Hal Prince’s missive on how to fix Broadway.

One of the reasons I’m a Producer today is because of Hal Prince.

And it’s not just because I fan-boy worshiped him and his twenty-one (!) Tony Awards from afar.

I was lucky enough to watch Hal work when I was a Company Manager on Show Boat, Candide, and the original workshop of Parade.  And you can bet your butter beer I snuck out of the office to sit in rehearsals whenever I could just to watch the King they called Prince work.

This was the 90s, and back then Hal gave an interview where he said there were no more Creative Producers anymore, but there were only check-writers.  (Remember, before Hal turned Director, he was a Producer.)

Well, I took that as my in, and in the middle of tech of Candide ran up to him and told him that I read the article, and being a Creative Producer was what I wanted to do.

He said, “Great, Ken, but I’m kind of busy teching Act II right now, so maybe come to my office and we can chat?”


Chat we did.  And he gave me advice that day that changed my life, and poof, here I am (I’ve actually spoken about that day quite often, and it’s a big chapter in a book I’m about to release . . . sign up here to make sure you’re the first to know).

Well, guess what.  The God that is Hal Prince isn’t satisfied yet.

Just yesterday another article was published in American Theatre Magazine with a byline by Mr. Prince . . . the title?

Broadway Needs Producers, Not Just Investors.

In the article, Hal trumpets the same thesis, that “there is no dearth of writers – playwrights, composers, and lyricists—or brilliant designers and directors. But stubbornly courageous creative producers…?”

And he also goes on with dismay about the investors who are now Producers, despite having no experience in the arts, etc., etc., etc. (And he tells some great stories about how he raised money in his day, with Scotch and peanuts, mind you.)

It’s a fantastic article with truth bombs about Producing all the way through.  Read it and study it and apply it to what you do.

I know I’m still learning from him.

But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says.

First, I think he’s a bit hard on the many Above-The-Title Producers who may not have spent thirty years in the business, but hey, because producing theater is a heck of a lot riskier than it was in the days of Hal, we need to incentivize people in other ways than just monetarily.

Hal mentions paying back investors on a musical in 14 weeks.  That hardly happens in 40 weeks on a sold-out-at-full-price-musical!  (Today’s audiences have a lot more options for entertainment than the 1957 audience of West Side Story.)

With less chance of profit, there has to be another perk.  And without all those names above-the-titles, as I wrote here, some great pieces of art (including some of the types of shows that Hal wants us to produce) would never, ever have happened (possibly including the original Spring Awakening for one).

And second, and the biggest change that Hal doesn’t talk about is simply the lack of theaters for Producers in 2016.

Theater availability has choked so much of the ability for producers to be creative.  You can’t just put something up anymore.  Back in the days of old, if you wanted to do a show, and had the cash, you got your show on.  And something that might be super risky would get caught up in the publicity machine that is Broadway, and it just might catch on.


Today you need the blessing of the theater owners to get your shot.  And God only knows what the algorithm is for their choices (with commercial potential, the art-factor, who-you-know, credits, ability to raise money all variables in the equation).

I don’t care how courageous a Producer is in 2016 . . . if they’re unknown, with unknown material, would they get a show on Broadway?

I’d argue that some of Hal’s shows from back then might not even get to Broadway if they appeared today.  Merrily?  Company even?  Can you imagine the theater without Company?

Or, think about it this way.  If Lin-Manuel was a newcomer, and had an unknown Producer but had the money, would it have gotten to Broadway in the way that it did?

I’d like to think so.  Because the Pollyanna Producer in me believes that greatness trumps all.

But what Hal is forgetting is that the theater owners have the ultimate say in who gets to be a Broadway Producer and who doesn’t.

Until we find more alternative venues and more importantly, audiences that will go to them, and turn that power around.

Read Hal’s complete article here.


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

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  • Mitch Weiss says:

    Hey Ken! I too got the benefit of working for Hal Prince, once as his Asst Press Rep and once as his Directorial Observer. I also received a lifetime’s education working for Joe Papp. Wow to both! I am so lucky. I have many stories about current producers who are too scared to make creative decisions and just want to sign checks. They are the reason I wrote my book: The Business of Broadway-Allworth Press (forgive the plug, but it’s really the reason I wrote the book). Just because you make a million in the dry cleaning business and know a lot of rich relatives doesn’t make you a knowledgeable producer. And thinking that you know enough because you can raise money is the first big mistake. There’s so much to learn and absorb. Perhaps (just like you), we need to mentor more investors. If only, they wanted to learn.

    • Jay Z says:

      Ken / Mitch — can you guys get your hands on a Hal Prince budget so we can see what is the real reason things cost more today?

      I assumed it was unions, scenery, and real estate. But my preliminary research makes me think perhaps it is really adding line items and administrative bloat. Could this be true?

      Using some of Hal’s info in the speech and what I could find online, he says in 1964, mounting a straight play was $100,000. Cost of mounting a musical averaged $250,000. West Side Story in 1957 was $300,000. Using an online dollar converter, those amounts in 2016 dollars are about 1.5mil to 2mil.

      The West Side Story budget I could find online is roughly capitalized at $300,000/no provisions for overcall —
      • $80,000 for lighting / in 2016 dollars: 533,880
      • $65,000 for scenery / in 2016 dollars: 433,778
      • $55,000 for costumes / in 2016 dollars: 367,043
      • $10,000 for properties / in 2016 dollars: 66,735
      • $11,000 advance for direction and choreography / 73,409
      • $20,000 for union bonds / 133,470
      • $20,000 for orchestrations / 133,470
      • $19,000 rehearsal expense / 126,797
      • $32,500 / 216,889 miscellaneous expense (authors advances, legal fees,
      hauling, setting up, general and company manager salaries, office expense, payroll taxes, insurance, hospitalization, etc)
      • $32,500 reserve. / 216,889
      • $15,000 preliminary advertising / 100,103

      Compared to today’s budgets, the physical production elements at 1.4mil seem pretty close to today, except for outliers like Spiderman. Notably missing is “Sound” and “Projections” but the lighting costs seem to have come down. But looking at other budgets I could find, the admin line items are huge. Plus you’ll have “developmental” expenses added on (an issue with the “Natasha…” fight).

      I wonder how far off Hamilton budget is from WSS? Need more data…

      Do you have data we can use to compare? It would be an insightful exercise so we know where to trim the fat 🙂

  • Bear Kosik says:

    One of the things I wonder about is whether theater owners ought to model themselves after major league sports franchises, where they have Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway venues to try out new playwrights, new directors, etc. Regional theater and London seem to have replaced Off-Broadway as the minor league places where new work is tested and scouted. Establishing or linking up with workshop programs is another option. I’ve had success this year placing my short plays Off-Off-Broadway. I’ve had to produce and direct my own work. It’s great experience and insures the work comes out the way I envisioned it. However, absent someone happening to look for a cheap night of theater or enthusiasm for finding emerging writers and directors, nothing I am doing now is going to help me break into the next level, whether that is Off-Broadway or regional theater. No one from that stratum, let alone Broadway, is going to find my work. And without connections of some kind, I don’t see how it is possible to break into those higher levels to even have a shot. Unlike the work done by others in theater, there are no apprenticeship steps for playwrights to take to move them forward and up.

  • the notorious LCP says:

    Don’t blame the theater owners! If THE BANDSTAND can get a Shubert Theater, how hard can it be? I love Tom Smedes, but he’s not exactly Cameron Mackintosh. Just sayin’.

    A courageous unknown producer with unknown material needs to align herself with a courageous known producer with more clout. Someone like Jill Furman, who recognized Lin’s talent and fought like hell to get IN THE HEIGHTS on Broadway. (Without ITH, there would have been no HAMILTON) Or Scott Sanders, who fought for years for THE COLOR PURPLE, then went to bat again in both London and New York so John Doyle could get it right. Producers with both courage and taste like Jill And Scott are rare, but they’re still around. Hal is exactly right, we just need more of them!! <3

  • Jerry K says:

    Sadly, many in the theatre community, especially producers but also actors and directors, are often times sexually perverted and degenerate in nature. I find this is more often true of those on Broadway than it is in regional theaters or off-Broadway. Many of these people attend parties where hook ups are made with flesh peddlers of some persuasion, and then in return that person is hired to work on a production. That’s called “Broadway networking” my friends.

  • chuck linker says:

    Ken– Thanks to longtime director/producer friend now living in Palm Springs, I just discovered your web site. Where have I been (only as a Equity stg. mgr.) for the last 55 yrs? B’way, natl. tours, regional, stock, Disney, etc.

    Just signed up.

    Looking forward to reading what you & others have to say about B’way theatre. Yes, I worked there too. Preferred tours.
    Your web site is especially valued by me to know what I consider my real world– NYC professional theatre. I live in the “land that time forgot”– Florida. Not here by choice but necessity

    Again, hello & thanks for your time & common interests.


  • Carvanpool says:

    Red red whine.

    Are entrepreneurs risk takers or not? Figure it out and stop crying the blues.

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