Anatomy of a 29hr Off-Broadway reading

The show I am currently producing, Dumbledore Is So Gay by Robert Holtom, has just completed a successful 29-hour reading in Midtown Manhattan. A 29-hr reading is where the creative team has only up to 29 hours on consecutive days to rehearse a presentation of the production to an invited, non-paying audience. The audience is usually potential partners for the future life of the production such as venues and funders. This amount of time, the maximum of 29 hrs, is set by the New York unions. Equity, the actors union, stipulates that performers cannot be off book and the reading cannot be staged. In our case, our actors were reading off music stands for the final presentation.

The rehearsals for the reading are also a creative development opportunity for the script of the show, which has already performed twice in the UK to critical acclaim. Crucial to the future success of the show in America is the ability for the British script to translate well for an American audience, so the writer (British) and the director (American) went through the script and translated any British-isms that drew a blank for an American audience. They also worked on the pacing of the script and the positioning of certain jokes: a chance to smooth and refine the work again. Robert the writer worked in the room to generate more material for the script to improve scenes and tweak dialogue, which was then refined by evening over tea on the desktop computers at Citizen M hotel.

Our first developmental investment cheque for the production came through just after the reading performance, covering crucial early-stage expenditure such as the fees for the director and actors, and a portion of the writer’s advance on the script.

The next steps are now to raise the rest of the financial capital for the production and to find a venue for the show in New York. My Co-Lead Producer Joe Longthorne and I are already in touch with several venues, who we are following up with, off the back of the reading. Finding a venue is a tricky task though, as a producer must bear in mind venue lead-in times, programming policies, and any upfront costs of securing a performance slot such as a venue deposit — to be factored into the capital raise.

For me, the joy of the reading was to meet my US colleagues in person after months of seeing people as talking heads on Zoom. To give you an example of how the world works nowadays: Joe and I had been working together for 9 months over Zoom, co-producing the show, working towards the reading, and the first time we met in person was in New York for the start of rehearsals.

Next week, I’m back to school on the Stage One x Columbia University exchange programme, taking seminars in Broadway producing from the Columbia University MFA team and other industry experts, in various accountancy and legal offices around Times Square.

If you are interested in getting involved in Dumbledore Is So Gay, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on he@hannahelsy.com and we can talk further.

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