Reviewed by Sarah Pugh
Broadway is surprisingly and deceptively complicated. While wannabe stars are somewhat easily inspired by the famous leads that came before them, barricading their ears with cast recordings, their bookshelves with Samuel French scripts, and their shoeboxes with Playbill after Playbill, that’s only the tip (if the shiniest) part of the iceberg.
Behind every great Broadway star is roughly 40 million other people making it happen: Wardrobe, makeup, sound, lighting design, box office, theater management, musicians, directors, and producers. That’s where The Business of Broadway (Allworth Press, July 2015) comes in. Subtitled “An Insider’s Guide to Working, Producing, and Investing in the World’s Greatest Theatre Community,” Mitch Weiss and Perri Gaffney’s detail-oriented tome covers all the other bases – everything from producers and investors to box office and merchandising.
In The Business of Broadway, each chapter covers one unique but ultimately crucial segment of the business – from broad strokes of unions and advertising, to tedious minutia of exact budgeting and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But the details go even further. The authors go into exact descriptions, such as where the performers go to after their parade performance, and how the statuses of tickets differ from show to show, seller to seller. One of the final chapters goes so far as to replicate an exact budget breakdown for an example show. An entire chapter is titled “Marketing vs. Press vs. Promotion vs. Advertising.” As if that isn’t enough, the book is also capped with personal testimonials of various, experienced Broadway veterans, offering advice for those who are just jumping into this business.
And that…that is both the strength and the weakness of The Business of Broadway. A huge highlight is that the authors go out of their way to not only explain the technicality of positions and chain of command, but the relationships between them. Theatre is a collaborative project. It only works when everyone respects each other’s position and process. From a business perspective, it’s a crucial bit of information that could make a newcomer much more prepared and eventually, successful. However, the book itself is extraordinarily tedious, oftentimes reading more like a textbook than a “how-to.” It is not a casual read. It is chock-full of information, ready to be annotated and highlighted. Choosing to read this book is a full commitment to, well, to the business of Broadway.
Ultimately, this book is a must-read for anyone who is considering getting involved on the business end of theatre. Potential investors will benefit greatly from the information provided by Weiss and Gaffney, provided they want to understand the behind-the-scenes workings of theatre. It’s also incredibly helpful for drama/theatre students, regardless of experience or desired position. It can be a huge advantage upon entering the industry with this extensive knowledge. The Business of Broadway should also be required reading for any diva – because that diva needs her lighting, mic, and wardrobe spot-on. She also needs her orchestra backing her, a union supporting her, and an eager audience to sing to. None of this would be possible without the hard work of many, many, MANY others.