GUEST BLOG: Taking the Risk & Expense Out of Producing off-Broadway by Form Theatricals

Taking the leap from your reading, workshop or Showcase production to the off-Broadway stage can be intimidating. Budgets for small off-Broadway shows can reach into hundreds of thousands of dollars for plays and well into the low millions for musicals, not to mention the challenge of filling a larger house for six to eight performances per week.

Luckily, there’s a smaller step onto the off-Broadway stage that’s more affordable and less risky: the Periodic Performance Agreement. This is a specific type of Equity Contract that allows you to produce your show as an open-ended run for between 1 – 4 performances a week, with limited fixed costs. By its nature, the agreement will limit your budget – you’ll be sharing a venue with another production, so your rent will be about $1,000 per performance. Having to strike your set after each performance will limit your physical production. The total compensation (salary + benefits) is set for each actor at $121 per performance at the minimum. If done right, you can produce an open-ended run of a play for under $50k with a minuscule weekly operating cost. This allows you to experiment with who your production’s customer is, how to reach them and how to convert their interest into sales.

Build-Measure-Learn

You might want to jump into doing four performances per week, but at Form, we advocate that you start with as little as one performance and view each week as a learning opportunity for your marketing campaign. Frequently shows close because their marketing and press was based on assumptions about the audience and their buying patterns that have not been tested or proven. By the time these producers realize their marketing assumptions were wrong, the production has often spent its reserve and has to close. Our alternative methodology is called build-measure-learn and allows for real-time feedback to be incorporated into your marketing campaign in order to segment and target your audience effectively.  You’ve built the minimum viable open-ended production – a show that’s performing once per week – and you’re going to relentlessly measure your sales and the related metrics.

Methods include:

  • Start out with free listings and build your marketing campaign from there.
  • Do experiments with different ads and distribution channels.
  • Interview audience members to discover their journey from hearing about your production all the way through attending.
  • Stand in the lobby before and after the show to hear what the audience is saying.

Relentlessly experiment with new marketing techniques and view yourself as a scientist: you’re evaluating which marketing assumptions work and which don’t. You’re able to do this because the show’s running costs remain so low that you can fail repeatedly until you learn how to successfully sell out the house. When you learn how to sell out one performance per week, add a second and begin your build-measure-learn loop all over again. Rinse and repeat for weekly performances three through eight.

The Periodic Performance agreement provides you with highly affordable running costs which, when married with a build-measure-repeat marketing campaign, gives you the time you need to turn your assumptions into facts, and your little once-a-week performance into off-Broadway’s (or, gasp, Broadway’s) newest long-running hit. The beauty in this method of producing is two-fold. The first is that you’re able to test your assumptions in a low-risk way and really learn how to attract an audience. The second is that the upfront costs are so low that off-Broadway can be opened to productions and voices who can’t raise the funds for mid-six figure productions.

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At Form we’re big proponents of the Periodic Performance agreement and approach all of the productions and theater companies we work with as the start-ups they are. We offer one hour of free consulting services to artists and producers. Email us at af@formtheatricals.com if you want some advice about your project.

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