It’s odd walking into The Speakeasy at eleven in the morning. It’s hidden in the middle of nowhere Chinatown and the only hint of the Speakeasy you see are maybe the charming old Italian bakeries lined up in North Beach. As the mastermind behind The Speakeasy, David Gluck, welcomes us in, we are reminded of our late night at The Speakeasy. Memories come flooding back, as we re-enter the cabaret, the gambling room and the bar. The place remains eery yet romantic and dim even during the day. David chuckles and tells us theater people don’t start the day this early and takes us to Sal’s room, decorated with real antique knick knacks and painted royal green.
After setting ourselves up in Sal’s room, we interview David for the latest update on The Speakeasy. David sits down and warns us he’s got a lot to say.
p.s. If you have questions for David, don't hesitate to comment below!
Will you introduce yourself? Where are we?
David: Hi, I’m David Gluck. I’m one of the producers and the general manager of The Speakeasy. And we’re here in Sal’s office. He’s the fictional club owner. I’m the actual club owner. This is where a lot of scenes in the play take place. Sal’s looking for his lost shipment of booze, and he’s having an affair with one of the chorus girls and all sorts of plot lines play out in here.
How has The Speakeasy changed since you first opened?
David: We celebrated our 100th performance a few weeks ago. Now we’re at 104. The project has changed a lot. We’ve refined some of the characters, written new scenes, organized new scenes. The creative arc on this project is the same as it was when we did the proof of concept in 2014. We had our best creative minds get together and create the whole environment and essentially build a toy for the audience to use. But when you get an audience in here, sometimes they use the toy differently than you expect. So you adjust and you adapt. And we’ve been making changes over the entire 100th performance run, we’ve been making it more delightful and engaging for the audience. So they have a more rewarding experience.
What’s new at The Speakeasy?
David: There are always new things being introduced here. One of my favorite things is the Giant Birthday Cake. We’ve discovered that The Speakeasy has become a fantastic destination for birthday parties and special events. So we started to cater to people who were celebrating their occasions here. There’s a special birthday cake, we sing, and our creative director came up with the idea of the Giant birthday wooden cake and a chorus girl come out with confetti. So we debuted that on our 100th performance. It’s totally delightful and fun. We hope to have a birthday every night!
We’re trying to recreate the experience of 1920s nightclub. And one of the elements that’s familiar is the cigarette girl with a tray of cigarettes, roses, mints, sweets, and salt-water. Now we have some chorus girls walking around and enhancing the experience of being in the 1920s nightclub.
The food menu and the drinks menu is always changing. We had a big internal argument around pickled eggs, which raise a lot of eyebrows! But in fact, we put a jar on the bar 4–5 months ago and they’ve been selling like hotcakes. We also introduced limoncello, an Italian dessert drink. Very sweet. Very strong.
The costume characters have been part of our offering- the mayor, the horse race owner- and people who rent those costumes get a guaranteed scene. So we’ve added some new costume characters, like the Madame who owns the most famous brothel in San Francisco at the time. She’s of course one of the most honored guests at The Speakeasy. And we’ve expanded costume rentals in general. So for a low fee of several hundred dollars, we will build a costume look for any audience member.
Where did proceeds from first fundraise go?
David: Proceeds from the first fundraise were really essential to us. We received them after we’d opened The Speakeasy. We’d finished principal construction, casting and rehearsing, building costumes and props, but we hadn’t finished perfecting the scenic illusion, which is really essential to the success of this project. It was so useful to get that money when we did. We used it on theater equipment and finishing things like, the person named Arch, the lighting system, table lamps in the cabaret, color changing LED lights for a starry night look. It went for the sizzles, bells and whistles that make this space so special.
Who are in your audience?
David: We have an astonishingly wide range of demographics that come to the show. We get that very coveted 20-something and 30-something audience that most traditional theaters are craving and can’t find a way to connect with. But in addition, we get people in their 40, 50, 60, 70s. Some of the older folks come because they love the music; it brings them back to the records their parents used to play. And of course, we get culture lovers of all ages, as well as visitors and tourists.
Our super fans universally tell us that after they’ve hit 5 times they’ve seen the show then the story really opens up.
What’s the future of The Speakeasy?
David: We’d like to see The Speakeasy in multiple cities- Chicago, Toronto, London, New York. I was talking talking to a Broadway producer who asked when our plans are to come to New York. So that is still a little bit down the road. We’re still trying to perfect what we’ve got here. I know for sure you cannot go to New York unless you have it completely buttoned down.
What’s the growth been like at The Speakeasy?
David: Yes, we showed great growth during the last quarter. Our paid attendance was up 20% and we actually condensed our performance schedule compared to the previous quarter. 20% was spread over a smaller number of performances. We increased 26% per performance basis. Profitability grew by several multiples on the last quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017. Our ticket revenue was up 44% in the first quarter.
What’s been the biggest challenge at The Speakeasy?
David: The biggest challenge is still spreading the word. We’ve had 18,000 people see the show and we’ve done a ton of marketing. But we still feel like there’s a tipping point ahead of us. During our proof of concept in 2014, word of mouth was so impassioned that we sold out ten weeks in advance. And although our sales are very good, we haven’t seen the evidence of passion in the word of mouth. So we’ve been attacking that in several ways.
We’re always making creative improvements in the show for audience so they go out and really evangelize their friends on our behalf. But in addition, we’re making improvements to the service, the overall experience. Part of guest satisfaction starts from the moment they first encounter us, reducing wait times for first cocktails, making sure people are ushered promptly to their correct seat, and doing all the correct things for a magical, seamless experience. You should enter a completely different world and it should just flow seamlessly. So we’re putting a lot of energy into making our service delivery 5 star.
We do a lot of social media engagement, creating new content to push out on social media and getting out in the community.
Challenge is getting to that tipping point and going over the edge of it. And we’re working hard every day to make it happen.
Any message to Wefunder investors?
David: The main thing I want to say to our Wefunder investors to express our appreciation for so many people who have put their faith in this company. Investing in theaters is one of the most risky things that you can contemplate. We’ve had almost 300 people now invest through Wefunder, and it’s great that they see the excitement and possibilities of this project. And they’ve become advocates in this community and in their communities around the country and around the world. It’s just a feeling of appreciation and honor to be the recipient of their hard earned dollars.
What can your investors do to help?
David: The best thing that an investor can do for us is to spread the word. When you see a post about The Speakeasy on your social media, like it, repost it, talk about the production at your birthday parties, Christmas parties, an infant’s first birthday party, … They’ve probably heard about it, but give them a little nudge. Word of mouth is what will get us over that tipping point and make this project just explode.
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