The Most Performed Play in High Schools – a follow up.

Yesterday, I listed the ETA’s most performed plays and musicals in high schools.

What surprised so many people about this list was that the play that topped even Shakespeare for the number one slot was Almost Maine, a play by the Maine-bred, very talented and oft seen on Law & Order, John Cariani.

The NY Times even wrote an article about the Maine phenomenon.

What is so special about this play being the most performed high school play in the US?

Well, for starters, you’ve probably never heard of it . . . because it flopped Off-Broadway in 2006 after running for only 67 performances.

As the NY Times article details, it lost its entire $800,000 investment.

What the NY Times article did not say was how much of that investment had been recouped since the play has become the most performed high school play in the US.

The article did say that Maine has done well for the author, which is fantastic news, because I’m a fan of John’s and hope that he writes another play soon.

But those author royalties would be buptkus if it weren’t for the original investors and if it weren’t for the original Producer (who, if this is a traditional agreement, won’t see any money until after the show recoups . . . if it recoups).

It’s great that the play has been able to support John over the years, and I hope it continues to do so.  But there has got to be a way that these plays that flop in NYC but have long lives elsewhere can provide some support to the Producers, while at the same time returning as much money to the investors as possible.

The goal of the subsidiary royalty revenue stream for authors is to keep them writing, so they aren’t forced to take a day job.

Shouldn’t there be something similar for the Producer?  Wouldn’t that allow the Producer to produce more often, just like it allows the author to write more often?  And shouldn’t they receive something for launching the project in the first place?

There doesn’t have to be something similar, obviously.  Because there isn’t one.

But that may also be why the crop of career Producers is so small.

Read Almost Maine here.  See what all the high schools are fussing about, and support a new playwright (and hopefully a Producer) in the process.

Read the other 9 most produced plays and musical in high schools by clicking here.

  • Ralph Sevush says:

    I’m not sure what Ken is talking about, since, in a standard off-Broadway deal, the original producer of ALMOST MAINE (which includes the original investors and the managing partners) are taking around 40% of the author’s future revenues. Is that insufficient for “launching the project”? Really? For making a flop out of a play that clearly had an audience? What would be sufficient, Ken? 50%? 75% 100% of the authors revenue, until the original producer has “recouped”? Why? Because, in the view of producers, financial capital is important and creative capital is secondary, if its regarded at all.
    Ken, producers take “producer’s risk”… the risk of capital. Authors take “author’s risk”… the risk of becoming artists (rather than producers, for example), and writing plays and musicals that others may never even read, much less produce, with only a miniscule chance of ever paying off in a way that will allow authors to put braces on their kids’ teeth. So, the continued attempts by producers to shift their risk (the risk of capital) onto the artists, especially authors (through profit pools, amortization, extended sub rights, expanded foreign rights, etc), is appalling and, frankly, immoral.
    By the way, An off-Broadway “flop” may have paid the author NOTHING for the years it took him/her to write the show, with only a token amount paid as an option or advance, when it goes into rehearsal. And, during the run of the show, the author may have received less than a stagehand or actor, while the managing producer may have pocketed various amounts (fees, accruals, cash office charges, royalties, amortization factors, rentals, etc), in addition to its 40% take of the author’s future revenues from the show. And while investors may be getting screwed by their managing producers in this way, they’re in a very big boat… Mr. Davenport’s self-serving claims not withstanding.
    Ultimately, I think that Ken’s real complaint is about what managing producers have to pay these days to their investors. But expecting the author, who is the most vulnerable party in this enterprise, to make up for what managers now agree to give their investors, is just grotesque.

  • You say, “the original producer of ALMOST MAINE (which includes the original investors and the managing partners) are taking around 40% of the author’s future revenues.”
    And if the show hasn’t recouped, 100% of that 40% money goes to pay back the investors. And the Producer receives nothing.
    That’s what seems odd to me.
    One solution to encourage a new generation of smart producers that can make a career out of it would be for a producer to skim off the top of that 40%, and leave the authors’ 60% intact. The only issue there is that this further increases the risk for an investor at a time when get money for a show, especially an off-broadway show is very difficult. It’s a tough situation. How do we keep authors compensated at the highest rates possible to keep them writing, while keep growing our investor base?
    If Almost Maine or any of the other hundreds of off-broadway shows that failed had actually recouped, might more investors be inclined to put more money in shows and thereby employ more of your writers?

  • Jack Thomas says:

    Perhaps I can clarify the situation under discussion here, since I am the actual producer of ALMOST, MAINE. The show has come nowhere near re-couping its original investment. Trust me – we’re a long way from being in the black.
    In point of fact, the show didn’t actually run long enough to vest at the full 40% share to the investors, so they receive 30% of the author’s earnings.
    Thanks for chastising me so sharply, Mr. Sevush for “making a flop out of a show that clearly had an audience,” since you know so little of the circumstances. I guess we’ll overlook the transit strike in our first week of previews, and a so-so review in the New York Times. We’ll overlook 3 snowstorms that paralyzed the city, including our final weekend.
    In fact, my partner and I have earned nothing from ALMOST, MAINE in 6+ years that I have worked to promote the show – raising money, mounting the production, and subsequently promoting it to regional theatres in hopes of recovering some of the investors’ money. The $100 weekly office fee, all of the money I was scheduled to receive prior to recoupment, was waived almost immediately upon performances beginning. Everyone, from general managers to designers to the ad agency, pitched in to help this little show try and make a go of it. I was and remain tremendously proud of our team, who gave heart and soul – and no one did it for the money. I think you would find that this is characteristic of almost every Off-Broadway show, where money is virtually always in short supply, and all of the talent is being paid less than they deserve.
    My objective was not to screw the author out of huge sums; John’s subsequent royalties he has rightfully earned by his craft.
    But let us be clear here: John and his agent agreed to the terms so that we could – together – try our best to launch the show in New York. Our best efforts did not succeed – and we all knew that was the risk, and the likely outcome.
    In fact, John has very kindly offered to extend the royalty agreement, so that the investors have several additional years in which to try and recover against their losses. This is not the action of an artist who felt screwed by his deal; he could have refused the extension.
    In no other line of business is someone who works for years expected to make no money. Documentary film makers, producers of flop films, those who create and sell TV shows which disappear after 3 weeks on the air – they get paid for their professional services. Yes, we take a “producer’s risk,” but does that genuinely mean to you that our services are worth nothing?
    I love and admire this show, and I respect and admire author John Cariani. Despite the show’s hardship, we remain close personal friends. I went to Maine to see his latest play, LAST GAS, and am actively promoting a partnership with New York non-profits to create a New York debut for it. I am not being paid for this effort; I am doing this because I believe in John, his work, and the future of this play.
    One final point – in my next project, I did indeed put a “producer’s fee” so that I could earn some money. This fee, which is fully disclosed to the investors, is $10,000 for what will likely be somewhat under a year’s work. I hope you will not begrudge this sum; my investors do not.
    Happy Holidays.
    Jack Thomas
    Producer, Bulldog Theatrical

  • Rick Culbertson says:

    Yes! You have said this a few times and I wholeheartedly agree.
    Here is what I have always thought would be fair:
    The producer, book writer, lyricist, and composer (generally) all take a 2% royalty, which makes them even. Therefore, when the show is available to licensing, each should take 25% of the overall author share of the licensing income while the show is still recouping its original investment. This would continue until the investors have recouped and the producer is paid out of the producer/investor profits like normal.
    Here is the catch; the producer then has to pay back to the authors all of the money he/she made from licensing revenue before the show recouped, plus 50%. The producer would pay this out of 50% of his producer/investor profit income.
    It sort of works like an advance in reverse. If the show ends up becoming a huge hit, the authors would actually make more this way, but if it dribbles on for years the producer at least see a little income based on his “value added” to the show.
    I am sure that there are a million reasons why authors would never agree to this (in Ken’s comment above, I don’t know if he would agree with this). But if we want more shows produced, we have to retain good producers AND investors. Making it even harder for investors to recoup will make it even harder for them to invest to make it happen in the first place.

  • says:

    Full-length plays that we had rehearsed before Covid-19 started (we didn’t manage to perform them, however, now it’s possible with social distancing):
    She Kills Monsters
    Twelve Angry Jurors

    As for musicals, the most popular one was The Addams Family and we did it online! Kids played their roles exclussively well and we managed to create a screen effect: each part of the screen was taken by one of four main members.

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