In a recent blog, Ken Davenport noted the severe lack of young commercial theater producers. His figure for “producers under 40” came it at a paltry 8%. As a member of that 8% I’m not in the least surprised by that statistic.
There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about the glamorous lives of theater producers. In reality, producing requires a massive amount of work, risk, and stress, and in the vast majority of cases, yields absolutely zero financial return. Broadway producing is not, I repeat, not a viable day job.
Let’s debunk a few myths together, shall we?
Myth: Theater producers have oodles of money.
Fact: Most great producers I know came out of the same “starving artist” ranks as the writers they are producing. Theater producers have to have access to money but that doesn’t mean they are rolling in it themselves.
When a show heads to Broadway, a producer can usually put together a compelling argument for potential investors. However, prior to Broadway, most producers end up spending tens of thousands of dollars of their own money in option payments (don’t get me started!), legal fees, developmental workshops, etc – all with no guarantee they’ll see a penny in return. This is where you hear stories of passionate producers taking out second mortgages and raiding their kid’s college funds only to have the show fizzle in out of town tryouts or festivals. Scary stuff.
Myth: When the show opens, the producer becomes rich and famous.
Fact: Whether the show opens at a regional theater or on Broadway, the writers will start getting royalty checks, notoriety, a rave review perhaps. What does the producer get for their investment of years and hard earned money, not to mention blood, sweat, and tears? Basically, nothing. You read that right. Their name is probably not in that rave review. They aren’t even the honored guests at the opening night party (in fact, they had to arrange and pay for that party). A producer doesn’t start taking home significant profits until the show recoups on Broadway… and less than 20% of shows ever recoup. That means at least 80% of the time Broadway producers DON’T GET PAID.
Myth: Producing a show is easy, writing a good musical is the hard part.
Fact: Good producers spend at least as much time and energy producing as writers spend writing the show. Uncountable hours go into raising money, finding venues, pitching the show to theaters/investors, haggling with writers over this or that script change, song change, logo possibility, director, etc. Not to mention marketing the show to its unique audience, watching daily and hourly box office reports, sitting in endless meetings and rehearsals, mediating the inevitable conflicts, and I’m simplifying here.
Myth: Once you are a Broadway producer, you can “quit your day job.”
Fact: Remember what I said about producers getting paid? Most producers have to work full time at other things to earn the money that they simultaneously spend on producing. According to producer David Stone, less than a dozen producers actually work full time and earn a real salary only as producers. And there are 40 Broadway theaters and a zillion off and off off, and off off off Broadway theaters packed with shows each night. You do the math.
Maybe someday Ken’s excellent research team will do a study on how much money the average Broadway writer, actor, musician or crew member makes on a Broadway show compared to the average Broadway producer. Or maybe TDF will commission a new report similar to their book, Outrageous Fortune, about the plight of the commercial producer.
As costs rise and recoupment statistics fall, it’s no wonder that smart, ambitious young people (most with college debt and NY rent due) aren’t flocking to sign up. Why would they choose to basically work for free?
Nevertheless, the 8% of us who have opted to throw in our lot with this crazy business are massively passionate, endlessly resourceful and entirely dedicated to this incredible art form. We do what we do for love, not money (though a paycheck sure wouldn’t hurt). We are grateful for the theater legacy that we are carrying on and we’re hopeful that there is a bright and beautiful future for Broadway. We thank you in advance for your continued support.