Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Question for NY and Chicago Bloggers

Over the years, I have watched as many of you created productions in NYC and Chicago. I was wondering if you could outline the costs associated with such productions. How much does it cost to rent a space? What about rehearsals -- where do they take place and how much does it cost? What other expenses are associated with such a production?


Philucifer [aka Charlie Willis] said...

Happy New Year, Scott.

At the company I work with -- Nosedive Productions -- we mount some of the smallest budget shows in New York. Our total budget, depending on the project, usually runs between $2500 and $6000. We tend to run 4 weeks, (Thurs.-Sat.) Typically, about 1/2 to a 1/3 of the budget goes toward space rental (and it's escalating all the time.) We never, ever go higher than 99 seats.

When we produce our version of "A Christmas Carol", it's usually our least expensive show of the year. This year, it was between $2100 and $2500 total, with space costing around $1300 for two weekends of performance (Thurs.-Sat.) in a 55 seat space.

Our rehearsal space rental usually averages around $1000, though recently we've been doing a lot of rehearsing in alternative spaces (read: living room) and then moving into a rehearsal space for run-throughs, then into the theatre for tech and dress.

The rest of the budget goes toward (minimal) sets, costumes, misc. Oh, and postcards are always a necessity. They run about $500 for 5000 of them.

Hope that helps.

Scott Walters said...

Thanks, Charlie -- ti is REALLY good to be back! And thank you for the information. Is there a source where this sort of information is advertised? Like the trade papers, for instance?

Others: how does this stack up with your experiences?

nick said...

Hi Scott,

Nice to see your blog back in town.

The Off-Off theatre producers who have spearheading all the town meetings recently around reforming the Showcase Code are declaring publicly for the first time now that they keep two sets of books. The book they show Equity has to have production costs on any show at $40,000 or less. For a number of years these particular producers have been spending much more than that. Compare these producers with Charlie's Nosedive Productions and you’ll see how difficult it is define in financial terms who is or isn’t a Downtown, Off-Off, or Independent Theatre producer in New York.

Thieves Theatre often worked within nonexistent budgets on big projects and productions. It helped having “theft” as part of your aesthetic, but the real “producer” of any project or production was the collective resources of the ensemble and their connections to monetary and in-kind donations of everything normally associated with production costs. Finances are transparent to everyone in the ensemble. The real money needed to initiate or carry through the project is secured or put forth by those in the lead, but with everyone becoming essentially co-producer, finances become relative to the particular project and ensemble, evolving symbiotically with the artistic process and ambition.

We recently have reconfigured our non-profit company under a new name to reflect better our evolved mission and aesthetic. This fall we will produce our current project under an Off-Broadway contract as International Culture Lab, but our company has been and will remain in definition one of the Independent Theatre producers in the city,regardles of whether the venue is the periodic art salon potlatch in our house or the uptown theatre.

nick said...

I didn’t speak to the rental specifics of your questions because they are mostly irrelevant to the ensemble I outline. But such an ensemble is more ideal than real most of the time, so often Independent Theatre productions need to purchase at market value, or partially subsidized value, product and services they can’t beg, borrow, or steal. I also gave the wrong figure Showcase Code budget maximum. The figure is $20,000. It's the producers who are proposing the change to the $40,000 or less budget.

Space rental is the biggest expense. Rehearsal space rents from $12 to $25 per hour depending on location, time, and size of space. Production venue is almost impossible to a price because of the variety. The venue Nosedive used is Horse Trade. They rent in time slots, two different productions on the same night. Charlie quoted the late night slot I think. So productions can’t have much in the way of set or props in such a venue as they have to be struck after each performance.

The producers with that $20,000 to $40,000 budget are renting theater venues in a price range varying from $3,000 to $6,000 a week. Even at these prices, the Off-Off houses at HERE, the Ohio, 59 East 59, and others curate and subsidize to some degree the productions they book. Some lighting equipment, PR, box office and other elements of production cost may or may not be included in the rental.

Tony said...

Chicago costs vary. For smaller companies, space rental is the biggest expense by far. Performance spaces go from $500 (if you're lucky enough to find it) to $2000+ a week depending on the size of the space.

Rehearsal spaces vary too. A lot of smaller companies rehearse in Churches etc., typically it's about $10 an hour or $30-40 a night. Some companies with more money lease dedicated rehearsal spaces as well.

The League of Chicago Theatres has a lot of info on costs etc available if you contact them http://www. I know that they have a list of performance spaces in the city with prices features etc that they will send out.

Don Hall said...

Tony has it right on the nose.

I imagine for the smaller companies, it's pretty much the same in any urban setting:

Venue rental (including rehearsal space) is often 50-60% of the budget, then sets and costumes, then marketing. Artist pay is most likely the last in the list and, more often than not, nonexistent.

I know for WNEP we budget in at least $100 per artist (more if we can) and marketing has to be creative and as grassroots as possible.

Jamespeak said...

To answer your earlier question, Scott, sites such as and offer information on performance and rehearsal spaces, including dimensions, utilities and rates.

Nick Keenan said...

In the five or six storefront companies that I help with production in Chicago, it's mostly the consistent with the $500 - $3000 guideline for space rental for a four week run. Of course, you get various amounts of equipment and even rehearsal space and time included in those costs, and it's actually rarely true that the more you pay the more you get. There are some real deals to be had (Tony's theater is a real get, actually!), and there are some really well-known rip-off rental spaces that can stick it to you, so contract reading is key. I wish I could publicly state which ones these are in Chicago, but that just doesn't seem right.

As a sound designer, I tend to work on still-shoestring budgets, but they tend to be shows that place a high priority on production value (take it or leave it), so lighting rental costs are also very high percentage of the final budget - $1000 - $1500 for a four week run.

There are also minimum stipend costs involved to help stay the rapid turnover and burnout that accompanies the freelance theater lifestyle... you can keep a good non-equity SM and a talented if young design team around for more than a single production if you can also provide fees of $400 - $600 each for the same run time (though you'll be able to find a partial team and a green SM if you provide no stipend to $100 each) These are people rarely recognized by critics, unlike performers, writers and directors, and so it's often necessary to include a minor financial incentive to enable them to commit time to your production.

Same with performers - There's lots of newbies who are just happy to work, but to get someone who works regularly, $100 - $400 for a run is a gesture of travel and time reimbursement that removes the financial burden from working with your company.

Outside of that: Marketing is usually several hundred dollars per production (new media marketing helps with that a lot), Sets can be anywhere from $100 - $2000 depending on the concept and the need for a technical director and crew to assemble it, Costumes are often $200 - $400.

You can have brilliant production values for this kind of money, (budget ranges usually land between $2000 - $5000 all inclusive), but if you don't need that, space will be your biggest cost.

Found spaces are often the most economical solutions, despite major limitations on both your rehearsal and performance schedule. You can easily do a pretty popular show on literally nothing.

Two pals of mine got a cheap beatup chevrolet and drove through Uptown with three passengers per performance, creating one of the most popular shows in Chicago which ran for a while, then donated the car to charity. I think they made a decent amount off that performance despite having to pay registration fees, gas, and only having a house that could fit 3.