Guest writer: Brian Walker, Production Manager
Something most people don’t realize is when they come to the ballet, frequently what they see on stage does not belong to Houston Ballet. It is very rare for a ballet company to own 100% of the ballets that it is performing in any given season. As a result, there is a booming rental business that exists as part of our industry. In any given season Houston Ballet will rent anywhere from 3 – 7 of the ballets performed. This season, productions that were or are being rented are Petite Mort, Cinderella, Falling and Five Tangos. Even The Merry Widow was a rental until we decided to purchase the production from Pacific Northwest Ballet.
We begin our planning process to secure rentals a year to two years in advance depending on how much we know about our season and whether we feel we will have a problem getting a particular production. We are one of the few companies that actually plans as far out as we do, which often creates problems for the companies that we are renting from who don’t know their own seasons yet. It takes quite a bit of planning and follow-up to make sure that we can get the productions with enough time for fittings and alterations.
We have a unique setup with the Australian Ballet in that when we rent a production from them, we keep the show for 18 months. This allows us to perform the show multiple times. We have had Madame Butterfly for about a year already and have performed it at the Wortham, on tour this fall, and we will be performing it again on the spring tour to Montreal. We also have their production Cinderella, which will probably have a similar a life while it is in the United States. We do this to maximize our costs because in addition to the rental cost, there are significant shipping costs involved in getting and returning the show to Australia.
In addition to renting shows for our own performances, we rent out a lot of our productions to other companies. Some of the ballets that we currently have on the books for rental are Bruiser, Coppélia, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Giselle, Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella, Four Last Songs and Cleopatra. Our production of Dracula will be rented out 5 times over the next 4 seasons. Houston Ballet has been a major provider of full length ballets, having built quite a few productions throughout the years. Our rentals generate roughly $100 – $150,000 in income a year depending on the total number of productions that go out on rental. We spend a lot of time maintaining the productions that are rented so that they can continue to have a life for our own use and for the use of other companies on rentals.
Rentals are a big part of the ballet business, but not something that most people really have any idea about.