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Making a Broadway Musical

Key Players: The Production Team

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2000, Revised 2003)

So who is involved in the making of a Broadway musical? With the exception of a few technical positions (such as sound design), these roles have existed in varying forms since ancient times.

Producer

In the past. solo producers (Florenz Ziegfeld, David Merrick, Cheryl Crawford, etc.) had tremendous input into the creation of a show. Many important Broadway musicals began because such producers had an idea and then hired the composer and writers. Now, producers don't come into the process until a show is already written and tested. With production costs now in the tens of millions, it takes teams of a dozen or more producers to raise the funds for a show – making it impossible for any one of them to exercise creative control over a project. Independent producers are often overshadowed by corporate producers like Disney, who have the resources to make almost anything into a hit.

Investor

Traditionally, Broadway investors contributed no more than a few thousand dollars each to a new show. This entitled them to a pair of opening night tickets, a return on their investment if the show was a hit, and a tax deduction if the show failed. Today, investors contribute hundreds of thousands each, and there is little chance they will see much profit. They want the prestige of saying they have connections to show business. As a courtesy, all Broadway producers make house seats available to each other for purchase – and each producer can access to these choice seats for their investors. Some big-figure investors think their dollars entitle them to creative input. In some cases, corporate sponsors get far too much say in the creative process.

General Manager

General managers handle the ongoing business needs of a show – paying salaries, dealing with complaints, purchasing supplies, and making keeping the show's operating expenses on budget. (Lower expenses make it possible for a show to keep running when ticket sales drop.) General managers at the Broadway level are usually in demand and tend to oversee several shows at a time, hiring a Company manager to oversee the day-to-day needs of each production.

Stage Manager

his is the battle commander who makes sure the elements of a show come together successfully. For starters, the stage manager (SM) schedules rehearsals and coordinates the handling of all scenery, props, and costumes. For major productions, the SM also has to maintain a master script, noting all staging and technical cues – this script then becomes the "bible" which all future performances must conform to. During actual performances, the SM is in charge of everything that takes place on stage and backstage, overseeing every actor, set, technical issue and prop. If a cue is missed or a performer takes liberties with the material, the SM is expected to correct things – and only if necessary, call in the director and/or the producers to help keep egos in line. Thanks to wireless communication, stage managers are no longer glued to their traditional backstage command podium. Now, the stage manager and a team of assistants (ASM's) can be anywhere they are needed, using remote headphones and computerized controls to communicate. Some Broadway stage managers move through the theatre through each performance, checking in on different members of the production team. The complex demands of high-tech productions have made these men and women more important than ever – the unsung heroes who hold shows together.

House Manager

Talk about hard working people who get almost no credit! While the stage manager oversees the cast and crew, the house manager takes care of everything that happens on the audience's side of the curtain, coordinating the ushers, box office managers, theatre custodians, ticket takers, bartenders, souvenir sales team and more. If a theatergoer has a serious problem, (noisy neighbors, ticket disputes, health crisis, etc.) the house manager is called in.

Dance Captain

For Broadway runs, national tours, and major regional productions, a choreographer cannot be on hand to oversee every performance. So a reliable and experienced dancer is selected to oversee the musical staging. As a musical runs on, dancers can easily miss a step or become unsure about nuances in the staging – and a sharp-eyed dance captain will quickly set them back on track.

Casting Director

With encyclopedic memories, casting directors stay up-to-date on the ever changing pool of acting talent in show business. They must maintain massive contact files and be ready to call in a wide selection of performers to fit any particular role. When a director or producer wants to audition an actor (including major stars), the casting director arranges it – usually by contacting an actor's agent. Actors (and their agents) make a point of getting their resumes and photos in front of as many casting directors as possible. Top producers of the past often had full-time casting directors of their own, but most casting directors today are free agents who work for a variety of producers.

Advertising

Producers hire an advertising firm to design a show logo, posters and window cards, print and TV ads, and all other advertising materials. Theatrical advertising is so specialized that only two or three New York firms handle every show in town.

Press Representative

The more press coverage a show gets, the better – both before and after it opens. The Press Representative maintains contact with every newspaper, magazine, radio and television station, making sure that a show gets as much coverage as possible. They arrange interviews, suggest special interest features and create publicity events. Press reps also make sure the critics are invited to previews and given VIP treatment.. They also try to dispel any negative rumors ("Miss Bankhead hasn't touched a drop since we started rehearsals!") that might lead to negative coverage.

Actors

Thought we'd never get to them, did you? For many years, the performers in musical theatre were divided into two distinct camps – singers and dancers. With the rise of the director-choreographers in the late 1950's, it became important for Broadway-level performers to do it all. Into the mid-1960's, it was possible for chorus performers to make a fulltime living in the theatre, but stage work is now so uncertain that most professional performers have back-up careers as waiters, bartenders, administrative assistants, etc.

Next: Key Players - The Creative Team