, rubber meets the road, kind of way.
Session Three: CommunityMark Fisher and Dexter Upshaw When will this gym trainer go away? What does Mark Fisher's gym have to do with Broadway and why is he always invited?
Gardiner Comfort. Actor, writer and teacher. This actor suffers from Tourettes Syndrome. Recounts a number of Tourettes stories. Tourettes conference. His message was to embrace who your are and change the world.
Caroline Brandon: Research Scientist. This presentation is really about: How activism is much like pest control. They talked about how diagnosing a neighborhood for infestation is very similar to analyzing the data to diagnose neighborhood problems.
Rachelle Periera: Executive Coach Helps find blind spot data . She talked about how her work ethic often disconnects her from other people. So little of this event resonates with Broadway business people, but actors and theatre-types love it.
Jon Albert: Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation Talks about his wife Amy who died at 35. He shared parts of the three years of memories she wrote before she died. She created a cardboard box of memories after the Oncologist told them the devastating news. Her fear was that her husband and children would forget her. She felt guilty that she was leaving them behind. His mantra was "Hurry up and live" a mantra echoed by Jim McCarthy.
Conclusion: How Did TEDx Do in 2017?
If you thought that the 2017 Tedx Broadway event was supposed to make Broadway better, you might be wrong. This event, now in its sixth year has morphed into a touchy-feely conference that is more about being politically correct, stroking egos and entertaining than actually making Broadway any better. Key things that would actually make a difference to Broadway are avoided. Some ideas could be:- What marketing ideas worked and what don't and why.
- Missteps on Broadway and what was the recovery?
- What are the worst shenanigans the Shubert's pulled off this year?
- What can we learn from other industries?
Everyone on the panels at this TEDx Broadway event are full of joy and optimism and the emotions are always high and inspired. The presentations from the panels could have a lesson for Broadway but are so esoteric that only a genius could make any connection to something valuable. 30 percent of the audience at TEDx Broadway are there for their first time, I doubt there will be a second time. Best to avoid TEDx Broadway until Ken Davenport comes back, if anyone could turn it around, he could. Until then It seems like this event has been hijacked by a bunch of liberal artists, who cannot engage in anything meaningful other than their own public projects that ultimately highlight themselves and their own charity work in some sort of bizarre Munchhausen-syndrome-by-proxy theatrical nightmare.