Book Report: “I Wanna Be A Producer”

I Wanna Be a Producer – by John Breglio

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This book is far more entertaining than one might expect. It is certainly insightful on the topic of developing a Broadway show, and has a good level of detail without always diving into the nitty-gritty. John Breglio’s personal experience enlivens the subject matter with interesting and relevant tales.

What this book seeks to accomplish is to help one understand much about the theater that the fan never gets to see. It does that very well. Understanding “how the sausage gets made” is a compelling addition to the enjoyment and appreciation one absorbs from the audience point of view.

This is a remarkable business and the outsider has almost no sense of the time it takes to create a show, the costs involved, and the path to profitability. For those topics and many more, this book tells all.

In summary, the message is to take an idea, pretend you can assess whether it has any chance of being a hit show, know that such a judgement is impossible and the likelihood of a show failing is high, prepare to work under great stress, hire good people, raise a large pool of investment capital, manage costs in line with the money you raise, realize others are going to earn a good living off your project before you and your investors ever see a profit, and hold on in the tornado that you help create for a wild ride, hopefully one that lasts a long time.

Many of the 29 chapters are constructed as delicious short bites to enjoy quickly. The meat of the matter is right in the middle, chapter 15. More knowledge of the business is shared on those pages than any section three times in length. I recommend reading chapter 15 early, if not first, then completing the picture with the content before and after.

It is sad and telling that coverage of dramas, or “straight plays” is limited. Breglio relegates them to the minor role that format now has on Broadway while putting the vast majority of his focus on musicals. I wished for a chapter that examined the reasons for the decline of the dramatic art form and a sharing of suggestions for ways to bring it back to prominence.

The reader learns about the “Holy Trinity” in chapter 6 and the “Triple Threat” in chapter 19. Modern theater lore is shared in many places; terms such as “bankable stars” are defined, discussed, and detailed. There are a few stories of great success, and fewer of grand failure, but the point is made repeatedly that the ratio of likely success to certain failure does not put the odds in favor of anyone stepping into this quagmire.

At least author John gives you a lifeline that might pull you through the morass, even while others in the business may seek to push you to the dire depths. Unlike sports, the threat is less from competition and more from those providing services you must have, particularly the physical theaters, the egos that enrich your work, the stars you might desire, and the media that spreads its word, not yours.

One question begs a clearer answer than is provided: Why aren’t more theaters built on Broadway? Yes, there is an oligopoly of three owners with virtually all the clout. But this is the area of greatest profit and least risk based on all the information provided. Why doesn’t a large entertainment company engage the beasts of Broadway theaters with something beautiful, modern, and competitive?

A shockingly clear message delivered is this: Don’t concern yourself with the paying customer! The author tells the aspiring producer, “Above all, neither you nor the creative team should spend time worrying over what will appeal to the audience; rather, you should focus on creating a work of art …” Plus, “Trying to second-guess your audience … is anathema to the creative process and can only [muddle the] vision for the show.”

The surprising indifference to comprehending what the public wants to see is a jolt. Maybe that approach is too much “business” for the theater business, but the dependency on ticket sales would make it logical that such understanding would improve the chances for success.

I was ultimately surprised that this book was as well-written as it is. It overcame mental hurdles in me including (1) a title that starts with poor English; (2) an author that is a lawyer; (3) a structure that included a Forward, Preface, and Introduction before Chapter 1 finally inked the page, and (4) a fear that it would be a prescriptive, step-by-step, how-to list required to be a producer.

I’ll conclude with ideas for additions I would have found helpful, informative, and entertaining.

The book has a few tables and one chart to help enumerate the facts laid down in words. An informative chart addition would be one that compares and contrasts show business on Broadway to the film business in Hollywood. Many points in this regard are scattered throughout, and could all be brought to the fore on a single entertaining chart-filling page.

A great companion to the words would be timelines – plural.

A timeline for the eras and major events wouldn’t be difficult. 1980: The 42nd Street spectacle; 1981: Seminal New York Times expose on the money flow; 1980s: the British Invasion; 1990s(?): spectacles built on the Brits’ innovations; 1990s(?): Pop music influence; 2010s(?): nostalgic music grabs control, etc.

A timeline for the producer’s path would help clarify the excellent descriptive and prescriptive content. How many weeks, months, and years might be expected or targeted for the phases of idea, hiring, investment, creation, audition, rehearsal, previews, and transitions to new forms for a happy ending?

A timeline of the social and business changes on Broadway would be interesting, starting with coverage of the social graces of red carpets, formal dress, and parties. Continue with the roles and impact of theater owners, stars, and Hollywood influence over time. Perhaps expand on the changing impact of critics, particularly in light of social media and the decline of traditional media influence.

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