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Stealing the show

How Broadway Licensing Global is betting big on live stage entertainment in the UK, with no signs of slowing down

By Tyler Shepherd

(Image: Provided)

Within the ever-changing landscape of live stage theatrical licencing, Broadway Licensing Global is rewriting the playbook. As one of the fastest-growing licencing companies in the world, BLG has moved beyond setting the stage—they are leading their industry with the volume of titles they now represent. In 2017, founded by a small group of theatre makers, BLG represented roughly 900 plays and musicals.  Today, it’s more than 8,000.  By October 2023, the company aptly rebranded from “Broadway Licencing Group” to “Global” and earned that new title by ending the year having licenced shows in an astonishing 74 different countries on all six habitable continents.  BLG took another step forward in recent months with the opening of its office in London, strategically located in the heart of the city’s West End.

So, how does BLG continue to sprint as the theatre industry sputters? What are their plans for London? And what, really, is licencing? BLG chief executive officer, Ted Chapin, joined by the dynamic and seasoned UK-native, James Cawood, Director of Licencing for the UK and Europe, to explain how BLG is changing the game and leading the charge with titles like the famed board-game-turned-sidesplitting-play, Cluedo, and the international wonder, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

London office expansion

News of a cleverly timed announcement marking the arrival of Cawood as head of the London office broke in the Broadway Briefing, a go-to, daily industry newsletter, on January 2, 2024.  Cawood spent more than seven years as Head of Plays for long-established industry player and BLG competitor, Music Theare International (London).

BLG targeted Cawood to lead the office based on his intricate understanding of the UK and European marketplace.  The company also felt it vital to have its pulse on the London theatre landscape from the ground level. “So much is happening here,” says Cawood, “from development through to production.”  A close proximity to the development of new works in the UK, Cawood explains, is important for companies like BLG to strengthen relationships with native producers and creators. 

The move is also necessary for the company to react in a timelier fashion to new titles which may be ideal for the licensing marketplace, early on in their development. For example, the hit musical, Six, which tells the tale of the six wives of Henry VIII, was developed in the UK before making its mark with triumphs in the West End and on Broadway.  Six is represented by Concord Theatricals. BLG wants to get in early on more titles like Six, before they go out to licensing houses for bid, following successful first-class runs.  To do this well, says Chapin, “I learned in my years leading the Rogers & Hammerstein Organisation, it is so much better to plant a foundation in London.”

Impact on the UK and European markets

According to the European Commission, 90% of performing artists and labourers were made redundant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the industry rebound, two in every three theatre organisations continue to struggle to bring ticket buyers back to pre-pandemic levels.  BLG is betting that the timing of its London office will be a breath of fresh air for the industry.

At its essence, theatrical licencing is the granting of rights to a theatre organisation to stage plays and musicals, for clients within both the professional and non-professional theatrical landscapes. While BLG has licensed shows in the UK and Europe for years, they are positioning a physical office for the purpose of making a more practical impact on the live entertainment in the region.

“For too long, the licencing industry has been reactive—letting licences come to them,” explains Cawood. “But at the heart of our ethos, here at BLG, is to be proactive.”  Like Six, Cawood and Chapin agree that there not only are new classics to discover from their London purview, but a new office will benefit the industry more widely.  This means, “more choice, more licencing opportunities, and more access,” says Chapin, for professional and non-professional theatre organizations to produce quality material.”

In 2017, the same year BLG was founded, another US-based competitor, Theatrical Rights Worldwide, formed an office in London. Since then, no other major player in the licensing space has opened an office in city. “Frankly,” declares Cawood, “it’s been far too long since there was a new player in town. In 2024, adds Chapin, BLG will be “the new kid on the block—and that is always exciting.”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child licencing

In September 2023, BLG pulled off a coup with the acquisition of the amateur licencing rights to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Headlines were made when BLG partnered with the original creative team of Cursed Child to structure a deal that reverse engineered the traditional licencing process by agreeing to release the title to secondary schools, before larger organisations can give it a go. School licencing opportunities opened worldwide on May 1, and licencing applications have surged in. All indicators show that even with over 8,000 titles in its catalogue, according to SVP of Marketing for BLG, Jeffery Keilholtz, the Cursed Child School Edition will end 2024 in the top one percent of all the company’s titles licenced, globally—school edition or no.

Cursed Child is, without doubt, is a hugely significant title for the UK,” states Cawood.  He stresses that with this opportunity to represent such a popular global brand comes a great deal of responsibility. One of the challenges in taking this title on, Cawood admitted, was the sheer volume of work it took to adapt the Broadway version of Cursed Child into a two-hour-long edition fit for producing in schools.  Next was launching a dedicated UK website for licensing to occur. “But these are great problems to have.”

Why would a company like BLG want to begin the licensing process by offering a title that is so popular to schools first? Doing so acts as a marketing tool, of sorts, to feed continued demand for larger productions the company may also license—or for the six-plus-hour-long original version which is still running in the West End.  Moreover, according to Chapin, education is an important aspect to the vision and growth plan of BLG. “Our company purpose is to “make everyone a theatre person” which begins at a young age,” Chapin explains, “and school is the right place to get that started.”

Future Prospects and… CLUEDO

Currently, BLG is comprised of five companies—Broadway Licencing, Dramatists Play Service, Playscripts, Stageworks and Broadway on Demand. The first three are its licencing houses. In their repertoire, BLG represents more than 40 Tony Award® winners, 49 Pulitzer Prize winners, and one Daytime Emmy nomination for its streaming platform. Luminary titles represented by BLG, include works from creatives such as: Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Paula Vogel, Eugene O’Neill, Lynn Nottage, Alan Menken, The Go-Go’s, Elvis Prestley, and The Beatles.

According to Cawood, one of the key factors for drawing him to the BLG team was one word. “Legacy,” Cawood exclaims. “Thanks to our DPS imprint we oversee some of the greatest plays ever written.” Yet, Cawood goes on to explain, legacy must be balanced with growth and innovation. “Plays and musicals have some of their best years after their initial production. That is why BLG exists: to unearth, support, and then licence the world’s most exciting theatre around the globe.”

Chapin and Cawood both punctuate that while they want to represent the world’s best authors and the best plays and musicals, BLG also wants to be there at the beginning of the creative journey—to develop and nurture that talent.

In addition to Cursed Child, another title BLG is keen to release throughout the UK soon is CLUEDO, a play based on the popular board game. For several years, BLG has worked with creatives the likes of Lively McCabe and Habro to build interest in the United States by creating a US-version (CLUE: ON STAGE) which was also first released to schools and non-professional theatres across the country. Their collaboration has led to CLUE: ON STAGE become the most licensed play across US-based schools for the last four consecutive years—and has sparked a professional national tour in 2024.

CLUEDO is also on tour in the UK and will be available to license in the non-professional marketplace in a matter of weeks—maybe sooner.

“Considering this is a play based on a film, based on a board game, you will have to go a long way to find a funnier, cleverer, wittier play than CLUEDO,” Cawood laughs.“It’s such a hoot!  As theatre-makers, it’s the sort of play you want to be in.”  Chapin emphasizes that the people who work at BLG “are, themselves, theatre-makers.”  He concludes, “and coordinating the making of new plays and musicals is what theatre-makers do.”

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