The budget below shows the cost of developing a new play, from scratch, right up to its premiere at a regional theater. This particular play is by the Civilians, a New York–based theater company that specializes in investigative theater. The budget represents the cost of their unique brand of research, as well as the cost any theater company would incur commissioning and workshopping a script. In other words, this is the expense of producing enough of a play to attract funders.
The play, Brooklyn at Eye Level, is about the massive new Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. A team of actors gathered over 250 hours of interviews with Brooklyn residents, developers, politicians, and other stakeholders, taping their voices and noting their facial and physical idiosyncrasies. They performed the material to test it out, then they handed it over to a playwright, who created a script from the material.
This budget is divided into three parts: Investigation, Theater, and Development. Investigation is the cost of interviews and research. Theater is the cost of two weeks of writing and producing a sample play at a Lyceum theater. Development is the cost of commissioning and supporting the playwright.
This is an installment of Creative Accounting, an ongoing series that will show where the money goes for all of the major creative industries. Future issues will cover book publishing, television, fine art, and public sculpture. Eventually the series will be collected into a single, indispensable volume, published by Believer Books.
The Civilians had one month to collect information and begin rehearsing a play. They collected and transcribed over 250 hours of interviews, worked with local children, conducted research, and consulted experts. The figures below are four weeks of their weekly salaries.
The Literary Associate collected research, identified key people to interview, and organized the interview process. Lit associates are “half stage manager, half dramaturg,” said Civilians Managing Director Marion Friedman.
Six actors recorded interviews.
The composer, Michael Friedman, wrote five songs using direct quotes from the interviews. This figure represents the first month of his $2,500 fee.
The dramaturg is almost a co-writer. He helped organize the 250 hours of interviews and vast amounts of other information into one eighty-minute play. This dramaturg was particularly talented, so the Civilians flew him from Ireland, the only real travel expense they paid. Pay below is the first month of his $2,500 fee.
Air travel $617
Ground travel $55
This student helped put the interviews in the context of larger patterns, larger scales of influence, and the history of Brooklyn. Like almost every employee, she also gathered interviews.
These three interns received metrocards.
Transcribers were paid hourly to transcribe tapes. Interviewers were responsible for transcribing parts of their interviews as well.
Because of an agreement with funders, the Civilians can direct some project-specific funds toward their huge fixed costs. This money pays for part of the main office.
The Civilians rented a rehearsal space five days a week. They met three days a week to present excerpts from their interviews. The other two days, it was available for interviews or relaxation.
Letters, fliers and posters all travelled USPS.
The mailhouse provided a bulk rate for postcards.
After the investigation, the Civilians spent two weeks building a play with the best of the material. Extended question-and-answer sessions with community members followed each performance. The playwright incorporated this feedback into later versions of the play.
An outside consultant helped determine what parts of the performance worked and what needed adjustment.
Brooklyn-based Urban Bushwomen dance company collaborated on this play. The Civilians paid the choreographer, who divided it up between her dancers.
Some performers taught a weekly workshop for children at a housing project, which was just a block away from the Atlantic Yards development. The children wrote songs, plays, poems, and stories. Two of the students performed their work in the Lyceum production.
Lab artist 1 $2,000
lab artist 2 $750
Specifically, Michael Hill’s New York City Blues Mob
Photographs of the production found their way to the website and helped archive the show for future directors.
Designed ads for the production.
A truck hauled the rented technical equipment.
This is one play’s share of the company storage unit.
This is the cost of renting the Lyceum Theater.
This is one project’s share of a recurring monthly contract with a PR firm.
After the Lyceum production, the Civilians do follow-up interviews and continue their research.
These staffers determine what additional information the writer will require, and direct its collection.
Artistic Director $2,950
Literary Associate $937
Project Coordinator $3,135
Actors, who have established contacts with sources, are paid hourly for follow-up interviews.
Photographs will be important for later set-design, as well as to keep a record of the characters and area.
Web/Media Tech $500
Office, Phone, copying $1,160
Video editing $400
Disseminating a report on the project to funders.
Had the Civilians purchased a play instead of commissioning it, they would have had to pay royalties and paid for rights. From this point on, this budget reflects the costs that any commissioned play might incur.
After the playwright has written the script, she tests the play in workshops, until she is confident that her script will work on stage. Workshops are generally two weeks long.
Actors may read multiple parts in this workshop stage. Most of the first workshop involves reading from scripts to an industry audience. The playwright makes many changes during this process.
Snacks, paper copying, misc.
The second workshop may include production elements, such as lights, to show potential producers a more finished version.
This workshop has a more realistic number of actors.
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