I recently learned that the payroll list for commercial Broadway shows is growing every season. I also learned the three things to keep out of a show if you want to reduce costs: No kids, dogs, or projections.
- Kids: No, this isn’t just because I don’t completely love children. When you have a child (or children) in your show, you have to have two or three children for one role (child labor laws!), as well as their understudy. You then have to hire one (or more, depending on how many kids there are) child wrangler to make sure those kids don’t kill themselves backstage and find the stage managers before their entrances, etc. If the child (or children) is in school, you’ll have to hire a tutor (or tutors) too, to make sure they aren’t missing anything when they’re performing in matinees or at events, etc. So you just added 2-5 people (or more) onto your payroll because you have that one child role who comes out onto the stage at the very end of the show and then exits (ala Miss Saigon, I’m sure you can think of other examples too).
- Dogs: If you need to have a dog or seven, you’re going to have to pay all of their owners and you’re going to need to hire an animal wrangler, animal trainer, and probably pay for the dog’s grooming too. I wonder how much of an expense the cat at the end of The Lieutenant of Inishmore (who walked out onto a shelf in the final moments of the play, and that was it). That’s another 4-5 people on your payroll.
- Projections: Ever since the 2006 flop The Woman in White came to the Marquis Theatre (In My Life, another massive flop, may have come slightly earlier) and made everyone nauseous with their huge projected sets, projects have become a norm in Broadway shows (though more common in musicals than plays). When you have decide to put projections in your show, you usually have to get the rights to whatever you’re projecting (I don’t even want to think about how many rights American Idiot had to obtain/pay for for their opening number – they use something like 190 different video clips), you need to rent a projector, hire a crew to rig the projector, and hire an operator for the projector. There’s another 5-8 people on your payroll, as well as a load of fees to use the footage that’s going to be projected.
Produce a show without these three elements, and you’ve saved yourself thousands of dollars a week before you open. Who would have thought, right?