Solo Shows Have Many Allures, Many Challenges for Producers

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02 Apr 2013

Bette Midler
Photo by Jonathan Pushnik

The first solo show producer Arielle Tepper Madover (and the first Broadway show, period) produced was Freak, starring John Leguizamo. Madover said her decision to produce it was made more by the audience than by her. "I did it first Off-Broadway, and the audience laughed every night non-stop for two hours," she told. "There was no way that I couldn't bring it to Broadway. I felt like the audience was telling me to."

With I'll Eat You Last, her latest one-person project, however, there was no audience from a previous staging to influence her decision. In this case, it was the play that won her over.

"When John Logan gave me the script to read, I wanted to produce it right away," she said. "I didn't know very much about Sue Menger, but after reading the play I only wanted more. John had done such a terrific job and it is such a compelling story that I wanted her to be my friend and I wanted to spend time with her."

Conventional wisdom about solo shows says that their low overhead make them alluring to producers and investors—fewer expenses lead to a quicker recoupment. But, say producers, it's not necessarily as simple as that.

"I always say it depends on the show," stated Madover. "There are so many people that go into creating any Broadway show that the number of people on stage can actually be a very small part of the budget."

Also, if that one person on stage is a marquee name, it can be a double-edged sword. You get the big name, but you may also be saddled with a big salary.

"If you keep the expenses down," there's a chance at making a profit, said Leve. "If you have somebody that's a megastar and they're demanding a large salary, then it can be difficult."

In fact, Leve and her fellow producers' talent for keeping the budget of Ann under control is one of the things that made the show tempting to investors. "It was very attractive financially," she explained. "Typically, investors look a little bit more carefully at doing a one-person show compared to a show that has a fuller cast. If it's a really good show and the expenses aren't too high, it's attractive."

Madover thinks that the creative team also has a lot to do with luring backers. "In this case, to have a play by John Logan and directed by Joe Mantello, starring Bette Midler is a pretty outstanding threesome."

Once you have all the money in place, and the theatre booked, marketing the show can also prove a challenge. The person on stage not only has to perform on stage, but perform off-stage as well, doing interviews in support of the production.

"I think a solo show brings a lot of pressure on the person on stage, because there is literally nobody else," said Madover. "This is very hard for marketing because this person has to perform, as well as be responsible for tons of press and appearances. As a producer you don't want to exhaust them, so you try to limit things. So that can be difficult."

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