“Creatives,” or those who are concerned only with the artistic details of a project, tend to have a difficult time editing their imaginations to fit a budget. That is where the production manager comes in; he or she is the keeper of the cash, the parental figure doling out the allowance. A theatrical production or concert consists of numerous departments and technical elements that compete for a slice of the money pie, but must cooperate to put on a cohesive show.
The production manager monitors the bottom line and is responsible for financial and logistical oversight in support of the director and artistic designers. It is this person’s job to establish the production’s budget, allocate funds to each department, and coordinate staffing. How much money each department has to play with is determined in a hierarchy of importance based on the particular needs of the show and the director’s vision. Noises Off cannot be performed without a rotating two-story set, and if Tommy Lee is taking the stage with Mötley Crüe, then you can’t go on the road without the flying kit. Each designer will deliver design comps to the production manager, along with detailed equipment and materials lists, which the PM must then review. In the production manager’s mind, every item on the wish list has a price tag. It is his or her task to research costs and report back to the director and designers with suggestions for where to make cuts in the spec sheets. Often this requires the production manager to collaborate with each department to rework the initial designs and come up with a cost-effective solution that can still achieve the intended artistic result.
In addition to minding the production’s coffers, the PM is also tasked with managing logistical concerns like negotiating contracts with vendors, scheduling materials deliveries, and coordinating staff. He or she is directly involved with the interviewing and hiring of each crew member, and determines how many crew members the show can afford. If the production company is operating under a collective bargaining agreement with a union like IATSE, this person is directly involved in monitoring the company’s compliance with all union contract stipulations. As the build toward opening night continues, the production manager is chiefly concerned with ensuring that all senior department staff have adequate staff and materials to complete their designs and mitigating any roadblocks that may arise, like running out of lumber, receiving damaged rental equipment, or missing a shipment of fabric. He or she works to keep the crews on schedule and on budget.
Skills & Education
A college degree in theatrical production with a concentration in design or management is recommended, but an MFA is preferred. Because the production manager supervises the activities of several diverse departments, a liberal education is encouraged. Courses in stagecraft or carpentry, electrical engineering, audio engineering, art, physics, finance, and business administration are invaluable in this career field. Some experience in each technical and artistic field of theater or concert production is required, so it is important to receive hands-on training working with costuming, props, makeup, and rigging.
What to Expect
Among the production manager’s primary concerns is safety. This person will be held responsible for the safe working conditions of the production space, and for seeing that all employees adhere to safety practices. The PM may also be asked to work with the technical director and other senior staff to draft written protocols for the crew. This job carries with it a great deal of responsibility for accurately and meticulously managing large sums of money. Often hard choices have to be made to protect the budget; the PM will regularly be in the difficult position of having to shoot down the carefully crafted design plans of a delicate ego. Be diplomatic and respectful. When cuts have to be made, collaborate to identify solutions. You should never come to the table with a problem without at least three ideas for how to fix it. The PM’s role is a selfless one: Personal success means facilitating the creativity and success of others.
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