The future “Under Forty” Producers – Are there any?

We’ve all known that we’ve been losing writers to Hollywood for years.  And actors, well duh.  Every Broadway actor I know fights tooth and toe-nail for a TV/Film out in their Broadway contracts.  Yep, land the big gig and then look for a way to leave.  Can’t blame them, but it sucks for us nonetheless.

But what about Producers?  As the costs and risks increase, and as it becomes more and more challenging to make shows happen, will we have enough Producers tomorrow to make sure that Broadway remains as “healthy” as it is today?

As someone who, just today actually, finally tip-toed over into his fourth decade, I’m concerned that we don’t have enough folks under 40 doing shows now, which could jeopardize how full our theaters are in 20 years or so.

So, I decided to analyze the age demographics of the Broadway League.  I looked at all the members who classified themselves as Producers and using my own knowledge of who’s-who plus a little help from the Google machine, I figured out a rough percentage of those Producers working today who are under forty years of age (with a margin of error of course, but I think it’s close enough).

The answer?

About 8%

Eek.

Now, granted, a lot of folks come into Producing for the theater later in life, when they have more disposable income, know more people with disposable income, etc.  But still.  While I lack the data of how many Under 40s there were a decade ago, I have a hunch we’re losing ground.

And that means we need to take some serious steps to train new young Producers, and welcome them to the business with open arms.  Because you know who loses if there aren’t as many Producers tomorrow as there are today?

The audiences, of course.

But without a new crop of Producers coming up through the ranks, who will hire the writers?  Who will rent the theaters?  Who will buy the billboards?  Who will pay the stagehands?

Vendors and Agents and Owners and Unions and all of us should remember . . . the theater industry is a long term game.  We should do our best to make sure we are encouraging young people to take risks in our industry, so that we can all see the rewards.

 

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Comments
  • Doug says:

    Happy birthday Ken!

  • Alex DiClaudio says:

    Ken, you’re absolutely right, I agree wholeheartedly, especially because I’m under 30 and just became an Associate Producer for a Broadway show for the first time! This game definitely is hard for a young guy, but it’s been terrifically rewarding so far, and the show hasn’t even started previews yet.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Oh man Ken, you hit the nail on the head! I moved to the city two months ago to start my Producing career and I am lost. It’s incredibly hard when you don’t have a network, NYC knowledge, or disposable income. People always recommend that you intern to gain knowledge, but without a full time day job, I will NOT be in this city long! It would be great if there was some kind of mentor program at night that matched seasoned vets with young producers!

  • And here I thought you were creeping into your third decade 🙂

  • Donald Smith says:

    I appreciate this post and agree with you wholeheartedly Ken. I first want to thank you for taking the time out to do ALL that you do. It shows a lack of selfishness and a great deal of humility and care on your part. Salute to you! I remember simply taking advantage of professional networking outlets such as LinkedIn and joining many theatre related groups and introducing myself to several Broadway producers. I can count on one hand the amount who actually took the time out to show me support, direct or guide me to resources as Broadway producing has always been apart of my career path.

    But the amount was very few. And one in particular who I won’t bother to name actually responded to my inquiries on advice with such attitude that it turned me off from reaching out to others. I think that you are right. Producers under 40 do need to be lent a hand in grooming/training. I always thought the greatest thing about theatre was the collaboration but many of us have become some competitive and money hungry that we forget that we all have to start from somewhere.

    I know that not everyone has the time to produce a show for an emerging producer but at the end of the day, if someone is reaching out to you and you’ve been through the process already and they have not yet gotten to where you are, it doesn’t hurt to give them some advice or pointers or just simply direct them to some useful resources.

    Salute to Ken Davenport for everything he does and is doing! It will never be forgotten by this young, local Philly director/producer!

  • Cathie says:

    Happy B-Day! You may be over 40 now, but you are still the light of the world!

  • Erika Jenko says:

    Completely agree, Ken. And I’m right there with Alex on his comment. I lived in Cali my whole life before moving to Idaho earlier this year to save money before moving to NYC by the end of the year. I’m motivated and driven and had the opportunity to produce a play that I wrote and directed in various venues in Cali. As much as I research and prepare for NYC to produce my play there, I still feel lost without a network in NYC. The truth is, you still need a full-time job, yet it has to be a job that will put you in that network so that you can meet the right people. I hustle and with every ‘no,’ I’m one step closer to the ‘yes.’ All the same, it’s a scary world for someone brand new to town who is looking for a way to make it happen.

  • Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    Let me be the thousandth person to wish you a very happy birthday! Mostly, I just lurk. But I read your blog faithfully, and it really is an education. Thanks.

  • Debi Coleman says:

    Hello Ken,
    Debi Coleman from Portland, OR here. As always, your column is intriguing and thought-provoking. Some day soon I hope to have along discussion about what I believe to be one of the most incredible period of playwriting in the English-speaking world, but for now let me just reply to the current question.
    I believe Brisa Trinchero to be the finest producer of her (young) generation. She runs a new musical lab called Running Deer in Washington state; co-produces with Corey Brunish in several Broadway shows; has a similar blog on musical theater (Make Musicals Inc.; and has been very involved in the Village Theater New Musical Festival each summer. This is just the start…watch for great results in the future…

  • Lynn A. says:

    Well this post is long over due!! and not just for anyone under 40 (which I’m not) but anyone wanting to venture into producing for the theater.(which I am for the first time)
    I’m new to it – and have been navigating it for the last 8 months on my own. (getting into festivals, setting up readings, finding studio space, setting up rehearsals, finding actors, musicians, reading equity rules, etc, etc)

    Now I’m a good networker and ask questions, but no one really told me about these – if you do the research there are places and companies that are helping, but I do think in theater its harder to find these:
    CTI – Commercial Theater Institute – they offer great workshops – yes you have to pay but you will be in the room with ‘real’ producers and creative like minded folks…a wealth of information. get their book.

    Ken Davenport Studios – your workshops are offered in a small environment and special attention. Yes you have to pay for them. but not expensive. Also you provide consulting options.

    TRU – Theater Resources Unlimited – really cheap for a annual membership – and good panels. Monthly meeting, monthly newsletter (not bad for $75 a year).

    The O’Neil Center – workshops/summer conference – check out their website…

    There are also theater festivals, free readings, free panels all throughout the city…you just have to find it.

    If there were even more of this – workshops, seminars, panels offered at night and the weekends and producers/mentors to let us know – then you WILL have your next theater producers!! hope it helps.

  • Rick McKay says:

    Bravo for taking on this subject. It has been an issue which has concerned me greatly and which I am dealing with in the third part of my Broadway film trilogy. Even I was surprised however at that 8% number you discovered. I am not sure what the answer is yet – but I’m very happy that you’re starting a dialogue about it. Keep up the good work on your site – it is inspiring creative and professional conversation among people in business, and that is always a good thing!

    Rick McKay, producer/Director “Broadway: The Golden Age”

  • Sue says:

    Hello Ken, you are fully in your fifth decade. You have COMPLETED four decades. I think.

  • Rick Knight says:

    As I have been beating the bushes for an Executive Producer (I feel like Margaret Mead!), I’m noticing that older producers with money (in their 60s and 70s) seem to be much like their rock-and-roll counterparts, stuck in the pivotal decade of their glory days and thinking music and their preferred genre should be rightfully stuck there as well.

    What’s crucially missing from Broadway and what could ultimately make it go the route of Eastman Kodak one day is current relevance. The motifs, the staging, the song stylings, the stalwart unions, the theater management and the deals struck all seem woefully outdated. Their best effort at tiered marketing comes from souvenir apparel, glossy programs and maybe a CD cast recording or two (while our cars, computers and stereo gear still are equipped with such).

    When was the last time an actual song from a Broadway show was covered by a group or artist and did well on the pop charts? Quite a while. I’m thinking probably “All I Ask of You” or “Memory” via Barbra Streisand, the only one that could still pull it off. While cast recordings from Wicked and Book of Mormon chart, their songs are not familiar outside the world of Broadway. But anyone who is a Beatles fan knows “Til There Was You” (even if they might not know it wasn’t written by them and was from “The Music Man”). “Send in the Clowns” was covered by numerous recording artists. Even Michal Bublé, the erstwhile easy-listening vocalist du jour, doesn’t record Broadway songs on his albums, much less release them as singles. Why. Is. This?

    I believe show tunes no longer traverse well into the adult contemporary medium. And yet, in so many TV shows now popular on all the broadcast networks as well as the premium cable networks, new artists’ music is heard, sometimes even covering classic songs (recently heard at the end of the 9th episode of “The Newsroom” was a new cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (written by Carole King, made famous by the Shirelles in 1960, charted again by Carole King in 1970, and covered by Amy Winehouse most recently in 2007). Maybe you can make back a show investment with a nostalgic jukebox musical *about* The Shirelles but you don’t chart with it and you don’t reach past the borders of The Great White Way into the masses with it. And to my mind, in the Broadcast, er… Internet Agw, id you can’t extend your story past the brick and mortar of the physical theater, you’re reaching a limited number of people.

  • Happy Birthday, Ken. And many thanks for all the posts past…and for all those to come. Cheers, jan

  • As a young Off-Broadway producer (I’ve helmed two full Off-Broadway shows and founded the West Village Musical Theatre Festival), I can say that the prospects are grim at best. Most producers I know (myself included) usually get into the racket to help launch a project that we have some artistic stock in… frankly because we are too afraid to ask other people for help. And notice I emphasized “Off-Broadway” producer. Current market conditions, union rules and a host of mitigating factors make it difficult to finance a show. What’s worse is the growing disperity between what is “commercially viable” (on even a Vegas-chance’s scale) and what is a development project.

    I happen to own a small school in midtown and a Non-profit theatre company. Those have been small sources of funding, but often I’ve found myself teaching lessons round-the-clock to fund costumes and that extra musician we just “gotta have.” But that really limits you to a small size production at best. Any large-scale producer knows the value of salesmanship. The successful world-class musical is a “Hail Mary” pass at best anymore, and while there are certainly spoils to be had (e.g., people liken the initial investors of Wicked to those of Google when it first went public), we find ourselves in a world where the market demographic study is mightier than the music.

    It’s tough out there, Ken! If more young producers would come together and pool resources, we might have a chance. There certainly needs to be more mentorship (I’m sure you enjoyed the HOST of commercial Broadway production classes you took at Tisch… oh wait…)

    Personally, I tell my students to get involved in pooling their resources and self-producing just to learn what the game is like. And while I don’t have an answer to your question, I’m certainly hopeful that a game change is on the horizon.

    – Patrick Michael Wickham

  • Though I read your blog regularly, This is my first time commenting. First I want to thank you for all the information and ideas you share. As several people have already commented, there aren’t a lot of people who take the time to share their knowledge and experience with those of us new to producing. I am based in L.A. , and have tried my hand at producing with Celebration Theatre (The West Coast premiere of Joe DiPietro’s F*cking Men, and World Premiere of an original musical, The Next Fairy Tale by Brian Pugach) Fortunately for me, often there is funding already in place, though we have also reached out through Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money. Though both productions were very successful, being in non-profit theatre, the reward is more in experience than in personal finance.
    Your blog is read by most of our company members who, like me, are new to being on the other side of a production. Thanks again, and Happy Birthday!

  • Kevin Meoak says:

    First time commenting too! I love reading your blog and learn so much. As someone who is just finishing that first NYC show (LoveSick at FringeNYC), I’ve learned a lot and regularly produce in Los Angeles under micro-budget conditions. The real issue is having access to a network of seasoned producers to mentor and help provide capital. I think the new crowd funding laws are going to be a great help, but I’d love to see an exclusive website to help pair seasoned producers with young producers representing great projects.

  • A Contrarian says:

    40 is the new 15.

  • From 29-40, I produced & directed the US Premiere of Edward Bond’s plays STONE (my debut),DEREK at Lincoln Center, Sophocles’ THE WOMEN OF TRACHIS in NYC and Foundation Theatre, AWAY ALONE @ Irish Arts Center; SACCO & VANZETTI, and Thomas Kilroy’s Irish version of THE SEAGULL as a few examples. These included 5 mini-grants from the NYTimes Company Foundation, and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s THE CENCI (that almost killed me too) on a budget of less than $4,000.

  • Tom Atkins says:

    Speaking with a London perspective, I feel there are many young producers in the 18-24 bracket presenting theatre in small spaces, at festivals etc. It is more difficult to progress to “the next level” as it were and I know that many of my colleagues simply stop. They move to another industry where their skill set attracts more than twice the salary anyone can expect in theatre, and have more spare time for enjoying life. Frankly, at this level, the benefits of producing do not outweigh the time, effort, and financial stress of it all so why would you do it to yourself? That’s why we see a big drop out after the university years (particularly as those years often provide a safety net which doesn’t exist afterwards) and then very few go on to maintain a career as a producer without leaving and coming back later. There are some great organisations, like Stage One, working to counter this but we need to work closer with the world of start-up businesses which the UK government seems to push and support pretty consistently.

  • Brady Amoon says:

    Happy Birthday Ken! You’re an inspiration to us all.

  • Minders says:

    At 30 years old and relatively new to the commercial producing game, I am just joining with that 8% now.

    To get started as a commercial producer, you need the following things:
    * Personal Financial security / regular income
    * A network of potential investors (the 1%-ers)
    * A network of industry professionals
    * Experience

    I think what we’re encountering is a generational issue that is holding us back. Young people are taking much longer to find their own financial security. They are relying on their parents very heavily until 30 years of age (or older!). They aren’t settling down into a stable job that lasts years, but rather, are switching jobs multiple times over the course of ten years. Rising costs in NYC make being an artist here harder than ever, which makes taking an internship (or if you’re lucky enough to get it — a low paying job) with a commercial producer very difficult. Thus, unless you’re born into a trust fund (or at least a comfortable fund), you are likely to start out in the world without the financial stability that is so key to success as a producer.

    As for a network of potential investors, that is indeed hard to come by for anyone! It’s even more difficult if you do not hail from a community of accredited investors through family or friends. If you are born from a community of struggling artists, you have to break out of that community to reach into a different class and culture of people. It’s a skill that, indeed, must be taught. Most young producers don’t have a clue where to even begin in finding that network. “I don’t know those people,” is something I’ve heard (and said) a million times. But, you meet those people and you seek them out, and the road to the 1% becomes less rocky the further you walk along it.

    The network of industry professionals is often the first thing that young producers have. On average, it takes two years to build an industry network in any city. Simply doing work and taking the time to meet people allows you to create the foundation of human capital that will allow you to succeed creatively and as a business. This is actually the easiest of the needs to achieve.

    Experience is something that can be gained in nonprofit theatres around the country. But, you don’t know what you don’t know, and the non-profit world can only take you so far in learning how to produce. When it comes to legal issues, investors, and financials, finding a partnership (not just an internship) with a seasoned commercial producer is the best way to learn the craft. You’ll learn through practice and be able to bounce ideas off your partner and gain the benefit of their wisdom.

    So, how do we bridge this age gap — provide the experience, network and financial security necessary to usher in a new generation of producers?

    One way would be for the Broadway League to embrace the mission of StageOne in London. This wonderful program is dedicated to supporting new producers in the UK. They offer practical and financial support via grants, apprenticeships, investment funds, and investment and a structured training programs for new producers. Applicants can receive grants to sustain them for a year as well as 10K+ to invest in their first production. Imagine what could happen we supported new producers in America the way they’re supported in the UK?

  • Hermann the German says:

    Ken, this time you are right. We had the same problem over here in Germany – and can experience the outcomes today: shrinking audiences which seem to have become a bit über-mature, being served by a handful of remaining producers of the same age, young people seldomly seen on both sides of the curtain. Without the (also shrinking) german system of subsidies, there would not be a theater anymore outside the major cities.

  • Heading to Central School of Speech & Drama this fall for an MFA in Creative Producing. Will come back to the US and make theatre happen in New Orleans!

  • Young producers need look no further than the independent theater community for work and experience. In New York City there are hundreds of artists who self-produce their own work while simultaneously taking on multiple combinations of the responsibilities assigned to playwright/director/actor/designer. My advice is to go see the cheap shows, the AEA showcases, and the multiple readings offered at development workshops year-round. Attach yourself to scripts or people that inspire you and get crackin’. We self-producers need people like you!

  • Kim says:

    Someone who has been instrumental in helping me produce my first play is Molly Pearson in NYC. She is Co-Artistic Director of Partial Comfort Productions and Producer with Table Ten Films. Without her mentorship I would have stopped this challenging process months ago. She is the real deal and cares so much for her clients. I have found many amazing people in her workshops and we’ve often leaned on each other for support. This is her website: http://produceyourownwork.com/

  • Marc says:

    Ken-welcome to your 5th decade of life-happy belated birthday!!

  • Benjamin says:

    As a recent graduate who just moved to NYC, I think this is true of most careers. It is incredibly hard to make headway as a young professional given the need for a decent, if not large, disposable income to network, invest, and further education and opportunities. I would like to further echo the sentiment that evening and weekend seminars and classes would be incredibly helpful! I have only recently determined that I truly want to pursue a career with the theater – unfortunately I have very little professional experience – or any experience outside of a few plays in high school – with theater, despite my passion for it. This makes it doubly hard to get a foot in the door, but resources like this blog are amazing finds! Are there any mentoring programs out there to help put the knowledge gleaned from these seminars, articles, etc… into action?

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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