Risky Business: The Musical

Don’t underestimate the impact that your collaborators’ risk tolerance can have on your new musical.

Making musicals is a risky business. We risk our time, our money, our reputation, and sometimes what feels like our sanity to get a show off the ground. A lot of people have to take a lot of risks to create a show. And not just to create a successful show. A lot of people have to put time, money and ego into shows that turn out to be unsuccessful.

However, the amount of risk on any given theater project varies greatly from person to person.

For example, say a writing team and a producer are working on a new musical. One writer may be able to take a month off to take advantage of a valuable residency to work on the piece, whereas another writer may be putting his job or family life in jeopardy if he goes away for an extended period.

One producer may find it easy to write a $50,000 check to pay for a demo recording while another would have to take out a second mortgage.

Risk tolerance also varies from person to person. It may turn out that same writer is, in fact, willing to risk a day job in hopes the musical will make it worth while someday. A producer may be willing to put it all on the line.

What’s important here, is to not underestimate the impact of risk.

The conversation between writers and producers tends to be: “What next steps make sense for a show?” When the real question should be: “What next steps make sense for the team?”

A writer’s retreat, no matter how fabulous, doesn’t make sense as a next step for writers who can’t get away. An expensive reading or demo doesn’t make sense for producers who are working on a shoestring budget.

The truth is, there’s no formula for creating the perfect musical. But what I can tell you without a doubt is: if it doesn’t make sense for the players, it doesn’t make sense for the play.



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