10 Things I Learned About Producing Theatre

Victoria Cairl
7 min readMay 7, 2023
The fans who came out for the first preview of “Khan: The Musical- The parody TREK-tacular!”

Recently I was part of the producing team of a show. Here’s everything I learned and a bit of the story behind the entire thing.

Lesson #1: Pick the right project

In March of 2022, I had a Zoom call with Brent Black, a writer/composer who had seen me teach a Zoom class on “How to Market Your Musical”. That’s what I do, I sell shows. I run a small marketing agency called Table 7 Strategy where we collaborate with other agencies and work for producers to help sell tickets to their productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway and around the world. And these past few years, selling live theatre has been hard to do. Theatergoers’ habits are changing, the economy has had its’ ups and downs and the tools that used to sell buckets of tickets now sell handfuls.

But when Brent was asking me if I’d like my team to pitch selling his show, a Star Trek Parody Musical called “Khan: The Musical”, I had another idea. The marketing was a “no brainer” for me. Trek Fans are older overall and have money and many are theatre nerds. And his show was good. He’s worked on this piece for years through workshops and festivals. He now had an opportunity through The Players Theatre to do a limited run in May 2023. Which is what led to my next question, “Would you be open to talking to my husband about producing this?”

Lesson #2: Find the right partner

Jim Cairl and I met in college across the table when he audited a “20th Century Theatrical Literature” class. The moment I saw him I had trouble concentrating on the class discussion of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”. The guy across the table was cute, but he was also smart. He was an actor. I was focused on playwriting and directing. We later became friends and then were cast as husband and wife in a show. We fell in love and have been together ever since.

We share a deep passion for theatre and both work in the “industry”. But something had been missing for us. Maybe it was our kids had grown or the pandemic had taken its toll on our marriage. He wasn’t acting. I was barely writing. We were and are working all the time. We had started to invest tiny amounts in shows we loved or that our friends were producing. And we swore we would find the perfect project for us to do together. I think I wanted to rekindle our romance through creative collaboration.

Also, he’s a total Trekkie and nerd, so the second I did introduce him to Brent, he saw what I saw and more in the project. And we somehow convinced Brent to give two amateurs a shot at producing his show.

Lesson #3: Play to your strengths

Balancing work and family and our passions is all we had ever known. And while we had always been supportive of one another, we had never technically “worked” together. If we wanted to try and do this, we would need to divide and conquer.

Jim took on the role of Creative Producer. He worked with the creative team, went through the casting process, found our design team, dealt with the theater. I took on the business piece. I found our GM (Leah Michalos) and press agent (Katie Rosin), both of whom are amazing women I had just worked with on another project. And I was responsible for ticket pricing and sales and marketing.

And if you are thinking, “Wow, Jim took on the most work here.”- you are 1000% correct. As things were ramping up over the past year, both our careers were in high gear. I had to focus on running my business, so he held the reigns on most of it and thereby truly became the lead producer.

Lesson #4: Keep the budget realistic

We inherited a deal that could not change. We had a set five weekend run. We had to split the box office with the theatre. We are not independently wealthy. We had a small amount to invest ourselves. But we also wanted to be financially responsible. Investing in theatre is high stakes gambling. The figures often change but one in five shows make back their money and off-Broadway, your chance of financially succeeding is even lower. We set a low budget in the hopes we could still put on a good show. This was in no way the final production but a way to showcase how amazing this could be with the luxury of more time and money to put into it. We stuck to this as purely a developmental run.

Lesson #5: Raising the Funds may not be “fun”

I am a girl who grew up in a small business on a farm in New England. I can market anything but going to people to ask for money is not my strong suit. I understood that you worked hard and earned money, you didn’t just ask for it. But my partner, Jim, is the oldest male child from a suburban Italian family. All he ever needed to do growing up was ask for what he wanted, and his family tried to make it happen. Bottom line, Jim was WAY better at raising capital than I was. He was fearless and he believed in the project. Almost every night and weekend, I’d hear him on the phone or over Zoom pitching. We were funded fast.

Lesson #6: Everything is hard about this

Producing is a process during which you are responsible for everything and get recognized for very little. Ultimately, it’s your job to support the creative team and those actors up on stage. I have the privilege to work with and know many Broadway and Off-Broadway producers and they do this full time and are amazing at it. They develop shows for YEARS and they raise MILLIONS of dollars. After this experience I have an undying respect for all that a producer does.

“In order to be good at producing you must be madly in love with the project you are working on. Because it takes on so much of your time and focus, you better absolutely believe in what you are doing. And you must fully understand that you could fail and still want to try”, one of my mentors explained to me. She produced a huge show this season and I hope she wins that Tony in the end.

Lesson #7: Know your limits

While this experience has been incredible, it is not either of our full-time jobs. Jim has been at his place of business for years and really loves his team there. And my devotion to my work at Table 7 and my clients takes up 90% of my capacity.

One of us was going to break, when we tried to produce a show on top of everything else in our lives and Jim did. During the process he landed in the hospital for what he though was a heart attack, it was most likely a panic attack. The amount of pressure he’s put on himself to do a great job on everything he was working on meant he had forgotten to take care of himself. And I was working 12-hour days and trying to pick up the slack with our one remaining kid, Finn (he’s ten and a production all his own).

Lesson #8: Have a good support system

When we were both pushed to our mental and physical limits, that’s when the people who loved us the most stepped in. Peter, one of our fellow producers and a mutual friend, helped Jim cover rehearsals and creative things in the city. While our gang of friends in Peekskill (where we live and the name of our production company), all helped our designer, Ivey, build the set. I brought pizza and beer while they constructed spaceship decks and make-believe missiles. Jim’s family helped with Finn and the house and the dog. My team at Table 7 reminded me to drink water and eat food and function while we got through the great work for our business so I could support Jim through tech week.

Lesson # 9: You better love leadership

In any project, you need a good leader. Producing is no exception. While there were many aspects to this experience where I found, I did not excel, making the damn thing happen in the end was something I could and did pull off at Jim’s side.

I love to take the lead and feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I can check everything off a long list. I think the hardest part of this experience was learning to hand off leadership and to play a true supporting role. At the end of the day, as much as Jim and I are partners, this show was the child he had. I was merely in the room telling him to push. And while our marriage has never been “picture perfect”, I have never been prouder of who he is and what he can accomplish.

Lesson #10: When the curtain goes up, your job doesn’t exactly end

Like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, we did indeed put up a show which opened last night. The sales have been good but there’s loads more to do. Luckily, I know how to support this part. Now we see how audiences react and critics react and figure out what comes next for Khan. Should we transfer to another theatre or take it on the road? Time will tell. But if you truly want to know the end to this story, it’s on stage at The Players Theatre through June 4, 2023.

Next time you go to the theatre, understand how much work goes into making that magic that happens on-stage. It is truly a collaborative artform where people come together to create an event that people need to gather to enjoy. No cell phones or laptops are allowed during the show, and you need to be fully and completely “present” in the moment. And that in the end is why we all do what we do and why there is truly nothing else like experiencing live theatre.

If you are lucky enough to know or meet someone who produces this work on-stage, thank them. It’s a passionate and exhaustive endeavor that I will endlessly respect from here on out.