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Theater things that don’t make sense: Vol. 5. Regional theaters as authors.

The regional out-of-town tryout is a popular way to develop new works headed for Broadway, especially expensive musicals.

Shows like Jersey Boys, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Light In The Piazza, Color Purple and more, were all incubated out-of-town.

So how does this work?

Traditionally, Producers of shows with commercial dreams cut deals with these theaters to put them on their season.

The deal usually includes an up-front “enhancement” payment for line items that are above and beyond the regional theaters customary budget (most wouldn’t normally do musicals of such size and scope, so they may need costume help, additional sets, per diem for creatives, etc.).  This fee can easily be several hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more.  But, it makes sense that the Broadway producers would pay for it.

In addition to this fee, it is also customary that the theater gets a royalty, usually between 1 and 1.5%. (To put that in perspective, the minimum for an author of a musical (bookwriter, composer, etc.) according to the APC is 1.5%.)

This is what doesn’t make sense to me.

As producers we’re forgetting the incredible value we’re giving these theaters.  We’ve gotten desperate looking for development deals, and we’re giving away what little we have left of the store, before the store has even opened.

A world-premiere of a brand new musical on its way to Broadway is of tremendous value to a regional theater.  It brings audiences, subscriptions, fund raising opportunities, publicity, and more.  Think about it:  if you were the AD of a regional theater, what would you rather have . . . a self-produced revival of No, No, Nanette, or a brand-spankin’ new musical on its way to Broadway?  You’d pass on the “Tea For Two” in two seconds.

Yet not only do we enhance the production (making the show more attractive for the theater’s subscribers), we also pay them like they were an author for the rest of the run of the show?

It’s like someone inviting you to their house dinner.  You bring the wine, like a good guest should.  Yet, after you leave, they expect you to send them a bottle every week until you move away.

Yes, the development work done at regionals is crucial and at a lower cost, but it’s costing us too much to do it.  It seems that even the theater owners out of town have found a way to squeeze us content providers.

The good news is that there are almost 2,000 regional theaters around the country.  We just have to do the work to find the ones that want us, instead of the ones that just want to make money off us.