The Producer's Report


by Michael Butler



We took a very good play, book, lyrics, and music and prepared an authors workshop prior to turning it over to a director of note for production in either London or New York. We hoped to make a profit while in workshop. We changed the venue to increase our expected profits and did not change the artistic approach or production values from workshop to commercial. Then we oversold the expectations while underproducing the property.

Currently, we are rehabbing the project in artistic, business, and sales areas after some deep critiques and self-flagellation. The target is a new production with one of the two directors we have been talking with all along, and a new cast with some polishing of book, lyrics, and music. En route that destination we would like to have another, perhaps college, workshop. We will pursue a recording, music video, and CD-ROM.

Monday, 1 April 1996


"What a pleasure it is to see (and hear) such a strong new musical! The plot (based on the legend of the only female pontiff) is gripping, the characters complex and fascinating, the music thrilling, the lyrics clever. You'll love this if you are not an overly sensitive Catholic or someone who just hates musicals." Chicago Magazine, April 1996.

"POPE JOAN is a musical and historical spectacle, a romantic drama and an effective satire on the politics of religion, with these elements melding into a compelling piece of theater ... this all makes for excellent drama, enhanced by Moore's songs, with soaring melodies and sharp lyrics ... POPE JOAN is, in seeming paradox, an intimate spectacle -- a show in which the impressive staging doesn't overpower the subtleties of character and plot." Nightlines

Obviously something is going on when the majority of the critics found the show disturbing and others, including Chicago found it fascinating. The audiences really enjoyed the show. The questionnaires and unsolicited comments were quite positive.

As I saw it, Christopher Moore presented POPE JOAN as a period piece. He set it in the two dimensional world of the Byzantine era with the flatness and crudity of the art of that time. His interpretation of sounds, light and movement were in the same mode. He didnot have a vertical tableau, but a horizontal approach-no helicopters or moving staircases. No wonder some critics found this disturbing..."almost going back to the stone age."

Being the author, his direction was influenced by his vision of the show. We were missing the third eye. I think another director would have given us more depth in having another way of approaching the subject matter. I would be happy to see Christopher's direction of some other author's work. We deliberatly violated the classic dictum of an author not directing his own work. We were trying to have a workshop to clarify what he had written in his prize-winning play.

To me, the lighting was a disappointment. Then again' let us remember the lack of dimension during that epoch. I felt that there was no love and affection, nor even a connection between Joan and Louis. There were some other disappointments, but none major. Lucius stole the show, while Lucretia could have carried us through the trip with greater excitment and mystery.

As the performances progressed, what we saw was getting tighter and better all the time. We should have had at least two weeks of previews instead of four days. If I were to do it again, I might not even have the critics in. Instead I might have continued to run it as the workshop it was. Then, the word of mouth would have helped us fast enough to build the box office.

In business we were hampered by the decision not to perform at the Organic. It was a serious mistake. The Organic theater was in keeping with the ambitions of our presentation of a workshop for sale. When we changed the venue to the Mercury, we added a heavy burden on the operation. With deposits and union demands, we increased the budget substantially. Furthermore, it was a new theater and they had not come up to speed. They also could have used some previews. We thought another show was going to break it in, but that fell apart. We went from a workshop to a small musical, but did not increase the production elements in the budget accordingly. We should have gone all the way, but that would have required another director and a very large increase in the budget. The real culprit was the marketing. PR and Advertising were too successful. They prepared the critics and everyone else, ourselves included, for 'the second coming.' The perception was that we were going to deliver a major new musical with all the bells and whistles. Moving venues had blinded us to the change from the workshop to the full-blown musical. This was not, at any time, our objective in Chicago. We wanted a workshop which would give us a profit. Having the major newspaper in the city as our sponsor did not alert us to the need to deliver to such expectations. We really sold the show up front, mostly via the non-theatrical press, which in Chicago has much more influence.

We delivered a show that most critics didn't understand nor like, but the word of mouth was good. As our sales graphs showed we were steadily improving at the box office each week. Another current show, in Chicago and in similar circumstances, had fought similar challenges successfully in this quarter and was in profit. The difference was that the producers owned the theater. Still it required that they put up additional capital. Our calculations showed that we could probably turn around in eleven to fourteen weeks. The Mercury Theater offered some relief, but the bulk of the rent was still there. They had another show wanting to come in mid April. Our plans all along have been eventually to have the show mounted in London or New York City, with another cast and director. Chicago was just the middle of a three phase plan. In my judgment it was not prudent to ask for another overcall of fifty percent, after already a thirty percent increase had been subscribed to by the partners, We gave notice.

Over the three week period of the run, we make copious notes as to what we felt should be done. We instituted an audience study which is currently being translated by computer. We had the postmortems, notes of which I reported on, as given to me, directly to the partners.

In other words, when we changed from the Organic theater to the Mercury we made the error which created the overselling of an under-produced show for the venue and perceived expectations.

These days, we are putting the show back together. Christopher and Marjie Rynearson have met. Christopher has started on some refinements of the book. If anyone wants a copy of the new one, let me know. We are having a meeting soon with Jim Carlton of Design Horizons to layout plans for his edit of the archival video of the show. Christopher and I next have to send the music to interested parties, among whom are two record companies and Mark Petracca, my Music Associate. We must also decide on the direction for the music, and thus what new arrangements should be made, if any. I am hoping for some "pop" to be added to the music. Galt MacDermott, the composer of HAIR, likes the music very much. He is helping us out with suggestions in this area.

We are closing the business accounts on the Chicago run. I am beginning to flesh out the financing plan for the next production and the interim needs of the company. I am having preliminary meetings with a major General Manger in New York to come on board to direct our business affairs.

With Burns Promotions, Design Horizons, and Imaginary Landscape we are are working on a plan to put the POPE JOAN merchandise on the Internet. We feel that our items are so timeless and classic that the Web site will have good chance of reducing the small inventory we have and will keep that program active. Karen Baker and I are talking with the Mercury Theater about continuing "Cyberbil," the program which we used for the run of POPE JOAN. Stanley Hilton, the Company Manager, is currently in San Francisco about production interest. We have been approached for the rights for production in Germany and Scandinavia. Joe Maalouf has just returned from Paris where he met with French theater interest about the production he wants to mount there.

The exact plans are still in the formulative stage. At this moment, I feel that we should pursue the possibility of a record of the music of POPE JOAN. Further, it will be worthwhile to try for a music video and an interactive CD-ROM. I think that it would be super that we have a very simple "black box" workshop to see the results of the changes currently underway. I have begun discussions with two universities about this project. Our objective continues to mount POPE JOAN in either London or New York City. I am currently talking with the two directors to work with Christopher and me for the principal production.

I need to tell a bit of history about HAIR. The original production of HAIR at the Public Theater enjoyed some good reviews. The second production at the Cheetah did not fare well. I had a new director, Tom O'Horgan, and a new production team when we brought HAIR into the Biltmore Theater. Still the majority of critics did not understand it. We had only one really good review. Our major lender, my Father, requested his money back. It took us weeks to get into the black. So far, quite a similar story to what has transpired with POPE JOAN.

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