The next round of The Apples and Oranges Studios THEatre ACCELERATOR begins February 6th. Those accepted into THEatre ACCELERATOR work online directly with our team and hand-selected industry expert mentors to develop their musicals. We believe in a culture of open source, so we’ll share the training materials, philosophy, and experience we employ to accelerate the future of musicals.
Lesson 1 begins now.
What is the Lean Model?
In a previous session, we outlined our vision for the future of musical theatre. A portion of that vision incorporates our years of incubating an accelerator in the technology startup world. By blending known practices and models from our 25+ years’ experience, we utilize tools and techniques from successful technology implementations to aid the entire musical development lifecycle. In this discussion, we highlight the “Lean Model” based on Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup Method.” (http://theleanstartup.com/)
The Lean Model sits on the shoulders of previous models and lends focus to the early stage through product launch and into sustained market adoption. The Lean Model poses an iterative process that rapidly prototypes software and hardware solutions to embrace users, test early and often, and refine the product based on the results of the testing and feedback.
What do startups and software have to do with musicals? Everything! Your story should be heard, embraced, and amplified. The Lean Model focuses on finding your “Product/Market Fit” which equates to finding the audience that connects with your story and involving them early in the development process. If you have a story that humanity needs, we will help find your “Story/Market Fit.”
MVM – Minimum Viable Musical
MVP = Most Valuable Player
In our world MVP = Minimum Viable Product.
What does MVP mean and how does it relate to musical theatre?
At our THEatre Accelerator we incorporate lean startup key tenets.
- Fail early, fail fast.
- Find your Product/Market Fit. Get out of the office into the “community” early in your development process. That’s where the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) comes in.
At this point you may be shaking your head and saying that is stupid because you only get one shot to wow key Broadway producers and theatre owners. We agree. However, they are not your ticket-buying audience. Your MVP can simply be one song that you release on YouTube.
Here’s how Steve Blank describes the practice of lean start-ups in his Harvard Business Review article “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything.”
Lean start-ups practice something called agile development, which originated in the software industry. Agile development works hand-in-hand with customer development. Unlike typical yearlong product development cycles that presuppose knowledge of customers’ problems and product needs, agile development eliminates wasted time and resources by developing the product iteratively and incrementally. It’s the process by which start-ups create the minimum viable products they test.
And here’s what he writes about plans.
- Business plans rarely survive first contact with customers. As the boxer Mike Tyson once said about his opponents’ prefight strategies: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
- No one besides venture capitalists and the late Soviet Union requires five-year plans to forecast complete unknowns. These plans are generally fiction, and dreaming them up is almost always a waste of time.
- Start-ups are not smaller versions of large companies. They do not unfold in accordance with master plans. The ones that ultimately succeed go quickly from failure to failure, all the while adapting, iterating on, and improving their initial ideas as they continually learn from customers.
How does this relate to musical theatre?
In musical theatre, think of your Minimum Viable Product as your Minimum Viable Musical.
MVM = Minimum Viable Musical
Just like startups, you begin with your story. That’s your hypothesis. Your drafts are your MVP or your MVM that you can share with colleagues, audiences, mentors. Also like startups, you move quickly from draft to draft, improving and refining.
The THEatre ACCELERATOR considers each project a startup and artistic creators entrepreneurs. We aim to create a healthy eco-system where projects/startups and artistic creators/entrepreneurs will thrive. The Silicon Valley of musical theatre.
The traditional development process on Broadway tends to follow a linear path. In the early stages, a wealth of amazing resources exist to aid the story development process. Many amazing organizations support authors incredibly well, for example NAMT, Goodpseed, Theatreworks, ASCAP, Disney, BMI, NYU.
We support and applaud the work done by these organizations. In fact, we cannot succeed without these and many other organizations. They help you discover your MVM. We step in once you have your story and are ready to branch out to embrace and build the community for your story. The first read-through of your story should not be a New York City reading. Typically these quickly morph into a backer’s audition. (No pressure there!)
The THEatre ACCELERATOR aims to enhance the story development process once you have a clear hypothesis.
Understand Your Story in Relation to Your Audience
When a show reaches the hallowed halls of Broadway we, as producers, have one overriding goal. Sell tickets! We must sell enough tickets for the door to open each week and optimally to make a profit to start paying back our initial investment. In our industry, the papers celebrate recoupment (earning back our initial investment) as a major achievement. If we step back we can almost see the humor when breaking even ranks as success. I say almost because we see the long-term damage to our industry because these high stakes impact support for new voices and new stories. High stakes bring high risks and the more we can mitigate risks the more opportunities we’ll have to support creating and sharing a diverse range of stories. Therefore, we can’t wait until a show has a theatre to discover its product market fit. (In my humble opinion that proves to be a leading reason many new musicals never recoup.)
With a lean method that puts you in touch early with your audience you will align how your story grows in relation to your audience. Build your community early and they will support and amplify your reach. More importantly, they’ll give you data in the early stages which will help the entire creative team.
How? Build. Measure. Learn.
- Create a hypothesis. That’s your story.
- Build a prototype MVP. That’s your first draft MVM.
- Test and gather feedback through a reading or the online release of music for example. At this stage, it’s most important to keep your costs low and focus on the story.
- PIVOT or continue.
The method relies heavily on the build-measure-learn feedback loop. You identify the problem or need, then develop a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of immediately learning. Once you have your MVP, you begin tuning the engine. This involves measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect question.
THEatre ACCELERATOR Principles Takeaways
- Understand your MVM.
- Understand your product/market fit.
- Know how to get “out of the office” and build your community.
By the end of the THEatre ACCELERATOR program our participants understand their MVM, their product/market fit, and how to begin building their communities.
Have a musical you’re developing? Work along with us from home and let us know how it’s going for you in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!