Theater Things That Don’t Make Sense Vol. 12: Quote this!

If you’re a Producer or a General Manager and you reach out to an agent to hire an actor, a director or any member of a creative team, you might often hear this comment after your first offer:

“Thank you, but that offer is too low.  NAME OF ARTIST’s quote is $XXX.”

This “quote” nomenclature refers to the highest payment that the artist received for a previous project. (Anyone else see the irony of me putting the word quote in quotes?)

Of course, an agent wants to get the most for their client, so with each project they try to drive the dollars higher and higher, establishing higher quotes that they never want to dip below again.  It’s a good system . . . for the agent.

But here’s why it doesn’t make sense.

You see, shows are like snowflakes.  Most of them disappear quick.  (Hehe.  Gotcha, didn’t I.)

Ok, bad jokes and cliches aside, no two Broadway shows are alike.  Their budgets vary by millions, their marketability varies, their casts vary, their Producers vary, and so on.  To try to say that one compensation package fits all just doesn’t work.  Should an actor or a director get paid the same on a limited run revival of a Pulitzer Prize winning play with Hugh Jackman as a controversial new play with an unknown cast that never had a regional tryout?

Sure, I get it.  The actor or director’s talent stays the same.  He’s bringing the same giant creative brain and body to the piece and that has value.  And it makes sense to try to establish that value like a stock price.

But unfortunately, it just doesn’t work, as some economic models are more fragile than others.  Riskier shows require more flexible compensation packages that still provide the artist the potential to make the same amount of “quote” dollars, but maybe after recoupment, (I’ve often offered flat fee bonuses at levels of recoupment to artists who dip below their “quotes” so they can get to where they want to get to, provided the show succeeds).

So when you’re negotiating with agents, and you hear the word, “quote,” find out what you can about the project that the quote is from, and compare and contrast your project with it.  How are you the same?  How are you different?  And use that to try and negotiate something that compensates your artist fairly, but works within your economic model.

Hopefully it’ll work out.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Some agents just want the “most” for their clients no matter what the project.  The best agents realize that the “most” doesn’t always just mean money.


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