Is it ever ok to go over budget?

A reader from out west emailed me yesterday with a question about a production of a play he was putting up at his brand new theater company.

This reader obviously knows that I’m a big stickler about keeping expenses in line, and he emailed me concerned because he was on a tight budget, and he was faced with an unforeseen expense that hadn’t been budgeted.  However, he thought this additional expense could improve the play.

“But I shouldn’t do it, right?  I have to keep to my budget,” he asked.

Producers have to ask themselves questions like these every day.  It’s why there is an art to what we do.

Here’s what I think about budgets:

Budgets are blueprints.  They are paper plans for building a project.  You need those plans in order to make sure your project is strong, stable and sustainable.

But here’s the thing that I learned when I had my apartment renovated a few years ago.

My contractor and I had plans.  We had drawings.  We had blueprints.  While we were going over those plans one day, my contractor said, “So this is what we’re going to try and do.  Now, Ken, you do realize that once we start breaking down those walls, all of this may change, because we have no idea what we’re going to find in there.”

He was right.  Once we started breaking down the walls, we found electrical cable and pipes that weren’t ever considered when my plans were drawn up.

What did we do?  We made adjustments accordingly.  I even added a couple of things that ended up being major improvements.

Once you start the practical part of building your show, things are going to change.  Some things you may have contemplated.  Others maybe you haven’t.  As a Producer, you need to judge each one on a case-by-case basis and decide accordingly.

So my Western friend, if you think this overage is going to better your play, which will then better the audience’s experience, which should then better your bottom line, I say go for it.

Because a budget isn’t a spreadsheet in stone.

One more budget tip:  I’ve always found that Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are most likely to go over budget during tech and previews.  Producers get the most requests for monies during these last few weeks: requests for new scenery, more rehearsals, etc.  No Producer ever wants to say no during this period, because 99% of the requests are warranted and would better the show.

So what do you do to make sure you don’t have to say no?

I purposely try and come way under budget before we get into the last few weeks of rehearsal and tech.  This way, no matter what request I get, I can almost always say yes.  I even tell directors, designers, etc. this in the weeks, months, and years, prior to tech.  I say, “I’m sorry I can’t give you this now, but that’s because I know you’re going to want something more important much later, and I don’t want to have to say no.”

It works.


Want to see an actual Broadway budget?  Click here!

  • Alice says:

    Something I’ve learned from budgeting shows is that there are almost always unpredicted expenses. A budget that actually predicts the costs of a show is rare. This is why it’s good to budget for unforeseen “Surprise” expenses.

  • Hans Beffen says:

    To budget for unforeseen surprise expenses is a good idea, but normally doesn’t work out, due to the fact that the unforeseen factor is often estimated to low by procect planners…

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