General Manager

  • General Manager

Once a producer has secured the rights for a theatrical show or other live event production, his or her next step is to hire a general manager. This person oversees all aspects of mounting a production on behalf of the producer, particularly the business and financial concerns.


Duties

Right away, the GM wants to determine three things: the senior staff, the budget, and the schedule. Each of these concerns is dependent on the other. The producer comes to the table with a dollar figure in mind, and the GM responds with a more realistic cost estimate based on a breakdown of the script; eventually, they must arrive at a compromise. The director is typically the first to be hired and will have significant input on selecting the remainder of the design and directorial staff, including the musical director, scenic designer, costume designer, and so forth. It is then the GM’s task to negotiate salaries and contract stipulations for each member of the creative team. In doing so, he or she will communicate with the unions and guilds representing those artists and designers and attempt to come to an equitable deal for both parties.

Some have a knack for pulling a cost estimate based on vague descriptions and rough sketches from designers, but a good general manager will require at least 15 to 20 hours to produce an itemized budget for a show’s production and rehearsal time. That budget details line items for each technical and creative design department, cast and crew salaries, daily operating costs, the marketing campaign, and other costs. Directly related to the budget is the timeline to opening night. Each day that is spent building the set, rehearsing the actors, and sewing costumes drains money from the bank account. The GM outlines the production schedule and supervises the company to ensure deadlines are met. The general manager is active in all vendor contract negotiations and must approve department expenditures against the budget. This person will work closely with and supervise the production manager, company manager, and other administrative personnel. He or she is present at rehearsals as much as possible and will monitor the budget while facilitating the needs of the producer and creative staff.

Skills & Education

A master of fine arts degree in theater with a concentration in creative design, technical design, or theatrical management is encouraged, as the GM must understand the various financial, technical, creative, and logistical elements that are interdependent in mounting a theatrical production. Additionally, this person must have a thorough knowledge of union and guild rules as stated in official rule books, as well as OSHA standards and the applicable labor laws of the state he or she is working in. An individual pursuing this career should consider taking courses in accounting, financial management, business administration, marketing, or other related fields.

What to Expect

The general manager watches every penny, keeps detailed records of every contract negotiation, and can recite passages from the IATSE minimum basic agreement from memory. He or she is also on top of emerging talent and trends within the live show production industry, and exerts considerable effort to develop positive professional relationships across all crafts within that industry. On the job, the GM is tasked with putting out fires, acting as the eyes and ears of the producer, and serving as financial voice of reason when the creatives start spending like they’re playing with Monopoly money. The role of the general manager is typically a freelance position, and he or she works under a temporary contract with a producer. Permanent positions are available with resident theater companies or live event production companies, such as those that produce concert tours. To advance to this position, you should first gain experience as a production manager, company manager, tour manager, or a related administrative position.

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