Adapting: What Does it Take to Produce a Large Cast New Work? Fourth Quarter Planning

by Jake Lipman · October 6, 2015

With less than 2 weeks until the world premiere production of my adaptation of The Inn at Lake Devine (based on the novel by Elinor Lipman), it feels like we’re in the fourth quarter of the big game. 

I won’t extend that sports metaphor too much farther (I just exhausted my knowledge of football in that last sentence), but you get the point: a lot of things are coming together right now, and it’s crunch time. 

My prior installments in this series have covered the creation of the adaptation script and assembling the production team, so this installment will focus on producing a large cast adaptation. 

I didn’t know what producing theater entailed 11 years ago when I first started putting on shows with other actors from grad school. I soon learned that producing involves creating and executing an overall plan for the production, from financing the show, to picking the show, contracts, hiring people, scheduling, marketing, fundraising, and, finally, after all that: opening the doors to the theater for the performance and putting on a great show. 

For this show, here are the 4 essentials I needed to get the job done:

1.  An associate producer.

If you are adapting, starring in, and producing a play, it is invaluable to have an associate producer. I have Molly Ballerstein, who has been passionate about the project from the outset, wearing multiple hats without my even having to ask: reader on the script, stage managing and directing the staged reading, weighing in on everything from the director, to designers, and cast we hired, and thinking about fundraising and marketing and ticket sales with me. She is readily available, responsive, and calming. I could not be doing everything I’m doing without her.

2.  Money.

Make a budget, include a 10% contingency beyond what you think you’ll need. You should also calculate projected ticket revenue, and fundraise to cover the difference between how many tickets you think you can sell and the overall budget. 

To give a specific budget example: Let’s say you want to do a production with a cast of 3 that runs for a week. Your overall budget is $5,000. Always add on $500 for contingencies to that budget, so your actual budget with contingency is $5,500. Then, think about ticket revenue: how many seats you have in the theater, multiply that number by performances and ticket price, and adjust for your likely attendance (based on how many people you know will come for you and the cast/production team). Let’s say you have 30 seats x 5 performances x ticket price of $15. If you sold every last seat, your projected ticket revenue is $2,250. Realistically, you will probably have to allow for giving comps to certain people involved in the show, plus a few shows having lower attendance. Adjusting down for those considerations, your projected ticket revenue may be $2,000. Lastly, subtract the projected ticket revenue: $2,000, from the budget: $5,500. With a budget shortfall of $3,500, it’s time to fundraise. There are several ways to approach the shortfall: 

  • Consider cutting the budget, or raising the ticket price, to decrease the gap between budget and revenue.
  • Ask your friends and family to donate with a heartfelt plea.
  • Host an event with low overhead, charge admission, and pocket what you make at the door.
  • Crowd-fund through sites like Indie Go Go.
  • If you are producing on an on-going basis, secure non-profit sponsored artist status through an organization like The Field or Fractured Atlas. Join for a nominal annual fee, any donations your donors make are tax-deductible.
  • All of the above.

3. Passion.

Throughout it all, passion will carry you forward when the days are long. Choose wisely in who you cast and bring into the process—find people who are organized, professional, and excited. This will help with everything, from the cast dynamic in the rehearsal room, to getting people to want to donate to the production, production team morale, and getting people to buy tickets to see the show.

 4. Schedule.

We have a lot of people involved on this production, and setting and sticking to a schedule is a life-saver, for everyone’s overall sanity. Keep in mind that if an actor is consistently late to rehearsal, or a designer unclear on when elements need to be finalized, it ratchets up the tension in the production, for everyone. If you are working with union designers, directors, and actors, there are also scheduling considerations per contracts. Review all documentation with each union carefully and make sure you are not working people without breaks or days off. Even if you are working with all non-union team members, get a head start on working at a professional level and consider observing these same breaks. They’re in place for a reason – namely, ensuring the production runs smoothly, with people being happy and safe.

Bottom line, producing is not always glamorous, but it is deeply rewarding. And, if like me, you’re an actor (or a playwright, or a director) who has a project they want to see done, self-producing is one way to find artistic fulfillment. 

As I said at the start of this installment, we have less than two weeks to go before we open on October 7. Wish us broken legs for a great run, strong performances, warm audiences, sold out houses, and enthusiastic reviews. I hope you’ll come see the show (! 

When I write the last installment of this series, it will be a post-show assessment of lessons learned. Thank you for all your support.





Broken Bone Bathtub
After being asked who is comfortable with audience participation, we are lead one by one into the small room and guided to our seats. A young woman sits amid pleasantly floral scented bubbles, face turned away from us.
Broken Bone Bathtub
After being asked who is comfortable with audience participation, we are lead one by one into the small room and guided to our seats. A young woman sits amid pleasantly floral scented bubbles, face turned away from us.
Adapting: Five Takeaways
The fifth (and last) in a five part series on adapting a play from a novel as it occurs.