Arielle Tepper Madover is a Tony Award–winning theatrical producer and Founder and CEO of the New York City-based personalized concierge and recommendation service, WhatShouldWeDo!? In her own words, Arielle shares how she’s met and tackled challenges faced throughout her career and used the lessons learned to launch a new startup.
By Arielle Tepper Madover – I always tell people, “Every show is a startup.” Producing a Broadway show is the same as building a new business. Producers start from the ground up, optioning the material, raising money, developing marketing and advertising, and selling tickets—and all of that is in addition to working with the creative team to get the show up.
After producing dozens of shows in New York City and London over the past 20 years, I decided to forge a new path in the tech industry by starting What Should We Do?!, a personalized planning and recommendations service. I’ve had hundreds of obstacles in the theater world and overcoming them set me up for this new and very exciting startup business. Today, I am sharing just a few of these challenges with you to illustrate that no matter what may come your way, if you have passion and work hard (really hard), you can make anything happen.
CHALLENGE: Making theater affordable and accessible for everyone.
The arts and theater should be for everyone to experience, but when I started out as a theater producer at the age of 24, my friends couldn’t afford a regular priced ticket. So, with my first Broadway show, Freak, starring John Leguizamo, I wanted to do things differently. I introduced a new concept in ticket pricing by selling 250 seats per performance at just $10, which was roughly the equivalent of going to a movie. I got some pushback from the team who were worried about not only making numbers but that people who could afford to buy the expensive seats were going to buy the cheaper seats. I defended my beliefs and I really pushed my idea and took a risk.
So what happened? Freak was a huge commercial and critical success: It sold out for its entire run – thanks to John’s incredible talent as well as my strategy and enthusiasm – it generated the most diverse group of people seated in the orchestra you could imagine. People from all walks of life were sitting next to each other as opposed to most Broadway theatre audiences where the people who spent the most money on their tickets are seated in the orchestra, and the people who spent less money are in the mezzanine and upper levels. Now, affordable entry-level price point tickets are pretty standard in the industry.
If you have passion and work hard (really hard), you can make anything happen.
Since then, my conviction to make art accessible has guided my career, from my position as the Board Chair of the Public Theater (an arts institution that shares my point of view) to creating What Should We Do?!, which provides clients with personalized, on-call concierge service within any budget. I genuinely want to create access for people to experience the best of New York City culture, no matter how much money they choose to spend and how much time they have to do it in.
CHALLENGE: I was young in a world of established professionals.
I began working professionally in New York City theater at 18 years old and produced my first Off-Broadway show at 24. Back then, it was extremely challenging to find great projects to work on, especially since I was young and inexperienced. It was hard to be taken seriously. So, I decided to be proactive about widening my professional circle and set a goal for myself to meet at least one new person every day.
I went out of my way to introduce myself to everybody—I would sit down with anyone who was willing to chat about their journeys. I can’t tell you how many opportunities came out of just talking with people; I might be chatting with my girlfriend’s cousin, for example, and he would tell me I should meet his friend who’s launching the first episodic series online.
But it wasn’t only about the connections. I believe that it is so hard to live in NYC because it’s expensive and you have to have an entrepreneurial spirit just to get a job; the people who stick it out here have to have a passion for the city and what they do. Everyone has a fascinating story to tell! In fact, the practice of meeting and learning about someone new every day was so inspiring and educational that after a long break, I started up again and still do it today. Listening to people opens up my world, both professionally and personally and makes me see things I may never had before.
CHALLENGE: Learning to trust my own instincts.
When Freak was running on Off-Broadway, I would spend every night at the theater sitting in the lobby. I could hear the audience laughing throughout the whole show and my gut feeling was that if they were having such a great time here that it would translate well to a bigger theater. Everyone around me told me it was a mistake; they said it would never work. I am so grateful (to myself!) that I didn’t listen to them and made the very frightening decision to go with my gut. The Broadway production was a success, giving me the confidence to trust my instincts— which is one of if not the most important lessons I’ve had in my career.
Today, through What Should We Do?!, I’m tapping into all of the lessons I’ve learned while exploring the new-to-me industries of publishing and technology. There’s no shame in admitting that I still have to remind myself not to second-guess my instincts, even though I’m sure I don’t always do things the way they’re usually done. But you know what… that’s exactly where you find success!
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