"Producer's Corner"
by Bruce Lazarus

The Art of Raising Money

Every Tuesday night I host a free TeleCourse in which I invite a different theatre-industry professional to discuss an aspect of the theatrical production process with both experienced and novice producers.

On Tuesday, February 24th, our guest was Rodger Hess, producer of many Broadway and off-Broadway shows including the recent revival of Annie which is now touring the country, 1776 at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway, and the upcoming Broadway production of Wait Until Dark starring Marisa Tomei, Quentin Tarantino, and Stephen Lang. Rodger discussed "The Art of Raising Money" with the students on the telecourse.

Rodger mentioned that the cachet of being a part of a New York production, especially one on Broadway, can be what is most attractive to "civilian" investors (those who are not involved in the entertainment industry on a regular basis). For example, Rodger once attempted to raise money to mount a musical about Elvis Presley around the country. He had "guarantees" from promoters from coast to coast - in other words, the promoter in a particular city would guarantee that the production would earn a minimum of a set amount of money each week, even if the box office revenue dropped below that figure. However, the producers had no plans to take the show to Broadway. Because of the guarantees, investing in such a project would be a much smaller risk than investing in a Broadway production, but the prospective investors Rodger met with across the country wanted to be associated with a Broadway show, and were less interested in investing in the tour.

I mentioned that I find that sometimes people invest in a show because they make a connection with the statement the play is making, morally or politically, and by investing in it they can make that statement heard. Rodger said that may be why a producer chooses to produce a play, but he does not remember the last time he actually sent a prospective investor a script. He finds that at this point in his career he is fortunate enough to have people who invested with him in a show that did not succeed invest again, because they know going in that there are risks, but they trust that whatever he produces will be an intelligent, quality, good-looking production of with which they will be proud to have been associated.

As a producer, I have always believed that there are two ways of raising money - through promotion and through attraction. If you are offering an investor the chance to invest in a hot property with very popular names attached, you can simply promote your product, and how attractive you are as a producer is less of a factor. If you are working with a product that may not have such cachet, your attractiveness as a producer becomes the most important factor. The investor needs to be convinced that although he or she may not be familiar with your property or the people attached to it, he or she can trust you to make the final product something the investor will be proud to have been a part of, and will have had fun in the process. That's Show Biz.

To participate in the free Tuesday TeleCourse or just listen in, all you need is a telephone, however you must register by calling (212) 769-3282.

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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