If you go
What: A musical about the first radio deejay to start playing African-American music on the air.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 14-19, 2 p.m. Feb. 18-19
Where: The Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
Details: Tickets are currently sold out. To see if more tickets have been made available, call 239-597-1900
NAPLES — On every playbill there's a ubiquitous-yet-vague line item: Producer.
The roles of set designer and prop master are pretty self-explanatory. But what is it, exactly, that a producer does?
Patty Baker knows. The Naples resident is one of people who produced the hit musical "Memphis," which rolls into the Naples Philharmonic Center this week with its tale meshing the birth of rock 'n' roll and the beginnings of integration.
The story follows the fate of illiterate, but cagey, DJ Huey Calhoun wooing and working with black singer Felicia Farrell to cross color barriers of white radio audiences. The musical won a fistful of Tonys, Drama Desk and Outer Cirle awards, and behind it all are the producers who made it possible.
"A producer basically provides the financial backing for the show. Either they are the investor or they find the investors to back the show," says Baker. "Basically you usually start out as an investor, and if you raise enough money it puts you at the producer level."
So, a producer literally produces, procuring the funds that make the show happen. But they can also have secondary roles.
"For 'Memphis' I'm involved in the advertising and the marketing of the show, though for other shows I'm more hands-off. It just depends," says Baker, who got her start in theater in elementary school when she wrote, directed and starred in her own productions.
Baker says that at her level, she usually doesn't make too many decisions on matters such as casting, though an executive producer might. However, she'll occasionally attend rehearsals, and if she sees something isn't working, she won't hesitate to point it out.
Baker has been putting financial help behind theater she believes in since "Legally Blonde, The Musical" in 2007. She says she's had both great success and shows that opened and closed within a week. But either way, it's always a fun ride.
"I tell people investing in theater is no riskier than investing in the stock market, but it's a lot more fun. Basically I'm an investor and my business is theater," Baker explains.
"I'll sit in on the preview shows, and the investors always get to go to the opening night parties, which are fun. After the opening night parties you anxiously wait for the next morning's reviews to come out in the paper, which is nerve-wracking. And then you decide what's next, based on the reviews."
A bad review can mean a major publicity blitz needs to happen, or, worse, a frank discussion about whether it's time to cut losses and shutter the show. A good review can mean it's time to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Baker says that, in general, investments in a production start at around $25,000.
"Occasionally I can get someone in at $10,000, but usually investment opportunities begin at $25,000," says Baker, who works with new investors via her theater investment company, Good Productions. "I notify all my investors regularly on how it's going and try and keep them in the loop. I hate losing my own money, so I really hate losing other people's money."
For Baker, two things are crucial for making money investing in dramatic arts: A passion for theater and a critical eye. She says "Memphis" didn't win her in its first appearance as a script.
"When 'Memphis' came to me, I read the script and said, 'No, I'm not interested.' When it was playing in La Jolla, I said 'No.' When it was playing in Seattle, they'd made some changes to the script, but I still said 'No,'" she recalls.
"But then, when I heard the music, I finally said, 'Yes.' The music is truly wonderful. Anyone who loves rock and roll will just love this show."
And with this week's performances of "Memphis" at the Phil almost sold out, it looks as if Baker has once again produced some magic.