Wanna get Lucky with your New Musical? Know your Odds

People in this business often talk about getting “lucky.” As any gambler can tell you, if you want “luck to be a lady” you have to know the odds.

Marlon Brando sings "Luck Be A Lady" in Guys & Dolls

Personally, I didn’t love my statistics class in business school but despite the discomfort it caused my brain, I can’t argue with it’s validity. Whether you like it or not, numbers can be pretty illuminating and it’s always good to know your odds. Particularly when you’re submitting your show to a festival, applying for a directing job or producing a new musical.

Some odds, it turns out, are widely available, like the statistic that only 1 in 5 (or just 20%) of Broadway shows make a profit. And apparently the odds are 11,500 to 1 that you’ll win an Academy Award. (Who knew that was a widely available statistic?)

So, let’s get into the meat of this matter with a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say you’re submitting your show to a festival.

Here’s how you can get an idea of your odds:

  • If you do a little homework, generally you can get an idea of how many shows are submitted in a given year (search, interview or ask around). For the purposes of this demonstration let’s say 200.
  • See how many shows they select each year. We’ll say it’s 6.
  • Evaluate the past few years, get an idea of the types of shows they’ve selected in the past. (Suppose you’ve written a rock musical and you see that each year they have just one rock musical in their mix. This will clue you in to the narrow margin your show’s chance of being selected is in.)
  • In this particular case, your odds would be 1 in 200 or a slim 0.5% of getting chosen. In this example, despite the fact that they pick 6 shows, yours would only be considered for 1 spot since it’s a rock musical.

Now, I’m assuming 0.5% doesn’t fill you with confidence. I mean, that basically says that you’re more likely to have a stroke or be on a plane with a drunken pilot than get into that festival.

However, you can always stack the deck in your favor. Let’s say you’ve written 2 shows and you submit them both to the festival. You’re odds have just gone up to 3%. That’s a significant jump.

Still not good enough? Then submit both shows to 3 different festivals, all with similar odds. Now you’ve increased your chances, encouragingly, to nearly 10%.

In the end though, you don’t need all this math to know that the more you put it out there, the better chance you have of finding success. It’s easy to pin your hopes on this or that single opportunity but the numbers don’t add up. Given these statistics, (and maybe a few calculations of your own) why not play the odds in your favor?

If you wanna make luck your lady tonight, remember what every gambler worth their salt knows — you can’t win, if you don’t play.

Break a leg!

Thursday, May 12 will be my last day of live tweeting from The Broadway League Conference in NYC. If you’ve missed it, catch up by following me on twitter here!


  1. Gotta disagree with you about the odds for the rock musical.
    It actually may have a better chance of getting in than a traditional musical.
    It’s only competing against the rock musicals for the rock musical slot– so depending on how many of the other shows are rock musicals, it could have a better chance- or a worse one. If only four other shows are rock musicals, it’s got a 20% chance. If 99 of the shows submitted are rockers, it’s only got a one percent chance.

    Just curious, you see a lot of submissions– what’s the ratio of rock to more traditional these days?

    (I wish I wanted to write a rock show–it’s just not convenient for multiple feelings at once– and punchlines aren’t as funny in rock as in a traditional score.)

  2. I like your logic! And I am certainly not trying to discourage rock musicals since I’m a big fan. To answer your rock musical submission ratio question – that’s a hard one since it depends on how you define rock musicals. Frequently I find that rock musicals, pop musicals and edgy contemporary musicals (even if not rock) end up in the same category. By that inclusive definition, I’d say over half of the submissions I see are in that category.

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