A Letter to All You Producers/Investors

What I’m aiming for, and what I think the long-term health of the industry requires, are three things: 

Shows that are, one, uniquely theatrical: experiences that need to be live.

Two, essential: They matter, they need to exist.

And, three, they sell tickets. We aim for all three, but that’s a high bar, and sometimes you get only two.

                                   ~Jordan Roth, President of Jujamcyn Theatres

Dear Theatrical Producers and Investors:

As I sit here, after a year and a half of writing and developing the musical Helen on 86th St., my thoughts return again and again to these words by Jordan Roth—words that have been my guiding principles throughout this endeavor. 

It’s my job as the current producer of Helen on 86th St. to sell this show, and tell you why I believe you should invest, and thus ensure this show has a long and fruitful life beyond this very limited run. 

So I’m here to tell you—I can’t give you a single reason why you shouldn’t invest, nor can I give you a single reason why this show shouldn’t have a long, healthy and profitable commercial run. 

“But wait,” you say, “There is a cast of 19 people and 15 of them are under the age of 16.  There are no flying helicopters or superheroes! The only ‘star’ is the story!  There are no dropping chandeliers! The writing team and creative team is unknown!”

All of that is true.  But, let’s be frank for a moment.  Do you think that’s what gets the average people off their couch and into the theatre?  It may be what gets people initially interested in a show, but it’s not what makes a show a phenomenon.  And I believe that Helen on 86th St. could be a phenomenon. 

So, if you insist, I will happily go into the merits of this show, because what I have experienced while developing this show, is nothing short of a miracle.  The support and enthusiasm that allowed us to raise funds through grassroots efforts in order to produce these eleven performances, tell me the most important thing you need to know:  The people have spoken and they believe in Helen on 86th St.

But let’s return to Jordan Roth’s elegantly laid out “criteria” for a moment and see how they apply to this particular show:

Shows that are, one, uniquely theatrical: experiences that need to be live.  There is nothing more engaging, exciting and enlivening than watching real children (ages 12-16) play children, and sing, dance and act with aplomb and expertise.  There is a reason Annie and Oliver were, and will forever be, so successful.  There is a reason why millions of “Gleeks” tune in with hunger each week to faithfully watch “Glee,” or that “High School Musical” is being performed in thousands of high school and middle schools across the country as you read this, or that Billy Elliot continues to gross millions on Broadway. 

Helen on 86th St. takes this a step farther, by being a smart show about issues that everyone can relate to.  It’s about a young girl trying to make sense of life, a single mom doing her best to raise her daughter on her own, a drama teacher and a group of students struggling to make magic by bringing to life the epic tale of “The Trojan Horse” for their school play.  And it’s based on a New Yorker short story—a story that is part of a high school English textbook and is taught in 11,000 classrooms across the country.

Two, essential: They matter, they need to exist.  It’s not enough for a plucky red-haired girl to sing, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” in this day and age.  The future generation of theatre-goers that have been raised during this sweeping technological age of iPhones, text-messaging, Reality TV, and the internet have different theatrical needs.  The family musical has to be reinvented in order to keep this generation going to the theatre, and Helen on 86th St. provides that experience. Fresh, original, relevant and not afraid to shy away from the complexity of life, Helen on 86th St. serves as a mirror that reflects the world the young people of today are functioning in and grappling wit

And, three, they sell tickets.  Here are some Helen on 86th statistics.  Please keep in mind, this is being written before the full production has been seen by anyone:

  • The Helen on 86th St. website has been visited by 7200 people, who have made 53,000 site visits.
  • The Helen on 86th St. website has about 700 unique visitors a month.
  • 1200 people read the Helen on 86th St. blog each month, and the blog has 200 readers each week.
  • In two months, after one public “teaser” of Helen on 86th St., we raised almost $17,000 on Kickstarter.com to put toward our Showcase budget.
  • In a cast of nineteen, we have maintained almost the entire cast we started developing the project with.
  • The tickets we released for public sale in February, sold out in a week and a half.

So, who is Helen for, you ask?  Here is the target audience I believe Helen on 86th St. could reach:

  • Families:  kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on.
  • Tourists looking for a show that they can take the whole family to, but that won’t be painful to sit through for two hours—a show that speaks to both them and their kids.
  • Traditional musical theatre lovers.
  • Contemporary musical theatre lovers.
  • Smart, bookish, literary types who read the New Yorker.
  • Theatre lovers or academics who feel drawn to classical theatre (Greek, Shakespeare, etc.) and “smart” material.
  • Single parents struggling to raise their children on their own.
  • Children who are being raised by single parents and divorced parents.
  • Adults who were raised by single moms.
  • Buddhists, New-Age types, Oprah fans, etc. who like to delve into existential questions.
  • Tween girls who love musical theatre and are obsessed with “High School Musical,” “Glee,” and who have done Annie at least once.
  • Tween boys and girls who have read all of the Percy Jackson books.
  • Music teachers, drama teachers, classroom teachers, anyone who has ever worked with kids.
  • Suburban New Jersey families who have already seen Mary Poppins, The Lion King and Billy Elliot and are looking for another family show to attend.

Yours truly,

Nicole Kempskie