"Producer's Corner" by Bruce Lazarus It’s 8:15 - Do You Know Where Your Box Office Receipts Are?
The Role of the Company Manager
Recently our guest was Marcia Goldberg, Company Manager of the current Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Marcia began her career as the company manager off-Broadway with Only Kidding, which I produced at the Westside Theatre, and Eric Bogosian’s Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll at the Orpheum Theatre. She then worked with Dodger Productions as company manager on their productions of Prelude to a Kiss, Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Once Upon a Mattress. We spoke with Marcia from inside the box-office. The company manager has, as Marcia put it, her hand “in every part of the pie.” The company manager’s critical relationships with the producers, general manager, accountant, box office treasurer, cast, and house staff keep the day-to-day operation of the show running smoothly as she works as the producer’s representative and a true liaison between all of the above key players.
When asked to describe her role as the company manager of a show in a nutshell, Marcia said she was typically hired by the producers and general manager to make all of the contracts they had negotiated “come to life.” She makes sure that those contracts are followed by making sure, among other things, that rehearsals are organized with the stage manager and company, that salaries and payments are made properly and in a timely fashion, and that union regulations are complied with. She must work with the budget set up by the producers and the general manager, and let them know when any developments threaten to bring the show over its budget.
Marcia explained that the company manager is usually hired after the contracts are negotiated, but she has occasionally been hired prior to that point. In those situations, she has been involved in the negotiation process with the producers and the show’s attorney. From the beginning, she usually works out of the office of the general manager. Prior to the show’s first performance, the company manager’s responsibilities include involvement in any decisions that involve the spending of the show’s money, such as the purchasing of technical services, sets, wardrobe and props.
Typically, we learned, a show has three different bank accounts, which the company manager keeps an eye on along with the accountant. First, there is a money market account which holds the initial capitalization of the show throughout the money-raising process until the show is “up and running.” Second, there is a general manager’s account in which any “front money” raised is deposited. “Front money” is high risk capital that is invested with the understanding that it will be spent on the very first expenses of developing and producing the show, and not held in the money market account until the show is fully capitalized. The show’s weekly bills are paid out of this general manager’s account, and once the show is in performance, it holds the settlements received from the theatre as well. Finally, there is a separate payroll account for convenience, out of which the show’s payroll is distributed.
Next, Marcia took us through a typical evening for her, and added the disclaimer that off-Broadway, a company manager may have additional backstage responsibilities to the actors and crew, because there is a smaller support staff for the show to whom those players can turn. Marcia usually arrives at the theatre between 7:00 and 7:15 P.M. and heads straight for the box office. She checks the sales for that performance and the upcoming week, alerts the box office staff to any upcoming schedule changes or ticket promotions of which they should be aware, and checks on the status of that performance’s “house seats.” “House seats” are tickets for good seats, usually in the 5th to 12th rows of the orchestra, which are held by the producers, or may be held contractually for the author, director, or any other key player in the production who has negotiated for them. If any house seats for a performance are not claimed by 48 hours prior to that performance, they may be released for sale to the public. However, house seats may be purchased and held until curtain time under a “guarantee” - in other words, if the person they are selling the house seats to does not pick up the tickets at all, the author, director etc. will pay for them.
Marcia next walks through the theatre, checking on the theatre temperature and what flyers or announcements the ushers might be stuffing in the program. If an actor has taken ill at the last moment and that is the announcement that is being stuffed, the company manager needs to know this so she can make sure everything is copacetic with the understudy replacement. She then stops backstage to see the stage manager, department heads, actors, and crew, to find out if there are any issues that require her attention. There may be an actor who needs to speak to her about planning a vacation, a conductor who needs to speak to her about the replacement of an instrument, a wardrobe head who needs to speak to her about a dress that needs to be replaced, or the stage manager may need to speak to her about upcoming understudy rehearsals. Because all of these issues involve expense to the show, or payroll issues, Marcia must stay on top of them.
At 8:00 P.M., when the curtain goes up, Marcia is back in the box office. At this point, occasionally she will have a difficult decision to make. If there is a sold out performance, 4 people waiting on the cancellation line and 2 guaranteed house seat orders not picked up, should she sell those tickets to the people in the cancellation line, or continue to hope that either the house seat holders will pick them up or the house seat owners will pay for the order as they are supposed to? She personally likes to sell the tickets to the waiting potential paying customers if she feels the owner of the house seats is not likely to show and save the guarantor the money.
Next, Marcia looks at the box office statement for that evening’s performance. A computerized box office statement for a Broadway theatre will tell her the total amount of tickets sold to that performance, and the total gross figure, then break that down into how many orchestra seats were sold at what price, how many mezzanine seats at what price, how many group sales tickets at what price, and so on. It will also tell her how many tickets were “comps” at that performance. For example, the press agent for the show may have given 2 tickets to a critic or reporter. At a theatre which has hard tickets (most New York City theatres are now computerized), she explained, the process of figuring out the evening’s business is much more time consuming, as the box-office treasurer and company manager must count the ticket stubs, make sure they all add up, and then compile a report.
Before she heads home, Marcia calls the producers and general manager of her show. She tells them what the gross ticket sale figure for that performance was, the number of people in the audience for that performance, the “wrap” figure (how much the box office took in that day for that performance as well as for future performances), and the “advance”(total advance sales figure) and whether those figures are up or down from the previous week or performance. The full report Marcia gets from the box office the producers will usually read the next day. This report will also include a breakdown of the advance sales figure, which helps the producers plan ahead. For example, if sales are strong for the next 3 weeks but then fall off dramatically, the producers can plan an advertising and marketing strategy to sell more tickets for the slow period.
Every Tuesday, the company manager receives a “settlement statement” from the theatre which details the theatre’s weekly intake (Gross Weekly Box-Office Receipts usually written as “GWBOR”), deductions (credit cards, group sales commissions, etc.), and theatre expenses (including rent plus a percentage of the gross box-office receipts, and salaries for theatre personnel such as stagehands, house manager, ushers, musicians, etc.). The balance reflects the “settlement,” which goes into the general manager’s account to cover the show’s payroll (actors, managers, press agents, vendors, advertising, accounting , attorney’s fees), and other weekly expenses. Any money left over goes to the production’s money market account for return to investors (prior to “recoupment” – that is, prior to the show covering all of its weekly operating costs and initial production costs) or shared as net profits (after “recoupment”).
The company manager of a show is in effect running a small business. She knows how all the revenue is spent and distributed, and when and if that revenue falls, often before the producers do. Therefore, she is in the unique position of knowing first when a show is falling into a loss pattern, and when this should be addressed or be closed. Because the producers are more emotionally and financially attached to a show, they may not see “the writing on the wall” until their company manager points it out to them.
Bruce Lazarus the former Director of Business and Legal Affairs for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and producer of the current off-Broadway show Shakespeare's "R&J."
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