Wear the right sized clothes.

A playwright came to me recently for a consultation.  She had a play she was looking to get produced Off-Broadway.

She asked a number of questions regarding budget, theater, marketing plan, etc.

When I told her that her pitch sounded like a Broadway play that was going to cost around 2.5 million bucks, she freaked out.

“Wow,” she said, “That’s expensive.  Ok, so that’s why I’m here. What can I do to make my play smaller?”

Because I’ve done a few small shows, and because I preach keeping budgets lean, I think she expected me to recommend cutting 4 characters, putting the show on a unit set, cutting the live music she wanted, etc.

But I didn’t recommend that at all.

Yes, I told her, we could probably tighten some areas up, and we could go through the budget line by line to make sure there wasn’t any fat, etc.  But my first question was, “Will you be able to tell the same story you want to tell without those 4 characters, and without those three locations?”

“No, it would be really different.” she said.

“Then why do you want to cut it?”

“Well, I’ve got to get it so it makes sense Off-Broadway.  Isn’t that what you do?”

That’s actually not what I do.   The three Off-Broadway shows that I did were Off-Broadway ideas, which is why they are where they are.

If your show demands a larger stage, then give it the stage it deserves.  Don’t give it more than it deserves, but you can’t shortchange it either. You have to let it be what it’s going to be.

Let me put it this way . . .

Have you ever seen someone wearing an extra small t-shirt, that should NOT be wearing an extra small t-shirt?

It looked just all wrong, didn’t it?

The same thing applies to producing.  Don’t squeeze your big show on to a small stage with a baby budget.

  • Becky G says:

    If that’s the case, then what do you do with a Broadway-fitted musical when you don’t have the funds or the accolades to bring it to Broadway yet?

  • You go regional, community, or amateur. That way you get the people you need at a lower rate (or free) and your local theatre gets to tout a premiere. If it goes well, there’s the accolades to stick on your proposal.
    Case in point? There’s a musical here in the UK which has been doing just that for over 30 years of unsatisfactory development. I saw it about a month ago with a cast of 25 getting paid on expenses. Sure it wasn’t particularly flash, but it was competently staged and I was able to follow it even if half the people around me weren’t. (Link: http://www.makebelievethemusical.com/ )
    One of the good things about being in the UK is that we also have tours that may go to the West End, but it’s not the priority. You can do a West End scale show without having to go into the West End, and if it sells well or gets acclaimed you can bring it in for a limited (or ongoing) engagement. If it sells OK, you can put it in mothballs for a year so that people remember it fondly when you bring it out again. Cheaper than the West End as well.

  • You then also need producers to admit when the opposite is true: when you have a project that’s suited for off-Broadway but force it onto the main stem, you end up with a disaster. (See under: Story of My Life, Glory Days.)

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