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Posts Tagged ‘expenses’

Are touring orchestras getting larger?

When a Producer is putting together a musical for a commercial tour she likely takes into consideration the potential expenses that will be associated with each engagement of that tour, and logic would also dictate that she would aim to build the show in such a way as to keep these engagement costs in line with the size and scope of the show. For instance, the Producer of a tour that has been out there a couple of years, and which doesn’t have the same level of momentum it did when it first began, will likely consider re-building and scaling down the production’s size so that it does not require the same number of Stagehands, Musicians and set pieces as, say, a new tour of a recent Broadway hit, or a longtime blockbuster.

Stagehands are often the single most expensive cost for an engagement. Loading a show in and out of a venue is usually the bulk of it, and then that can sometimes get even more expensive, prohibitively so, if there’s overtime involved, which can happen when a show is in the midst of it’s first few jumps and hasn’t established a yellow card yet. It can also happen when the show is delayed getting to it’s next market due to weather, or other travel issues, and so the load-in in those cases will inevitably go into OT so that the first scheduled performance can take place.

After Stagehands, probably the next most consistently expensive touring engagement cost for a musical is Musicians. When a tour is on the road, especially a new show, or a blockbuster, the Musicians expense will inevitably be a cost that will either be a shared cost between Producer and Presenter, (Guarantee deal, certain kinds of Terms deals) or fully paid for by the Presenter (certain kinds of Terms deals.) If the show has been out there for a long time, or is a Non-Equity tour, the Musicians costs will usually be “self-contained,” meaning that the show travels with all their own Musicians and this expense will not be a shared expense between Producer and Presenter. Presumably, the cost of Musicians in a self-contained show is part of the Guarantee that the Presenter pays to the Producer for licensing that show.

Is your head completely spinning now? Sorry. The main point I’m getting to here is that labor is expensive and both the Producer and Presenter are constantly doing what they can, often through negotiation, to each keep their engagement expenses down. At the same time, when the Producer is initially building a show to tour, while she wants to keep the costs down she also still wants the show to look good and sound good, which brings me back to the Musicians. It seems that even with the desire of both Producer and Presenter to keep tour costs down, the orchestras for some shows currently on The Road are rather large, which I first began discussing in my post “Mu$ic To The Road’$ Ear$?”

Presenters are generally skeptical about the need for large orchestras in touring shows, even though they appreciate them from an artistic standpoint, because in order to mitigate their risk they will often need to look to increasing ticket prices, which could potentially alienate the subscriber base they’ve taken so long to cultivate.

Here’s a recent article from The Washington Post that talks a bit about the larger orchestras out on The Road:

A HIGH POINT IN THE PIT

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Amy Polan Clarke

Amy Polan Clarke

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes before, during, and after an engagement takes place in each and every market. And in this case, when I say “behind the scenes” I don’t mean the backstage area before, during and after a performance. The behind the scenes action I’m referring to is related to all the complex operational details that need to be hammered out and continuously managed — deal points, contracts, technical riders, estimated engagement expenses, gross advertising budgets, ticket pricing, ticket discount strategies, and settlements, just to name a few —  and it is the theatrical booking agency that is right in the center, literally. Theatrical booking agencies solely represent the producer of a tour, but they are also the main liaison between the producer and the presenters licensing the show. So, booking agency engagement managers need to find just the right strategic balance of negotiation and diplomacy skills, and also be able to stay on top of a lot of information related to all the different shows they are booking from their roster, and all the vastly different presenters, markets and venues they are dealing with on a daily basis.

I’m lucky to know one of THE best theatrical engagement managers and Director of Operations in the business — Amy Polan Clarke. I got the chance to catch up with Amy recently over email and ask her some questions about the work she has done in the touring industry, her perspective with regard to the current state of The Road, and how producers and artists out there might connect with a booking agency and potentially get agents interested in their projects.

THE ROAD 101: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Amy. Can you describe in broad strokes what a theatrical booking agency does, and what your function has been as a Director of Operations?

AMY POLAN CLARKE: A theatrical booking agency is hired by a Producer and/or General Manager to sell, within a specified territory, performances of the Producer’s production of a theatrical show. After the agent would negotiate the dates and financial terms with Presenters in various markets, it was my job to create an analysis of the offers and submit them to the Producer, looking at the financial terms, ticket prices, history in the market, estimated expenses, Producer’s income potential and the buyer’s break even. We would go back and forth between the producer and the buyer negotiating the deal points and once they were acceptable to all, I would negotiate and create contracts outlining and formalizing the deal. I also kept a running tally of the Producer’s total estimated income for the tour to ensure that they would meet their weekly nut and updated agents as to the status. Once the tour actually began, I acted as the liaison among the agents, Producers, marketing reps, and tour personnel to keep it running smoothly. I also verified settlements and maintained summaries of grosses, expenses, income, and commissions for all performances.  We did not have a database system, so I created spreadsheet after spreadsheet for all the data.  In fact, some producers insisted that other agencies use my formats (this happened to me in the concert industry also – to this day, people are using settlement forms I created years ago). I also did operational tasks for the company such as dealing with new hires, vacation days, maintaining the website and creating the company’s annual roster brochure.

TR101: I see you’ve also been an Associate General Manager. How does that role differ from an operations role?

APC: As an Associate GM, I did similar tasks with negotiations, contracts and settlements, however also auditioned and hired talent; hired road crew, coordinated marketing and publicity campaigns and materials, secured visas and insurance for cast and crew, and handled all financial aspects of the production – budgets, cash flows, royalty statements, and P & L reports to investors. I also approved all tour expenditures and oversaw the sales and inventory of merchandise on the tour. It was much more hands-on to the actual production than being at an agency.

TR101: Wow, you certainly know your stuff!  How did you first get into the theatrical booking industry?

APC: I was the Senior VP of Touring for a concert promotion/producer/management firm where I worked for 30 years (started at age 20). I booked tours and went on the road with shows as a Tour Manager/Tour Accountant (similar to Company Manager). But in 2002 the company was bought and closed down.  I then worked as the Associate GM for an off-Broadway producer (until the show went bust), and I discovered I liked the theatrical business better than the music business so I pursued it.  Simma Levine of On the Road Booking and I had some business friends in common and she needed help.

TR101: A lot of artists and producers consider attending booking conferences in order to meet booking agents, and network. Do you have any opinions about the various booking conferences out there, i.e., WAA, Midwest Arts Conference, PAE, APAP, etc. as far as their usefulness to bookers, and to producers, or artists, looking for bookers?

APC: I think it’s important for agents to get out and meet the people you talk to on the phone all the time. That being said, I’m not sure that all that many new bookings actually come out of it. But for artists, they present a great opportunity to show your stuff to agents and/or producers who might potentially represent you. Getting them to actually come to your showcase is a whole other thing. It’s all very hectic.

TR101: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges facing a tour’s ability to turn a profit these days?

APC: Same thing as everyone else’s challenges in making a profit these days – you want to put out a quality project, but expenses are too high, sales are too low, and you have to keep the ticket prices low outside of the larger cities. And touring also has to deal with transportation costs, over which they have very little control. Sponsorships have also fallen by the wayside due to the economy. One thing I think the theatrical industry does better than the concert industry is offering so many varying ticket prices – subscriptions, groups, students, promotions, dynamic pricing, etc. The concert industry does very little of this. On the other hand, it makes it really difficult for the producer to know what his income might be. Theatre also doesn’t seem to have the scalping issues that concerts have, which is one of the reasons some concert ticket prices are so high (the theory being that the scalpers will get this price, so the band might as well get it).

TR101: Do you have any suggestions as to how a theatre producer, or theatre artist, might get their project noticed by a booking agency?

APC: Find a way to get them excited about the show. Of course everyone wants/needs to make money, but if someone is passionate about what they’ve seen, they just might invest their time in you and try to build you into a money maker.  You’ve got to have something that moves them, though.

 

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Amy Polan Clarke is a veteran of the live entertainment industry, having worked all sides of the spectrum in both the theatrical and concert worlds – for venues, promoters, producers, performers, and agencies. She has toured as Business/Tour Manager for musical performers from the Grateful Dead to Sarah Brightman and has worked on theatrical touring shows such as Hairspray, Movin’ Out, The Producers, and Spring Awakening.

Email Amy: amyclarke@comcast.net

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