What the heck does a General Manager do anyway?

A reader pinged me last week wanting me to clarify exactly what a General Manager’s job was on a Broadway show, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain it . . . using one of my favorite theatrical analogies.

I think the hierarchical leadership structure of a Broadway play or Broadway musical is similar to how our country structures its military leadership.

At the top of the upside down pyramid you have the President, or the Commander-in-Chief.  He’s the guy (or, in two years, maybe a gal?) that decides whether or not he wants to go to war.  And that’s our Producer.  He or she decides whether or not to produce a show.

And when the Commander decides to go to war, he turns to a General.  That General is schooled in the art of War.  Maybe even more so than the Commander-in-Chief himself.  The General plans the entire battle campaign: how many troops, who will lead them where, how much is it going to cost, etc.  They give that plan to the Commander-in-Chief, who may make a tweak or two, ask some questions, and then makes the decision to execute it or not.

The General is . . . you guessed it . . . just like a General Manager on a Broadway show.  They take a Producer’s vision, and help strategize and plan the entire production.

Make sense?

You can even extend the metaphor to the Company Manager, who is like the foot soldier for the General.  The CM goes into battle (visits the theater) and reports back to the General on the day to day operations of the “war.”

So, when you’re picking your General Manager for your show, make sure it’s someone that you can trust . . . someone that is schooled in both the business and the art of the theatre.

Make sure it’s someone you’d march into battle with . . .

If you’re looking for a General Manager for your show, drop me an email for a recommendation.

 

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Why I celebrate Labor Day.

Happy L-Day, PPers.

It’s easy to believe the old cliché out there that all Producers are union-hating organizer-busters.  And it’s easy to believe that all card carrying members of any of our theatrical unions hate the Producers that hire them.

And it just ain’t true.

Years and decades and yes, a century ago, some short-sighted Producers took advantage of the hard-working folks that helped build Broadway and the modern theater as we know it today.  And thankfully, those workers got together with their brothers to establish fair wages and working conditions so that both sides could prosper when shows were successful.

And today, on Labor Day, myself, and I’m sure all of my peers, tip our hats to those that work on Broadway . . . whether backstage, in a box office, or in a dressing room wrangling a kid.   

I’m sure you do too.

Cuz it ain’t a hundred years ago, folks.  And there’s just no reason to believe that any union and any Producer are as much at odds as we sometimes like to pretend we are.

We’re in this together.  And if we could throw off the chains of old clichés and remember that, then the next several years, decades, and yes centuries could be even more successful than the ones past . . . for us both.

As a Broadway Producer, and a proud card carrying member of two theatrical unions, let me say thank you to all of the members of our Broadway unions.  You’re the best around, and I wouldn’t want to produce without you.

Happy Labor Day.

 

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The mission of music in a musical is . . .

I went to see a show the other night and found myself sitting right next to an old fuddy-duddy (I do realize that by using the term “fuddy-duddy,” I am probably now one myself).  He was buttoned-up and scowling from the moment he walked into the hallowed halls of the theater.

He was absolutely silent during Act I.  He didn’t laugh.  Didn’t slump.  Just kind of stared ahead like he was preparing for a role in the musical version of Awakenings.

And then, during the middle of the first act finale, Mr. Duddy started shifting around in his seat a bit.  At first I thought he was preparing for an early exit to the bathroom and to secure a place in the front of the line for a $9 coke.  But then I realized he wasn’t shifting at all.

He was tapping his foot.

Yep, like Robert De Niro in Awakenings, Mr. Duddy started to wake up slowly.  You see, the music was rockin’ at this point . . . more than it had the entire first act, and the musical was starting to really take off (a little late, of course).  And somehow it had melted Mr. Duddy’s wax figure state, and his foot was moving to the beat.  I stopped watching the show for a moment, as I watched Duddy’s foot move, and then slowly but surely that energy crept up his entire body, practically loosened his tie for him and then . . . well would you look at that . . . a smile.

The music literally got into his body.  It moved him.  And that, my friends, is the mission of music in a musical.

It has to move you.  Obviously it doesn’t have to physically move you all the time . . . but when it gets you tapping your feet, bobbing your head, or moves you to tears, you know that you are literally synced up with what is happening on that stage.

And of course there is a way to emotionally move you as well . . . when the sound of what is being sung has you moving like a tornado, but it’s all happening inside the audience member.  When actually they are moved so much . . . they can’t physically move.  You know what I’m talking about, right?

I read and listen to too many musicals where the music doesn’t move me at all.  It’s just there, trying to tell a story, but falling short because it doesn’t reach out and grab me and pull me in.  And worse than that?  When the music is trying to “teach” . . . or be smart.  The Sondheim Syndrome, I call it.  You can’t be smart.  And you can’t try to teach.  You can just tell your story and move your audience, and if you’re Sondheim, great . . . but I’d rather you just be you.  (Rent is one of the simplest musicals written in the last two decades, and one of the best and most moving.)

I’ve said this before, but I will say it again . . . It’s called a musical.  It’s not a book-ical or even a lyric-ical.  It’s a MUSIC-al.  And that means that your music just may be the biggest weapon you have to snare that audience and make them fall in love with your story.

But if you’re not moving them . . . they’ll move on to something else.

 

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This Movie Studio thing on Broadway could go two ways.

Anyone else read the NY Times article this past Sunday about the influx of Movie Studios on Broadway?   You know, the one that said Wicked would be Universal’s most successful property . . . ever.   Like it makes ET or Jurassic Park look like a couple of low-budget fringe shows.

This is a subject I’ve been fascinated with, as you may remember from this blog.

I’ve been thinking more and more about this subject lately, and how it directly affects the life of the Independent Producer.  You know, the people like you and me, who look for projects to musicalize or play-ize so that we can entertain people, make money for investors, and, well, eat.

The immigration of the movie studios to our East Coast shores could have one of the biggest impacts on how shows are produced since . . . well . . . since ever.

And it could be great!  And it could be terrible.

Here’s how I see it:

We all know that the movie studio libraries are filled with great potential musicals, with marketable titles.  So, with the new studio set up, if an Independent Producer wants to develop one of those titles into a musical, most likely that studio is going to say . . . “Get lost.  We have our own internal theater office to develop shows for us, so we’re just going to sit on it, like we do with books that we might want to make into a movie someday.”

In that scenario, the Independent Producer could have a very few challenging years ahead, as the amount of source material available to us just got a lot smaller.

And then there’s scenario #2 . . . which is the studios check their egos at the George Washington Bridge and rather than use movie people to produce theater, they create a model similar to what they have in Hollywood.  They hire Producers to produce their titles for them.  That’s right, I mean they pay their salary, their benefits, and their overhead so the Producer has the resources to produce a great show.

Limited upside for the Producer, but guaranteed income, and less downside risk if it flops on its face.

Two scenarios . . . Which one will happen?

Probably a hybrid balance between the two.  Some studios will hire.  Some will do it themselves.

And the Independents that don’t work for studios will just have to look elsewhere for product, which wouldn’t be so bad.

It’s scenarios like this that force Producers to be creative and look in much more interesting places for material than the last David Spade movie.

 

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There’s no “wait” in negotiate.

Negotiations in the theater shouldn’t take very long.  Jobs aren’t as common, so most Artists want to find a way to take the gig.  And most Artists have such specific talents that Producers want them and only them.

It’s the best of all possible negotiating worlds, because both parties want it to work out.

So what takes so dang long?

There’s posturing involved, on both sides, of course.  And the “game” of negotiating, which I think some people just play like it was newly released for Xbox.  And then there are the parties out there (and you know who you are, because I’ve probably told you so) who simply just don’t return phone calls.  (Do you know how much faster projects could happen, and people could be employed if phone calls were returned faster?)

But again, at the end of the day, both parties want the negotiation to work.  And that means the negotiation shouldn’t take weeks, or days . . . at most, it should take hours.

So, I’m proposing a new form of negotiating actor/director/designer/etc. contracts.  Rather than email, rather than phone, I suggest that the next time you have an artist you want to employ, and you know wants to be employed, you arrange for that negotiation to happen in person.

That’s right . . . you and the agent sit in a room.  And you make your offer.  And that agent leaves the room and takes that offer to his/her client (who, in the best case scenario is in the next room, but could be on the phone/skype/etc . . . as long as he/she has carved out this time as well to be exclusively available).  And then the agent comes back with his/her counter.  And then you counter, and so on and so forth.  Like a union negotiation that is up against a time line.

And there’s the rub . . . you set a timeline.  You announce at the beginning, “I want your client to work on this project.  You are here because provided we reach agreeable terms, your client wants to work on this project.  So lets figure out those terms by X:XX o’clock and save us all time and energy, so your client and I can spend more time making the project the best it can be.”

If both parties agree to this simple style of negotiation, I bet you’d be out in 2-3 hours max.

There’s just no need to draw these things out.  It only frustrates both parties, and has the potential of slowing down why we all got into this business in the first place – the creation of great theater.

There is no “wait” in negotiate.

There is an “i-ate” in negotiate, so I guess that means you can serve lunch or snacks during your session.

 

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