Earlier this week, the theatrical royal family known as The Shuberts announced an unprecedented three year development deal with two commercial producers, Frederick Zollo and Robert Cole. Zollo and Cole (has a nice ring, doesn’t it?) have been responsible for a bunch of shows between them including Angels in America, Chitty2 Bang2, and, this season, they teamed up like the Wonder Twins to produce a little event known as A Steady Rain.
The deal seems pretty simple. Zollo and Cole get three years to develop projects and get dibs at Shubert theaters (one of the most challenging issues facing producers is how to develop a show without knowing if it will get a theater). This first-look deal guarantees Z&C that their shows will have a home, and gives their artists the security that their work will be seen on a Shubert stage. In addition, the Shuberts get first chance to invest, and they’ve given the guys some nice offices in the castle on 44th St.
What’s exciting about this deal is its similarity to the movie model. The Shuberts have forged a relationship with producers that they trust, respect and that have done well for them; guaranteed them “distribution” (theater availability); and pledged financial support if the product is something they are interested in. While the guys aren’t necessarily hired guns that are being paid to develop product, they have been given an incredible public demonstration of confidence and support from the largest landlord in the theatrical world.
Independent producers are so often out there on their own, flailing in the wind, trying to drum up interest for projects from artists, investors, etc,.and that is getting harder to do considering how risky of a proposition Broadway is. When a producer can say that they have a contractual relationship with The Shuberts for developing new material that guarantees them a theater and possible investment, that goes a long way.
Look, Z&C are smart, successful, and powerful producers in their own right, so I’m sure they didn’t have problems getting their phone calls returned before this deal. Still, I’d bet that they go up a few notches on everyone’s call list now.
This is a bold move, and a great one. Let’s hope it’s successful for everyone, because if it is . . . they’ll be looking for more Producers to fill the offices in Shubert Castle.
My suggestion for the next deal? Get someone from the Roth generation.