Budgets on Broadway: Working in General Management
When most people think about theatre, they think about what’s happening onstage. A subset of people, perhaps those who have been in a production or have aspirations of doing so, also consider what goes on behind the scenes--backstage. However, only a few think about or even know that behind-the-behind-the-scenes, there are hundreds of people working in offices to ensure that every production is able to open, run, and close as smoothly as possible. One category of those people is General Managers (GMs). Most audience members won’t notice this role listed on the staff page in their Playbills. But without a General Manager, the Broadway show in front of them would not exist. GMs are at the center of a crucial, bustling world of agents and contracts, budget meetings, design pitches, production meetings, and calls with investors.
So, what exactly does a General Manager do? Honestly, a bit of everything. GMs have the unique privilege of getting to be a part of every aspect of the production from development to closing. When a show is first devised, a GM is usually called in for the readings, labs, and the occasional out-of-town tryout that happen before a show comes to Broadway. The GM creates a budget for each iteration based on what the Producer is willing to spend, finds space in which the rehearsals and presentations will take place, coordinates the necessary equipment rentals, and pays whatever actors, creative team members, and musicians are involved. Once the tryout is finished, the GM consults with the producers and creative team to determine whether a Broadway run is viable.
Once the show starts its Broadway run, the first thing the General Manager does is work closely with the producers to devise a budget for the production. This budget is usually much larger in scale than the previous versions of the show, as there are more people involved and usually more money from the producers. For Broadway, the GM finds and books available studio space for meetings, rehearsals, and run-throughs, and she is present at each production and advertising meeting. She is in charge of all the contract negotiations and agreements for the show, including the agreement with the theatre itself, the designers, production staff, actors, lawyers for the show, insurance, and any other organizations that lend their services to the production. This can be one of the more complicated parts of her job, as most contracts fall under their own separate union agreement. There are unions for actors, musicians, designers, company managers, etc. This means that the GM must be an expert in all of their rules and how they interact with each other, to make sure that neither she nor anyone at the theatre violates any of the agreements.
Once the show is loaded into the Broadway theatre, the GM coordinates with the major marketing teams to go over their own budgets every week so she can compare it to the overall operating budget for the show. When a show is running, the GM works with the Company Managers to make sure the show always has a full cast onstage every performance. Actors’ vacation days are monitored and approved by the General Manager, and the GM maintains records of any injuries that occur during the run of the show and any resulting absences. She also works with the producers to process paperwork for the investors that choose to fund the production. Should the production end up making a profit, it is the GM who distributes the financial reports and shares of any money made to each investor based on their original investment. Because a General Manager is involved with all of the aspects of the production, there is rarely anything that happens or changes without her knowledge. The General Manager is aware of all of the moving parts, which can often help her find a solution should something go wrong in one of the departments, or onstage.
Despite this rather long list of responsibilities, a General Manager’s job is not purely logistical. The GM also has to contend with a wide range of personalities and emotions in every project. The people working on a Broadway show are all artists who bring their own ways of doing things to every production. Naturally, people don't always share a cohesive vision for what a show should look and sound like. Because the GM works with all of the different creators and is present in all of the production meetings, she must be adept at managing the many temperaments and opinions in the room. Especially in an industry, like theatre, known to have big personalities, this can be a real challenge.
Another layer of emotional work happens with the producers. Producers often have strong opinions and preferences when it comes to the show they are working on, because they are its main fundraisers. For many producers, the shows they work on are incredibly dear to them as they have often poured much of their own wealth into ensuring the shows succeed, and thus every decision can feel very personal. In some cases, they often have significant artistic input as well. And because it is their money that gets moved around in the budget, when the producer wants something changed it’s up to the GM to make it work financially. This often involves finding creative ways to move things around in the budget to make something new, like new hires or different scenery, fit. Ultimately if a producer’s request cannot be successfully finagled, it is also the job of the GM to communicate it to the producer in a way that won’t upset or alienate them. Because of the emotional aspect of a GM’s job, she will often form close relationships to certain producers and designers whom she knows she works well with.
It is important to note that no job in theatre is stable. Because the industry is built on shows that eventually close (except perhaps Phantom… or Hamilton), there is a certain element of risk that comes with working in the industry. When a show ends, the jobs created with it do the same. On top of that, the hours that one in theatre works are often outside the normal work day, and vary week to week depending on what needs to be done. General Management is a way to be a major part of the world of theatre, but also to have a more stable day-to-day routine. Instead of being in the theatre and rehearsal room at odd hours, General Managers work in offices, and tend to keep closer to business hours than most workers in this industry. Because of this, a job in General Management can feel like the best of both worlds.
For those just starting out in the industry, it can be hard to know where to start looking for jobs, roles, and opportunities. Especially if you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet or how you want to be involved. Working in a General Management office provides the unique ability to survey all that goes on in a production. Beginning my work in the industry in General Management has taught me about elements of and key players in a Broadway production that I never knew existed. Through working in a GM office, I’ve gotten incredible exposure to new projects, current running productions, and the institutional memory of Broadway. For someone early in their career who doesn’t know exactly where the Theatre industry will take them, working in a General Management office could be the perfect first step.
Taylor Vandick lives in Brooklyn, NY and works in the heart of Times Square where she is a General Management Assistant at Charlotte Wilcox Company. She loves the impact powerful theatre can make, and also loves jamming to showtunes. She hopes to ultimately work in the intersection of theatre, social justice, and community engagement. She loves spotting dogs in Prospect Park, the environment, and eating ice cream in any weather.
Have a question for Taylor? Comment below!