Author Topic: FINANCE: creating a system of accountability with a difficult director  (Read 2883 times)

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Hi Hivemind,

  So I am look for suggestions/general help with a budget issue. I am trying to create a budgeting system for a musical coming up where I can keep the purse strings tight. A bit of background:
  This director has worked for us before and just does not listen to budgets. Like at all. Our current approved budget is a set amount and what he claims he needs is almost double. The usual way of expensing here is reimbursement which has caused problems, namely him spending money out of pocket without approval and then expecting to get reimbursed for it and getting upset when he isn't (he was out of pocket 3500$ for unapproved purchases last season). I need a way that I can basically prevent him from spending money a)we don't have or b) on things we don't need without me having to buy everything for him as I have 3 other shows to rehearse and perform in the time he has to stage and rehearse this one.
  I am tempted to just do weekly petty cash up to $200 and he only gets more after receipts are submitted and reviewed and any large ticket items I need to be the one doing the purchasing?

So help?

"I will prepare and someday my chance will come"


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Are you the production manager? Managing the production budget falls outside of the normal realm of stage management's responsibility.

What kind of things does the director buy? It depends on how your particular theatre runs, but in most regional theatres it is not standard to have the director buy anything at all. That's the responsibility of the production staff/designers, and if the director bought something on their own (e.g. a prop) without prior approval, there would be no expectation of them being reimbursed.

Now, assuming that he is authorized to purchase things on behalf of the production:
  • You can't spend more than the budgeted amount (which is generally the amount that you are approved to spend) and expect to get reimbursed, period. If you're the props person for a show, you're expected to work within the given budget. If you want to make a purchase that exceeds the budget, you need the production manager's approval.
  • If you ignore this and purchase something anyway, you've just spent your own money on it, and not the theatre's money.
  • Do you have a 'cost-out' process, where the items that are needed are priced out, and then the designs are adjusted to fit the budget? It sounds like your director disagrees with your budget- has the design been priced out, and you can't afford the things that they want in the show, or do they just disagree that the show can be done on X budget?
  • All of this has to be made clear to the director. You have to say, "We will only reimburse up to X dollars- anything spent above that will NOT be reimbursed." Then, follow through. If they don't want to continue spending their own money, they will have to stop buying things.
  • The "more accountable" way to do it is that the director buys nothing, and communicates their needs to someone who can work within the existing budget. That way, if the director needs a prop, e.g. a small table, the props person can find a table at a better price than the director would, and be able to make the director's vision work on your budget. (They might also be able to borrow or rent an item from another theatre, rather than buying it flat-out).

I have some other thoughts on this, as I started PMing for a small theatre this year (and experienced the same issue with a set designer). When we do contracts, one of the things that is included is the amount that the designer/production staff member is authorized to spend, and that anything above and beyond that will not be reimbursed without prior approval.


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I agree, Maribeth.

Everything you spend out of pocket is what you spend. If you can get reimbursed, great! If you can't, well, then you are out of pocket. This seems to be the director's problem, not yours.

If you are approving scenery and prop expenses, then you are acting as a Production Manager, and this whole conversation changes!

The only way to prevent him from spending money is for him to resist the urge to spend money. The only way for that to happen is if he is not reimbursed.


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I agree with everything Maribeth has listed - and going along with a "cost-out" plan:

Set a new company policy - that before money is spent, a person must provide an invoice for anticipated expenses before the purchase is made. If the invoice is not signed off on before purchases are made, then expenses will not be reimbursed. Period.

This will either force the director to A) find something that works within the budget or B) the director gives up the buying power and defaults to someone who can work within a budget to make purchases. Either way, by setting a company policy of "pre-approval before purchasing to guarantee reimbursement" will hopefully reign the director in.

It isn't that difficult, but it can be a little time consuming. When I have not been informed of budget numbers, I make a list of what I need for a show, price everything out and turn in a projected expense report/invoice. If it doesn't get approved, I don't make the purchase, and I let management know that what we won't have. Then we do 1 of 3 things 1) Find money elsewhere for the purchase  2) Figure out another way to obtain said item(s) or 3) Figure out a way to do without.