How A Play Gets To Broadway
Pun Bandhu (Broadway Producer) gives expert video advice on: What is a 'playwright'?; What is a 'staged reading'?; What is a 'backer's audition'? and more...
What is a 'playwright'?
The Playwright is the person who writes the plays. He is the author of the property.
What is a 'staged reading'?
Staged readings are an opportunity to get the play out of just the play-writes head. Theatre is a collaborative process and actors add things to the table, directors add things to the table, where you know the final result might be much different than what the play-write originally intended. That entire process takes a lot of staged readings to go through and staged readings basically are actors coming together sometimes on-book, sometimes off-book, reading the play out loud and getting feed back on them, and an opportunity for the play-write to hear his words in real life.
What is a 'backer's audition'?
A Backer's Audition is something that happens in the commercial theater when you are trying to raise money to bring a project on to the stage. Now, it has probably had to go through numerous incarnations before that stage, whether that's sort of you know, work shops, whether it's, you know, a smaller off off Broadway production, whether it's an out of town, whether it's been done somewhere else before, but once you're ready to bring it to either Broadway or off Broadway, obviously you need some backer's, you need the money, that's, we need people who are going to invest in that, and it's an opportunity for these people to see exactly what they would be investing in and if they're interested.
How do nonprofits help me get my play produced?
The nonprofits are really the organizations, by definition, that don't need to turn a profit. Commercial producers on the other hand need to have something that will sell their play, whether that's brand name recognition or a big star. And so it's really hard for an unknown playwright to be produced by a commercial producer unless the risk is on a smaller scale, such as off-of Broadway or off Broadway. And so it's a shame that in this country grants are diminishing for arts organizations. But there are fantastic non-profit organizations that exist solely to give playwrights the time and energy that they need to focus on the construction of a play, whether that's retreats or to give workshops a possibility. If you read the first draft of "Glengarry, Glen Ross" or some of Tennessee William's plays you never would have thought that these could have been the playwrights that they were. And it really does take sort of a network of support, mostly from the non-profits, that do the workshops, that invest in the playwrights, that commission playwrights, which really enables the playwrights to make a living and succeed at their craft before commercial producers even come into the picture.
Will a theatre, agent or producer read my script right away?
Well, it depends how interested they are in you. You know, do you already have some buzz around your name. Are people talking about you? Did you just get a rave review in the New York Times? If not, then don't expect theatre agents or producers to read your script immediately. They are busy people, and they get thousands of submissions a year. So, they do their best. They do their best. And, there are certain things; actually, here is something that you can do to enable a producer, at least, or someone to be more interested in your project. A lot of playwrights don't bother doing synopsis. There is no way that I can read all of the scripts that come across my desk. But, if I read a synopsis that sort of has a really interesting idea that speaks to the time, or has never been done before. That's something that perks my interest. So, that is a character breakdown. That is something that could help you out. But, more often than not, it is really tough, unless you have an agent or a literary agent pushing you, pushing your work. Because, we just don't have time to call through so many plays. We have to read the best. And, rightly or wrongly, the understanding is that the ones, who have agents, and good agents, are the best work. That's worth our time.
If a theater, agent or producer reads my play does that mean they like it?
It means that they're interested enough in you to read it. No, I don't think everyone needs to read, like everything that they read. You know, you should plan to be disappointed many, a lot of the time but never discouraged because, you know, if an agent is reading your work that's a good sign, that's a good sign.
What is a 'Play Reading Program'?
A 'Play Reading Program' is a fantastic opportunity for a playwright, if you ever find yourself in that position. Play-reading programs are basically regional theatres and smaller theatres, that have the money to invest in 'workshops', or stage readings of works that they're interested in. They might not be willing to put all of the money into mounting a full production for you right away, but you're 'in the running' of plays that are being under consideration for the following season, or down the line. And it's fantastic because, again, it's an opportunity for the playwright to hear his or her work done by actors, and to see what rewrites need to be made further, and to make some connections, and establish some networks.
Is there a certain style of play that's easier to sell?
I know Spike Lee actually said that the more specific something becomes the more universal it is, and I really believe that. I think it is about what is sellable to me, what I look for is a well told story, something that is character driven, writing that is engaging and that I have never seen before and something that sort of speaks to the period, the time, something that sort of can become a theatrical event. For instance, Spring Awakening, the musical that I produced, nobody would have ever thought that that would be sellable. In fact, it made the rounds for seven or eight years because people had no idea what could conceptualize it. It was based on this 19th century German expressionistic play by Frank Wedekind that dealt with oppression and sexuality and communication between parents and teens. Then on top of that was going to be layered a modern rock 'n' roll score by Duncan Sheik. It didn't confine to the strict confines of musical theater. The songs didn't propel the plot, for instance. It was just so radically different that people didn't understand it. It is actually something that would have probably played off-Broadway 10 years ago if the dynamics off-Broadway and Broadway hadn't shifted so much. Broadway is much more diverse now, so there is absolutely room for things that never existed on Broadway before. Nobody would have predicted that Spring Awakening would become such a huge hit. What I am saying is that there is much more opportunity for a different definition of what is sellable than what previously existed before.
If a theatre likes my play does that mean it will go to Broadway?
No! And you also have to ask yourself, "Do you want it to go to Broadway? There are certain projects that are just not suited for Broadway which are fantastic theatre pieces in it's own right. There is a misperception that anything that's on Broadway has to be good or better than everything else. Not always the case. The process for how a play would get to Broadway... If a theatre likes your project, that's fantastic, you're in a great place. If they want to produce it, you're even better. There's a whole process of rewrites, workshops, putting on smaller productions. Whether that's a regional production or an off-Broadway one to sort of build the buzz so that you can transfer to Broadway if the reviews are good. More likely what is the case of most big musicals or out-of-town tryouts where you have bigger regional theatres, most non-profits again, willing to subsidize a lot of the cost of what it would normally cost commercial producers to do a workshop or an out-of-town production. So, for instance, Curtains the musical started out at the Almondson Center in Los Angeles, was able to get reviews to see what they needed to tailor and tinker before it was ready to be on Broadway, and there are regional theatres all around the country that will do that. So, in the case of Spring Awakening we actually started Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company and doing a co-production with a not-for-profit has really sort of become more of the norm because it takes a lot of the risk away from the commercial producers. It is much easier to enhance a not-for-profit and lose that money if it doesn't succeed than it is to actually mount a multi-million dollar new musical and lose all of that money if it doesn't succeed. So it's all about making sure that your project is ready before it hits the White Way.