Thoughts from a Los Angeles Theater Producer

Mi Casa es su Casa… (Except that its really Someone Else’s Casa)

Posted in Producer's League by Rick Culbertson on September 3, 2009

So today I am going to talk about what I believe to be the single greatest issue that holds us back as a theater town.  Unions?  Healthcare?  ½ price tickets?  Nope. 

Theater Rental Contracts. 

This is a big issue that will come in two parts.  Part II tomorrow.

But first, an analogy!

Let’s say you need to rent an apartment.  So you look around and you finally find the apartment of your dreams!  But, the landlord wants you to sign a year-long lease, pay for all 12 months up front, and there is a clause that says that at any time prior to or during the duration of your lease, he can rent your apartment to someone else starting on the day your lease ends.  You don’t like this, but you sign the lease and pay for the full year.  

Sure enough, the day after you sign the lease, the landlord comes to you and says, “I have this other guy who wants to rent the apartment when your lease ends and he is also going to pay for a year up front.” Your landlord then gives you two options:  pay for a second year right now, or resign yourself to finding another apartment in a year.

I don’t think anyone would think this was a fair situation.  And yet this is what Los Angeles theater producers have to deal with all the time.  We are constantly losing our theaters to other producers because we can’t afford to pay for two contracts in advance, or realize that it is an unwise decision to rent a theater for 24 weeks guaranteed before we even open our show.

The side effect of this (and I don’t hear a lot of people talk about this), is that production values suffer.  After all, what kind of production values are you going to put into a show when you are forced to close after only 6 weeks? What kind of production values, on the other hand, would you put into a show that you can run as long as you want, as long as you can pay your weekly bills? We, as producers, are in a situation whereby if we put a lot of money into a show in order to make it a high quality production, we will likely guarantee ourselves a loss because we simply can’t make that much money back in six or twelve weeks.  If we put in a low amount of money that can recoup in 6 weeks, however, the show will suffer from a lack of high-quality resources (not to mention salaries).  

We are in a lose-lose situation.  If we had a Producer’s Organization, this entity would be able to negotiate better contracts with theaters by setting minimum requirements for contracts.  It would prevent the theater to rent to someone else before we put up a closing notice.  It will make sure that we are able to accept the rewards for producing high-quality, successful theater– instead of forcing us to close a money-making show before it has recouped.  It short, it could help us get open-ended contracts. Which is what we desperately need.

With real opened-ended contracts, producers would be able to spend more money on production values and marketing.  We would have an incentive to create and develop better shows that run for longer periods of time.  We would also have the incentive to market our shows and build an audience that will support them.  Currently, we have no incentive to do any of this.  My incentive for a 6 or 8-week production is to get it up as cheaply as possible so I can try to at least break even in that small amount of time.

Tomorrow I will outline an example of what a open ended contract could look like  (Click Here).  And in the meantime, leave me a comment!

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2 Responses

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  1. Michael Erger said, on February 16, 2010 at 10:04 am

    What if I was an owner of an apartment and the lease said that you did not have to tell me until the very last day that you wanted to rent for a full year. Then the last day arrives and you are not able to rent your apartment. Now I am going to lose money for at least one month because of this. Most productions do not know if they are going to extend until the last minute and no one is prepared to rent a theatre three days before they open. Your analogy seems to me to be a win-lose situation for the landlord. Yet, you do not show me where it will be a win win situation. I am interested to see your next article and see if it addresses the win win situation for a show that is not going to extend since this is what typically happens. I am sure you can easily show me how it will be good for the landlord if the show is a hit but what percentage of the time is the show a hit. How can we make a win win situation for the landlord? I do not expect anyone to do anything that will not benefit them.

    • Rick Culbertson said, on February 16, 2010 at 10:21 am

      here is the link to the next blog that I think will answer your questions. (Click Here)


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