When we think of “startup culture”, it’s the tech companies of San Francisco that come to mind. The constant reinvention, pivots, and fresh starts are decidedly Silicon Valley. Yet, thousands of miles away from the world’s tech capital, an entirely different industry sees constant reinvention as part of its DNA: theater.
In New York City, culture and art looms large — each new production is a new venture. When patrons see a magnificent show on opening night, they’re witnessing a culmination of months — or even years — of careful planning and collaboration.
“Putting on a Broadway show is a lot like a startup,” says Daniel Kuney, President of the NYC-based theater management firm KGM Theatrical. “A producer has to decide to form an LLC, they have to get a budget from the general manager, they go and seek investors and then they’re starting a company that’s either going to live or die. It’s my job to oversee that process and make smart decisions along the way so that we are giving the show the best chance to succeed.”
Part of that success arises from having the right team and enabling them to do their best work. When Daniel’s remote team of 6 struggled to communicate effectively with Slack, he began searching for a new solution. He found it in Twist.
The Right Tools for Theater
Daniel’s innovative approach to theater management has no doubt been a large part of his success. A seasoned New Yorker, he’s been in the business for over 15 years and managed productions including The 39 Steps and Rock of Ages on Broadway. The latter ran for six years and attracted audiences that stretched far beyond the typical art-scene Broadway show-goer. The show captured patrons who drove in from the suburbs or had never seen a Broadway show before.
With an eye on bringing modernity to theater, he’s done the same with communication and the way his team operates. When Daniel started his career in theater management, the cloud had yet to emerge as a cornerstone of work. Instead, the theater companies he worked with had storage bins full paper and cardboard files brimming with essential information. A lot has changed since then.
“It used to be when we would go to the theater, we were totally disconnected from the office. Now, using tools like Twist, we’re much more connected.”
Connection is particularly crucial for KGM Theatrical’s team. While they often work together in an office, their shows run in locations outside their own walls. Twist allows them to dispatch team members to the theater and still have access to them and their input.
Curtain Close on Ineffective Communication
Like nailing the choreography for a musical or getting the dialogue just right in the closing act of a play, finding the right team collaboration tool at KGM Theatrical took some trial and error.
“Before we were using Twist, we were using Slack. On one hand it was helpful; it was better to be in something that wasn’t email for internal communication. But on the other hand, it left a lot to be desired,” Daniel explains.
One limitation for Daniel and his team, was the line-by-line nature of Slack. When Daniel had larger ideas and concepts he needed to communicate, their former tool of choice wasn’t set up for more in-depth discussions. If he had 10 ideas to bring to the team, the best way to organize these conversations was often a sore spot. Bringing up idea #6 was a challenge when ideas 1–5 were still being discussed in a single stream of chat. This led to piecemeal conversations — discussions never reached the level of depth that could drive clear action.
“[In Slack,] the conversations weren’t organized in any meaningful way.”
In contrast, the clear hierarchy of conversation in Twist’s thread resonated immediately with Daniel. “When I saw Twist, I knew this was the product I’d been looking for,” he says. Structuring conversations around specific topics, rather than having a long stream of dialogue, ensures that key discussions don’t get buried or missed and that they can be returned to quickly. Additionally, as Todoist Business users, the built-in integration allowed key comments to be turned into tasks to drive real action.
Compromising on quality isn’t part of the KGM Theatrical ethos. Daniel brought the same high bar he sets for productions to his team’s communication.
“We demand reliability since we do have remote workers and it’s essential that the product doesn’t go down. We were looking for a cheerful and fun design so that we’re compelled to open up the product and live in it for a fair amount of the day, which Twist certainly has.”
Deeper Discussions Driving Art and Action
As a small and mighty team, the switch was simple. “We left Slack behind pretty quickly. We were set up and running and it was like nothing had ever changed or stopped for us,” Daniel explains. Yet, this quick transition has had long-lasting effects on the way the team communicates.
Since switching to Twist, the KGM Theatrical team has seen a significant improvement in the organization of their conversations. Twist has changed the way they approach discussion.
“I can wake up in the morning, start nine different threads and then let people respond to those threads when they are ready and when they have the information.”
Threaded communication has also allowed for long-term conversations and reflections that simply weren’t feasible through chat before.
“The other great thing about threads is that we can come back to conversations, which we regularly do. We started a conversation about how our ticket sales are looking, and we’ve had this conversation going on for a couple of months now in Twist. Once a week we all check this one thread that still exists and we can comment, ‘Oh, I see we said this, this week it looks like our sales are increasing’. We can take these action steps as a result.”
Twist has also enabled KGM Theatrical to eliminate what little internal email they were using through the email forwarding feature.
“One thing I like about Twist that we do quite often is send emails to Twist threads. I try to stop myself from forwarding an email to my team, instead, I try to forward it directly into Twist so we can comment on it there.”
While most of their shows are in New York City, it’s not uncommon for them to have a production in other markets or tour shows across the United States. “Sometimes we have a company manager who is out on the road sitting on a tour bus going to different theaters every week or every night. Being able to work remotely is essential for us.” Switching to Twist has allowed KGM Theatrical to realize a new way of communication that deepens their discussions, eliminates internal email, and allows working remotely as a team while staying on the same page.
More Opening Nights to Come
With an eye on the future, KGM Theatrical is just getting started. Long-term, they plan on opening an office in Los Angeles, though they’ll always retain the culture of hustle and grind that New York City has infused in everything they do.
With a dedicated and knowledgeable team that’s proving that Broadway and Off-Broadway is a force to be reckoned with, and a tool that allows them to work at their highest potential, KGM Theatrical is making a name for themselves in the world of theater. Their next productions include Heartbreak Hotel in Chicago, Magnificent Revengers, and the twentieth-anniversary production of Reefer Madness.
“I’d like to see KGM general managing and working on the biggest shows in the business. We’ll take the next Hamilton.”