Broadway Producer Wants You to Fund His Show

NEW YORK – To find the head of Davenport Theatrical Enterprises these days, you have to pull aside a plastic sheet that seals his corner office from dust being kicked up by workmen.

Outside, walls are coming down to absorb the neighboring office in his Midtown office building, the rooms reek of new paint and a new rehearsal space is being added. Ken Davenport, unlike so many in this depressed economy, is actually expanding his little empire.

"I've been very lucky," he says above the din of hammering.

Perhaps. Luck, undoubtedly, has had something to do with the success of Davenport's 10-person theatrical production company, but so has a keen business savvy. And that's significant when his latest plan is considered.

Davenport wants you — yes, you — to help produce his next Broadway show.

Hoping to raise $5 million for a revival of Stephen Schwartz's "Godspell," he's offering public stakes as low as $1,000 — a tiny amount compared to most single Broadway investments that often begin at $10,000 and can top $100,000. He thinks, based on the regulatory hoops through which he's jumped, that this is the first time such a scheme has been attempted.

"There are thousands and thousands and thousands of people that love Broadway all over the country. But they just don't get a chance to raise their hand and say, 'How can I help?'" Davenport says.

What do prospective investors get for their $1,000? Their name on a poster and on the show's website, as well as a promotional button that reads, "I'm a Broadway Producer!" They also get the risk of losing it all.

"I thought about for a second and a half doing it for $100 but that would be 50,000 people. And there's a certain kind of experience that I want these investors to have: I'm calling every single person who is interested in this show. I want them to know who the guy is who's behind the show, I want them to know how risky a proposition it is, I want them to hear it from me," says Davenport, 38.

What don't investors get? Their biographies in the Playbill or eligibility to vote for the Tony Awards. And any official creative control, for obvious reasons, although he promises to listen to any good idea and pass it along. If someone thinks an actor's shoes should be blue instead of silver, he says he'll take it to the costume designer.

Though he's been kicking around the idea of so-called "crowd-sourcing" for some time, Davenport wanted the artistic and business models to align. "Godspell" seemed a perfect fit.

"I was really waiting for the right show," he says.

"Godspell," a hippie-happy musical that tells the story of the community that grows around Christ, was made into a film with Victor Garber and has seen countless school and community productions across the world since its 1971 successful off-Broadway debut. It made its way to Broadway in 1976 and had other off-Broadway revivals since, but has been largely overshadowed by the similar — and, frankly, better — "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Davenport's plans for the revival have intrigued more than one Broadway veteran. "I'm really interested to see what happens," says Amanda Lipitz, a Tony-nominated producer of such shows as "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Legally Blonde The Musical" and others. "And if you're going to do it on any show, this is the show."

Davenport's audacious plan is just the latest in a career filled with them. He's the only independent producer to have had three shows running simultaneously off-Broadway — "Altar Boyz," "The Awesome 80s Prom" (which he wrote and directed) and "My First Time." His agency also does advertising and marketing for his shows and others.

Seven of his nine productions have made a profit, a batting average not many producers can boast. His Broadway productions include "Oleanna" starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, "Speed-the-Plow" starring Raul Esparza, Will Ferrell's "You're Welcome America" and "Blithe Spirit" starring Angela Lansbury.

"This is my life. I don't eat unless my shows work," he says.

Kevin McCollum, the producer of such hit shows as "In the Heights," "Avenue Q" and "Rent," calls Davenport a "creative thinker who really knows his business. I'm a big fan."

Though Davenport has been dubbed the "P.T. Barnum of off-Broadway," that has a whiff of chicanery. He's more like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: He collects e-mail addresses of theatergoers and offers them discount offers if they return and bring a friend. He writes a blog and oversees several Internet sites for the theater community.

When he discovered that there were few Apple apps for theatergoers, he challenged readers to dream one up, picked the best — one that tracks discount tickets — helped create it, and plans to share in any profits it makes.

His grass-roots-up approach permeated his off-Broadway "My First Time," a collection of stories about peoples' first sexual experiences. It was a show that relied on user-generated content, and his marketing wizardry was clear from his "Virgins Get in Free" promotion.

"You'll sense a trend in all my work which is very community-driven," he says.

A former child actor who grew up in Sturbridge, Mass., Davenport recalls driving to Times Square to catch shows as a teen. He thinks that time among the throngs looking for a fun night out has given him a knack for picking good ones.

"I produce for an eight-block radius," he says. "I think my strength has always been to pick shows that audiences — especially the audiences in Times Square — like."

Of course, a natural question is: Will he invest his own cash into "Godspell"?

"I'm sure I'll have some money in the show. I believe in it," he says. "You better be ready to write that check and want to do it. That's what producing is all about. If you don't believe in it, how is anyone else going to believe in it?"

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.