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Review: Theatre Production for Dummies: “Let’s Put on a Show!”

Book Review by John Delamar Ever wonder what it takes to put on a successful Broadway production, or are you just interested in what can happen if you tried to mount your own production in your community?  Well, have we got a book for you. Broadway Bullet's John R DeLamar jr reviews the new book by Tony Award winning producer Stewart F Lane, "Let's Put on a Show".  He'll let you know whether its worth its salt, and what it could do to help you with your production.


Class is in session. Your teacher: three-time Tony Award winning producer, Stewart F. Lane; the subject: how to put on a hit show. Whether it’s Broadway, Off Broadway, regional theatre, or just the local community theatre, Stewart F. Lane illustrates what it takes to make a show a hit, in his new book, Let’s Put on a Show!

Lane hails from an illustrious background in theatre (he has the awards to prove it), but it’s not the author’s bio that interests us, it’s the insight he shares about the working theatre community. In his book, which can be added to the ongoing self-help dummy series (under the title Theatrical Producing for Dummies) Lane offers do’s and dont’s for all kinds of productions. He holds the reader’s hand as he discusses deciding what kind of show to put on, and then guides the reader through the ins and outs of what it takes to mount the sucker.

What makes this book any different from other books on producing theatre?

It’s Lane’s “Tales from the Trenches,” a preface to each chapter, that sets this book apart. Lane welcomes the reader into each section of the book by giving them a real life story of his that reflects the lesson to be learned in the chapter ahead. These might have been more insightful, had they come at the end of the lesson, but still, they offer a glimpse of what it is like to work in the living, breathing, and paying theatre community. Add these tales with the easy voice Lane uses, and what you have is a relevant book, as if it were written by a mentoring theatre director, as opposed to one written by a man about theatre.

Reading this book, so soon after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in theatre, was refreshing; it was everything I learned in a semester’s worth of theatre production in just a short one-hundred and forty-four pages. The book does not take long to read, and it will set you on the right path to getting your production together. It is not the bible of theatre production, though, merely a guideline. If you’re seriously thinking of taking on a production on the regional or community theatre level, use this book in conjunction with other texts of the same nature; you won’t find everything there is to know about the producing side of theatre here, but enough to get the ball rolling. That being said,  it is user-friendly, with diagrams of props lists, schedules, and even a press release form Lane’s own show, In the Wings, as I said, a nice start for any theatre novice.

The text of the book, though, can get tricky to read, with editing mistakes every few pages. There were several passages I had to reread due to duplicate words, or words used out of tense. These things can only be seen as editorial mistakes, and I’m sure on future pressing of the book, they will be amended. Also, the book ends somewhat abruptly, with a final chapter on playwriting (a facet of the theatre world I feel is extremely important for any producer to understand and respect – how many times have you heard stories of producers meddling in the script of a show, and causing problems?) but there doesn’t seem to be any closure. What happens if the show is a success? What about cast changes? How long is too long to keep running? These are questions I felt myself asking at the book’s close.

Aside from these few faults, the book is an essential tool to be found in any theatre library. If you are running a regional, educational, or community theatre, this book needs to be in your office, and yes, even seasoned theatre veterans could use Lane’s informative, and sometimes witty book as a brief refresher on duties and responsibilities. What Stewart F. Lane has done is akin to being asked into your mother’s kitchen to be shown her secret recipe for making bread; it looks so hard watching, but when you know her secrets, and the curtain is pulled back on the mystery, you start thinking, I can do that!

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