Savage — a member of the producing team for this year’s Tony favorite “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” as well as last year’s winning play, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” — has enjoyed an unusual run of early-career success in the theater industry. But the balance she must strike between her dayside clockpunching and her legit moonlighting underscores the difficulty up-and-coming producers face when they try to break into a business that’s tight-knit, discouraging and very, very risky.
“I do feel more secure, but not much,” Savage (pictured, above) said in an interview in the days following her Tony win for “Gentleman’s Guide.” “Producing is not paying my bills. It’s just me sniffing around for projects in the hopes that one day I can make a career out of it. It’s not a full time, lucrative pursuit.”
Unlike some co-producers, for whom Broadway remains a side-hobby their whole careers, Savage intends one day to become a general partner or lead producer. But finding your way into the industry, an insular business of small entrepreneurial shingles, can seem an insurmountable challenge when most of the New York offices of individual producers consist of little more than one producer and one assistant.
“There is the traditional route where you can work for a lead producer and work your way up,” said Jamie Bendell, another young producer on the team of “Gentleman’s Guide.” “But neither Megan nor I are doing that.”
While Savage spends her 9-to-5hours as a program administrator at the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, Bendell has managed to score a job as a full-time producer at Big Block Entertainment, currently a general partner on the Off Broadway musical adaptation of “Heathers.”
Savage, for one, has done some time as an assistant, first in the office of Roy Gabay, the producer of the upcoming Broadway tuner “Honeymoon in Vegas.” At a party for an actor friend, she met producer Michael Roderick, who offered Savage the opportunity to raise money under his name for “Vanya.” When he ultimately decided he wanted to go in a different direction and stopped working on “Vanya,” the show’s lead producers offered Savage a chance to step up to full producership.
“Megan was willing to take the leap,” said John Johnson, a producer of “Gentleman’s Guide” and “Vanya” — and, at 34, on the younger end of the legit industry’s age spectrum, too. “Like any career and any business, it’s about timing and being in the right place at the right time.”
Sidestepping an ongoing apprenticeship allows young legiters such as Savage to avoid what could become a career trap. “There is a thing in this industry where you can get a reputation as an assistant,” said Tony-winning costume designer Paloma Young. “That makes it harder to break in, because directors think of you as ‘that’s person’s assistant.’”
Opportunities can prove especially slim for rising producers drawn to original work rather than the movie-to-musical adaptations of big titles with preexisting brand equity — projects which proliferate on Broadway as surer bets than unproven new work.
But as box office juggernaut “The Book of Mormon” and current Broadway title “If/Then” make clear, there’s still room for from-scratch original work alongside “Aladdin” and “Rocky.”
Young legiters agree that the first step to creating a niche in the industry is tenacity and the luck to be in the right place at the right time. It also takes a bit of privilege, at least if you’re hoping to play in the sandbox of Broadway producers.
“You have to be fortunate in the first place to have a shot,” said Savage. “I couldn’t have entered the world in the way I did if I didn’t know people with that kind of money. You have to be somewhat privileged to even break in.”