10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 5: Brian Lynch, Production Manager

With this volume of 10 Qs for a Broadway Pro, we’re going behind the curtain to find out what one of the top Production Managers in the biz has to say about his gig.

If you’ve ever sat at a show and been amazed at how a piece of scenery fit onstage (or backstage), or how a fireworks-like lighting effect didn’t burn up the ensemble, then you’ve witnessed the wonderful work of a Production Manager like Brian Lynch.

Brian Lynch has worked on big shows, small shows, and shows that are juuuuuuuust right, coordinating the technical needs and desires of the Designers and Director, with the needs and desires of the Producers . . . oh, and then he has to coordinate all of that within the confines of the Local 1 Stagehand agreement.

As you’ll see, Brian is a man of few words.  Why?  Well, he’s one of the busiest guys I know, and great Production Managers give you the answers you need quick and fast.  It may not be the answer you want, but the best ones just tell you the truth and tell it yesterday . . . so it doesn’t cost you money tomorrow.

Let’s see how Brian answers our 10 Questions.

1. What is your title?

Production Manager/Technical Supervisor

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

West Side Story, In the Heights, recently closed Ragtime (unfortunately, great show), and all White Christmas companies

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

Ensure that each production is done with efficiency and within a well-structured technical budget.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

A working knowledge of all technical aspects of mounting a show in a theatrical environment, being able to work creatively with producers, directors, designers, shops, and stagehands of all types and temperaments, and having a thorough knowledge of all the resources that are available…oh, and lots of patience.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

Five years of electronics on a nuclear submarine.  B.A. in English from Loyola University, 1970.  Thirty-five years working on Broadway with Manny Azenberg, Jim Freydberg, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Charlotte Wilcox, etc. etc.

6. What was your first job in theater?

Working on automation systems for the Civic Light Opera Company in Los Angeles…1971.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

It is an art form and all art is important…not to mention the fact that it is how I make my living

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Staying relevant and affordable to today’s young people.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

The death of the 25-million-dollar musical!

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

Enjoy the challenge.

(Not So) Favorite Quotes Vol. XXIV: Won’t you be my neighbor?

One of the couples on my floor loves the theater.  They go on a regular basis, have great taste, and are always asking me for recommendations on shows to see.

Oh, and get this . . . they always pay full price.  (insert “whoopee!” here)

Last week, I ran into them in the elevator and they told me they were on their way to see Red.  I started asking them my usual string of mini focus group questions:  how they heard about Red, if they could describe the artwork, and then I landed on my finale of, “Where do you go to get your tickets?”

Their answer was Telecharge . . . but then the husband’s eyes widened and I could tell he wanted to share some sort of secret.  Here’s what he said:

“Yep.  We buy on Telecharge.  And pay full price.  But we never buy in advance.”

My heart sunk . . . and I kind of wanted them to move to another building.

He continued:

“Yeah.  We find we get better seats when we buy last minute. Whenever we try to get something in advance, we always get crap. But if we go online the day before or even the day of, we usually find gold.”

When I heard this, I wanted to move . . . to Tallahassee. There’s something wrong with a ticketing purchase process that reinforces full-price buyers to wait until pulling the trigger.

So what’s the problem?

There are probably a few issues at work here, but I’d bet a couple of full-price tickets to Red that the issue most at work is that theaters and shows are holding too many of their best locations for House Seats, etc.  House Seats (or quality locations held for use by the Producers, Theatre Owners, Actors, Designers, etc.) that are not used get dumped back into the general pool of available seats 2-3 days before each performance, which is why there is sometimes a flood of good seats available closer to the performance.  My neighbor was probably getting the tickets held for the Set Designer, or one of the Principal Actors, etc.

The problem is . . . there are so many people that have House Seats in their contracts, that up to 75 prime orchestra seats can be held . . . for every performance.  I mean, is the Set Designer or Principal Actor really going to use 2 or 4 seats every night???

In survey after survey, our audiences tell us that the #1 thing that they want is a great seat . . . and we’re holding them back.

By serving our own selfish needs, we’re causing our customers to do one of three things:

– Not buy at all (there’s really no better seat than on your own couch).

– Wait until something better opens up, thereby decreasing our ability to build advances.

– Find better locations elsewhere . . . translation:  they are going to brokers.

That last one is the most ironic.  Everyone in our biz has been concerned about the huge amount of business going to third party ticket brokers.

Well . . . news flash:  we’re part of the reason our audiences are seeking them out.

We’ve got to find a way to give our customers as much access to the best seats possible.  And one of those ways is to decrease the number of house seats we all hold.

Then, after we’ve decreased the number of house seats . . . we can start charging for them.  (For more on house seats, click that link)

What should a Producer study? A Producer’s curriculum in detail.

I got an email from a college student this week who knows she wants to be a Producer.  There’s no question about it. She’d declare it as a major . . . if she could.

Her school has a theater major and a business major but it doesn’t have a “producer’s track” . . . and not many do.  Even my alma mater only has a minor (and until we can turn Producing theater into a more stable and viable career choice, I’m not sure many will).

Since her school hasn’t spec’d out a plan for producers-to-be, she asked me what I thought she should study on her way through school.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m a big pusher for producers to take standard business courses as they’re coming up, from accounting to marketing to contract law (and there are still times I wish I had taken a few more myself).

But mostly I advised this focused young woman to take theater classes.  I told her to take a directing class, with people that want to be directors.  Take an acting class with actors.  Take a writing class with writers.  Take a design class with you-know-who and so on.

These are the people that are going to be on your team in the future.  Learn their language.  Learn what makes them tick.  Learn what they want out of a show.  And by doing so, you’ll learn how to help solve their problems.

Theater is one of the most collaborative art forms there is, and part of a Producer’s job is to make sure those collaborators are working at their absolute best with each other throughout the long process of developing and putting on a show.  By making an effort to learn their craft, and by understanding more of what they go through on a day-by-day basis, you’ll be able to earn more of their respect . . . and you’ll be able to help them do their best work.

Oh, and another part of a Producer’s job is to be able to spot talent.  By sitting in these classes, you’ll have the inside scoop on tomorrow’s superstars.

That’s right . . . the next Tony Kushner, Joe Mantello and Al Pacino are sitting in a class somewhere this very second.

By sitting among them, you’ll be able to spot that talent, and snatch them up for yourself . . . before I do.

(And for those of you out of school?  All of this still applies.  There are umpteen classes for theater artists all over the country, and even online.  And great business classes, too.  There’s no excuse to not know anything anymore. It’s all in front of the screen you are staring at right now.)

If you are looking for a Master’s Degree level of information about producing, I encourage you to join The Producer’s Perspective PRO right now! When you become a member of PRO, you’ll not only be a part of an exclusive community of 200+ Producers, Writers and PROfessionals, but you’ll get access to my complete Training Course Library with over 16+ Producing courses available right now, and 4 new courses released each month!

To join The Producer’s Perspective PRO now for just $27 your first month, click here. And at $27 it’s a whole heck of a lot cheaper than a Masters Program!

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