Making Mischief: A Chat with the Brains Behind BroadwayCon

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By: Gwendolyn Y. McNutt, CSEP (@gmcnuttplans)

I love live theater, but musicals are really my thing. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. I see theatrical makeup and costumes when I close my eyes, and I hear showtunes playing in my head. And, I of course love the place that brings it all together: New York City. The Theater District. The Great White Way. Broadway. There’s nothing else like it. For me, part of the fun and excitement of a night on Broadway is visiting the stage door to see my favorite actors after the show. However, all stage doors are not created equal. Sometimes you can see your favorite performers, have your Playbill signed, maybe even take a photo if you’re lucky; and sometimes, you just can’t. Melissa Anelli, BroadwayCon’s Executive Director, knows this, and that’s why she set out to create a first of its kind Broadway fan experience that takes the stage door and live theater interaction to another level.

Anelli is a best-selling author of Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon. In addition to being an author and her role at BroadwayCon, she is also the CEO of Mischief Management, which runs conventions that specialize in the attendee experience, including BroadwayCon, LeakyCon, and Con of Thrones.

So, what is BroadwayCon? Think San Diego Comic-Con for theater enthusiasts. The three-day expo allows fans to cosplay as their favorite characters, attend panels, see a showcase of new and popular Broadway shows, and meet and interact with their favorite Broadway stars. Now in its third year, BroadwayCon 2018 will be held January 26-28 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Recently, I chatted with Melissa for Nerd HQ about her job, her passion, and when she had her BroadwayCon “holy crap” moment. Although her various accomplishments sound really intimidating, in truth, she’s friendly, bubbly, humble, and extremely down to earth.

So, do you want to just jump right in?


Let’s do it.

You’re the “top dog” at Mischief Management and the Executive Director of BroadwayCon, so what does a typical workday look like for you?


It’s ever-changing. We’re a small company, with eight full-time and one part-time staffer. In the “top dog” area, I’m looking at our cash flow, managing budgets, and trying to determine our next steps in various partnerships with our events across the board. But because we’re a small company, I help with the creative direction of all the events, because that’s where the heart of this is for me. We’re a team, and I say that with sincerity because, I love it. The rest is the stuff that a business person has to do.

If you weren’t producing events, what do you think you’d be doing?


I’d be writing more books. I wrote a book about the Harry Potter phenomenon, called Harry: A History, and J.K. Rowling wrote the forward. It was a really proud moment in my life. I’m proud of that book and the way it talks about fandom. And the theory of how fandom can really impact and make better a person’s existence. I loved writing that book, and I hope to write more books in the future. I intended to be an arts journalist and Harry Potter stole me happily [laughs] away from the world of print journalism.

So, let’s talk specifically about BroadwayCon. It was the first large-scale convention for Broadway and theater lovers. What made you want to take on the challenge?


As soon as the idea hit us we knew it had to happen – and this is sort of how we do it. We’ll come up with an idea that we think has to be a convention, and when it lights that fire, we just go with it. As soon as we heard the words Broadway convention we thought, “Oh, absolutely, this has to exist, and we have to be the ones to do it.” I immediately started looking at venues – and you do the scary thing of signing your name to a contract that could bankrupt you, if you don’t follow through on your plans – that has a remarkable way of making you follow through on your plans [laughs].

We just really believed that the Broadway world was ripe for something like this, and that it would benefit them. We thought that it would be a successful venture and someplace where the entire industry could finally have a big fan-centric rallying point. So, from the word go, we knew we had to do it; there was never a question.

When did you have your “holy crap, this BroadwayCon thing is really going to work” moment?


The big “holy crap” moment happened first with the idea, but then about a month after we had the idea, my friend Anthony Rapp, who is a well-known actor in the Broadway world, came to my other convention, LeakyCon. He came to an event he’d heard me talking about forever, and we finally cycled him through one of our events. Afterwards, we came up to him and said, “Ok, we want to do one of these for Broadway – what do you think?” And his eyes had that same kind of inception moment that said, “Absolutely; whatever you need, I’m in!” So, we made him a co-creator, and he helped advocate for us in the new world of Broadway. We’ve been fans forever, but we didn’t have the connections. He helped us a lot with introductions and it calmed a lot of nerves that we were outsiders that were going to do an injustice to Broadway, and he really helped people understand that we are actual fans here to do a great thing for the community.

Once all those meetings happened, it started getting better and better. And then we opened the first day of ticket sales, we were only selling them in three batches, because we were afraid of selling them out too fast. The first set of tickets, a third of the tickets for BroadwayCon 2016, sold out in two hours. And, so, that was really the moment we were like, “Ok, this is going to work. We’re going to be ok.”


How many theater fans are you expecting for the 2018 event? Can you tell us something new to look for at the 2018 show?


Last year, we had about 6,000 attendees and we’re hoping for that again this year. That number would be fantastic and we think that it’s totally reachable. We’re also introducing something new called Industry Day. We’re spending the day on Thursday with about 500 members of the Broadway industry, talking about how to do things in the modern times with their audiences, and how to engage with the right kind of people to get your show up into the hype. It’s all been curated by a company called Situation, which is one of the big marketing agencies on Broadway. They have a lot of great ideas about how to get the seats on Broadway as full as they could possibly be. So, it’s going to be a really cool day – and that will be at the Crowne Plaza hotel.

How many staff and volunteers work onsite at the show to make it all happen?


We have an eight-person full-time staff, but throughout the year we also have a 50-person volunteer staff. They have been with us since the Harry Potter days and they believe in what we are doing. They just do it in their spare time and help us create the programming track. They really believe in what we’re doing and they enjoy it. They love it. We’re so grateful for them because they are truly part of the lifeblood. And onsite, we have about 100 volunteers. These are the people you see checking badges, helping to organize lines, answering questions or making sure that a room isn’t overflowing. They help us with all the various tasks onsite, like packing all the bags for people when they when they register.

One of the really exciting and unique things about the convention is that autographs and photo opportunities are included in the ticket price. That is a really cool experience for fans, so what made you decide to do it that way?


Almost all conventions are ones where the main activity is showing up and paying for autographs and photographs. And that is a very specific type of convention; it’s mostly sci-fi and fantasy. We actually do some of that with our Game of Thrones and Harry Potter conventions, but with Broadway, that’s not the driving force of the event. We don’t think it’s a model that fits with the theater and Broadway community. That’s not what we’re trying to create.

We decided to still do autographs and photographs with people who would like to spend an hour or so signing, and it would be free. This way everybody wins – and nobody is required to sign autographs and photographs the way they are at other conventions. And the fans have an opportunity to get an autograph that they maybe would only have had a 10 percent chance of getting at a stage door. There is value in that face-to-face moment with a person you admire, and we don’t want to indicate that it’s not important. But, we just make it a happy addition, as opposed to a driving economic force of the convention.

What are you most looking forward to at BroadwayCon?


We really promote the current shows on Broadway. I love that. I also love our Broadway First Look. On Sunday, all the shows that are coming into the season that are not yet in previews or that are shortly starting preview themselves. Last year, the Anastasia star sang, and Sara Bareilles from Waitress sang a song onstage at the first BroadwayCon. There’s a lot of history of shows coming and showcasing themselves to the audience. Jenn Colella sang “Me and the Sky,” from Come From Away at BroadwayCon last year. I just saw her, and she said that every single night at the stage door, someone says, “I saw you at BroadwayCon” or “I saw the video of you singing at BroadwayCon and that’s what made me buy a ticket.” And that’s music to our ears.


Can you tell me about the charitable aspect of the convention and your partnership with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) and how you support them?


Since the beginning of Mischief, we’ve felt that a strong principal in fandom is to benefit charity in some way, and we’ve given more than $250,000 to associated charities. It was an important piece when we were putting this event together. We wanted to let the Broadway world know that we are of the Broadway community. The best way to do that is to make sure you’re supporting things that the community cares about, which is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA). We met with them really early on and we pledge 10 percent of our profits to them every year. We love working with them as partners. We support each other, and it’s a good relationship.

Finally, what do you want the fans of BroadwayCon to know? Is there anything else you’d like to add?


We are here to create an opportunity that fans in the Broadway community don’t have. It is a place to really spend their time in full enjoyment of this thing that they love. There’s really nothing else that creates a Disneyland for Broadway in the way that we’re trying to do over a three-day weekend. You can touch every piece of the Broadway experience by coming to this conference. You can expand your knowledge, make friends, get previews of upcoming shows, and hear interesting stories about old shows. You can learn, have fun, and play, and it’s the only place in the world like that for a Broadway fan. I want them to know that if you’re a Broadway fan, this is actually the place for you. And that we’re not pretending; we actually love Broadway, and we are always trying to make it the best conference possible. And we can’t we can’t wait for 2018.

Melissa, we can’t wait either. Some of Broadway’s best expected to appear during BroadwayCon include co-creator Anthony Rapp, Andrew Chappelle, Laura Benanti, Laura Osnes, and Nicholas Barasch. To learn more about BroadwayCon, visit www.broadwaycon.com.


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