Mastering the musical business isn’t easy: It takes serious study

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Mastering the musical business isn’t easy: It takes serious study


It was the last day of the “Producer Class,” a week-long program for aspiring producers of musical theater, and 10 students were dripping cold sweat. Mock “investors” were holding the students’ feet to the proverbial fire, grilling them on why they should put their money into a stage production.
“If we include interesting anecdotes about the stuff that happens in a female dormitory on stage,” a producer started to say. He was quickly cut off.
“Stop talking about the story. Specifically, how much will I lose if less than 70 percent of the total seats, the usual break-even point, are sold?”
“Well, I haven’t calculated that yet,” the student murmured, but then picked himself up. “But I promise to make profits!”
Everyone burst out laughing. Even for a rehearsal, the room was as tense as any real investor meeting would be. The “producers” were college students, but the “investors” were actually professional musical producers.
The program includes finding creative material, setting the budget, networking and attracting investment. The students were divided into three groups; each group planned an idea for a musical piece and had to try to pitch it in the most effective way possible. The producers seemed to be using the opportunity to blow off a bit of steam ― these were the kind of questions that real investors regularly hurled at them.
The creator of the program is Kim Jong-heon, 39. Early this year, he established Showtic Communications, a musical production company, and has launched or is planning several educational programs. It’s little wonder that he is known by a Korean nickname roughly translated as “the incubator of creative musical shows.”
Students in the program were given lectures not only by Mr. Kim but also by professionals in the Korean musical industry, including producers from Seensee Musical Company and CJ Entertainment. During the day, they got tips from professionals; in the evenings, they watched popular musical shows.
“I’ve been through the world of musical production in a way that I hadn’t in the college classroom or during an internship, and it was rough,” said Jang Hyeon-gi, one of the participants.
The program costs only 100,000 won ($104), less than the ticket prices to many of the musicals they watched. “It’s an investment for the future,” Mr. Kim said. He is planning to open a similar course for playwriting and songwriting in October, and one for composition and musical direction in early next year.
Besides operating the classes, Showtic is also planning to produce four creative musical shows in the last half of this year ― the most ever produced by one person in that short period of time in Korea.
Sometimes, Showtic creates only the material and asks other production companies to produce the piece ― as it did for “Kiss Me Tiger”and “Sarin Sageon” (“A Murder Case’). Showtic also co-produces with other companies, for such productions as “Confession” and “Cheot Sarang” (“First Love”). That makes it totally different from the usual method of making musicals in Korea, in which the musical company does everything: planning, creating and producing.

Showtic creates musical content and manages other content creators, such as lyricists, directors and composers. The company currently has 33 people creating new content, some veterans and others new to the business. The company doesn’t fully own the creative pieces, however. It acts as a broker that introduces the content to other producers. It has so far pushed through 15 contracts and receives only 1 percent of the bill as commission.
Mr. Kim entered the performance industry as an assistant director at the theater company Songarak (meaning “fingers”) when he was attending Myongji University. He worked as a director and an actor for 10 years, and spent another 10 years as a producer. In 1997, he flew to England, hoping to make it big there. He lived in the country for two and a half years, baking bread at a part-time job and playing ping-pong in his spare time.
“I wanted to work for Cameron Mackintosh, one of the world’s leading musical producers, but I couldn’t make it. I didn’t want to study for a degree and live in some ivory tower,” Mr. Kim said. “I believed that living with [English people] would enrich my life. Working for 33 hours on weekends was really horrible, though.”
That experience, however, seems to have toughened him up a great deal, which he needed when he came back to Korea. Once back in his home country, he worked for PMC Production, the producer of “Nanta,” took the lead in building a theater exclusively for the non-verbal show, and arranged for the show to go to New York. Eventually, he became a producer, pumping out creative musical pieces such as “Musical Dalgona” and “Music in My Heart.”
At the moment, Mr. Kim is focusing on fostering “star” producers. “I want to raise as competent creators, the kind who could get people to open their wallets on the strenght of their reputation alone, just like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice or Stephen Sondheim,” he said.

by Choi Min-woo
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