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The three men had been kicking around the idea of a theatre confab for years before contacting TED. "Ken and Damian and I had been talking about doing a different kind of Broadway discussion," said McCarthy, "one that focused on a bigger picture and the longer term and a more diverse array of ideas brought in."
McCarthy had been attending the annual California TED conference for several years. In its framework of short, inspirational speeches and subsequent brain-storming — a formula popularized by the online dissemination of the talks — he thought he saw the blueprint for his dreamed-of Broadway town hall meeting.
"At a lot of conferences I attend, there's a lot of weight on specific, tactical things that have to get done," explained Bazadona. "What excites me about being involved in this is, this conference isn't meant to put that weight on your shoulders to walk out with solvable problems, as much as it is to trigger thought and hear from different points of view."
The speeches delivered at TEDxBroadway must be original and fresh to qualify.
"We've all been to panels where the preparation level is you walk on stage, you sit down and you talk," said McCarthy. "Usually, those are pretty dull. What's also dull is when some company dusts off their company Power-Point. From our point of view, we're trying to get people to make original intellectual property."
Assembling the roster for this year's conference began 11 months ago. The founders gathered, exchanged ideas, and raided their Rolodexes. By May, they had a list of people they wanted to go after. "We're thinking about whose perspectives we want on the stage," said McCarthy. "Who would fit those niches we need and how do we get them?"
"We also need a commitment," added Bazadona. "You have to be prepared. We stay on top of them. You need that. You have to give thought to a topic." If any candidate worried about the time commitment, the founders were content to let them go. "We are asking a lot of them," said McCarthy. "They have to create something out of thin air. That is a heck of a commitment."
Once someone said yes, McCarthy checked in with them regularly, offering feedback on the speech as it evolved. "They have to put up with me, for months and months, calling and asking how it's coming," said McCarthy. "My criteria is really simple. Once we get where I really want to hear the speech they're working on, that's what I want."
For this year's gathering, a broader range of speakers was sought.
"We've broadened the discussion more than we did last year. This time we're hearing from a wider range of industries that are involved in the neighborhood," said McCarthy. "It isn't a theatre conference. It's about Broadway as a neighborhood, as a place, as a part of New York City. Everybody relies on everybody else here, whether its the hoteliers or restaurateurs or theatre owners."
As a result, participants this year include Erin Hoover, the vice-president of design for Westin and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts; Susan Reilly Salgado, the founder of Hospitality Quotient with famed restaurateur Danny Meyer (whose Shake Shack on Eighth Avenue has become a popular theatregoer destination); and Bernard M. Plum, an attorney specializing in collective bargaining, arbitration, and strategic planning in a variety of industries, including newspapers, arts, entertainment and utilities industries.
Last year, 300 people showed up. This year, more are expected. (Interested attendees can purchase tickets at goldstar.com/tedxbroadway.) The founders hope that the attendees, along with the speakers, do not cherry-pick the talks they wish to take in, but absorb the entire conference.
"It's best experienced as a whole piece," said McCarthy. "Because you never know, you may look at the line-up and say, 'Oh, I want to see that guy, I want to see her.' But it may be something between those two that turns your head and makes you say, 'I never thought of that.'"
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