As I’ve written about before, producing a new Broadway or Off-Broadway show involves making a lot of deals. Your lawyer and general manager will guide you through this process, but there’s nothing like having a first-hand understanding of what agreements you need to make and the mechanics involved in each of them, as you contemplate a theatrical production.
Thankfully, John Breglio, who spent three decades as one of the industry’s most sought after lawyers before turning to a producing career himself, will walk you through all of these contracts in his new book, I Wanna Be a Producer.
This is as close as one can get to a definitive manual on how to produce a Broadway show. Even as someone who has worked in the business for over fifteen years, I found countless pearls of wisdom and anecdotes in Breglio’s book that help contextualize the origin of contractual elements, like royalty pools, that are commonplace today.
Below are some of my favorite passages and pieces of advice from Breglio:
Hiring a General Manager
Equally important to retaining a lawyer from the beginning is hiring a seasoned general manager (known as a GM). I can’t emphasize enough the value of a good GM. By and large, GMs in New York are all competent. You should interview as many as you can and go with the one with whom you feel most comfortable and who has the time to devote to your project. There is no substitute for having an independent GM at your side who can be clearheaded and vigilant.
I’m a little biased on this one, but I agree with Breglio on both accounts. The earlier a GM is brought on to a project, the more they can help you craft a careful and deliberate plan for bringing your show to life.
And most of the GMs in New York are talented and capable leaders. Many of my closest friends in the business are other GMs, and we regularly consult one another, have drinks together and strategize about how we can best help our clients produce successful shows.
The key, as Breglio suggests, is to select a GM who has the time to fully devote to your project and whose company you enjoy. At Jumpstart, we carefully curate what projects we take on to make sure that we can provide producers with intensely personal, hands-on attention.
Hiring a Seasoned Director
Broadway isn’t a testing ground. Putting a $15 million venture into the hands of a director who has never before been through the steamroller of creating a Broadway musical is reckless and foolhardy.
As Breglio recounts, the former president of the Shubert Organization, Bernie Jacobs would rely on the “reputation and track record of the director as far as betting on the success of a show. If you didn’t have [a director] Bernie admired, the meeting would be quickly over.” I couldn’t agree more. While there will be a lot of essential hiring decisions a producer must make, selecting a director with a proven track record becomes exponentially more important as the budget for a production grows.
The Music of Broadway
Some American writers attempted to mimic what seemed to be the British formula for mega-success, but, by and large, they were unsuccessful. What did evolve were musicals that became more attuned to music of broad-based popular appeal. Popular music written with the AM/FM radio in mind began to complement and eventually supplant altogether the traditional music of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe.
While HAMILTON is the latest musical to forever change the sound of Broadway, the truth is that the Broadway musical has always evolved to reflect the popular music of the day so long as there have Broadway musicals, from HAIR to JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR to RENT.
The Transition to Digital Advertising
With the decline in print readership, and the prohibitive cost and questionable effectiveness of TV ads, producers have turned to online advertising and marketing to help fill the gap and tap into new and younger audiences. Online initiatives [now account] for as much as 25 percent of a producer’s weekly ad budget.
This percentage is only going to get bigger. In fact, it may be appropriate on some shows to devote 100 percent of the advertising budget to online initiatives.
Putting Your Own Money on the Line
It’s not enough just to emote to your future investors about the artistic merits of [your] show. If you’re presenting yourself as a commercial producer, you need not only to present cogent and responsible financial projections, but also to back them up with your own personal financial commitment. If you are not in the position of putting up a cent, then you probably shouldn’t be producing in the first place.
This should be rule #1 of producing. I wrote about this here.
The Magic of Working in Theater
Those of us who are fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to be besotted by the theater can’t leave it alone. As producers, we need to hope that the artists will always be there, not by some miracle, but by encouraging and supporting them to examine the human condition so they can create good work, whether that be in a reading, a workshop, or a not-for-profit theater.
Or perhaps in an all-night session of dancers, downtown, talking about their lives over pizza and cheap wine.
I’ll drink to that.