Monday, September 20, 2010

Producer Ken Davenport to "Crowd-fund" Broadway Revival of Godspell

Like the high-school drama teacher asking parents to chip in for costumes and lights, producer Ken Davenport is hitting up the masses for his new show—only instead of playing in the gymnasium, this one will try for Broadway. And if the show is a hit, those masses will turn a profit.

On Wednesday, Mr. Davenport announced a plan to bring "Godspell" to Broadway by raising small payments from hundreds of investors—what he calls the first-ever "crowd-funded show."

Davenport Theatrical Enterprises Producer Ken Davenport is attempting to bring 'Godspell' to Broadway.

The $5 million production would require a minimum contribution of $1,000—a fraction of the $10,000 investment it usually takes to break into the typical Broadway production, he said.

"I've always felt that there are people all over the country and all over the world who want to invest in Broadway shows but they don't know who to talk to and they don't want to risk a high amount in the beginning," Mr. Davenport said. "This experience allows me to go out into the world and say, 'Hey, if you're interested, you can talk to me, I'm here. It's not a private club.'"

Mr. Davenport said he launched the idea with "Godspell" because of the musical's message about the value of community. He said he also wants to convince investors that Broadway can be used in the same way as the stock market.

The project is partly an appeal to investor egos: Mr. Davenport noted that backers will be called producers and see their names on a poster "prominently placed" outside the theater. A website,, will invite investors to post their photos with their hometown and a quote. (The site currently features an image of a brick wall with the promise, "YOUR NAME HERE.") Everyone gets a button that says: "I'm a Broadway producer!"

"It's lunatic, but it's not dumb," said longtime producer Manny Azenberg, adding that small investments mean lower expectations. "It's like going to the track—you know you're going to lose, and if you win, it's thrilling."

Mr. Davenport, a 38-year-old New York producer with a well-read theater blog, plans to find his backers through an online campaign. Once onboard, investors can offer opinions, but Mr. Davenport said they will not have the power to make creative or business decisions.

No theater has been secured for "Godspell," which played on and off Broadway in the 1970s. The current production, which Mr. Davenport wants to stage next spring or summer, will be directed by Daniel Goldstein and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Christopher Gattelli. Auditions are set to begin this week.

Mr. Davenport, whose credits include Off Broadway's "Altar Boyz" and Broadway's "13" and "Oleanna," said he has gotten documentation from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission permitting the venture.

Bob Boyett, a veteran producer who worked with Mr. Davenport on "13," called him "brilliant" for attempting to build a new generation of theater investors while establishing an early network of support for his show. But he added that having so many investors could engender administrative challenges, such as having to update hundreds of people on the show's finances.

"There's definitely going to be some producers…who say, 'Oh my, that's an awful idea to have all those people around," Mr. Boyett said. "But I think Ken is capable of managing that."
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