Before you fire someone, you MUST do this.

If you’re going to be a Producer in this business, at some point in your career you’re going to have to fire someone.

In fact, if you’re going to run any kind of business, at some point in the life cycle of that business, you’re going to have to fire someone.

Because sometimes the creative team member, actor, usher, manager, etc. just isn’t the right fit. It doesn’t mean you hate them or they hate you.  It just means that this individual isn’t the right person to help make your show the best show it can be.  Not firing them would mean holding the show back, which is a disservice to all the other people who are counting on you to make that show the best it could be.

It happens. So (wo)man up and get ready for it.

How do you get ready for it?

That’s the important part.  Usually a termination comes as a result of some serious frustration, and it’s very easy to let that frustration lead to emotion, which can lead to an abrupt firing.

And that’s what you have to try to avoid.

Whenever I decide that someone has to go, or whenever someone comes to me and says someone has to go, my first question is . . . “Ok.  Then who replaces him/her?”

As a Producer (or a Business Owner) your job is to think about tomorrow, not just today.  It’s easy to get rid of people. It’s harder to replace them.  Which is why I never let anyone go, until I have someone ready to take their place.

Having a standby in the wings not only allows you a seamless transition, and keeps the workflow going, but it lets the rest of your company know that the show isn’t going to be missing a “part” for very long, and gives them confidence that you have a plan in place that is going to be better for everyone (not to mention that a quick replacement can put a teensy-weensy bit of fear in them that they could be replaced as well – which isn’t always such a bad thing).

It’s not fun.  Believe me.  And when it comes time for you to do it, you’re going to want to throw up (I did the first time I fired someone) . . . but I can promise you this.  Every single time I’ve fired someone, the show or company has always been better off.  Always.

And it’s what we have to do.  Because it’s a Producer’s job to put the best team together for the show, and sometimes, it’s a Producer’s job to pull that team apart and reassemble it, and make sure it’s stronger than the one before.


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  • John Caird says:

    I think think is all very well said, Ken – and of course it’s impossible not to be in the position of having to fire somebody sometimes. But I would guard against the use of firing as a spur to others in the company to do better.
    In rehearsal, the ideal company ethos is to have everyone working happily and doing their best without the threat of dismissal hanging over them. Fear can be far more debilitating than it ever is encouraging – and without question, the first thing that happens when someone gets fired is that everyone else starts looking over their shoulder at who might be next, with a commensurate drop in their willingness to take artistic risks and work in a collegiate way.
    In terms of casting, a firing ethos can also create a lazy hiring technique. Hirers who habitually fire their artistic colleagues tend to take less care whom they hire in the first place. There are some producers and directors, naming no names, for whom the firing process seems to have become an essential part of the rehearsal journey. And this usually denotes one of two things – an incompetent hiring technique or an inability to work happily within the limitations of the actual talent in the room – or possibly both!
    There is also the risk, at times of high pressure in Broadway rehearsals and previews, that producer or director will respond to a crisis by firing the wrong person! If there’s something wrong with the Composer’s score, the MD or the Musical Supervisor gets fired. If there’s something wrong with the Designesr’s set or costumes, the Lighting Designer or the Choreographer gets fired – and so on.
    Having said that, I’ve often been sitting at a final dress rehearsal or first preview and had the irresistible urge to fire myself. The feeling usually passes after a glass or two of wine – but I always get up the next morning with a feeling that I really must do better or I don’t deserve to hold onto my job.

  • Jennifer J says:

    This post makes me aware, again, how very different our producing worlds are. In a state university academic theatre, firing and hiring is a very difficult matter. Even hiring for a newly created, much needed position can take over a year!

    That said, it is very helpful to share your blogs with our students as we try to prepare them to be the very best professionals they can be!

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