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Producing: The Variety Show, Part 1

March 11, 2013

This past weekend marked the very special debut show for my new theatre company – The Radium Girls, called “A Prelude to the Morning After,” a variety show to kick off our 2013 fundraising effort. I wanted to share the process with you, as it is a very doable, cheap, and fun way to get your feet wet with producing.

A variety show is great for New York – it’s “low pressure” for performers, and you can showcase yourself and your friends! I mean, you’re producing it and putting all that work in, after all. If you have an agent or casting director that’s been asking to see your next show, this is an easy and cheap way to do it – with endless possibilities on what the show could involve. Even better, you can probably find a venue that will give you a discount on or even free space if you’re going to bring in a big group. And, that bigger group is easier to get with more performers, because they’ll all bring a few friends.

The most challenging part is finding a space – but, if you keep your eyes open, or brainstorm places where you’ve seen underground shows in the past, you can make a list (I love lists!). I suggest using excel or a similar program, so it’s easy to file away and reuse in the future.

To reach out to the venues, just create a form email. It should be short, sweet and to the point – sans any exclamation points. People who schedule these venues are used to disorganized groups, and if you show you are organized and professional from the get-go, you’ll have a better chance of being offered the chance to return.

Here’s an example, as if I were producing a variety show solo:

SUBJECT: Space Inquiry for April

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am The Productive Actor, a theatre producer in NYC. Currently, I am looking for a venue in April to host a 60-90 minute comedy variety show. I anticipate we will bring at least 50 people out to see the show, depending on the night of the week. I’d most prefer a Friday or Saturday night, but I am open to other options.

If you have availability, please let me know at your earliest convenience. You can reach me at or at 555-555-2222.


The Productive Actor

If you notice, I put April as my projected month – you should allow at least 6-8 weeks for a slot, as places book up quickly – especially the nicer ones. I reached out in mid-December and got a booking in mid-February.

Also, don’t sell yourself short. Even if you’ve never produced something before, you are in process by sending this email – so give yourself the credit you deserve!

(The best part is, you can do all of the above in just an hour or two!)

If you can find a free space, snatch it up! But, if you’re looking at venues that will charge for the space, make sure you know what you’re going to have to earn from the box office to break even. If you’re unsure you can break even or don’t want to sell tickets, keep looking. They’re out there!

Some places will also ask for a portion of the box office sales, so if you have to sign anything to reserve the space, read it very carefully and ask any questions you need to until you’re positive you understand the contract fully. Remember: YOU are doing THEM the favor by paying them and bringing people into their venue.

If you decide on a space that isn’t free, to figure out the box-office math, just take the amount of the space and divide it by the number of people you think you can reasonably get into the seats, that gives you the ticket price you should be charging.


Space Cost: $250 / Projected Guests: 25 = $10 per ticket

We’ll talk more about profits and money in an upcoming installment, as well as the different ways to put an interesting variety show together, tipping a hat to one of the longest running and pioneering Broadway shows: The Zigfeld Follies.

Have you ever produced a show – or thought about it before? I’d love to hear your experiences! Also, if this blog is interesting and you want more, speak up and you shall receive.

From my brain to yours,


2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Enterprising Actor permalink
    March 14, 2013 9:38 am

    Thanks for giving us a peek inside your process. I look forward to the follow-up posts about it, too. Despite being in Louisville, we, too, have difficulty finding space in which to perform; there are only a few places small enough to host a show that isn’t being underwritten by a bigger company. The problem that is different here is the smaller audience pool. There are so many folks producing shows that it begins to feel like the market is over-saturated. I begin to wonder if the only people who ever go see shows are also the ones who are doing all the other shows. Finding a new market to bring in to a show, building a new audience base, is what I’m struggling with right now in my endeavors.


  1. Producing: The Variety Show, Part 2 | The Green Room

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