Fun With Spreadsheets

I just finished submitting Bay Ridge Lotus to a theatrical production company. It’s an online submission process, as is the norm these days (at least for those of us who don’t have high-powered agents who can take care of all this for us with a simple phone call). And as part of the submission process, I was required to submit a proposed budget for the production.

Now, it’s hard enough for my brain to handle being both writer and actor in the first place. And I’m still recovering from paperwork I had to do in order to self-produce my Fringe show Dragon’s Breath back in 2014. So a not-inconsiderable part of me wanted to simply enclose a note which read, “how am I supposed to know what the budget’s going to be? You’re the producer, that’s your job!”

However, even I know that’s not a particularly good idea. And it’s far from an unreasonable request; a prospective collaborator needs to know that I’ve thought through production issues, and am knowledgeable concerning the needs of my own script. That I’m worth the risk. And since it turns out I am familiar with production issues, I figured it would be a simple matter to look up the costs of necessary items online and create a budget spreadsheet for my needs. Indeed, it should be possible to look up an entire sample budget online, and simply tweak it as necessary.

Should be, that is.

In reality, every search I did for sample production budgets led to links which were wildly out of date. If you want to put together a Broadway budget for 2002, there’s sources a-plenty on the Interwebz. But costs have skyrocketed wildly in the past few years, and material from fifteen and twenty years ago is a useless guidepost. Heck, with material that old, they’re not even factoring how social media affects how you promote a show, and the impact that has upon promotional costs. That’s an entire category of production costs brought about by the very technology which is somehow preventing me from researching those same production costs.

As a general rule, scarcity equals profitability, and if something can’t be easily found out it’s because somebody somewhere benefits from keeping that information secret. And indeed, the few websites I found which had a current year for their copyright didn’t divulge financial information for theatrical production, but promised that this information could be learned if you were a remember of whatever particular organization maintains that site. And while this is understandable, it’s decidedly inconvenient to those of us who are actually generating the material to be produced.

In the end, I put together a simple budget proposal for a developmental reading, whose costs are much lower and easier to find out. And since it took me the whole weekend to do that, I’m probably not the best person to put together what I’m about to propose – namely that somebody put together sample budget spreadsheets for Off- and Off-off Broadway theater models, then put them online and keep the information updated regularly. There’s already services like Audition Update making sure that actors have as much information as possible; a similar service for self-producing playwrights could be a godsend.

If anybody has any ideas as to how to do this, give me a holler.

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