Sir Cameron Mackintosh is the most successful theatre producer in history. Maintaining his reputation for innovation, he is launching a new sliding scale of ticket prices for his shows, depending on the day of the week in which a performance takes place.
He’s made his fortune through a keen eye (and ear) for talent and an unprecedented ability both to spot a winner and to put the resources into developing it, and this latest enterprise is part and parcel of the fact that getting a musical on stage — and sold to the public — is a more complicated and creative process than many people realize.
One of the hallmarks of any successful producer is the ability to take risks, and Mackintosh’s most spectacular was with Cats. Turning relatively obscure poems by T. S. Eliot into a major musical whose hallmark was its original staging, striking costumes and dazzling choreography, was a huge gamble. As history has shown, it came off, but there were some sticky moments along the way, as bankers are not known for encouraging and supporting apparently risky stage shows.
As a producer, Sir Cameron has known what he wanted to do since childhood (he saw a performance of Julian Slade’s Salad Days and was hooked by the magic piano), and he combines that with an openness to new ideas and the possibilities of new ways of marketing musicals. The latest demonstration of the latter quality comes with the exclusive internet campaign, through lastminute.com, to offer a range of prices for his shows: the touring production of Miss Saigon and the West End mega musicals The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s) and My Fair Lady (Drury Lane).
We asked Sir Cameron about this radical new offer, his approach to marketing and what it takes to make a successful producer.
This is a radical new approach to ticket sales. What gave you the idea?
“This idea has proved very successful with airlines and train operators as well as other businesses. They offer different prices according to peak and off-peak times of the year. Unless you have a smash-hit new show, where the demand outstrips supply, the public book for the performances that are the most convenient for them, which in most cases is the weekend, therefore, except for during holiday times, you need to put more effort into selling the mid-week performances. The idea to apply this policy came from us throwing ideas around at one of our regular marketing meetings.”
Do you expect other producers to follow suit or will they sit with it for a while and see what happens?
“In the past, other producers have often been influenced by initiatives taken by my company. If it proves successful, I would be delighted if producers of similar types of productions considered following suit.”
Do you have any equally new approaches to marketing theatre shows in other areas — press, PR, etc.? Presumably the internet is very much a part of future promotion of shows?
“My approach to marketing is that you need to start with a good production to market first, rather than use marketing to sell a product, irrespective of its quality. We constantly need to be coming up with new ideas for our long-running shows, so that people do not take the shows for granted. But we take pride in making sure that the shows themselves are as fresh as they were when they first opened, and this is what needs to be reflected in the marketing — you need to treat the marketing as I treat the production itself, that it is always exciting, fresh and vibrant no matter how long it has been running.”
Working with another major producer like Disney must be different, to say the least. How has it affected your thinking about the staging and selling of the show?
“Although I rarely collaborate with another producer on a show, Tom Schumacher, head of Disney Theatricals, and I have exactly the same approach to the creation of the show. We simply want to produce the best show we can and have as many people as possible see it.”