How to Put on a Musical
by John Kenrick
My sincere hope is that you won't have to worry about fundraising. If you are can skip this page, congratulations! School and community groups with an ongoing tradition of stage shows often cover the bulk of production costs as part of their annual institutional budgets. However, when you are trying to establish a tradition, an overhead of several thousand dollars can inspire administrative reluctance, no matter what the potential profits may be. You can sit and moan about this reality, or you can turn it to your advantage. Keep the fundraising process as positive and upbeat as possible. You don't want everyone involved in your project to wind up burned out before you even go into production.
Fundraising can do wonders to build up advance interest in your production, and anything that gets people talking about your show can add to your eventual ticket sales. What sort of fundraising should you engage in? You have all sorts of options. Work by this yardstick any fundraising effort should raise at least twice as much as it costs. Otherwise, what's the point?
Here are some suggestions
- See what other groups have done in your region. If car washes, candy sales, bake sales and the like have worked before, odds are they will work for you too. But don't be a copy cat find something that sets your efforts apart. For example, if a local organization has an established bake sale, you can try a competitive bake off or perhaps another food competition.
- If your production is affiliated with a school, you should verify whether contributions to your school are tax deductible. Some businesses looking for a deduction may be willing to underwrite all or part of your expenses. When approaching businessmen, remember that you are not a salesperson or beggar. You are an advocate offering these businesses a chance to earn positive publicity by being affiliated with a worthwhile community event.
- If you plan a dance, concert or other fundraiser, remember the basic rule if you are not likely to earn twice as much as you spend, you may want to find a more effective way to invest your energy.
A concert can be an excellent way to raise funds, one good show paying for another. If you have the talent on hand to stage a musical, you'll have what's needed to stage a benefit concert. An assortment of songs, scenes, skits, etc. will do the trick, as would a more formal themed evening (i.e. - songs of one composer or era). Two hours of material is plenty, with an intermission thrown in. Please spare your potential audience any three or four hour marathons they are the kind of event that gives amateurs a bad name! There is no need to obtain the services of established professionals. Go with your volunteer talent pool, and put together an enjoyable entertainment. We have more on this in our discussion of concerts in Low Cost Options.
If you lose sight of the bottom line, fundraising events can backfire. Some years ago, the associate producer for a theatre festival I worked on insisted that a gala night at a dance club would make an excellent fundraiser. A reigning disco diva agreed to perform for free. By the time the person in charge of the event had finished providing this performer with a limo, backstage buffet and other amenities (none of which had been asked for), our profit margin for the evening was shot. Once the other costs had been figured in, our so-called benefit ran at a loss.
Example: Higgins and Pickering put on a cabaret concert in November. It costs less than $400 (posters, misc. supplies), and acts as training for the tech crews, house staff, as well as the program and publicity teams. With a variety of acts, there are two performances the weekend before Thanksgiving. These sell a total of 800 seats at $5 each, raising $4,000. Their fundraising goal is met, and the concerts have raised community awareness of performances at the school.