BWW Interview: What Does It Take to Be a Broadway Producer? John Breglio Reveals All!
What does a ''producer'' actually do? How does one travel from that great idea for a show to a smash hit opening night on Broadway? John Breglio cannot guarantee you a hit, but he does take the reader on a fascinating journey behind-the-scenes to where he himself once stood as a child, dreaming about the theatre.
Part memoir, part handbook, I Wanna Be a Producer is a road map to the hows and wherefores, the dos and don'ts of producing a Broadway play, written by a Broadway veteran with more than 40 years of experience. This comprehensive and highly informative book features practical analysis and concepts for the producer and is filled with entertaining anecdotes from Breglio's illustrious career as a leading theatrical lawyer and producer. Breglio recounts not only his first-hand knowledge of the crucial legal and business issues faced by a producer, but also his experiences behind the scenes with literally hundreds of producers, playwrights, composers, and directors, including such theatre luminaries as Michael Bennett, Joe Papp,Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Patti LuPone, and August Wilson. To purchase today, visit: https://www.amazon.com
BroadwayWorld recently chatted with Breglio about the new book and you can check out the full interview below!
What motivated you to write this book?
Well, having worked in and around the theatre for so long, I had a lot of people over the years asking me about putting some of my experience down and I wasn't really sure I wanted to do it, but I really decided that someone really should put together a book that gives some legitimacy and some accurate description of what a producer does. So many people really are completely unaware of what producers do. People always ask me, "I thought the director does all these things..." Not only laymen, but people in the theatre don't really appreciate the complexity of what a real producer does. They're going into the theatre, seeing 45 names above the title, and we all know that they aren't producers, they're people who wrote the checks, the first name... maybe the first two names, are the people who do it all.
I really wanted to put down in one place everything, from having the initial idea from someone else, maybe a writer having the initial idea, all the way to opening night. When I thought of that, it seemed sort of dry and maybe interesting to some people, but not something that could be really accessible to a bigger audience. Then I realized that with decades of experience, just in every aspect of producing, and the things I've done, I could intersperse those anecdotes, those stories, to illustrate- not just to do some gossipy book or whatever, but really to illustrate what I'm talking about when it comes to producing. And I just felt that I should share that after all these years. What I say in the book is that I learned all this stuff from my clients. You can't learn it in school. You can sort of teach it sometimes. I've done it at Columbia, but you really need to live it, and I wanted to give that back and do that, and that was really the motivation.
You mentioned that these days we're seeing more investors that call themselves producers. How do you think we should be making that distinction these days?
Well, there's a technical distinction, of course. Anyone who raises money and forms an entity, a partnership, for example, and they become the general partner. Then all the investors are limited partners. They put money in, but they're limited in their exposure and they really have no control. They have no rights, they just have the right to get their money back. They make some money, profit, but the guy who really has the right to control the show, the decisions (what's opening what's closing, how to market it, how to approve casting), the one or two or three that have that control, legal and practical, in every respect... those are producers. They have to follow the show through from beginning to end and then after it opens.
The work then begins in many ways to keep a show going, even if it's a huge hit. How to do it properly is equally difficult. If it's a flop then you just close it, but that distinction to me is a right line, as people say. If you write a big check and your name is above the title and you're entitled to some money, that's not my view of a producer, that's an investor who has been given some nice perks. But it's only those who have the right to make the decisions, and have the experience and knowledge to develop a show and then run a show, in my mind... those are the people who are true producers.
Do you think for a true producer it's become harder since you've started, with the rising cost of getting a show off the ground?
Well yeah, I mean rising cost has been around as long as I've been around, so that's nothing new. Costs are just higher and higher. The difference, I think, over the last ten to fifteen years or so, is that Broadway in some respects is just a couple of steps away from almost Vegas entertainment. It's very much family oriented to large degrees- shows like The Lion King, Cats coming back, School of Rock and Aladdin, and Harry Potter coming in, on and on and on. Those shows are dominating Broadway and they tend to be shows that run, now, I guess, for decades They're taking up all the big space, and I don't see a lot of room for new musicals- big new musicals that can get housed. They're just gonna be filled with all these other shows.
So that's why you see The Playhouse being filled with musicals. They tend to be small musicals, that don't require a million and a half gross, but hey can do with premium pricing, such as The Book of Mormon, well over a million dollars, because of the price. Those houses are now populated by musicals more and more, and therefore there's a real threat to Broadway for the so-called straight serious play. Anyone who has a really fine play has a tough time getting availability with a threatre, getting an audience, and then getting reviews. Finding real estate before you can even find out if you have a hit... if you add to that...
The second major change in my years, which is the dominant force of stars above the title, and there are not a lot of stars above the title that can really generate a box office. There are a lot of names out there, but they're not necessarily box office names. So what you have are a plethora of revivals, and even those that get very good reviews, don't make money. These shows, unless they have a major star, don't make money. A View from the Bridge got great reviews, won the Tony, but has long since closed. King Charles III was in my view, a great play. It was one of the most interesting plays I've seen in years, but closed and didn't make money. Did Fun Home make some money? Well, it's in a very small theatre, and I should hope so, we'll see. Still, Bright Star, a nice show, with Steve Martin helping to sell tickets as a composer, closed. Maybe we'll see something happen with Waitress, it's hard to tell.
Do you think we need more theatres?
Well, we certainly needs more good, big theatres, but it's unlikely because the incentive has really faded there in developing of theatres. There was a period there when that made some sense, but those days are gone. There are no incentives for it. So, I don't see the core midtown building theatres, off-broadway. The economics of a musical off-broadway are impossible, they just don't exist. You can get away with moving something to the theatres over there, but nothing really works there. Except for Avenue Q, everything has failed over there, and off-Broadway is, for practical purposes now, nonexistent. Things open and a lot of those things tend to be things like Tony and Tina's Wedding, and Stomp, of course, is the longest running Off-Broadway show, and that's really an event entertainment. There are things that get done, but no one can look at off-Broadway and see anything now that's a place perhaps to develop something, but why would you develop something commercially off-Broadway when you have tons of regional not-for-profits that are very eager to work with commercial producers if they get enhancement money? That now is as important as ever, and that to me, if you're forced to find a future, it continues to be the not-for-profit sector with things that develop, and commercial producers enhance. That to me, is only going to continue, and is the only real opportunity, both economically and creatively, to find work.
If somebody's looking to start out as producer, do you recommend they get their practice out of town or in festivals? What would you tell somebody?
They've got to work with people who are experienced. You have a lot of money, even if that's all you have, sure, you can try to get an investment in some shows, and maybe you'll learn something. I'm not sure how much these people who have a lot of money can learn. You've got to get either a job managing in a commercial sector so you can really get an understanding of what the business is about, if you don't have a lot of money of your own. That's one way of getting involved, because you can't without any experience.
If you have a lot of money, then you have a leg up because you can get involved as an investor and to the extent you put up a lot of money you can get the producer hopefully to give you some experience about what's going on. That's really the only way you can get to become a producer. I do have that one chapter where I talk about who all these producers are, I mean, there's the general manager, there're motion picture companies, they're theatre owners, they're rich heirs and widows, but learning the art of producing comes only with actually doing it, and you've got to start either because you've got the money, or you've got the contacts and experience in a very different venue, either with regional theatres or as a general manager.
It's a treacherous business, and I'm talking Broadway. You've got to have the kind of resources to be able to lose every single penny and not change your lifestyle. I'm talking about the business of commercial; producing on broadway, not even off broadway. If someone wants to talk about theatre in general, well, theatre in general is still pretty vibrant around the country, in the regional world, and there is hundreds of theatres turning out extraordinary work. The other side of the coin is that I don't think the creative community has ever been more vibrant. You look at people who audition for musicals... when Chorus Line opened in the '70s, the term triple threat was invented, because nobody ever really talked about it. Chorus kids either danced or sang, and nobody did all three. Now, when you audition, all these kids can do all three, they're incredibly talented, tons of them out there, more than there were before. I think there are so many good writers out there now. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of opportunity in the commercial theatre, but the regional and occasionally, off broadway, have wonderful work. A cross civilization between England and the West end and Broadway is now very easy. It wasn't twenty years ago. It's much easier in terms of Equity. Theatre, generally... it has to stay as a cultural, what's the word? That component, a cultural component, a component of our larger culture, it's quite strong. And look at Hamilton, what it's done for theatre. That's the positive part of it, and I think we're going to have to figure out how we can continue to accommodate the enormous talent that's out there. I haven't even talked about the design and the directing, because you have to find an outlet somehow, and I think we will find it, but right now, it's not necessarily on Broadway.
Controlling the rights as you do to some of the most iconic shows in history, how do you determine when is the right time to bring them back and whether to stay true to the original vision, or to evolve them?
I said to someone recently, and I think they agree with me... I thought we were quickly coming to a time where there are already too many shows, plays, really, to revive, because we're now into things like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams that have been done two, three four times. I mean how many times can we do A View from the Bridge or Death of a Salesman, or even Long Day's Journey? It never ends. To what we were saying before, the reason why you're seeing those plays is because unless you have a major star, you can't really run a new play. You can't run these new plays. You can't get big stars to be in them necessarily, but what you can do is run limited runs of revivals. And that's why the play revivals are being done... they're sort of a no brainer.
So the first thing you have to look at is whether or not you have a major star for the revival, and if you don't, it's going to be very, very difficult. I was lucky with A Chorus Line because, I'm not biased when I say it's one of the greatest musicals of all time, but that show is the name. So we ran for quite some time, made a lot of money, but there were few and far between. People are asking me now about A Chorus line... I don't think I'll bring it back until 2025?
Will we see Dreamgirls?
Dreamgirls I did at the Apollo, then it traveled all over the country, and I decided not to bring it to New York, because I couldn't get a star. I could not find one. I went to everybody, and for some reason or another, they weren't available. So I decided not to bring it in. We're doing it over there in the West End in December, with Amber Riley. I don't know,it's going to be a challenge, because it's never been done there before. I hope it works, but I was not willing to risk the millions that we had to put up to bring it to Broadway, because it was ok business but not great business, and I still think people were still identifying it with the unbelievable stars that we had in the movie- Eddie Murphy and Beyonce, on and on.
What are you working on now?
I can't identify the shows, but I'm working on a couple of shows... musicals that I've been developing for the last year. I've passed on so many because I don't think they're any good, I'm really someone who doesn't like to do a bunch of stuff just to do it. I'm gonna be involved in a show that's coming up from London, which has a star. And I've got Dreamgirls. I've got about four things. One of them will be on Broadway next season!
Whether you are a working or aspiring producer, an investor, or are just curious about the backstage reality of the theater, Breglio shares his knowledge and experience of the industry, conveying practical information set against the real-life stories of those who have devoted their lives to the craft.
To purchase today, visit: https://www.amazon.com