ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Broadway or Off-Broadway—Part II

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Broadway or Off-Broadway—Part II
 
Examining how an Off-Broadway production makes the leap to The Great White Way.
Passing Strange co-creator Stew
Passing Strange co-creator Stew Photo by Michal Daniel

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Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

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This question comes from Lauren Reese of State College, PA.

Question: What is/are the difference(s) between a Broadway show and an Off-Broadway show? How could an Off- Broadway show become a Broadway show? Answer: This week, to answer the second part of this question, AskPlaybill.com spoke to Gerald Schoenfeld, the Chairman of the Shubert Organization and one of the producers of the Off-Broadway-to-Broadway transfer Passing Strange.

The first step in transferring an Off-Broadway show to Broadway? "Obviously, you have to like it," Schoenfeld says.

A lot of the physical production has to change. Schoenfeld says, "You have to see if you can utilize any or all of the sets that are in the show." Typically, new sets have to be built. You also need new lighting and sound design for the new space. If the cast is the same, you don't need new costumes.

The Broadway producer almost always hires the same cast members, but "it's not often that they are all immediately available," Schoenfeld says. "Sometimes you have to have a hiatus, depending on their availability." The producer almost always hires the same director — usually the director's original Off-Broadway contract says they have to be offered the job. There's usually a new general manager for Broadway, since the previous general manager typically works full-time for the originating Off- Broadway theatre. The advertising agency and press agent tend to be the same as they were Off-Broadway.

The producer negotiates new contracts with everyone involved in the Off-Broadway production that stays involved on Broadway, including the writers, cast, director, designers and even the originating Off-Broadway theatre itself. Occasionally, before the Off-Broadway production at a nonprofit theatre begins, a producer will put "enhancement" money into that production in return for the rights to produce the Broadway transfer, if it were to happen. But when there's no enhancement money arrangement — when a producer simply sees the Off-Broadway production, likes it, and wants to move it to Broadway — the producer has to negotiate a deal with that Off-Broadway theatre.

"The original theatre doesn't want [the show] to just walk away and leave them high and dry," Schoenfeld says. "So you would probably have to make arrangements with the originating theatre, which probably would require payment of a royalty and possible percentage of net profits." Sometimes these payments are arranged even when the theatre isn't left "high and dry" — when the show has simply ended its scheduled run at the theatre.

The Broadway producer negotiates billing with the Off-Broadway company — usually they're billed as one of the Broadway producers. Which brings us to the last item on our list: a producer has to raise money, which typically involves bringing on many co-producers.

For many of these various decisions, the Broadway producing team and the originating Off-Broadway theatre have to agree. Other decisions — such as which co-producers should be involved — are typically the prerogative of the Broadway producing team. Schoenfeld says, "You want to get as little interference from the originating theatre as you can, so you can do what you think is appropriate for the show. But by the same token, you want to have a very smooth transition."

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