Spidey spins epic technical challenge | ‘Spider-Man’ aims for storytelling spectacle | Broadway no stranger to bang-ups
The attention paid to the $65 million budget of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has focused on the lavish special effects and elaborate set designs, but there’s another key line on the production’s tab: labor.
With the complicated production requiring so much rehearsal time, not to mention a great deal of trial and error, compensating unionized Broadway pros for several months of unusually long rehearsals definitely adds up. It’s also a major reason the show — with running costs in the 1,930-seat Foxwoods Theater estimated at $1 million per week — is unlikely to make back all of its money solely on revenues from Broadway.
Future incarnations of “Spider-Man” at other venues will be vital to the show’s financial well-being, so the Broadway launch is about brand building.
“The Broadway production would be the loss leader,” one veteran producer tells Variety. “If they can just make ends meet — and it’s not unreasonable to think that they could make that million dollars a week — then they can look at more economical ways to roll the show out on the road, or to do it for larger audiences in arenas.”
Notably, the production was already past the point of being able to recoup on its Broadway run when lead producer Michael Cohl, whose roots are in concert promotion, joined the show in late 2009 after the show’s initial lines of credit had dried up. He brought in a fresh infusion of investor cash to a show already staked to the tune of $25 million.
Cohl, who helped usher in the rise of uber-profitable “package” rock concert tours in 1989 with the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels Tour, is no stranger to wringing maximum profit from roomy venues. Cohl bought concert, merchandising, sponsorship, radio, TV and film rights to that show, and pursued new ways to profit from each, rather than counting purely on ticket sales. The tour became the most financially successful rock tour in history at the time. And he’ll be looking beyond Broadway to build the “Spider-Man” theatrical franchise as well.
But all of “Spider-Man’s” initial innovation — and the Broadway union pros needed to get it right and build that important Rialto imprimatur — come with a significant pricetag.
Production stage manager C. Randall White recalls putting in 15-plus hour days and seven-day weeks for more than a month during the rehearsal process, and the production has a record seven stage managers (including White as the boss). It’s safe to assume that the rest of the crew are also frequently working three four-hour “calls” (shifts, to legiters) a day, every day, making for an 84-hour work week.
At most Broadway houses, the base performance rate for a head of department (a chief stagehand) is $65.50 an hour. “Spider-Man’s” sizable crew includes seven carpenters, five electricians, 41 actors, multiple board operators for the show’s lighting, sound and video cues, 15 dressers to help the actors with their costumes, puppeteers and programmers, to name a few.
All of the top-tier stagehands will make at least $7,467 for each of those long weeks; all of the 41 actors (repped by Actors Equity, which allows very little overtime) will make $1,653 apiece per week until opening, when some may get raises.
And while union wages certainly don’t make it impossible for producers to make money on Broadway, some producers say that for productions above or below a certain size, the prospect becomes much more difficult.
For “Spider-Man,” though, it’s clear that the web goes beyond Broadway.
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