Leo Blum may have fantasized about life as a producer, but what does the title actually mean? In between the lunches at Sardi’s (yes, those do happen) producers are the shepherds of Broadway—uniting the creative team, raising the financial investment, and guiding a show every step of the way.
“The producer is sort of the mother or father; the producer takes a project and gives it life,” says Catherine Schreiber, a Tony-winning and Olivier-nominated producer who was recently named 2017 Global Producer of the Year.
“Some people define lead producers differently, but there are general partners who start at the very top,” she explains. “They are financially responsible for the show—so often there will be just one or two—[and] they have the total burden.” Then there are the lead producers, who are responsible for raising a certain amount of capital and also contribute to creative decisions—but the general partners have final say. (In some cases, people call general partners lead producers.) Then there are co-producers, who bring in money from individual investors, but their creative involvement is more limited.
Lead producers have a say in everything from assembling a full creative team to script changes, from casting to the show’s marketing campaign, from press appearances to merchandise design, and more. At the top level, producing requires vision.
Still, Schreiber says if you want to get involved with the business of Broadway “become an investor first. That’s the way you learn.” Schreiber enjoys mentoring new investors and less experienced producers and urges that personal finances need not be a barrier to entry. “Many producers don’t put money in themselves,” she says. “[If the threshold] is five or ten thousand [for a straight play producing credit] and they don’t have the money, they bring in money from family and friends; the key to being a good producer is extending your family and friends world.”
But it’s more than an established network. A good producer is a people person, according to Schreiber, someone creative and organized, but also someone who can put their weight behind their word. “I’m getting known as ‘the passionate producer,’” says Schreiber. As one of the producers behind Broadway’s current The Play That Goes Wrong, a Tony winner for Clybourne Park, and a Tony nominee for Next Fall, Peter and the Starcatcher, and more, Schreiber believes in emotionally investing in her product before doing so fiscally. “My goal in theatre is to do plays or musicals that can touch you emotionally, because if they touch you emotionally they can change you.”
A producer needs to be able to convince investors of the power of a theatrical piece, so they better believe in the project and be able to speak to its impact. Schreiber felt that way about Broadway'sThe Scottsboro Boys. “I brought money, but I went beyond that,” she says of her co-producing credit. “I actually got involved with the Scottsboro Boys Museum in Alabama. … I spoke at the 82nd anniversary of the Scottsboro Boys trials. … I gave the keynote address when Governor Bentley of Alabama [pardoned] the Scottsboro Boys in 2013, exonerating the boys.
“That’s amazing to me that my work helped change history,” she says. And because of that, she wanted to bring the show to London as a general partner. Her London incarnation at the Young Vic went on to win the Critic Circle Award and was nominated for seven Olivier Awards. “That is the ultimate fulfillment.”
When it comes to producing, Schreiber listens to her gut and with more experience and recognition to her name, she is able to invest in theatre that supports her values. “I think it's really important to do shows, especially, that empower young women,” says the producer, who is a producer on the female-driven Company coming to London. “I also love working with women directors and empowering them.” Which is why Marianne Elliott’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe also finds a spot on her roster of in-the-works projects.
“A motto for me is ‘making things happen,’” says Schreiber. With her drive, passion, and prowess, the 2017 Global Producer of the Year will continue to do just that.