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Give'em the ol razzle dazzle

Portland native Brisa Trinchero details the business of theater and her Broadway aspirations


by: KRISTIN GOEHRING - Brisa Trinchero, who won a producing Tony award for Pippen at the Music Box theater on Broadway, is back in Portland this week for the opening of LIZZIE a rock musical about Lizzie Borden.When someone sidles up to you and requests a minimum $25,000 investment that will probably end in not much more return on investment than a glass of champagne and a signed playbill, you’re probably in theaterland.

This is the world Brisa Trinchero entered when she moved to New York to become an executive producer of Broadway plays and musicals.

Portland-born Trinchero, 30, is back in town this week. “LIZZIE,” a rock musical she produced about axe-happy Lizzie Borden, which has its west coast premiere at Portland Center Stage.

The woman is driven. She went into theater as an actress, but fell in love with seeing how the sausage is made.

“I found that I didn’t enjoy being on stage. I preferred being in the office watching people working on shows and talking about budgets, but I didn’t have the background,” she told the Tribune recently from her New York

office.

So she did an MBA at University of Portland, specifically to be a theater producer, and rose through the ranks to run the Broadway Rose Theatre Company in Tigard.

“Every Broadway show is like a company capitalized around $15 million,” she says. “The producer is like the CEO, she brings in a staff, the cast, the crew, the publicity people.” A big show can have 200 people working for it, half full-time, half vendors.

“As an entrepreneur, I find investors for several shows —

I run an investment portfolio. I’m fortunate that my portfolio has done well. And when you start doing well, more people want to invest with you.”

She also compares the role to being a venture capitalist.

“You find a great idea for a show, you put your own money in, you find backing for the creators. And you’re just hoping the market is ready for it.”

Her approach to LIZZIE was to help it find its path.

“Its not Broadway, it’s edgy. And it has huge commercial potential.” Dollar signs light up when producers think of cult hits that went mainstream such as “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” or blockbusters such as “Wicked.”

She has money in “Hedwig” which is now on Broadway, and one eye on the Revival category at the June 8, 2014 Tonys. She has already won two Tony awards for producing.

by: PATRICK WEISHAMPEL - Mary Kate Morrissey (who plays Lizzie Borden) in rehearsal with guitarist Matt Brown and drummer Greg Eklund of the LIZZIE band. The Victorian-era show runs from May 30 through June 29 at Portland Center Stage. Different shows require different relationships. Sometimes the producer owns the show, sometimes it is coproduced, sometimes it is “presented by” the theater. Portland Center Stage is licensing LIZZIE. Trinchero worked on the deal with PCS Artistic Director Chris Coleman and Rose Riordan.

She had sent them to the show two years ago suggesting it would be a good fit for Portland. It was workshopped in Seattle, where Riordan fell in love with it. It was also workshopped in New York and Houston, released as an album, and premiered at Denmark’s edgy Fredericia Theater.

As an indie producer, her main producing partner on this one is Corey Brunish whom she met three years ago.

When they have a show to invest in, they work the rooms of hedge fund traders and arts patrons.

“The minimum investment is usually $25,000, and you have to be an accredited high net worth individual,” says Trinchero. She and Brunish usually put in $100,000 to $200,000 of their own money.

“For a lot of people with $25k, it’s enough they get to go to opening night. When a show lasts forever — and a lot of times they will — you can make a big return (see sidebar).”

She cites “Seussical,” which made nothing on Broadway but is now the most-produced musical in the United States, playing everywhere from big regional theaters to high schools and middle schools.

Another great hope of hers this June 8 is “Beautiful, the Carole King Musical,” which has done well. On Broadway, shows make their money on ticket sales. They don’t go to licensing until they close, then they go on tour. There are exceptions, like “Wicked,” which is on Broadway and had 10 touring productions worldwide — all generating revenue.

“Theater investing this is very regulated. The story of ‘The Producers’” - about a ridiculous musical designed to lose money - “is an extreme example of what the rules are trying to avoid.”

Trinchero and her ilk go to a couple of readings a week in New York where they hear talent read a play or sing. The investors don’t go. Who are they? “They tend to be people who love being part of something,” she says.

A prospectus, usually about 50 pages long, says what type of show it is and what the risks are. “It’s not about the creative side at all,” she says. “I did a show with Tom Hanks in it, there was a lot about what happens if he gets sick or backs out.”

The document also includes the capitalization budget, the running cost budget, and the recoupment charts - how many weeks it has to run to break even. A small play with a big star is usually 20 weeks. A big musical could be 18 months.

“Everyone is always looking for the next ‘Book of Mormon’ or ‘Jersey Boys.’” In January, Ben Brantley in the New York Times called out “Beautiful” as a female, Brooklyn knock-off of “Jersey Boys.”

One of her Tonys, for “Porgy and Bess,” was the result of a canny revival where director and writer shortened the material and made it a little less operatic. “The Gershwin estate gets approached all the time and they always say no. But this time they thought it would work, and it did. Some people are less money-driven, they get so much from the composer’s estate. They want to maintain the cachet of a brand like that.”

Now at 30 years of age and with some success, fewer people assume she’s someone’s assistant.

Her secret so far? “I have been successful by not going in looking for something specific. If it speaks to me, if they know what they’re doing, then we get the business plan and the numbers.”

Tom Viertel is a veteran Broadway producer and chairman of the Eugene O’Neill theater which does much to develop new work.

“I’m a big admirer of Brisa,” he says. “She’s been very energetic, and made clear choices about projects. She’s a good voice when groups of producers get together, a sensible, smart woman with good ideas.”

Viertel points out that unlike movies and TV, theater producers raise all their money from private investors (not corporations). As a result, the often end up asking the same people for money.

“It’s this constant reaching out effort, and she’s very good at it. And she brings a group of investors we don’t know: people from Portland and from her travels.”

He notes that independent producers are sometimes up against the big guns, like Disney (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) and Universal (“Wicked.”)

“There’s going to be more of that - virtually all the studios are owned by larger companies seeking to take intellectual property and make the most of it.”

Most young producers raise production financing, which is less risky than start up money. “Like a lot of young producers she found her way in by giving money to projects that are in their last lap,” Viertel says of Trinchero.

But young producers can succeed with certain qualities.

“Knowing your subject, having a passion, believing in a project, having a command of budget figures, being candid and transparent...It’s a smallish business and if you are not candid with people, they’ll remember it. They’ll be around and so will you.

“Most theater fails,” Viertel adds. “So a lot of what directs investment is a real passion for theatre. We talk to everyone putting in money that they might not get it back. But they will have exciting time and might get it back.”