The 4 Stages of Production for a Broadway Producer, or “How to eat Pizza.”
I had this friend of mine in high school who could eat a whole slice of pizza in one bite.
He literally shoved the entire thing in his mouth, chewed for about 7 minutes . . . and then usually burped (and sometimes he tried to blow it in my face . . . awwww bro-friends).
Me, I can’t eat like that. To avoid acid reflux, a burnt roof of the mouth, and oh, I don’t know, CHOKING to death, I like to take small bites. It makes the meal easier to digest.
I recommend this slice strategy not just for pepperoni, but for all the things in your life that you want to chew up . . . whether that’s running a marathon (think of it a mile at a time, not the 26.2-mile insanity that it is), writing a play (think a scene at a time rather than the August: Osage County of it all), and of course, producing a show on Broadway.
But what are those portions of producing?
I divide the Broadway producing process into four tranches or better yet, chapters, in order to make the whole thing a little more digestible for my brain. And in order to make it even easier to remember and understand, I call them The Four Ps.
The planning stage is everything from the light bulb moment of “Hey! What about a musical about a Catholic boy band whose names are Matthew, Mark, Luke & Juan!” (That’s my first show, Altar Boyz, btw) to the rights acquisition of underlying materials to writing, reading and workshopping the show, raising money, and so on. There’s a lot that goes into this prologue of a show’s life (especially if it’s a musical), but without proper planning, you’ll never get to . . .
The production phase is marked by the beginning of rehearsals. Why sure, things are getting juicy in the weeks leading up to rehearsals with set builds, tickets on sale, and so on, but once you have that meet and greet/first day of school in the rehearsal studio, you shift into 2nd gear and the 2nd chapter. You’re seeing people every day and you’re making decisions at the speed of light on crack, as you head like a bullet train towards . . .
The production period ends when the curtain goes up on that first preview. And once it does, the Producer’s job changes dramatically from the production period. Why sure, there is a lot of production residue still left over in the preview period that a Producer has to clean up, but there are two new responsibilities that have to be at the top of a Producer’s to do: 1) listen to the audience’s feedback on the show itself and on why they bought a ticket in the first place and 2) support the creative team so that they can make the show the best it can be. As I wrote about here, this is the most crucial and most fragile time of a show’s existence . . . and to put a little more pressure on Producers, it’s also the shortest. Ahhh, show biz.
IV. Post Opening
After the show opens, that’s when things get real. Honestly? I’ll get anxious during the preview period not because opening night is looming (as I talked about two days ago, I get less nervous as we get closer to opening), but because I just want to get past opening and find out what we have to work with when the reviews come out. Shaping the advertising and marketing messaging now that reviews and a few weeks of word-of-mouth are in the street is a Producer’s primary job post opening. This is the chapter you hope is the longest of them all. 🙂 The challenge, however, is that our product is a living, breathing thing. It’s not a film, or a CD, or a golf training device that is produced and shipped and doesn’t change. Our product needs food and water every day, which can distract a Producer from their primary post-opening responsibilities. Actors leave for other gigs, scenery malfunctions, etc. which makes it hard to manage your time during Phase IV. The most successful Producers I know are geniuses at multi-tasking and handling crises as the come up, without taking their eye off their long-term goals.
These four chapters or pizza bites of producing aren’t the most complicated, but I promise that the moment you divide your project up into these four different “stages” (pun intended), it’ll instantly feel more manageable, and easier to accomplish.
And before you know it, you’ll have a show on Broadway yourself. Just don’t invite my bro-friend to the opening, because he eats like a pig.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.