Critical Steps in Selecting a Play or Musical: Budget & Royalties


Willy Wonka, Jr.  2010

Let’s discuss the critical steps in selecting a play or musical:  budget & rSo, thoyalties.  Sometimes I meet with directors of future productions who are excited and apprehensive at the same time.   Usually, they are certain in their decision of choice of show or are completely overwhelmed by the many selections in which they have to choose.  I thought I’d write a series of blog entries concerning this.This is the first of many.

Number One: Director’s Concept

You need a director’s concept.  A director’s concept is the message that the director wants to convey to the audience.  If you are directing “The Miracle Worker”, you will probably want a natural, historically accurate concept. If I’m directing a historical piece, I select costumes, props and have a set designed to demonstrate it. But what else is important to you?  Helen’s viewpoint?  How can you  present that to an audience?  I’d suggest to you to create a concept collage pertaining to your concept.  It’s really easy to do, fun and will help you in every facet of the production.  Get out a large piece of paper or posterboard, begin researching on the internet (which is the easiest way to research for this), find photos of everything that inspired you and your director concept.

Number Two:  Budget

What is the budget? Before a company can even get started, the budget must be considered. There is nothing worse than getting yourself caught in a snare of “Well, we have to buy it (or rent, borrow or steal it) because the script says so.”  Proper preplanning can help a company to avoid this dilemna. To me, the budget controls everything–where you can afford that really neat backdrop you want to rent for , or the authentic looking chain male for “Camelot”, puppets for   Lion King   and so on and so on.

Some amateur companies set a budget, but never look at it again.  Some have producers who guard the budget like a hawk.  Some others leave everything up to the director (as if they don’t have enough to do all ready). Make sure you know how the money is overseen.  You’d hate to find out that the fog machine you had rented can’t be used for the woods scenes in “Into the Woods” after you had enthusiastically worked it into the show.

And for heaven’s sake, read the script a couple of times to make sure there aren’t any surprises that you forgot about.  But where do you find the publishing companies’ names?  There is a great source,  that can help you.  You can always search the web for the company, but if you want to produce a version of Tom Sawyer, for example, there are several companies that offer it. will list all of them and if they don’t, then go to the web and look around.

Several times I have wanted to produce a play version of some story.  One was Holes and another was The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.  At the time, there were no publishers with rights to the stories.  It took a bit of searching, but I found the author of Holes which led me to the playwright of Holes.  I wrote to the playwright and asked if my school could produce his play and he agreed! Talk about fortuitous!  I did the same with Stinky Cheese Man.  I found the author, who sent me to the playwright who allowed the youth theatre company I was working with to produce the musical version.  Pay dirt!  So, if you are interested in a particular book and want to produce it as a play or musical, look around the internet.  You may find it in this manner.

But in no uncertain terms (please hear this loud and clear) you CAN NOT take someone else’s material and dramatize it for your own use.  This is a HUGE copyright infringement and just tacky.


Number Three:  Royalties

Personally, I think it’s important to know the cost of the royalties for your chosen production before even choosing it.  Usually, plays are no problem.  But musicals?  Well, that’s another challenge all together! Any time I hear about a company who is producing a fairly new show straight off of Broadway, I always think about the royalties.  The cost of royalties can stop a company in their tracks.  Musicals require a hefty sum of money to produce, not to mention the rental of scripts and librettos.  Oh yes, and if you plan to have an orchestra, you need to figure in the cost of their music to rent as well. (And paying your orchestra players, too.)

Also, you may need to pay the royalties to the publisher ahead of time.  It all depends upon the contract you sign, so read it overcarefully.

When you peruse a copy of a musical, you can ask the publishing company for a general royalty cost.  You’ll need to give them some information that’s necessary to them ( size of theatre, ticket prices, length of run, etc.)

So, there you have it!  There are the critical steps in selecting a play or musical:  budget & royalties.

If all of these decisions sound daunting, keep in mind that it is just part of the journey to direct or produce a show.  I promise you, once an audience sits down in the theatre and the house darkens, you will forget all about this stuff.  Because that’s all it is, stuff…..

Next look at my post on casting a production.

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