Investing in Theatre. Part 3. To Invest or Not to Invest. That is the question.
HOW TO DECIDE - TO INVEST OR NOT TO INVEST?
When deciding to invest in a production the following should be carefully considered:
1. Choose the producer and the production with care after considering all the financial information and the total artistic package being offered. If you find the right play or musical and the producer keeps costs under control, you may do very well financially, but investing in a theatre production is very high risk (see risk factors that follow) and many productions lose all their money.
2. Although there are no firm statistics on this matter, it is generally believed that, over the last 10 years in the West End, one in three productions has recouped and/or made a profit. On Broadway, the only comparable tally is on musicals, and it suggests that 20% of musicals (one in five) recoup their investment. The amount of time it takes for shows to recoup varies enormously, as does the profit returned to investors post recoupment.
A recent hit musical on Broadway is Wicked (opened in 2004) which recouped its $14 million capitalization in one year. A lesser hit, Waitress, (opened in 2016) recouped its $12 million capitalization in 10 months and continues to run with profits to its investors.
A recent hit play on Broadway was The Humans (opened in 2016 after an off-Broadway run in a non-profit). Its capitalization was $3.8 million and it returned its investment in 6 months. It ultimately ran for 502 performances but was forced to close when it lost its theatre. It subsequently went on tour, bringing additional profit to investors. Frost Nixon (2006, London) returned its £400,000 investment plus 40% in profits in 12 weeks. Like other (but not all) hits from London, it also made money for its investors in New York.
When deciding to invest or not, this additional information may be useful too.
1. Theatre productions, if hits, can be much more lucrative than movies. Unlike movies, which have limited first run appeal, original productions of successfully launched show often continue in their city of origin (New York or London) as well as in additional cities for multiple years. World-wide earnings of the biggest shows (e.g. Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Evita, Lion King, Les Misérables, Chicago) dwarf those of Hollywood blockbuster films (e.g. “Titanic,” “Jurassic Park”) and are estimated to have grossed worldwide receipts ranging from $1 billion to more than $3 billion each. Cats in its original New York run alone grossed more than $2 billion. “ET” and “JurassicPark” together grossed approximately $1.5 billion. Lion King has grossed more than $7.9 billion. Shows can fail, but then can be revived with great success. Chicago, revived in 1996, has now been running on Broadway for 21 years, though it failed to recoup in 1975.
2. Non-musical investments can also result in long term returns. For example, the play War Horse was the most successful production ever produced by the National Theatre of England, with an outreach to 13 countries and over 10 million people, including 10 years in the West End.
3. Size of show also does not determine success. For example, the off-Broadway show, Stomp, originally produced in 1994 in a 299 seat theatre off-Broadway, has returned more than 150 times investment, often playing in 3000-5000 seat theatres out of town.
4. A hit in one market may not be a hit in another market or another format. Rent failed several times in London and then it succeeded. Hit musicals may not succeed in touring versions, e.g. Billy Elliot, a huge success in London, and in America, did not recoup its American tour.
5. Each season London, Broadway and even off-Broadway productions drive multiple theatrical productions in major and minor markets, as well as tours, stock and amateur, as well as media productions. For example, hit plays with world-side success returning big licenses fees include the thrillers, Night Mother and Death Trap and the 2 person Driving Miss Daisy. Investors in the original production of a play or musical may have the right to invest in other productions of the play or musical under the Producer’s control.
6. In recent years, recognizing the chance to exploit their libraries and to benefit from the huge potential of financial success on Broadway, entertainment giants, Disney, Universal, Polygram, Warner Brothers and Fox, have been developing productions for live theatre.
Potential investors should consider the following risk factors:
Theatrical production is an inherently risky business. Investment in a production is highly speculative and may involve a higher level of risk than many other financial or investment transactions and there is no guarantee that investors will get back the amount, which they invest. You must be able to afford to lose the entire sum that you have invested.
Most of the costs and expenses relating to a production are incurred prior to the production opening. The costs and expenses will be paid from the monies invested.
If for any reason, the production does not open, or is postponed, monies invested will only be available to be returned to investors to the extent they are not needed to meet liabilities already incurred by the Producer.
It is difficult to predict the income (if any) that an investment in a production will generate, and any return of investment or income that is generated is unlikely to be received by an investor on regular dates and/or in regular amounts.
An investment in a production is not transferable and, as there is no market for the investment, it may be difficult for an investor to obtain reliable information about the value of the investment, or the extent of the risks to which it is exposed.
Interested in learning more about Investing in Theatre? Part 4 of Investing In Theatre - Why Else Besides Dough? is next.
Annette Niemtzow is an experienced and long-time theatre producer with multiple credits on Broadway and in the West End. Her latest Broadway credits were Leap of Faith, the Alan Menken-Glenn Slater musical, directed by Chris Ashley and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, starring Raul Esparza (Tony nomination, Best Musical); and Frost/Nixon, by Peter Morgan and directed by Michael Grandage (3 Tony nominations, including Best Play. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play--Frank Langella). For more information about Annette and her shows, or to contact her, visit http://www.whitedogproductionsonline.com.
This document is the confidential property of White Dog Productions, LLC. The information contained in it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. Parties seeking investment in theatrical productions should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.