Theater Things That Don’t Make Sense Vol. 12: Quote this!

If you’re a Producer or a General Manager and you reach out to an agent to hire an actor, a director or any member of a creative team, you might often hear this comment after your first offer:

“Thank you, but that offer is too low.  NAME OF ARTIST’s quote is $XXX.”

This “quote” nomenclature refers to the highest payment that the artist received for a previous project. (Anyone else see the irony of me putting the word quote in quotes?)

Of course, an agent wants to get the most for their client, so with each project they try to drive the dollars higher and higher, establishing higher quotes that they never want to dip below again.  It’s a good system . . . for the agent.

But here’s why it doesn’t make sense.

You see, shows are like snowflakes.  Most of them disappear quick.  (Hehe.  Gotcha, didn’t I.)

Ok, bad jokes and cliches aside, no two Broadway shows are alike.  Their budgets vary by millions, their marketability varies, their casts vary, their Producers vary, and so on.  To try to say that one compensation package fits all just doesn’t work.  Should an actor or a director get paid the same on a limited run revival of a Pulitzer Prize winning play with Hugh Jackman as a controversial new play with an unknown cast that never had a regional tryout?

Sure, I get it.  The actor or director’s talent stays the same.  He’s bringing the same giant creative brain and body to the piece and that has value.  And it makes sense to try to establish that value like a stock price.

But unfortunately, it just doesn’t work, as some economic models are more fragile than others.  Riskier shows require more flexible compensation packages that still provide the artist the potential to make the same amount of “quote” dollars, but maybe after recoupment, (I’ve often offered flat fee bonuses at levels of recoupment to artists who dip below their “quotes” so they can get to where they want to get to, provided the show succeeds).

So when you’re negotiating with agents, and you hear the word, “quote,” find out what you can about the project that the quote is from, and compare and contrast your project with it.  How are you the same?  How are you different?  And use that to try and negotiate something that compensates your artist fairly, but works within your economic model.

Hopefully it’ll work out.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Some agents just want the “most” for their clients no matter what the project.  The best agents realize that the “most” doesn’t always just mean money.


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Theater Things That Don’t Make Sense Vol. 11: Why pay once, when you can pay twice.

When I was producing Godspell, I bumped into a a quirky little union rule that didn’t make much sense to me, but cost my investors and me more than a few ‘cents.’  I was gonna blog about it then, but I figured it was a pretty rare situation.  Since I didn’t think I’d slam up against it again anytime soon, I let it lie.

Flash forward two years later, and while budgeting Gettin’ The Band Back Together for Broadway, I’ve bumped back into it.  And from what my GM tells me, it comes up on a whole bunch of Broadway shows.

So, I thought I’d clue you in, in case you face the same issue in the future.

Here’s what’s going down:

On a show where an actor plays an instrument, there is a bit of a jurisdictional battle over which union that “player” should belong to – the actors’ union or the musicians’ union.  Sure, he’s an actor, and that’s his primary function.  But, as the musician’s union justifiably argued years ago, that actor might be replacing the work of one of their members – and that’s the ultimate no-no when it comes to unions.

Honestly?  The musician’s union has a point.  In some cases, if that actor didn’t play that instrument, you might need another musician in the pit, right?  And you probably auditioned looking for an actor that played that instrument in the first place.  The musician’s union could be losing a job, and it’s their job to prevent that.

When this came to the bargaining table years ago, the first part of the decision was that the actor had to be paid the greater of his contractual actor salary, or the salary that he would have made as a musician.  Example:  if the actor’s contractual was $1,750 but the minimum musician salary for whatever he was playing was $1,875 . . . he’d get $1,875.

Ok, makes total sense.  I’ve got no issue here.  We shouldn’t get away with paying less for a specific type of work.

But here’s where it starts to get a little odd.

The actor is made to join the local musician’s union (and pay the initiation fee).  Now, since a majority of them never expect to work in that union’s jurisdiction again, guess who a lot of agents ask to pay that fee?  That’s right.  The Producer.

Hmmm, not sure I like that part.   But hold on, that’s not the big issue.

The producer is then required to pay benefits (health, pension, etc.) on behalf of that performer to the Actors Union . . . and the Musician’s union.

Yep.  Both unions get paid.

One person.  Double benefits.

Now remember, in most cases, that actor won’t work under the musician’s union again, which means they most likely won’t vest in the pension plan, and won’t need the health insurance (since they will most likely be covered under their actors’ union plan).

One person.  Double benefits . . . and they won’t even use them.

And now you can probably see why, in 2013, this just doesn’t make sense to me.  And this is one of those little things that drive Broadway Investors crazy.

Instead of all of the folks in on this battle coming to an equitable solution that didn’t add expense to the show (splitting benefits, a your-turn/my-turn rotation, etc.), the solution was to just make the Producers and Investors pay more than they should.  And remember, this wasn’t even our jurisdictional issue!  We just got saddled with the mediation bill . . . to the ‘tune’ of thousands of dollars per year.

You know, come to think of it, I’d be even more upset about this if I were the actor!  Why?  Think about it.  If there is extra money being paid out, and the actor isn’t going to see a benefit, why not just pay the money straight to the actor???  They are the ones doing the extra work, right?   That money could be going straight in their pocket!  And they could invest it/bank it as they see fit!

(Now, let me make something clear. I’m not pointing a blamity-blame-blame finger at anyone for this idiosyncratic rule.  These kinds of things get into agreements for a whole bunch of reasons, including tit-for-tat on other areas of the negotiation, precedents, etc.  So no blame here – no evil anyone.  We study history not to blame, but to learn, so as not to repeat.)

So what’s a Producer to do?

Well, you can choose to not have your actors play instruments.  (That was something we considered greatly on Godspell where our actors weren’t replacing pit musicians at all.  The artists came in playing instruments and we found a way to use that in the show.)

But then the show probably just wouldn’t be as good.

And so you pay.  And that’s what is happening now, and that’s what I’ll be obligated to do on Gettin’ The Band Back Together (unless there is a collectively bargained change, which would probably mean us giving up something else somewhere else . . . sigh).

But we can’t do these kind of things forever.  This is how budgets get bloated.  Rules like this have to be more realistic, or we will have to start making decisions that will cause the shows to suffer.

And when the shows suffer, the audiences don’t come, and then there won’t be room for any benefit payments, never mind two.


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To keep ’em coming in the front, you should let them in the back.

I got an email from my high school English teacher last week asking if I could help a group of students she knew get a backstage tour at a Broadway show.

She didn’t ask me which show they should see or if I could help them score some tickets to Kinky Boots.  She just wanted to know how to get them to see backstage. You know, “where the magic happens.”

I’m trying to help them out, of course, because I know what most of you already know, but it is worth blog-peating . . . allowing your audience to see how it all happens makes them even more interested in watching it all happen.

So this is one of those simple, duh-like, blogs that should just, um, happen.

Every single theater on Broadway . . . and dare I say, every single theater across the country theater-loving world should offer a public backstage tour right with their orchestra tickets.  That’s right, put it out in the open.  Don’t make English teachers track down their former troublemaking students (oh, I caused some trouble in that English class – not lighting off firecrackers in the back row trouble, but (nerd alert) debates over the genius and sexuality of Ernest Hemingway type of trouble).

A simple back stage tour can do so much for every show/institution.  It can:

  • Generate interest in the show currently running.
  • Generate revenue (yep, I’m saying charge for it, if you wanna).
  • Give our “avids” something else to keep their interest.
  • Allow the theater an up-close-and-personal chance to upsell things like a subscription, or solicit donations.
  • And more.

I’m not sure what Broadway is waiting for.  This should just be a thing already.  We probably have some labor issue (that’s usually the problem with things that are oh so simple), but we should find a way around it, or find a way through it.

Because The Wizard of Oz was on to something.  Seeing what goes on beyond the curtain is when the (marketing) magic really happens.


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How American Idol keeps you in, even when they’re off.

This should be American Idol‘s summer vacation.  They just crowned the winner of season 12 a couple of months ago.  And Season 13, with some new celebrity judge du jour (I’m hoping for Prince Harry or the girl that Anthony Weiner was sexting), doesn’t debut until mid January 2014.

But the Producers are already building quite a buzz for the next airing, as they always do.


They’re having auditions.

In addition to online submissions, the American Idol Audition Bus is rolling across the country, making stops everywhere from Foxborough, MA to Omaha, Nebraska, giving everyone everywhere a chance at Idol glory.

Thousands upon thousands of people will show up . . . some great, and some like this.  But in addition to finding a new slate of contestants, Idol will have created even more enthusiastic fans than they had before.

You don’t think all those people that audition in the coming months will be more enthused about watching Season 13 when it rolls around?  They’ll tune in to say, “Who beat me?”  And they’ll be proud to tell their friends, “I auditioned for that.”  By involving people in the process, they expand their audience.

I realize that American Idol‘s whole M.O is about finding unknown talent and giving them a stage unlike they’ve seen before, but there is a lesson here for Broadway and Broadway Producers.

Why doesn’t every Broadway show have open calls, allowing anyone and their brother, Equity or not, a chance at Broadway stardom?  We did it for Godspell, and we had lines around the block (and collected emails).  So many people said it was their dream just to be seen for a Broadway show, and they would never forget it, even if they went back to their day job the next morning.  Sure it’s a cost, but you don’t think you’d make that back in press and tickets?  And just imagine if you found a cast member from that casting net.  Oh the articles!

Or, what if we expanded this idea even further . . .

What if Broadway, as an industry, had a National audition tour, every year?  What if we threw 3-5 of our best casting directors on a big bus, and rolled it out Idol style.  Can you imagine the turnout?  Can you imagine the press?  Can you imagine the good will we’d generate for Broadway?

But not only that, I’d bet the cost of that bus that we’d actually find someone if not several someones worthy of being on a Broadway stage.

Broadway can sometimes feel like a super exclusive meat-packing district club . . . hard to get into, and even a little scary.  By opening up our doors, and allowing people into our process, we could guarantee that we have lines at our doors for years.


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Guess which genre of source material hasn’t been adapted for the Broadway stage.

Bunches of books have been made into Broadway shows, from Phantom, to Tale of Two Cities, to Ragtime.

And, as is more and more the case, lots of movies have made the leap as well, from Billy Elliot, to Big, to Kinky Boots.

We’ve even had albums morph into musicals, like Tommy, and as well as the catalogs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys), ABBA (Mamma Mia), and many more.

Lastly, we’ve also had a ton of TV shows make it to the stage, like . . . er . . . uh . . . you know like . . . hmmmmm.

Books, movies, music, even a poem (Cats) . . . but how many TV shows have become Broadway musicals?

Seriously.  How many?

Can you find any?

We didn’t.

Ok, there’s the recent Addams Family . . . but the creators went out of their way (and rightly so) to state that they were using the original Charles Addams cartoons as their source material.  The brand of the TV show was just a bonus.

Any others?

I know about the Happy Days musical that’s played the regionals and a few tour stops.  And there’s a Lucy that’s been making the rounds.  Jerry Springer The Opera went up in London.  But like all the others, it never made it here to Broadway.  (Most recently, The Honeymooners was all set to make its pre-Broadway debut this fall at The Old Globe, but backed out at the last second).

So what is it?  Why don’t TV shows make strong source materials for Broadway musicals?

Is it because their story is told over seasons instead of a more finite arc?  Or conversely, is it because their plots are generally resolved in a 30 or 60 minute quick, simply structured wrap up?  Is it because they are generally conceived as “lighter” fare and musicals require a heavier theme?  Or frankly, is it just because we haven’t gotten around to them yet and the next decade will bring an onslaught?

Whatever the answer, the Dragnet-style “just the facts” are that TV shows don’t make successful Broadway musicals.  In fact, they just don’t make Broadway musicals period.  That seems to be the rule.

Of course, that’s the rule until someone breaks it.  And I look forward to writing that blog.

You have an idea as to why there hasn’t been more Broadway musicals based on TV shows?  Or do you have an idea for one?


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