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The Scenery budget tracking for Hamlet is attached at the bottom. I use excel.

What can I say about budgets? It's never enough, is it? In nearly every other industry specifically in in construction, budgets have formulas. Materials + Labor=budget. But in the Theatre it seems as though they are just random numbers plopped down in a word document than mean nothing other than for the past few years this is how they've been doing it. 

The same budget we use every year. 

This is ok for fund raising but a little arbitrary when you don't know the show.
For example, Let's do Peter Pan for our Spring Musical.
$3000 may just cover the flying rig rental for just Peter. 
I now have $500 to build Wendy's room and Neverland.
Neverland is gonna suck.

While I welcome that challenge and could do it, I would have to be the TD/MC/Painter and Set and Lighting Designer so I could put my design fees toward production and work for just my TD salary in an effort to ensure we'd all still have jobs for the next show.

Now lets say you don't want to rent a flying rig but you want the TD to engineer it. Yes, I can do that. I know how Foy and ZFX does it. And, we'll own the rig for next time we need to fly. But, how many TD's you know of with degrees, certification, and engineering experience who work for less than the cost of living. 


When asked to review this budget I responded with:

Since I am not familiar with the shows, designs, and previous season budgets for these "slots" I can only tell you I have no idea. I trust that we have chosen these numbers based on a myriad of factors, number one being experience. If you say this is the budget then this is the budget.
I feel having a budget cap per production per area is a capital idea and every effort should be made to exist within those limits. However, I would like bottom line flexibility; the old chestnut "rob Peter to pay Paul". And monies saved can be used to mend the scene shop wear and tear.
Ex1: If I can realize the design for less than the aloted budget then I should be able to buy a replacement skill saw after striking that show. Otherwise I will need buy that saw because we need it (can't build scenery without tools) and the show will automatically be out $, which is not fair to the design.
Ex2: If there is scenic money surplus and electrics needs $500 in two-fers, lets buy two-fers.
I would be more successful saving the theatre money and building production resources if I could be advanced full season budget disclosure and given bottom line flexibility.
-Since we are on the subject of budgets, I resubmit my request for budget information for the remainder of the season.
Attached you will find the same information sent in spreadsheet format. I have arranged the shows in what i think is chronological order. You will also see a Bottom Line total per area. If at all possible, I would prefer to receive such information in chronological order and in spreadsheet format. I absolutely feel we all need to get on the same accounting platform and this summer is the time to do it.
However, if you're asking my opinion of how to develop budget then the answers are:

Since we have no stock, build everything from scratch, our designers are not familiar with all the junk in the warehouse, and each set is a one-off, 
if it's a Unit set then:
Total the number of seats in the house, multiply that by the lowest ticket price, divide it by half,  add 25% for contingency.

This is the least amount of money I should spend on THE SET.
So, for TMS $5000.00 is a good number for an average production... $10,000 would be paradigm... $2500.00 is, well- self explanatory - (This does not account for the frugal efforts of the TD and crew to put $5000 worth of set on stage, make it look like $10,000 but actually only spend $2500.00) 
Another way I like to think about it is how many tickets do I need to sell to pay for THE SET.
If the show is 25 performances, $20 is the low ticket price, and the budget is $5000
then I need 250 people to see the show.
BUT, if I have experience in the facility with my audience base, good box office records, and the data yields my theatre averages 1/2 occupancy for the entire run of production, then I can work backwards from expected ticket sales and assume that of the 400 available seats over 25 performances I will only sell 1/2 or 5,000 tickets.

If low ticket price is $20.00 then I won't spend more than $4000 on combined scenery (Set, Lights, Sound, Props) and I'll comp 1/4-1/3 of my available tickets for audience development and hope for a better selling season next year.
And always remember:

1. I can do it Fast.
2. I can do it Cheap.
3. I can do it well.
You get two out of three. 
If you want it good and cheap then I need more time with it.
If you want it cheap and fast then it will not look good.
If you want it fast and well then it will not be cheap.

There are lots of ways to budget. I recommend starting with ticket sales and working backward. Too many theatres are closing because they over spend and don't sell tickets, they rely on grants and donations, and worse, the board of directors to bail them out. If you offer a competitive ticket price and a good show, the audience will come and come come back. Spend what you can afford. If you make a killing, don't just blow it on Beauty and the Beast. Consider what you need to spend it one so the next show is as good as the show you'll offer after that.

Hire an experienced Technical Director who'd rather fish material out of the dumpster than max out the American Express card and a designer who respects your limitations.  

Nobody ever says "Remember that amazing show that bankrupted the theatre!" 
They say "What a shame the theatre closed down. It used to be a great place to go and my kids loved their youth program."

Whatever the budget bottom line is, I work hard and diligently to stay under, on time, and keep the directors and designers happy.

It's just a bunch a flats a platforms painted and decorated to look like something. Have stock and spend your money on what the audience will see. Reuse and recycle. For the sake of Pete, if you have a warehouse full of one-off set pieces, hire a designer that will consider using them. 

Shannon Miller,
Mar 16, 2012, 11:20 AM