Ken Davenport of Davenport Theatricals
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Ken Davenport, a Broadway and Off-Broadway Producer. His Broadway productions include Oleanna (starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles), Speed-the-Plow, Will Ferrell's You're Welcome America, Blithe Spirit (starring Angela Lansbury), and 13. He also recently released These Magnificent Miles: On the Long Road with Red Wanting Blue, a documentary on one of the top unsigned rock bands in the country. Ken is the only independent producer to have had three shows running simultaneously Off-Broadway--Altar Boyz, The Awesome 80s Prom, and My First Time. He was featured on a national commercial for Apple's iPhone, named one of Crain's "Forty Under 40," and was dubbed the "P.T. Barnum of Off-Broadway" by The New York Times. Ken created and developed a smartphone app called AT THE BOOTH™, which gives a listing of available shows at the TKTS® booth in Times Square. Combined, Ken's productions have grossed more than $100 million worldwide and are being produced internationally in over 25 countries including Germany, Mexico, France and Korea. Current projects include bringing the first ever revivals of both Godspell and A Few Good Men to Broadway, adapting the novel and film Somewhere in Time into a Broadway musical, and his latest creative collaboration Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage!. He also runs a number of theatrical websites including Broadway's #1 social networking site--BroadwaySpace.com, which has just launched the Broadway board game Be A Broadway Star, recently seen on the Today Show. His blog TheProducersPerspective.com, has been featured in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, The Gothamist, and more. He has written articles for Forbes, Mashable, Imedia, and others. Ken graduated with honors from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Here is some advice he had for all us college students!
1. What advice would you give to graduating students? My advice is always to get involved with a theater company around you as soon as possible. What really jump-started my career was that I was a Production Assistant on a Broadway production of My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain while I was still at school and that lead to another one, lead to another one, lead to another one. It's about trying to get into the circle because sometimes it takes a little while, so I tell people that you've go to try as soon as you can and do anything in order to do it: work for free, volunteer, type up scripts for people, do whatever it takes to just get into the community, and pretty soon, if you do what you're told, they'll hire you for something.
2. If you could go back in time and speak to your college self what would you say? I would tell myself to be less shy. I feel like I could put myself in more circles, actually. I could have hung out with more people that wanted to do what I wanted to do. When you're building a career, usually you end up working with the people that have come up with you, and I wish I had surrounded myself with more of those types of people. And the other thing I would have done is I would have seen more theater because the best form of graduate school is just seeing as many productions as you can.
3. What was your biggest mistake in your career? This is pretty generic advice, but sometimes I don't trust myself enough. Sometimes you get nervous and scared, just like in anything else. On a couple of very early shows when I was starting out, for example on The Awesome 80's Prom, I could have put more of my own money into that show, but I didn't. I made my investors a lot of money, which is great, but, even though I knew I had a hit, for some reason there was just still a little bit of insecurity. Had I believed in myself just a little bit more, I would be better off today.
4. Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? Well, my very first job in the theater was my parents dragged me to an audition for a show when I was 5 years old, and that's what got me hooked. But my big break really was that Production Assistant position on My Fair Lady. That job changed my life because it opened my eyes up to all these other different positions on Broadway shows, and I met the Producer and I remember thinking, "I want to do that."
5. What are three habits that contributed to your success? I can't leave my office with anything on my desk. I have to have it cleaned off. Now sometimes that means some very late nights, like tonight (I spoke with Mr. Davenport on a Sunday night at 9 pm!), I've got a bunch of stuff on my desk, and I won't leave here until it's off. That partly OCD nature I have has helped me to get a lot of things done faster. Number two isn't really a habit, but I'm very fortunate and very blessed to love what I do, so it doesn't seem like work. People tell me I'm a workaholic because I'm here seven days a week, and I work late at night, but it doesn't feel that way to me. So my habit of loving what I do and having it be my hobby as well as my profession has certainly contributed to my success. Last, I always want to learn new stuff, and I'm always looking for ways that I can do something different in the industry. This is a business that doesn't like to do things differently a lot, but I crave knowledge and new information and new technology and I think that has allowed me to have my shows be noticed, whereas they might not have been otherwise.
6. Can you talk a little bit more about how you got that first Production Assistant job? I wish I could tell you I applied for this and I did this and so on, but, actually, I was taking a History of American Musical Theatre class taught by a man named Jack Lee, and for some reason, I really don't even know why, he called me over Christmas break and said, "I want to recommend you for this position." I remember going, "Oh my gosh, I want to do this," but I always remember wondering why he recommended me. I was a good student in the class, but I wasn't a perfect student. I remember one day I forgot my homework, it's not like I was a straight A student. The only thing I can really think of is that I was a very passionate student about the material. I obviously loved it. I think he saw that I really loved what I was working on and he saw me as someone that would enjoy working for no money for 80 hours a week on a Broadway show, which I did.
7. What are you working on now? Well the current project right now is Godspell, which is 25 days away from the first show, so that is certainly the focus. I'm also working on a revival of A Few Good Men, which could happen as early as this spring. And then I've got a few original musicals in the works as well.