How long should your preview period be?

One of the first things that Broadway Producers have to decide when a show gets green-lit is their schedule.

I often work backwards.  When do I want the show to open?  Once I have that date, I count back the number of weeks of previews that I want.  Then I count back the number of weeks of rehearsal I want.  Then I count back the scenic build start date, the advertising campaign start date, the date I start double therapy sessions per week and so on.

See how that works?

But wait . . . those preview performances . . . how do I and other Broadway Producers decide how long that should be?

It seems arbitrary, doesn’t it?

Some shows preview for two weeks, some for five, and there was one show that just previewed forever and never officially opened (they thought they could avoid reviewers that way).

But it’s anything but.

First, let’s define what previews are.  Preview performances are public performances in front of a (hopefully) paying audience, that are not subject to review by the official press (bloggers and tweeters and the like can have at it, obviously).

Preview performances allow the creative team and the Producers to make changes to the show based on how the audience is responding (and their own gut, of course), before officially opening.  (Read this blog to hear why I think this is what defines a great creative team.)

Although there are a lot factors that influence the length of a preview period, I ask myself two questions to help determine the length of my preview periods:

1.  CAN YOU SPARE SOME CHANGE?

So, the first and most important factor that goes into deciding how long a preview period should be is how many changes you think may be necessary before your show is “ready.”

Is your show a new musical?  A new musical with no source material, that is opening cold on Broadway?  Well, then, anything can happen, so you better make sure you have a longer preview period.

Is your show a revival of a play that is being done to the letter of the original script?  Have the actors performed it on this same set in another city?  Has the lighting designer teched it before?  If the answer to these questions is yes, then you can probably get away with a shorter preview period.

The less you’re concerned, the less previews you can do.

Just remember, shows freeze about 3-4 performances before the official opening, because that’s when the press starts coming and prepares their judgement.  So three weeks of previews are really two-and-a-half weeks of previews.

2.  DO YOU NEED AN INJECTION?

Unless you have some big stars, it’s hard to sell tickets to new productions.  What reviews do is provide a steroid shot of sales (if they are good) and some much needed press for your show.

Again, if you’ve got big stars and can sit back and ride them to opening, then take as long as you want.  But if you’re a show that you think may struggle to find an audience, you may want your show to open earlier (provided you are confident you’ll wow the press), so you can get the free ads that come with all those reviews.

You only get one shot to open on Broadway, so picking the length of your preview period is a big decision.  Pick too few performances and you could end up with an inferior product.  And then you’re stuck. Pick too many and you could end up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars as you wait for critics to chime in.

Choose wisely, my friends.  Because we don’t want you to be one of those unfortunate shows that has more preview performances than regular performances.

 

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