Author Jeremy Terry
A guest article by Jeremy Terry.
If you follow theatre news, especially around Broadway, you’ve probably seen plenty of articles in the last year that say a lot about producers. Search Google news for “Broadway Producer” and one of the first headlines to come up is “Broadway Producers To Casting Directors: See You In Court!” This headline, about the recent controversy surrounding Broadway casting directors, is a perfect example of how a one-sided view has helped to paint the image of producers in a negative light. I could probably write a completely separate article on why I support the Broadway League’s stance on casting directors, but public opinion is more commonly swayed by the support of major celebrities and actors. Combine the union dramas with recent conversations about grosses on hit shows and the constant debate of workshops vs. labs, and the word “producer” can conjure the image of rich, greedy executives who take all of a show’s profits instead of sharing with actors, crews, and designers.
I’m here to offer you another perspective. When a production is lacking funds or resources, who is required to pick up the slack? Answer: it’s the producers. I have found that most producers are contributing so much behind the scenes of productions that the casts and crews never even see. When a production has gaps that need to be filled, it’s the producer who’s pouring their own money into the show. It’s the producer that’s scrambling to find the last minute manpower needed. It’s the producer who’s negotiating contracts and ensuring everyone gets what they need. And it’s the producer who steps in to any role where they’re needed in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
You can imagine this makes the job crazy. “But, Jeremy,” you cry, “Broadway brought in $1.43 billion in sales last season. Surely a $1.43 billion paycheck makes it all worth it!” Don’t be fooled – that number indicates total ticket sales. But out of that number comes every paycheck for every actor, crew member, designer, and anyone else; union pensions and benefits; royalties to the authors; fees to the venues; maintenance and upkeep of the shows; and a percentage returned to investors before the producers begin to see any of the grosses.
This is felt especially by independent producers, like me. We exist in every area where you find theatre, but often get our start in smaller productions – regional or community works, festivals, and so on. Most independent producers don’t even intend to take on that title - they simply want to get shit done. These are the people who can fix anything that goes wrong, make sure that the show is on track, and are always able to step back and see how individual choices will affect the big picture. Many of us are actually working on smaller scale productions with low budgets. That means that many of us pour our time, money, and resources into productions that we may never see any return from at all.
Producing theatre is not about making money. Sure, it’s great if a show makes money, especially hits like Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen. But those are the exception to the rule. Anyone who expects that kind of success going into the process is delusional. In fact, most of the time you’ll be lucky to recoup your investments. If a show doesn’t recoup (which 9 out of 10 Broadway shows do not, and that rate is even higher off-Broadway and beyond) then it is the producers and investors who are left feeling those losses. The actors are still paid, the unions still have their benefits, but the producers are the ones losing money on the production. So why do we do it?
The love of theatre. It’s that simple. Producers do what they do because they believe there is a story that needs to be told, and they want to see it come to life on the stage. The true job of a producer is to act as a catalyst for something they believe in – they exist to ensure that everyone else is successful. In acting courses they speak so much about “taking risks.” Well, no one takes larger risks in the theatre than the producers – they rarely reap great rewards financially, but they often find something better: the joy of watching a story be brought to life on stage because of them.
The next time you see an article insinuating that producers are raking in the money while the “little guy” gets nothing, remember this – union workers are guaranteed their pay and benefits up to a point, even if a show closes early. Thomas Kail, on the other hand, may be making millions now from Hamilton, but he likely lost just as much on Lombardi. Everyone wants a piece of the pie after a show is successful – but who took on the real risk with the production?
Learn about Jeremy Terry Productions here