, a classic 1929 bijou restored to its original jaw-dropping grandeur nearly four years ago, is having a banner year. This comes under the stewardship of general manager Tyler Bates, who came aboard in February 2017 and has helped bookings increase by 50 percent year-over-year.
“We are going to have anywhere from 125 to 150 events this fiscal year which ends in April,” said Bates while standing between 433 removable seats in front of the stage. “We’ve already surpassed last year when we did 84 events.”
But it’s not just quantity that’s on the rise at Kings. Hearing Bates rattle off the venue’s recent bookings sets one’s cultural radar abuzz: From Nine Inch Nails
, David Byrne
, Nick Cave
and Thom Yorke
to “Shark Tank’s” Robert Herjavec, a taping of HBO’s “2 Dope Queens,”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates and, of course, Paw Patrol
(Whitney Cox) The Kings Theatre
He throws in Caribbean comedian Majah Hype, a hip-hop “Nutcracker Suite” featuring old school legend Kurtis Blow, boxing matches with Evander Holyfield, a Luis Fonsi date and a screening of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” preceded by a Q&A with John Cleese.
Part of Bates’ ability to program and attract such a range of quality acts in this country’s most competitive live market is the theatre’s open booking policy, allowing promotional behemoths Live Nation and AEG Presents, who are battling it out across the city and far beyond, to promote shows at the Kings.
“I like being the independent guy,” Bates said. “In New York, the biggest entertainment market in the world, it’s always the biggest show on the tour. It always needs to sell out,” Bates continued. “It’s not like the Kings is the pinnacle, it’s not the peak. They want to grow. They want to work with a promoter that’s going to develop their career and they can go to after they do the Kings show to go, ‘Hey I want to do Radio City’ or ‘I’d like to play (the Governors Ball Music Festival)’ or ‘I want to do the Garden or the Barclays Center.’
If we were to get really aggressive and just say, all right, we’re making all the offers, then I think we’re going to get some pushback from the artists side that want to have the support of a promoter and be able to go to that next level.”
Bates’ impressive bona fides include working for one of the most distinguished live entertainment execs in the industry: AEG Presents Senior Vice President Debra Rathwell, from whom he learned the ins and outs of theater and arena touring. “She gave me my first big break,” Bates said.
This before a move in 2011 to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where he was named director of booking for the then-new arena (which has a facilities management contract with AEG), where he oversaw concerts and family arts.
(Matt Lambros) Kings Theatre
But unlike Barclays, which was built from scratch at the borough’s Atlantic and Flatbush avenues hub, the historical landmarked Kings Theatre is in the heart of Flatbush Brooklyn, where it underwent an extensive $95 million restoration (two-thirds came from municipal funds) spearheaded by Martinez + Johnson Architecture and contracted by the Gilbane Building Co. After laying dormant since 1977, the Kings opened almost 40 years later in February 2015.
The Kings initially opened with the ACE Theatrical Group, but in 2015 ACE was acquired by the Ambassador Theatre Group, an independent venue company with nine U.S. properties, including Broadway’s Lyric Theatre and Hudson Theatre and more than 40 properties worldwide. The group now has a 55-year operating lease on the Kings.
The Kings is in good company and among the New York metropolitan area’s five dazzling Loew’s “Wonder Theatres,” opened in 1929 and 1930, which included the United Palace in northern Manhattan, the Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, the Paradise in the Bronx and The Valencia in Queens.
What Kings has that these other wonders don’t is location. In case you were living under a rock for the past 15 years, Brooklyn is “hot,” with its own multicultural taste-making population that the Kings tries to reflect in its programming. Bates says nearly 70 percent of his audience are from the borough, which has 2.8 million residents and is roughly the same size as Chicago. The Kings’ interborough competition is fierce, though, with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Steel and the Music Hall of Williamsburg among others fighting for bookings and patrons.
After laying dormant since 1977, the Kings Theatre opened almost 40 years later in February 2015.
But the competition is primarily local, according to Bates. “Brooklyn doesn’t like to go to Manhattan, Manhattan doesn’t like to go to Brooklyn,” Bates said matter-of-factly when asked about competition with city venues like the Beacon Theatre and Town Hall. “The data supports it. The heat map is around the theater and then it’s in Park Slope, Crown Heights and it’s a little hotter in Williamsburg, which is a little bit further to get to, but you can connect through the subway. Then, it’s like southern Manhattan and then it thins out. With the density of the population, the average household income, the demographics here, it’s really unique to an urban community.”
It makes perfect sense, then, that two Brooklynites (grand royal ones, if you will) were scheduled to grace the Kings’ stage Oct. 30: Ad-Rock and Mike D (aka Adam Horowitz and Mike Diamond) of the Beastie Boys, whose new “Beastie Boys Book” event will feature readings, a conversation between the two Brooklyn natives, a gallery in the lobby, a special guest moderator and a live score courtesy of their longtime DJ, Mix Master Mike.
While having the two local hip-hop legends is a huge honor for the Kings, ultimately perhaps, there is no greater indicator of the Kings’ success than the return engagements, which are happening with increasing frequency. “We have bands like Beach House that come back for a second time that love the venue,” Bates said. “It’s already sold out. And we’ve got Garbage coming back for a second time, too. That’s sold out.”
And even Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, aka “2 Dope Queens,” want to make another Flatbush curtain call.
“We got a call from them and they were like, ‘We had the best experience, the shows were amazing, you guys treated us so well, and HBO signed on again so we want to do Kings,’” Bates noted. “It was like no question. They didn’t shop around or anything like that.”
This story originally appeared in the November issue of VenuesNow, subscribe here.