GUEST BLOG: So, What Does a General Manager Do, Anyway?: Part Two by Peter Bogyo

More than any other function, a GM’s primary responsibility is that of financial overview – the quantification, management, and forecasting of the show’s finances. During the production period, this involves keeping track of estimated budget expenses as they become actualized, and determining the net effect of all those variances on the budget’s reserve fund, which needs to be available not only by the first preview but also as of Opening Night. A cash flow chart is most useful for tracking these expenses.

At some point several weeks prior to the first preview, I will also begin reviewing the breakdown of advance sales, on a week by week, performance by performance, basis. By analyzing this, one can quickly see if a show is likely to break even in a given week, or which future performances may need some help – either thru additional paid advertising, marketing promotions, increased publicity, sending tickets to the same day, half-price ticket booth, or, last resort, by discreetly offering complimentary seats to carefully targeted audiences.

A helpful tool for predicting future weekly grosses is a ten week out gross projection chart. Essentially, the data from weeks that have already played out and their advance sales (broken down on a week-by-week basis leading up to the final week itself (six weeks out, five weeks out, etc.)) are used to forecast how a future week will perform.

Another statistic that is looked at constantly and minutely dissected is the daily wrap, a figure representing the total amount of ticket sales sold on a given day from all sales sources (box office window, telephones, internet, remote outlets). A wrap is broken down into all the possible types and prices of tickets that comprise it – full price, premium seats, group sales, coded discounts, etc. It shows you how well (or not!) different types of tickets are selling.

Budgets, cash flows, weekly advance breakdowns, gross projections, daily wraps – these are just some of the myriad financial reports that producers look to the general manager to provide them with. Providing all this information and analysis is the major part of the GM’s job. If a GM’s first duty is telling a producer how much a show will cost, one of his last duties is recommending that the show should close. This is not a pleasant task, but more than anyone else, the GM must be grounded in reality when reserve funds are dwindling and losses are looming. I like to joke that the main arc of a general manager’s job can be summed up with “This is what it’s going to cost; now it’s time to close.”

A play goes thru different stages in its life. Up till now, I have only discussed the earliest phases. But there are also important concerns a GM grapples with related to maintaining a healthy show, grappling with a declining show, closing a show, and tending to the ongoing affairs of a show in its life after Broadway. I discuss these at great length in my book, but unfortunately don’t have the space here to go into detail.

A GM has a symbolic, as well as a practical role – he or she serves as a kind of figurehead or leader, representing both the producer as well as the production on many different levels. A GM sets the tone of the working environment that is the show experience, both personally in his own office, and, by proxy, through the demeanor of the company manager who is the producer and GM’s daily representative at the theater

Finally, a GM performs a very important psychological role – his or her relationship to the producer is an intense one, full of confidences and trust. At various times, a GM serves as an advisor, a confidante, a therapist, a father confessor, a support, a protector, a cohort, a fixer and a bad cop to the producer’s good cop. The two parties typically speak on the phone and/or email each other many, many times a day, every day. Most producers feel they need access to their GM whenever anything important or urgent occurs, no matter how early or late the hour, or whether it is a weekend or a national holiday. As previously stated, one is on call 24/7.

General managing a production in the commercial theater entails grappling with an enormous number of complex, exciting, and challenging details. Not to mention some pretty colorful individuals! All these concerns and personalities need to be managed by an experienced, discerning professional. I hope, by now, you have been demystified as to what a general manager does, and can appreciate just how invaluable he or she can be for guiding and protecting both a producer and the multi-million dollar venture that is a Broadway show today.

For further information on me or my book, please visit www.broadwaygeneralmanager.com

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

PETER BOGYO is a theatrical General Manager, Executive Producer, Producer of Special Events, and an Author.

On Broadway, he served as General Manager of LOVE LETTERS, starring Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy, Carol Burnett, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen; THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, starring Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr.; STICK FLY,  starring Dulé Hill, directed by Kenny Leon, TIME STANDS STILL, starring Laura Linney, directed by Daniel Sullivan, AMERICAN BUFFALO, starring John Leguizamo, directed by Robert Falls, A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, starring Kevin Spacey and Eve Best, directed by Howard Davies, THE BLONDE IN THE THUNDERBIRD, starring Suzanne Somers; SLY FOX, starring Richard Dreyfuss, directed by Arthur Penn; FORTUNE’S FOOL, starring Alan Bates and Frank Langella, directed by Arthur Penn, and VOICES IN THE DARK, starring Judith Ivey, directed by Christopher Ashley.

Off-Broadway, his general manager credits include A MOTHER, A DAUGHTER, AND A GUN with Olympia Dukakis; Elaine May’s ADULT ENTERTAINMENT, directed by Stanley Donen; Jerry Herman’s musical revue SHOWTUNE; MR. GOLDWYN, starring Alan King, directed by Gene Saks; MADAME MELVILLE starring Macaulay Culkin and Joely Richardson; and THE UNEXPECTED MAN, starring Alan Bates and Eileen Atkins, directed by Matthew Warchus.

He has served as Executive Producer for the sold-out Carnegie Hall concert PIAF! THE SHOW, and for FIGARO 90210 at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street.

Peter is also a leading producer of benefit concerts and has raised close to a million dollars in the fight against AIDS.  For GMHC he produced the celebrated concert versions of Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents’ ANYONE CAN WHISTLE and Cole Porter and Moss Hart’s JUBILEE, both at Carnegie Hall, and SHOWSTOPPERS!: a Salute to the Best of Broadway, at David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  He also produced FIRST LADIES OF SONG at Alice Tully Hall for the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument Fund, which featured Rosemary Clooney, Marilyn Horne, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Lena Horne, Joanne Woodward, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He has unveiled three monuments for the City of New York, honoring Eleanor Roosevelt, Duke Ellington, and Antonin Dvorak, produced a memorial tribute to Herbert Ross, and oversaw the international entertainment for philanthropist George Soros’s 75th birthday party.

Peter is a member of The Broadway League and ATPAM, a Tony Award voter, and a graduate of Yale College and of the Commercial Theater Institute.  His book, “Broadway General Manager: Demystifying the Most Important and Least Understood Role in Show Business” is published by Allworth Press, and received critical acclaim.

Peter lives in Manhattan and upstate New York with his wife Ahna and their Scottish terrier Dickens.  www.peterbogyo.com

GUEST BLOG: So, What Does a General Manager Do, Anyway?: Part One by Peter Bogyo

As a general manager of Broadway and Off Broadway shows for over 15 years, I have continually been dismayed by my close friends’ inability to remember what I do (“he’s a stage manager”; NOT) or what it entails. How could they? My job title is completely opaque. What is that mysterious thing that I manage, generally? Finally, out of frustration and self-defense, I wrote a book and cleverly called it ‘Broadway General Manager”, to clue them in.  Then, in sympathy for their confusion, I subtitled it “Demystifying the Most Important and Least Understood Role in Show Business” to give them hope.

So, what the heck does a GM, as they are commonly referred to, do? I’ve been told I have approximately 750 words to explain this to you, and my book is 240 pages long, so please understand I’ll be talking in broad strokes. Very broad strokes.

In a nutshell, a general manager oversees all the financial and business concerns of a show. Even more, they are the lynchpin of the entire production, through which every aspect of the show must pass. Part of what makes the job so exciting is that the GM interacts with people at every level of the production and is expected to be available to the show’s producer 24/7.

Traditionally, the first thing a producer wants a GM to do is prepare two different sets of budgets — a Production Budget, which tells the producer how much money he or she needs to raise to mount the show and get it to the first paid public performance, and an Operating Budget, which details the costs to run the show on a weekly basis and provides various scenarios for recouping (earning back) the show’s production costs.

I go into great detail in my book analyzing actual Production and Operating budgets line by line, but I can’t do that here today. All you really need to know is that a Production budget tells the producer how much money he needs to raise to get the show to its first paid public performance, at which point one needs an Operating budget to know how much it will cost to operate the show on a weekly basis.

After calculating these two sets of budgets, my next major responsibility is normally negotiating all the contracts for the cast, crew, creatives and staff involved in the production.

A negotiation is a kind of dance, with each party maneuvering and strategizing to win as much as possible for his side. The best negotiation is one in which, at the end, both parties feel they have won several important points, but have not gotten everything they had hoped for. It’s important to remember that an agent has to try to win something for his client in order to justify his existence (not to mention his 10% commission!)

In resolving differences, I always strive to protect the show at breakeven, or close thereto, for as long as possible. A show can run forever as long as it can cover its expenses and not show a loss.

In my book, I have separate chapters containing actual contracts I have negotiated for “star” Broadway personnel– for a famous actor, a top director, an award-winning designer and a general manager. Again, I don’t have the space to go into that detail here, but you can find it in my book.

Beyond negotiating contracts, a GM is involved with helping to establish the production entity, providing critical information for the programming of the show’s box office, obtaining a payroll account for the company, and making sure the appropriate insurance policies get bound.  But their most vital, ongoing function has yet to be discussed – so be sure to tune in to next week’s blog for Part 2!

For more information about Peter or his book, visit broadwaygeneralmanager.com.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

PETER BOGYO is a theatrical General Manager, Executive Producer, Producer of Special Events, and an Author.

On Broadway, he served as General Manager of LOVE LETTERS, starring Mia Farrow, Brian Dennehy, Carol Burnett, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen; THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, starring Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr.; STICK FLY,  starring Dulé Hill, directed by Kenny Leon, TIME STANDS STILL, starring Laura Linney, directed by Daniel Sullivan, AMERICAN BUFFALO, starring John Leguizamo, directed by Robert Falls, A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, starring Kevin Spacey and Eve Best, directed by Howard Davies, THE BLONDE IN THE THUNDERBIRD, starring Suzanne Somers; SLY FOX, starring Richard Dreyfuss, directed by Arthur Penn; FORTUNE’S FOOL, starring Alan Bates and Frank Langella, directed by Arthur Penn, and VOICES IN THE DARK, starring Judith Ivey, directed by Christopher Ashley.

Off-Broadway, his general manager credits include A MOTHER, A DAUGHTER, AND A GUN with Olympia Dukakis; Elaine May’s ADULT ENTERTAINMENT, directed by Stanley Donen; Jerry Herman’s musical revue SHOWTUNE; MR. GOLDWYN, starring Alan King, directed by Gene Saks; MADAME MELVILLE starring Macaulay Culkin and Joely Richardson; and THE UNEXPECTED MAN, starring Alan Bates and Eileen Atkins, directed by Matthew Warchus.

He has served as Executive Producer for the sold-out Carnegie Hall concert PIAF! THE SHOW, and for FIGARO 90210 at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street.

Peter is also a leading producer of benefit concerts and has raised close to a million dollars in the fight against AIDS.  For GMHC he produced the celebrated concert versions of Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents’ ANYONE CAN WHISTLE and Cole Porter and Moss Hart’s JUBILEE, both at Carnegie Hall, and SHOWSTOPPERS!: a Salute to the Best of Broadway, at David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  He also produced FIRST LADIES OF SONG at Alice Tully Hall for the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument Fund, which featured Rosemary Clooney, Marilyn Horne, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Lena Horne, Joanne Woodward, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He has unveiled three monuments for the City of New York, honoring Eleanor Roosevelt, Duke Ellington, and Antonin Dvorak, produced a memorial tribute to Herbert Ross, and oversaw the international entertainment for philanthropist George Soros’s 75th birthday party.

Peter is a member of The Broadway League and ATPAM, a Tony Award voter, and a graduate of Yale College and of the Commercial Theater Institute.  His book, “Broadway General Manager: Demystifying the Most Important and Least Understood Role in Show Business” is published by Allworth Press, and received critical acclaim.

Peter lives in Manhattan and upstate New York with his wife Ahna and their Scottish terrier Dickens.  www.peterbogyo.com

Look at how much ink Broadway Producers and Investors got.

I get my NY Times Sunday Arts and Leisure section delivered to me on Thursday.  Yep, in case you didn’t know, the sections of the Sunday Times that aren’t “headline dependent” are printed well in advance, and as a courtesy provided to those folks out there that fill it with ads, the Times will get it to you earlier.

When I got my copy last week and saw the headline, “I Want To Be A Producer (Me, Too!),” and the accompanying story, I was intrigued.

When I finished the copy of the front page, I flipped to the “continued on” page, and I literally yelped out a “Holy moses!”

The article, about Broadway Investors and how so many have transitioned to above-the-title producers, had another two plus full pages on the inside of the paper.

(The cynical side of me wondered whether the Times gave it that much space to try to encourage more Broadway Investors to become Producers so they’d buy more NY Times ads!)

It’s a fascinating article, centered around last year’s Tony Award winning Cinderella Story, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.  The article reveals that they had trouble raising money as opening night loomed, and the Producers cut some super aggressive deals with investors while the show was in previews to make sure the show got what it needed to open.  And, in one of the best turnarounds I’ve seen in the last couple of decades, it snags the most Tony Nominations of any musical, and then gets the Best Musical trophy on top.  And sales took off.

It’s such a dramatic story that it could be a musical itself.

I know there is a faction of folks within the business that sneer when they hear stories about Producers reducing the “value” of the above-the-title Producer slot . . . and I recently heard a rumor that the Broadway League might be considering a “minimum raise” in order to get a credit on a show (there is already a minimum required in order to get membership into the League.)

And while, sure, if an investor comes to me and says, “I do this for the credit, and on my last show, I got that credit for X,” it makes it harder to stick with the numbers I’ve laid out to receive credit.

But, and this is the rub, every show is different.  And if some shows need to offer more aggressive title deals to make sure the show happens, then who-the-eff cares?

I vary the deals on my own shows all the time.

When I produced Macbeth, I had to raise the money in 6 weeks, and more importantly, we were only doing 6 shows a week for 14 weeks, so the risk was higher.  So I reduced the threshold for the above-the-title slot to only $100,000 as a way to mitigate the risk for Producers/Investors (while we didn’t recoup, which I announced here, we did get to 90%).

On Somewhere in Time and Gettin’ The Band Back Together, the above-the-title slots are a much more customary $500k, but I reduce those amounts depending on when the Producers and Investors get involved (before we announce the theater gets a lower threshold versus those that get involved after we announce the theater).

When products are different, terms, including titles, are different.  And I don’t believe we can “legislate” that with required minimums, just like we can’t legislate other parts of the Producer deals.  What’s the difference between offering a title for a lower than usual amount or offering better financial terms?  Or the number of opening night tickets?   Just because one is visible and one isn’t?

And if more Producers means we get to see more risk on Broadway (this all started with Spring Awakening, and I for one am so glad that show made it to Broadway), then it should be applauded.

We are Producers.  We are business owners.  We are entrepreneurs.  And we should will do whatever it takes to get our show off the ground.

To read the article, click here.

 

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Why you might have a harder time marketing your musical today than yesterday.

I read an interesting blog and an even more interesting book recently about how to introduce a new product to the marketplace.  Now, granted, these publications were talking about the traditional business world, so their definitions of “products” were things like new cell phones, women’s sportswear, and soft drinks.

Me being me, I couldn’t help but wonder if their arguments could be extrapolated to musicals.

The conclusion of the blog/book was that it takes a lot longer than you think for a product to achieve “market penetration” in today’s world . . . on average more than five years.

Why does it take so long?

Check out this quote:

The consultant Jack Trout has found that American families, on average, repeatedly buy the same 150 items, which constitute as much as 85 percent of their household needs; it’s hard to get something new on the radar.

Of course it’s harder to get something new on the radar!  First of all, Cialdini will tell you that “consistency” is one the prime motivators of human behaviors.  And the longer a consumer retains that brand consistency, the harder it is to get them away from it.

But I glean a little something different from their conclusions that has a direct correlation to producing a new musical in the 21st century.

Let’s use Coca-Cola as an example.

Coke gets on the market way back in the day.  And it achieves “smash hit” success.  As it grows, it becomes more and more synonymous with the soft drink brand as a whole (In fact, some areas of our country refer to any soft drink as a “coke”).  And the longer it’s run, the more and more marketing it puts out, and the stronger its brand becomes.

In other words, the Coca-Cola brand is bigger and better today than it was ten years ago.

Enter a new soft drink in the market . . . let’s call it Schmoka-Schmola.

Schmoka-Schmola doesn’t just have to be good. It has to be fantastic (or more unique).  And, it has to be even better if it was introduced today rather than if it was introduced ten years ago, because it’s going up against a competitor whose brand is stronger today.

In the last twenty years, we’ve birthed some Coca-Colas.

Phantom is one of them.  The Lion King is one of them.  Wicked is another.

If you’re a new musical coming into the market, you’re staring at several monster brands that pull a huge percentage of audiences looking for a Broadway musical when they come to town.  How can you compete with those brands?

These long runner super-sized soft-drink-style brands make it without a doubt much harder to introduce a new show to today’s theatrical market.

Need some proof?

I dug into the Broadway archives over the weekend and calculated the average run of new musicals that opened in the years 1994-2003 and compared it to the average run of shows that opened from 2004-2013. If the average run in the earlier decade was longer than the latter decade, then that would prove some more challenging marketing terrain, right?

Here are the results*:

  • The average run of new musicals that opened from 1994 – 2003:  449 performances
  • The average run of new musicals that opened from 2004 – 20013:  376 performances

The conclusion:

  • New musicals that opened in 1994-2003 ran 19% longer than new musicals that opened in the following decade.

Pretty significant, don’t you think?

The Wickeds of our world are musical theater brand superpowers.  And we’ve never, ever, seen anything like it on Broadway before.

So how do you compete with them?

You can’t.

You don’t break into the soft drink market trying to duplicate Coke.  And you don’t break into the musical market trying to be Phantom.

So don’t even bother trying.

Just produce/write/create the most unique theatrically thrilling experience you can, with an economic model that can exist knowing that the above brands eat up a lot of ticket buyers.

Being different and being smart is what will allow your show to survive.

* One note about the stats.  Obviously shows that opened in the first decade have an “average length of run” advantage since there are more years after it than shows that opened in the second decade.  So to even the playing field for the two decades, we only counted the # of performances that occurred within that decade.  While the numbers may be slightly skewed by shows that opened earlier/later in the decades, using this form of analysis made for the closest decade-to-decade comparison possible.

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The difference between a Producer and a General Manager.

The Broadway administrative hierarchy can be a confusing one.

To help answer a few readers’ questions, I used my favorite analogy to describe the duties of a General Manager on a Broadway show in this post just a few months ago.

But, since so many Producers have General Managed and so many General Managers have become Producers (including the guy typing this blog right now), some readers have asked me if being a General Manager is a prerequisite for being a Broadway Producer.

The answer is a big fat no, of course.  While I think that General Management is one the best training grounds for future Producers, it’s certainly not the only path to being a Broadway Producer (and lately, I’m think that becoming a Marketing Exec first would be a great way to go).

The fact is, to be a great Producer, you don’t need to know every inch of the industry in order to be effective.  You just need to surround yourself with people who know every inch of the industry.

And you need to know you can trust those people . . . they need to be people who will put you on their shoulders when it gets mucky and walk you through the marsh, so you don’t have to do it alone.

General Managers support Producers.  Like a Chief of Staff supports a President.

But the truth is a General Manager and a Producer have opposite mission statements.

A Producer’s job is to take risk.  A General Manager’s job is to safeguard a show from risk.

 

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