How to cure Producer Paralysis: a lesson from the Non-Profits.

For the record, non-profit producing ain’t for me.

I’ve got a lot of respect for those that can do it well, because just the thought of asking for money from folks with no possibility of financial return, and sitting down at budget meetings and asking, “how much money are we going to lose on this?” makes me break out into hives upon hives.

I just don’t get it.

But there’s one Non-Profit Axiom that commercial and independent Producers both on and Off Broadway can learn from, and that’s this . . . No matter what happens with your current show, you’ve got to produce another one right behind it.

It’s so easy for Producers to get caught up in the failure of a show . . . so much so that I know a bunch of great Producers that just stopped producing, or don’t produce as often, because the fear that came with the flop gave them “producer paralysis.”

The benefit of non-profits producing (for your psyche anyway), is that they’ve committed to a season, or a bunch of seasons, or a mission statement . . . that they’ve got a motivating fire under their ass whether or not they just produced a smash or a fiasco.

So why not tell yourself, “I’m going to produce a show a year,” or “a show every couple of years.” The schedule doesn’t matter as long as it keeps you on track with what you want to accomplish in your career.

Now, I’m not suggesting you produce carelessly and that you just do shows because you read on my blog that you should just do shows. Dionysus only knows that there are a few non-profits in our fair New York City that have gotten a little out of control with the amount of content they are spitting out in relation to their audience size. But committing to a number or a schedule should motivate you to work harder to find a show that you love and that deserves to be produced. Keeping to your standards and on a schedule is a surefire way to success.

I know we’ve all felt a little producer paralysis at some point in our lives (remind me to tell you how I felt after producing 13 in the fall of 2008 when the economy went in the crapper) . . . so produce like a non-profit to cure it.


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  • Alexis Marnel says:

    13 years ago, non profit was hot and now and for the foreseeable future anyone in any type of non profit has to be very calculating and purposeful – which is how I am operating my non profit now and putting the energy into my for profit ventures. Ken, you are dead on right – non profit causes not just producer paralysis but teaching artist paralysis, payroll paralysis, sweats, hives, and any other stress related illness. THIS I KNOW. I prefer to work with foundations, councils, anybody offering rfps’ (hence the NEA grant I received) but let me tell you the work you have to do for the NEA and any govt grant , although prestigious is another form of stress. I have a nice resume thanks to some high profile grants I received, so yes, I am grateful. ON the flip side, I am waiting for 30,000.00 for a completed project. I dished out my own money to pay the bills, and now i’m waiting for a check that was supposedly sent otu a week ago. That’s another part of the non profit game – when the money will come. You are promised it, you have to go ahead with the project in order to receive it and then you sweat it out when they are sending the check.

    Now there are many people who will say ” non profit doesn’t mean no profit” and that used to be true, but now that is only true for a select few in NY and L.A….states like Washington, Oregon, Maine, New Jersey, any place where there are small cities/wealthy communities who enjoy being patrons of the arts are the ones who do well.

  • Sheila Sky says:

    I produce for a number of non-profit clients in Toronto (although I cut my teeth in the commercial theatre sector). I never have the luxury of budgeting a project at a loss. Not only would the funders cry fowl, but I must always turn at least a minor profit to meet ongoing overhead.

    Making the “ask” is also surprisingly similar. You are asking the investor/funder to participate in creating value. The value isn’t always dollars. It might be exposure (sponsorship) or some sort of feel-good sensation (which is what people who can tend to spend their money on anyway. Sometimes the feel-good sensation is about turning money into more money, but just as often, people invest in a show to create excitement or connection in their lives.

    The hives are universal too. They just come in different colours (in my case, determined by budget size rather than the for-profit/non-profit distinction).

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