Why Your Show Could Go Down In Flames Like Rebecca

Here's hoping Rebecca rises from the (financial) ashes and opens on Broadway.

I’ve been getting calls recently from people wanting to talk about the Rebecca debacle. Recent articles have also targeted A Christmas Story’s Broadway financing challenges. And anyone remember the Funny Girl revival last season? You might be asking yourself … these shows have been in the works for years, so why couldn’t these producers get their act together, so to speak?

It’s actually a wonder that this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. Here’s why…

The two biggest hurdles that you have to overcome as a producer once your show is ready to hit the big time is:

Raising Money & Booking a Theater

The trouble is, you can’t collect your millions of dollars of investment funds until you have a theater BUT you can’t get a theater until you have the money.

You are probably thinking that this catch-22 makes for an impossible situation. And to that I say, of course it is, that’s showbiz! So, as a producer, what do you do, you may ask?

The way it usually works is this…

You start priming your potential investors and co-producers to get them excited about writing a check.  You can’t actually collect the checks until you can provide the legal documents (offering papers) for your investors to sign over their funds. Offering papers can only be finalized once you have a theater and therefore a final budget. However,  different theaters have very different impacts on your final budget so you have take your best guess and start securing pledge funds.

Simultaneously, you start wooing the owners of the theaters, hoping that the current show in the theater you want will close soon. It’s not easy to convince the theater owners to rent you their coveted Broadway real estate and owners will frequently be in talks with more than one show so they are assured a profitable tenant. When an existing show starts showing low grosses, you can practically see the line of anxious producers circling.  There are 40 Broadway theaters; but, of those, there will only be a handful that are the right size/number of seats for your specific show. You’ll target your favorite theaters and assure the owners that you have a line of people waiting to hand over money for your musical the second you’re given a green light.

So now you have financial pledges and the promise of a theater but timing is everything and here’s where things get even more sticky…

Theater owners don’t like their theaters to sit empty. It’s expensive to own a theater and they can’t afford to be dark too long. When the previous show closes, and your show gets the keys, you generally have only a few short months to make a mad dash to get your offering papers out to your investors, collect your money, and get your show up on stage. Don’t forget that at this point you are focusing on casting, star schedules, sets, costumes, management, marketing, PR, etc. Critical fundraising, which makes all these other things possible, suddenly has to take a backseat.

As the Rebecca example has proven (and there are many similar examples), shows can wait a long time for a theater and it’s not uncommon for some of the pledged money to disappear for one reason or another when it comes time to write the check. A few investors will inevitably have moved on, or their financial situation changes or, in the case of Rebecca… they die! Investor attrition is part of the game and smart producers expect it. But when the clock is ticking and the show loses too much of its promised financing, it can make for some desperate situations and sometimes the only solution is to pull the plug and try again later.

To be clear, this situation wasn’t created to thwart producers – it’s just the reality of this business and part of playing the Broadway game. The stakes are high and the pressure is intense but the rewards of a hit are exceptional.

Under these tenuous, time sensitive circumstances, it’s no surprise that there are some casualties and not every show makes it to an opening night. So when you hear these stories, remember that, though it makes for good gossip, it’s not necessarily bad business. Any number of things can tip the balance along the journey.

To those who have succeeded in overcoming this balancing act and bringing the shows we know and love to Broadway, we salute you!

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