After a few weeks hiatus to attend to my newborn son and help my wife, I am back blogging. Hope I didn't miss too much while I was gone.
Today, let's talk about why and when to do a show. What are the good reasons to get involved in producing a production. Today the threshold for being a 'producer' is very low. Aside from relationships, the basic requirement is to bring money to the table. If you can do that, you can be a 'producer'. But when you bring money to a production, you also bring responsibility. If t is your money you are investing, then you must be responsible to yourself and your family, if it is some else's money then you must be responsible to them and their confidence in you and your project. SO what kind of production would make you want to take the enormous risk involved with investing in theater?
Everyone says, you have to love the show you are producing because you will be with it for a long time. While I agree that the process begins with a love or infatuation with a project, being 'in love' is not enough. We must look at the whole picture to truly evaluate the opportunity. I am approached wuite often to invest or raise capital for productions. And sometimes, on the surface, a project looks great, but when you do some digging, not so much. The main areas to look at are first the show itself. Is it well-written, engaging, something you want to see onstage? Does it have a strong creative team guiding it, does it have the right design team associated to it? Is the cast (if they are already attached) fantastic and going to make people tell their friends not to miss these performances? And, just as important, is the lead producer (if it's you, the same question applies) the right person or people to bring this project forward?
Next you need to evaluate the place the show will have in the market. What is the competition, are there shows going for the same audience already running or planning a run during the same season? If so, how do you think that will affect your tickets sales? What are the marketing, advertising, and promotional plans for the show? Are they targeted to the right audience. I.e. you wouldn't be doing a lot of advertising in the New York Times for Dora the Explorer on Broadway. Are you confident in the ad/pr team assembled?
Finally the financial plan for the show must be scrutinized very carefully. Unfortunately, unless you have worked for a general managers office, it is difficult to know the relative costs associated with a production. However, you can and should ask as many questions as necessary to understand the costs and financials. If you don't get a satisfactory answer, that should tell you volumes. So you inspect the budget and the weekly running costs and take a look at the 'Break Even' or 'Recoupment' schedule. These documents are useful but should be looked at in context. It is a rare show that sells all tickets at full value, so when analyzing these documents you need to know the historical performance of plays and musicals to properly evaluate them. For musicals on Broadway, the average production sells about 73% of their tickets at an average ticket price of $70, so you have to see if the show can make money at those levels. If it can't you may have a show that runs for two years and never recoups its investment. A prime example is 42nd Street which ran on Broadway for over 3 years at the Hilton Theater and never recouped its investment.
Since no one in this business has any idea if a show will be a success and make money, its always a huge risk getting involved. So the decision to do so is personal and there is no right or wrong reason to participate. I always feel a tremendous responsibility to the people who give me their money for a show, so I do everything I can to help the show succeed.
P.S. A colleague, whom I respect, recently told me that he decided to produce a show because he wanted his name above the title on a Broadway production. He chose a musical as they seem to have reduced risks, he chose a production which had a unique audience niche, and a production he thinks will have 'legs' for a long time (regional, amateur production licenses). He made his decision without ever having seen the show. Now if he was the originating producer I would find no fault here, but since he is not, there is much to wonder about. The most important thing to consider is...do you think the show is GOOD! If so, you can be passionate about its possibilities, if not, trouble. If you've never seen a reading or a workshop, or in this case a running out-of-town production, then how do you know. Play and musicals may read great and play onstage very differently. Think about the reasons he chose to get involved and let me know if you would have done the same.