How long should your preview period be?

One of the first things that Broadway Producers have to decide when a show gets green-lit is their schedule.

I often work backwards.  When do I want the show to open?  Once I have that date, I count back the number of weeks of previews that I want.  Then I count back the number of weeks of rehearsal I want.  Then I count back the scenic build start date, the advertising campaign start date, the date I start double therapy sessions per week and so on.

See how that works?

But wait . . . those preview performances . . . how do I and other Broadway Producers decide how long that should be?

It seems arbitrary, doesn’t it?

Some shows preview for two weeks, some for five, and there was one show that just previewed forever and never officially opened (they thought they could avoid reviewers that way).

But it’s anything but.

First, let’s define what previews are.  Preview performances are public performances in front of a (hopefully) paying audience, that are not subject to review by the official press (bloggers and tweeters and the like can have at it, obviously).

Preview performances allow the creative team and the Producers to make changes to the show based on how the audience is responding (and their own gut, of course), before officially opening.  (Read this blog to hear why I think this is what defines a great creative team.)

Although there are a lot factors that influence the length of a preview period, I ask myself two questions to help determine the length of my preview periods:

1.  CAN YOU SPARE SOME CHANGE?

So, the first and most important factor that goes into deciding how long a preview period should be is how many changes you think may be necessary before your show is “ready.”

Is your show a new musical?  A new musical with no source material, that is opening cold on Broadway?  Well, then, anything can happen, so you better make sure you have a longer preview period.

Is your show a revival of a play that is being done to the letter of the original script?  Have the actors performed it on this same set in another city?  Has the lighting designer teched it before?  If the answer to these questions is yes, then you can probably get away with a shorter preview period.

The less you’re concerned, the less previews you can do.

Just remember, shows freeze about 3-4 performances before the official opening, because that’s when the press starts coming and prepares their judgement.  So three weeks of previews are really two-and-a-half weeks of previews.

2.  DO YOU NEED AN INJECTION?

Unless you have some big stars, it’s hard to sell tickets to new productions.  What reviews do is provide a steroid shot of sales (if they are good) and some much needed press for your show.

Again, if you’ve got big stars and can sit back and ride them to opening, then take as long as you want.  But if you’re a show that you think may struggle to find an audience, you may want your show to open earlier (provided you are confident you’ll wow the press), so you can get the free ads that come with all those reviews.

You only get one shot to open on Broadway, so picking the length of your preview period is a big decision.  Pick too few performances and you could end up with an inferior product.  And then you’re stuck. Pick too many and you could end up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars as you wait for critics to chime in.

Choose wisely, my friends.  Because we don’t want you to be one of those unfortunate shows that has more preview performances than regular performances.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

– – – – –

FUN STUFF:

– Vote for Producer of the Year!  Click here.

– Next year’s seminars list is up.  Check out the new dates here.

– Win a free copy of my board game, Be A Broadway Star!  Click here.

Tags:
Comments
  • Jared W says:

    The timing of this post surely has nothing to do with a certain new musical that is currently in the midst of a 2 month preview period despite rave reviews for the out of town tryout and is having trouble selling tickets, right Ken? 😉

    In all seriousness, this is a great post that illuminates some things I suspected but was never sure about regarding preview period length. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jay says:

    Thank you for this blog topic. As a theatre lover, but an outsider in the profession, it’s interesting the path that the musical that Jared eludes to above is taking. My biggest concern is that they recorded a cast album before previews even started, so any changes that are made during the rather long process won’t be preserved on the original cast album.

    My feeling: shows should have a maximum number of previews and then it’s fair game for critics to publish their opinions — whether invited by the producers or not — no more than 4 weeks for musicals and 3 weeks for plays. That’s generous, no?

  • Ron Bruguiere says:

    Since you’re already raising millions of dollars, raise a few more and take the show out-of-town away from those hateful, wanna-be critics which are read, but denied they’ve read them, by the creatives, the cast, crew, and even the producers who maybe shouldn’t be producing.

  • Walt Frasier says:

    Obviously Spiderman set the bar low for previews.

    I personally love preview performances. I love the raw quality of a fresh performance. The polish is not there but that super charged nervous energy makes performers exciting. Dance steps are still crisp. Actors are still in discovery mode. Songs still sound like like they are live, not like a CD yet.

    I think the problem of Broadway is putting to much into finding perfection in previews. The ones that fail probably were not ready ads nd in need of more workshop and rewrites.

    A great team prepares and heads up most problems long before Broadway. Previews.

    A team plagued with ego and insecurity cannot be saved by more previews…

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    I believe the age of twitter, facebook, etc has killed the preview’s usefullness.Today, when they announced Rock of Ages coming to the WInter Garden, even before a single song was written, I’ve seen people trashing the choice of creative team etc. I’m about to start readings and workshops for my first Broadway sied musical and I’m trembling wondering what to do if I invite someone who for whatever reason, decides to tell the entire internet that he or she didn’t like it. WWDMD. What Would David Merrick DO?

    • Jared W says:

      Merrick would probably find the most spiteful way to publicly humiliate the offending tweeter haha

      While the advent of social media makes it much harder to control word of mouth from preview performances, I think they are still useful as you really do need an audience’s reaction to see what is and isn’t working about a show. Workshops are great, but industry insiders are going to have a much different reaction than the general public, so you need to get both sides. You won’t really know what you have until the first full production, and previews allow you the chance to find out and make adjustments if necessary.

Leave a Reply to Michael DiGaetano Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

X