Drumming For Fun and Profit – NY Times

Drum Struck started as a goofy corporate bonding ritual.

So how did it become Off Broadway’s loudest play?

Over the years, many entertainers have learned that the skills that can move an audience to laugh or cry can be more lucratively employed inspiring a roomful of executives to sell cars or computers. With the arrival of Drum Struck at dodger stages, that process has been reversed; a corporate motivational business has spun off an Off Broadway play.

The South African entrepreneur Warren Lieberman has spent the last eight years developing an international business based on a seemingly endless supply of hand-carved African djembe drums. In his corporate programs, which grew out of weekly jam sessions held at his Drum Café in Johannesburg, anywhere from 15 to several thousand participants, each equipped with his or her own djembe, develop team-building skills by drumming in unison. “It breaks down barriers of age, race, gender with unifying activity,” said Aviva Nash, a high school classmate of Mr. Lieberman who runs the New York City branch of business (www. Drumcafeny.com), “From the mailroom guy to the C.E.O., every member is as important as the other.”

At Drum Struck,”which begins previews on Thursday, each seat will hold a two-foot-tall drum, and audience members will join the show’s 11 South and West African percussionists in making a rhythmic racket. Drum Struck has had successful engagements in Johannesburg and Sydney, Australia, although the motivational business is likely to remain Mr. Lieberman’s profit center: an hour long Drum Café session, which comes with a facilitator and a team of African drummers, can be pricey. A Japanese pharmaceutical company shelled out $35 00 to oufit 1,200 employees (The New York branch counts BMW, J.P, Morgan Chase and Red Bull among its clients.)

The fact that those corporate audiences tend to have sufficient disposable income to shell out $61 or more for a ticket has not escaped Mr. Lieberman, who began developing Drum Struck in 2001. Drum Struck and Drum Café definitely complement each other,” he said. “We did a lot of marketing to our corporate clients when “Drum Struck” opened. In South Africa, our biggest audience is people who have experienced a Drum Café event.” Does that make returning customers re-percussions?

–        Eric Grode