Broadway General Manager
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Broadway General Manager

Demystifying the Most Important and Least Understood Role in Show Business

Peter Bogyo

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eBook - ePub

Broadway General Manager

Demystifying the Most Important and Least Understood Role in Show Business

Peter Bogyo

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About This Book

"An absolutely indispensable theater lover's guide to how Broadway works." —Peter Marks, chief theater critic, Washington Post "Highly recommended for those considering theater as a career and for those who love theater and want to know more about what goes on before the curtain goes up and after." — Library Journal Broadway General Manager is a fascinating, insightful, and entertaining glimpse into the normally closed world of theatrical general management. Penned by veteran Broadway insider Peter Bogyo, readers will gain an appreciation and understanding of what the business half of show business is all about. For the first time ever, gain backstage access to the fast-paced and glamorous world of Broadway. Broadway General Manager is an invaluable resource that examines actual production and operating budgets for a Broadway show and shares contracts for award-winning actors, directors, and designers, all of which are analyzed extensively. Also included are in-depth discussions on such topics as:

  • How to get started as a general manager
  • Negotiating contracts
  • How the producing entity functions
  • Programming the box office
  • The issues related to hiring employees
  • Binding insurance
  • Financial overview
  • Maintaining the run of a show
  • What to do when sales start to slump
  • Closing a show
  • And much more

Laced with humorous insights and personal anecdotes, Broadway General Manager will delight both the average theater lover as well as individuals with a serious interest in commercial arts management.

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1
How Does One Become a General Manager?
Just as all roads lead to Rome, there are multiple paths one can take to become a general manager. Some people go to graduate school for arts administration. Others intern, serve as an assistant, apprentice, and work their way up the ladder in a GM’s office. I cannot comment on the relative merits of either course; each can be equally effective.
If one is thinking of pursuing a career in general management, it is helpful to be clear on what personality traits will prove useful. In common with any other form of management—stage, company, or house—a general manager has to be organized, thorough, calm, and an excellent communicator. A good rule of thumb is you have to be someone who enjoys rolling up his or her sleeves and making order out of chaos. Due to the specific nature of the job, a GM should additionally have a good head for numbers and be an effective negotiator. If this profile does not match well with your own, you should reconsider if general management is the best niche for you in the theater. It’s important to play to one’s strengths, not struggle against them. When I decided to make the switch from acting to management, I felt like a fish that had finally been placed in water.
In my case, once I did decide to make this change, I sought a position in a general manager’s office rather than going to a graduate school. I had heard that a well-known GM had two new shows opening within a short time span and was looking to hire a second assistant.
NOTE: The production period, when a new show is being mounted, tends to be the busiest and most labor-intensive period in the life of a show. This is the time theatrical offices are most likely to hire additional staff, especially at the entry level. Find out which shows are gearing up to go into rehearsal and who is general managing them, and contact those offices about possible job openings. Even consider a short-term internship, as that can be a way of getting one’s foot in the door. An excellent publication for researching this information is Theatrical Index, the invaluable weekly guide to what’s going on in the commercial theater. It will always report who the key players are on a given project and list the contact information for such personnel as the producer, general manager, and press agent. Theatrical Index is available online or at such places as the Drama Book Shop.
I contacted this office and scheduled an interview, which seemed to go well. I was told that a decision would be made within the week. When a week had passed and I had not heard back, I called to inquire. The assistant who answered sounded extremely harried, told me the GM was on another call, and was not able to speak to me at this time. As soon as I hung up, I remembered a quote of Katharine Hepburn’s I had once read—“Never call or write when you can go in person.” Heeding her sage advice, I got up and headed straight over to the GM’s office. As I stood in his open office doorway, I could see that phones were ringing off the hook. The GM happened to glance up, saw me, and said, “Thank goodness! When can you start?” “Right now,” I replied. And I sat down at an empty desk, answered a phone, and stayed for half a decade.
In my experience, and that of most of my colleagues, the majority of Broadway GMs start out in entry-level positions in a GM’s office and slowly work themselves up the ranks, making themselves invaluable, gaining experience and knowledge on the job, and being entrusted with increasing levels of responsibility along the way. This path is similar to starting in the mailroom of a corporation. I began as the second assistant, eventually became the first assistant, then the office manager, and finally an associate GM. But the biggest development in my journey occurred when I became actively involved in the area of company management.
Each show has its own company manager (CM), an extremely responsible union position under the jurisdiction of ATPAM, an acronym for the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. The company manager is heavily involved in the day-to-day administration of the company and comes on board shortly before rehearsals are due to begin—he or she will read all the contracts, set up, calculate, and call in the weekly payroll, pay bills as directed, oversee house seat requests, make sure that union benefits are paid and sent to the appropriate fund office, enclose with them explicit cover sheets detailing what contribution should be credited to which individual’s account, keep track of ticket sales and advise which performances or price sections are weak and need attention, review the weekly theater settlement that accompanies the show’s settlement check, checking all the back-up as well as the arithmetic, send out royalty statements along with cover sheets and accounting statements, and submit new pricing information, performance schedule changes, or discount code requests to the box office. On top of all these office duties, the company manager must arrive at the theater an hour or so before each performance, eight shows a week, to serve as the producer and management’s onsite representative, checking in with the cast and crew, making them feel valued and cared for, answering questions, handling problems, picking up company house seat orders, and, once the performance has begun, meticulously checking the accuracy of the box office statement prepared by the theater’s treasurer before signing it on behalf of the producer, thereby attesting to its accuracy. These are just some of the main duties. A company manager deals with a myriad of other important details every day, six days a week. He or she needs to be equally adept at math and at people skills. In my opinion, company managers are the hardest working and the most underappreciated people in theater.
I began by asking our company manager if she needed any help. Company managers can always use help—to review the backup and check the math of someone’s expense reimbursements, to stuff, address, stamp, and seal a mailing to investors, to assign house seats, to set up file folders, “etc., etc., and so forth,” as the King in The King and I is wont to say. I read every document, budget, and contract in the office I could lay my hands on, made notes about things I didn’t understand, and asked questions about them at an appropriate time. I also asked the company manager if there were ever a time I could come to the theater and trail her without being in the way. There was, but not until after the company had settled in and gotten to know her. After doing this several times, and after her clearing it with the GM, I occasionally covered a Saturday matinee for her, allowing her a little more time with her family. Ultimately, and this was the single biggest step forward, I asked the office to sponsor me for ATPAM’s apprentice manager program, which would, eventually, qualify me to become an ATPAM company manager, earn a union-dictated base salary considerably higher than the average nonunion, office assistant salary, and receive pension, health, and annuity contributions from my employer. Just being a union apprentice, at 50 percent of the Broadway base, instantly doubled my income! (As a point of comparison, office assistants might make $500 a week, an ATPAM apprentice could make roughly $1,000 a week, and the current ATPAM Broadway manager minimum, at the time of writing, is $2,062 a week).
Once accepted into the program (again, one has to be sponsored by a theatrical office to be eligible), one becomes a Non-Member Apprentice Manager (NMAM; affectionately referred to as a “No, Ma’am”) and may be employed as an apprentice on a show when an existing member is hired per the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) between ATPAM and the Broadway League. A contract for the NMAM must be filed by the employer, and at the same time as the contract filing, the NMAM must pay a nonrefundable registration fee of $250 (which will be credited toward his or her initiation fee of $2,000). To be eligible for membership in the Union, NMAM candidates must accumulate a minimum of fifty-two credit weeks on valid contracts over a period of not less than two, but no more than three, consecutive seasons. (The exact dates of a theatrical season vary slightly from year to year, but they always begin on a Monday close to Memorial Day and extend until the Sunday fifty-two weeks later). No fewer than ten credit weeks, and no more than forty-two, may be accumulated in each season. During the course of the apprenticeship, the union sponsors a series of invaluable seminars on a variety of pertinent, complex subjects. Topics may include insurance, road (touring) settlements, local stagehands versus traveling stagehands, box office statements, musicians, the front-of-house unions on Broadway, etc. For each seminar attended, the NMAM will receive a $100 credit toward the ATPAM initiation fee of $2,000 (capped at $1,000). If one fails to accumulate the required number of work weeks within three consecutive seasons, one is removed from the program. Finally, following the accumulation of fifty-two credit weeks, all NMAMs must pass a strenuous and comprehensive written and oral exam for union admission. Similar to how lawyers prepare for their bar exam, apprentices study for months to prepare for this exam, often forming study groups with fellow NMAMs to help review all the contracts and rulebooks that will be on the test. Twenty-six years later, I am still in touch with many people from my old study group, so bonded did we become as survivors of this arduous experience. The full-day final exam was so intense that I know one colleague who can still recall exactly what she had for lunch during the break between the morning and afternoon sessions!
After passing the ATPAM entrance exam, I worked for several general managers as a company manager, both on and Off Broadway, for nine years. During this time I gained a wealth of experience managing a variety of shows in a range of theaters and benefited greatly from observing, and being mentored by, multiple GMs, each with his or her own distinctive management style. However, a company manager is tied to a show schedule, has to be at the theater eight times a week, evenings and weekends, and works six days a week. Eventually I married, had a son, and wanted a more conventional Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. job with weekends off. Also, I was itching to take on greater responsibility and wanted more say in the operating of a show. The solution: find someone who knew and trusted me and was willing to give me the opportunity to be his or her GM. In time, the opportunity arose and I grabbed it.
NOTE: When one is offered the opportunity to serve as the general manager of a Broadway show, one also becomes eligible to join the Broadway League, the producers’ and theater owners’ collective bargaining agent and the all-around trade organization serving the Broadway community. This in turn makes one eligible to become a Tony Award® voter, a very prestigious and highly coveted position within the industry.
Like most positions in the commercial theater, general managers work on a freelance basis. When the show closes (usually at their financial recommendation!), they are unemployed along with the actors, stage managers, stagehands, et al. But a GM’s involvement in putting together a show is so great and time consuming, GMs customarily demand, and get, right of first refusal to manage any future productions of the show under the producer’s control, lease, or license, especially in North America (see chapter 8). If the show is going to have a sit-down production in a foreign city—for example, London—it is likely a local GM who knows all the customs and players will have to be hired.
Once a producer has complete trust in a GM, he tends to keep returning to that GM with future projects. It’s a kind of marriage, and to paraphrase Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, “Once you have found him (or her, as the case may be), never let him go.”
Broadway is an industry built heavily on relationships and reputation. And for a GM, his reputation is everything. As Shakespeare, in Othello, says:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
—Othello, act III, scene 3
2
The Production Budget
Traditionally, the first thing a producer does after acquiring the rights to a property is hire a general manager to prepare two different budgets—a production budget, which tells the producer how much money he or she needs to raise to mount the show and get it to the first paid public performance (the show’s capitalization), and an operating budget, which details the costs to run the show on a weekly basis and provides various scenarios for recouping (earning back) the show’s production costs.
These two budgets are only estimates of expenses and will be revised many times in an ongoing dialogue between the general manager and producer as new information affecting costs arises. Together, they will form the economic blueprint for the production. Once all the numbers have been calculated, one can assess if this initial business plan is indeed sound or if it needs to be adjusted. For example, if a show’s breakeven (explained further in chapter 3 and in the glossary, but for those who can’t wait, the box office gross at which the show’s revenue just covers its running costs, leaving neither profit nor loss) turns out to be too high, one should consider several options—reducing costs, raising ticket prices, booking a larger theater—to achieve a better balance between revenue and cost.
For the purposes of illustration, sample budgets for a Broadway play with the following arbitrary parameters appear at the end of this chapter on page 42: five sets, twelve actors (including understudies; three of the twelve are stars, two of whom do not live in New York City), and slated to go into a Broadway theater of roughly 1,000 seats. In general, plays are simpler to budget than musicals, not having the additional musical departments required by a musical. But the basic principals are the same. The attached budgets, when appropriate, reflect the union minimums, or percentages thereof, as of this writing.
NOTE: It is important to stress that the cost of various items and services, equipment rentals, and minimum union salaries changes every year; the figures given in this book, while accurate at the time of writing, are intended to convey the concepts that go into budgeting. The numbers themselves are not meant to be taken as absolute cost guidelines and should not be appropriated by a nonprofessional who is attempting to cobble together his own budget.
Good budgeting begins with a careful reading of the script and the knowledge of how to analyze the text from a financial point of view. For example, how many scenes of varying location are specified in the script, how much time elapses between scenes or acts, is it a period piece or set in the present, and what is the age range and ethnicity of the male and female characters? The answers to these questions, along with discussions with key artistic personnel, will give the general manager valuable guidance for budgeting the cost of the set design, determining the basis for negotiating the designers’ fees, calculating the crew size needed to operate the show, quantifying the costume budget, estimating the number of people required in the wardrobe and hair departments, and judging how many understudies should be hired to cover all roles! Every play is unique, and a thorough reading of a script will also reveal if one should budget for any special needs—for example, a dialect coach, fight director, special effects designer, make-up designer, dance co...

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