Pages from Michael Butler's Journal


I think that a Producer needs to realize early on that the discipline of the position makes it both the most demanding and exciting one in theatre. I have always wanted to spend some time as an assistant director or as an actor -- not because I want either of those jobs, but because I want to understand what an assistant director or actor needs. Everything that I can learn about direction or acting can only help me in my chosen role -- that of Producer.

The Producer should be the Team Captain. I have frequently been the Captain in the world of polo, that most dangerous and difficult of sports. Usually, I was actually the weakest player. My job was different from the superstars I usually played with. I was the one called upon to keep the team together -- to attempt to make all those egos function as a happy, unified whole.

Every Producer has his or her own unique style and method of leadership. No matter who it is, the Producer must produce. In other words, he's the one who delivers the baby. In most cases, the Producer is the father and the mother of the child, or, if you wish, the doctor who delivers what the parents (the author and director) have put together.

I believe in triads. Starting from the genesis of all triangles (Body, Mind, and Spirit), I feel that everything relates to one of these three areas. Each area is equally important, and each has its own uniqueness. A leader must assist, cajole, direct, and even order each area into synchronicity with the others.

In the theatre, the prime triad is Artistic, Business, and Sales. In all theatre, whether not-for-profit or commercial, these three areas are the most important. The Producer's job is to keep them in synch. Far too often, leadership is perverted by the belief that the way to direct is through fear. Too commonly, people think that control is found by dividing and conquering -- accentuating the adversarial aspects of artistic, business, and sales. The Director wants a marble staircase, while the Company Manager believes it should be built from paper-mache. The Producer's challenge is to satisfy them both. Sales wants more "tits and ass," while an author might think every word of his is akin to Shakespeare. The Producer must step in to assist both of them to success in their objectives. Always, the Producer must keep in mind that the good of the show is paramount.

In the Artistic area of management, veto power rests with the Author, Director, and Producer. This triumvirate must reach decisions, by concensus if possible, which are best for the production. Usually the process begins when an author and a producer join forces. Sometimes, a producer partners with a director. The two of them -- whichever couple they may be -- jointly decide on the third person and agree to share their authority with that individual.

The Business group is made up of planning, fiscal, and operations areas. Without these three being well covered, business will suffer. If this point in the triangle suffers, it will make no difference how well the play is crafted or how many sold-out houses you have. The show simply won't run.

Sales has three separate aspects as well: public relations, which influences the spread of good WOM (word of mouth), advertising, and closing (which includes box office, point of purchase, groups, etc.). Without the successful pursuit of sales, you might as well pack it in. You could have the Second Coming for a show and the business brilliance of a William Gates, but no tickets sold -- forget it!

I have acted twice. I played the Silver Indian and in the nude scene in HAIR. I'd starve if that was my career. I can't read a note of music. Frequently I am completely lost when reading the fine legal print of a contract, or some of the financial statements. I fear for my taste in ads when I see most of the presentations in the press today. However, I know that the performing arts are a collaborative effort -- the work of a tribe. And somebody has to be the Chief. That's me.

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