Editorial: In Praise of Producers


I once knew a Producer who sold his wife’s jewelry to finance a show.  The marriage did not survive, but the show was a hit. I knew a Producer who gave away most of his shares in a production just to get it on its feet, only to watch his partners become rich while he struggled to make rent.  I knew a Producer who mortgaged his family’s home to renovate a Theater he didn’t even own.

It has been suggested that Producers are mercenaries, feeding off of artists for financial gain.  Granted, the Producer is the only position in the Theater that is not hired and it only takes one thing to be a Producer; Money.  So you would think that Producers would come in a variety of personalities, but actually, there are traits that most Producers share.

Lead Producers in Commercial Theater are a quixotic group.  They have to be. They are setting themselves up in a business known for failure.  They are achievement-oriented and risk-taking optimists, working in a field where you have to be in love with the art of Theater to put yourself through such insane pressure with an unforgiving deadline.  Theater, like the Church, is a “calling,” not a vocation.

It drives me crazy when people say that Producers aren’t creative.  Producers weigh every decision they make for its artistic merits.  If they didn’t choose that particular play with those creatives, the show would not go on, no one would have jobs or the potential for continued income or even, perhaps, glory.

It drives me more crazy when Producers are blamed because a show folds.  It’s the nature of the business; all shows close eventually.  Sooner or later, the audience will wander and money will run out. NO ONE feels the pain of closing a show so acutely as Producers; watching years of negotiating, charming,  wheedling, maneuvering, and begging come to nothing as their dream disappears overnight.

Sure, there are a few bad apples who keep two sets of books or move money around illegally from one production to another as if they will never get caught. (You can probably guess who I am implying.)  But they eventually do get caught.

The changing regulations of the Theater Industry have not helped Producers.  Up until 1996, the New York Investor Protection Bureau required that all signed Investment paperwork and funds had to be in before the first paid public performance of a theatrical production.  This gave a rock solid deadline for Producers to use to raise money.  But 20 years ago, Congress passed a law called the National Securities Markets Improvement Act (NSMIA) that preempts the states’ powers so there has been no law whatsoever requiring a producer to have  the financing secured by any particular date or milestone in the production cycle.  Some attorneys and producers responded to this change by setting up their own deadlines in the production’s offering documents, others have left it open-ended. I have seen offering papers that used a deadline of one year after the official Opening Night! 

As a result, in the past 20 years we have seen more shows fold before rehearsals start, because if you have a group of risk-taking optimists and take the pressure of a deadline off of their investors, chaos ensues and funds promised do not always materialize.  Producers should be praised for responsibly pulling the plug before the first rehearsal, rather than berated for lost income.  

Believe me, no one hates closing a show more than the Producer. It is their lifeblood, their reason to be.


Let Laura read it to you======>


6 thoughts on “Editorial: In Praise of Producers

  1. It’s about time someone – Laura Heller – is giving it to us like it is !! Producers love theater and every production is a risk and the producers bare all of it! Every production my brilliant sister, Rose and I produce – we always and I mean always put up at least 25% of our own money. Not many producers can say that. The only time we don’t put up that 25% or more is when it is a star driven limited run of a play like The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper – a guaranteed home run! In that case we gave all of our units but 1 to our loyal investors to show our deep gratitude and appreciation for sticking with is us when they joined us on a production that was a guaranteed home run or a show that didn’t recoup its investment. We’ve been lucky and most of our shows have done well. However, his past season and this summer in particular has been difficult because the box office figures are down and I worry because it’s not only our money at risk but those of our investors.
    Kudos and many thanks to Laura for this great piece on acknowledgement of us producers without whom there wouldn’t be the theater we all love and enjoy.

  2. Laura Heller’s written and audio reviews and editorials have all the essential ingredients: a great balance of style, intelligence, and a voice chock full of character.

  3. A most interesting and informative posting. Without producers, I would never have had my career in theatre. So many elements have to come together to mount a production, it’s mind-boggling and incredibly expensive. The old chestnut about how to make small fortune in theatre is very much a fact of life for producers. Producers deal with headaches I can’t even begin to imagine. And they do it on a daily basis. Although our paths are unlikely to cross, we share a love of theatre and I want to thank you for all you do. There could and would be no “show”, if the “business” were not taken care of. You make the “magic” possible, and the world is a better place for it.

  4. It takes a village of producers who certainly can’t be in it for the money. I miss the era when there would be at most one or two names on the marquee and then the word presents……. I had an opportunity to work for 3 producers on two musicals and they worked as hard if not harder than anyone on those shows. Even shows that run a year or more do not make back their investment – at a bank you can at least earn 1% interest. And when a show closes, everyone goes after the producer if money is owed, the creative go on to their next show, We have Tony Awards but there needs to be a purple heart for anyone who is a producer even if the show closes in rehearsal.

    Well said Laura.

  5. Well said , Laura Heller. And THANK YOU, THANK YOU for giving us producers some acknowledgement !! Your wisdom and insight is to be praised ! I appreciate you !!

  6. Wow…..brava for taking the time to say exactly what a producer has to do to deliver what he/she says is going to happen…..a show, in a theatre with the most talented, creative, beautiful people on G-d’s earth. We are the business people behind the glamor, behind the hard decisions and the ones who are responsible for every single penny earned or spent. An awe inspiring responsibility. I know. I am a proud producer. Thanks for saying what you did. It is about time.

Comments are closed.