Theater Things That Don’t Make Sense Vol. 12: Quote this!

If you’re a Producer or a General Manager and you reach out to an agent to hire an actor, a director or any member of a creative team, you might often hear this comment after your first offer:

“Thank you, but that offer is too low.  NAME OF ARTIST’s quote is $XXX.”

This “quote” nomenclature refers to the highest payment that the artist received for a previous project. (Anyone else see the irony of me putting the word quote in quotes?)

Of course, an agent wants to get the most for their client, so with each project they try to drive the dollars higher and higher, establishing higher quotes that they never want to dip below again.  It’s a good system . . . for the agent.

But here’s why it doesn’t make sense.

You see, shows are like snowflakes.  Most of them disappear quick.  (Hehe.  Gotcha, didn’t I.)

Ok, bad jokes and cliches aside, no two Broadway shows are alike.  Their budgets vary by millions, their marketability varies, their casts vary, their Producers vary, and so on.  To try to say that one compensation package fits all just doesn’t work.  Should an actor or a director get paid the same on a limited run revival of a Pulitzer Prize winning play with Hugh Jackman as a controversial new play with an unknown cast that never had a regional tryout?

Sure, I get it.  The actor or director’s talent stays the same.  He’s bringing the same giant creative brain and body to the piece and that has value.  And it makes sense to try to establish that value like a stock price.

But unfortunately, it just doesn’t work, as some economic models are more fragile than others.  Riskier shows require more flexible compensation packages that still provide the artist the potential to make the same amount of “quote” dollars, but maybe after recoupment, (I’ve often offered flat fee bonuses at levels of recoupment to artists who dip below their “quotes” so they can get to where they want to get to, provided the show succeeds).

So when you’re negotiating with agents, and you hear the word, “quote,” find out what you can about the project that the quote is from, and compare and contrast your project with it.  How are you the same?  How are you different?  And use that to try and negotiate something that compensates your artist fairly, but works within your economic model.

Hopefully it’ll work out.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Some agents just want the “most” for their clients no matter what the project.  The best agents realize that the “most” doesn’t always just mean money.


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  • Jared says:

    While I appreciate how this can be frustrating to Ken as a producer, I feel like he’s trying to make an issue where one doesn’t exist.

    This is how salary negotiations work in every business. Whoever is hiring makes an offer, and the person being hired makes a (often inflated) counter-offer. After some back and forth where the parties discuss what each is getting out of the deal, they generally meet in the middle.

    If the project is appealing enough, it will attract the level of talent you want. Non-profits like Roundabout and Lincoln Center have no problem attracting names for what I am sure is far less than their typical “quote.” I would think a proactive producer would include some arguments about why the project is a good fit for the actor in their initial offer. And if actor X won’t work for what you can offer, find someone else. If there was only one person who could play each role theatre wouldn’t even be a thing.

  • Felicia says:

    “The best agents realize that the ‘most’ doesn’t always just mean money.”

    Hear, hear!

    Or even a lead or featured role. Had one actor I wanted for part of the ensemble cast, but his agent insisted on a lead role. He had a beautiful voice, but so did others in the ensemble. A very snobbish and myopic move on the part of the actor and his agent. As Jared (comment above) encourages, I “[found] someone else” who happily accepted the role, and was a delight to work with. And that actor actually ended up in a lead part when an opening arose in that same production. Not only that, but in the future who do you think I’ll call on first to see if he’s available for lead roles for his type and/or a job that would bring him more money?

  • Bob says:

    Just an FYI: “compare and contrast” is redundant. Webster’s definition of “compare” is “to look at (two or more things) closely in order to see what is similar or different about them or in order to decide which one is better.” So you don’t need to contrast something after you’ve already compared it — unless, of course, you want to REALLY emphasize the differences….

  • George Rady says:

    Oh – I’ll be far more brutal – Theatre (whether you like it or not) is a Business… an Actor or Director or Set Designer is worth “How many Butts can you put in seats”


    Anyone who does not realize this at their most sober moment is fooling themselves.

    My favorite was Ricky Martin – he stunk as “Che” in “Evite” but he brought our X hundred thousands fans… and – at the end of that X hundred thousand… it was over (and they probably won’t turn out again… because he stunk”) so there is your calculation of Total Revenue minus the cost of the Production = profit. And w/o “Ricky Martin” no one was screaming for a revival of “Evita”

    When I started to get my feet wet in this business they first thing that amazed me was an Actor of no known quality asking me how much the gig pays… Huh? How many people are coming to see you? 10? 20? as a Showcase that’s limited to $20 a ticket we are talking about $400 tops… against a very modest budget of $20K – so the question that “Sheldon” might well retort… how much are you paying me to be seen in what will be a money losing venture?

    I think the whole Federal/State Funding thing throws things out of wack – but that is going bye-bye soon… and it won’t be soon enough for for who want to make a business out of this… because that will deflate all the costs of production and lower the threshhold for actually turning a profit!

    And “agents” – why would anyone need an “agent” to skimm money off the top or over bid the talent??? If the actor brings value to the production (i.e. puts butts in seats…) or director brings in actors who etc – then that is a fairly easy figure to calculate… we do it in business all the time! And actors don’t even have to worry about having to compete with Offshore “talent” – well not in Live Theatre anyways.

    How ’bout this – if you are making more money doing something else – then by all means go do it – but this project is speculative – and until the production turns a profit – no one is “making money” everyone is trying to minimize “losing money” so – HOPE – like the people putting their money on the line that it all pans out and we can all laugh our way to the bank… eventually.

    I understand this is somewhat treasonous to whisper in the hallowed halls of the Great White Way (and provincial theatres across the nation) but it’s just the reality of it all.

    Wake up! Smell the coffee! And enjoy things while you can… because they are only going to get more and more difficult.






  • George Rady says:

    As “Sheldon” might say… “convenient”

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