Lee Seymour’s article, published in Forbes magazine, explores the risks that New York’s culturally embedded art institutions and Broadway may face. Read Seymour’s article here.
Please note that President of the Broadway League, Charlotte St. Martin, has clarified that June 7th was never posed as a potential re-opening date for Broadway. Read the interview here.
Charlotte St. Martin couldn’t be blamed for bristling over that recent televised and widely quoted exchange between a reporter and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Asked by the reporter if Broadway’s decision to re-open on June 7 could serve as a “rule of thumb” for other New York City industries, Cuomo did some bristling of his own. “I wouldn’t use what Broadway thinks as a barometer of anything unless they’re in the public health business and have seen better numbers and models,” the governor said, dismissively.
St. Martin wants to set the record straight. The president of the Broadway League, the trade group representing theater owners, producers, presenters and general managers on Broadway and theaters throughout North America, says that June 7 was never announced as a date certain for the Broadway reopening – or even a date uncertain.
A June 7 reopening was “never, ever the case. We did not say that,” St. Martin tells Deadline…
Read the full article here.
The Lessons I’ve Learned at CTI
Throughout the past six seasons, I’ve worked on over 100 CTI events for more than 3,500 participants. I’ve learned a lot and met so many amazing people. Thanks to everyone who made this journey the wonderful experience it has been. I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned being “backstage” at CTI.
Over the years, we’ve gotten requests for “the Broadway budget” or for examples of “the theater contract.” Unfortunately, these things just don’t exist. What’s needed for a two-person 90-minute straight play by an author making their Broadway debut is very different than what’s needed for a musical revival with a cast of thirty. Your experience working on one show will help you on the next (hopefully), but you can’t simply copy/paste everything from before. How you develop the show, create its budget, cast it, and choose the theater will vary widely from project to project.
This may seem obvious, but one of the most frequent comments on the CTI evaluations is some variation of, “I wish the speakers would give us more hard facts and not tell as many stories.” What I’ve learned is that the stories are the “hard facts.” Hearing stories of how industry pros dealt with specific shows is the most valuable part of CTI. During our sessions, you get to learn about what they did, why they did it, and what lessons they took onto their next project. We do provide basic budgets and sometimes generalize contracts as handouts, but hearing how experts took those tools and applied them to the unique qualities of their show is how you learn how Broadway works. There’s an alchemy to theater that, I think, is unique to the medium. Trying to apply a template or a “standard” item could potentially take away from the magic that is so essential to the theater.
This industry is extremely small and, as cliched as it sounds, everyone knows everyone. One of the most common statements from the wide array of CTI speakers is that this is a business of relationships. If you have a good experience working with someone, you’ll want to hire them again for your next project. If you’re looking for someone for a new position, you try finding it through connections before you post the job on Playbill. Any connections you make, however random, should be nurtured and taken seriously.
The positive side of this is that you can use the connections you have to get to know the wider theatrical community. If you meet someone for coffee or lunch, ask them, “Is there anyone else that you recommend I speak to about my project?”. You may be surprised about how quickly your network can expand.
However, this sword cuts both ways, so my advice here is not to burn your bridges under any circumstances. Even if you’ve decided that you won’t work with someone because you don’t like them, you never know who else they’re acquainted with in the industry. I’ve made the mistake of running my mouth when I shouldn’t have and it’s come back to bite me every time.
Theater is constantly changing and evolving; the hits on Broadway now wouldn’t have been possible, or even really considered, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. This means that there is always more to learn. For example, the rise of social media platforms has completely changed how to determine the media mix for a show’s marketing strategy.
Obviously, CTI is a key resource here. The courses offered are populated with this idea in mind. I’ve clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid here for a long time, but I do truly believe that CTI provides a level of information and access that’s unparalleled. Tom is dedicated to mentoring and teaching the current and next generation of theatrical professionals and takes great care in putting together the agendas for the events.
If you’re not able to attend a CTI event, there are countless books, podcasts, blogs, and articles from which you can learn.
Here’s my one bit of “nuts and bolts” advice: make sure you know who the audience is for your show. If you go to your marketing team and say that the show is for “everyone,” you’re going to get push back. One of the reasons for this is that it’s hard to craft a message that will appeal to everyone. As my marketing professor at NYU Stern would say, “You can’t boil the ocean.” Casting too wide a net in terms of audience focus will hurt your show. A narrowed segment of the potential audience will allow you to use your limited resources effectively.
Again, thank you to everyone who attended or spoke at a CTI event over the past six seasons. It’s been an invaluable learning experience for me and I’ll miss it next year. I hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday season and a very happy New Year.
In preparing your pitch, it’s important to be able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the production and communicate your intentions for the project. These are the six topics you need to address in ten minutes or under in order to secure the success of your show:
Interviewed by: Justin Wilson
My younger years were spent in Hawaii, where I was born and raised by a single, working mother. Many people helped my mom by looking after me, and I would often spend time in other people’s homes. I think I created a talent to entertain so that people would invite me back! Perhaps it was in my genes, as my mom performed a bit as well. I attended Punahou School where arts and performance were focuses of the educational palette.
My mom passed away when I was fourteen years old after battling cancer for four years. I found comfort and family within theater and storytelling. Because of my loss, I learned to value the idea that theater evaporates as quickly as it is created. Storytelling through theater became my passion.
After my mom passed away, I moved to Illinois to live with family there. Unlike Punahou, my new high school was not enthusiastic about theater and the arts. At the time, it was not cool to be in the performing arts (thankfully it is now, though!). Holding on to the fortitude of my childhood, I did not mind that my passion was outside of the status quo. Even as a teenager, I was lucky enough to have clarity in my passion and the drive to follow my heart. I went on to receive my undergraduate degree in musical theater at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. I had success as an actor, but was consistently cast in similar roles and I was eager for a new adventure. I decided to go back to school, this time earning my master’s degree in film producing from the University of Southern California. There, I realized that distribution is essential to a successful piece of theater. I formed The Booking Office in 1991. Jeffery Seller and I opened The Producing Office in 1994, and after the success of RENT, The Booking Office took on additional agencies and partners, becoming The Booking Group in 1996. I thought it would be valuable to run a theater, so when given the opportunity, I enhanced my career by going to the Ordway, serving as the President and CEO for seven years. After my time in St. Paul, I returned to producing commercial theater full time.
In the examples of Mrs. Doubtfire and The Devil Wears Prada, it’s important to note that both of these productions began as books before they were adapted for film.
One of the advantages of an adaptation is title recognition – you don’t have to spend too much of your advertising dollars on getting the name out there. However, a show cannot be a hit based solely on its name. Plot and character may be the same, but there must be a theatrical gesture in the adaptation; it’s not about recreating the movie onstage.
For adaptations and new work, I always start with the question: Will the story capture the public’s imagination? Bringing a show to Broadway involves a long timeline that no one can control. For this reason, I avoid topical subjects – what is topical now may no longer be relevant by the time the production reaches Broadway. Instead, I focus on stories that capture broad human needs and emotions. I’m drawn to shows about finding family against all odds – Mrs. Doubtfire and The Devil Wears Prada have that in their DNA.
There are far too many individuals to mention them all by name. I have been lucky to have formed and been a part of many families. Those that lead with love are the most inspiring. Many people have demonstrated that there is strength in vulnerability which has had a profound influence on me. I’ve learned that leadership is about being comfortable in your own skin and encouraging others to do the same. The bottom line isn’t what matters; what is important is establishing a safe environment where people can be vulnerable in their emotions which allows them to create most freely.
Relax. Be who you are, don’t prove who you are.
Theater is never finished, and as aforementioned, theater evaporates the moment it is created. My upbringing and my early experiences cemented the notion that nothing lasts. This has driven me to create things that will both outlive me for centuries to come and simultaneously cease to exist the moment after they are created. I find the duality of this idea innately human and wildly inspiring.
It is no secret that social media is a key marketing tool when it comes to promoting a show, production, theater company, etc… Instagram, the visual mobile application, is one of the most popular and continuously growing social media platforms. As Marketing Associates at Feinstein’s/54 Below, we have seen firsthand the impact that a strong Instagram profile and presence can have, directly translating to sales, brand extension, and engagement. Check out our 6 Suggestions to Spice Up Your Instagram, and give them a try for your production!
1. Know your brand.
Define your production, company, etc. through specific wording, colors, and imaging. Does your Instagram resemble your logo and website in style? It should, and will give you brand recognition.
2. Mixed messaging can be good.
Instagram users are constantly blasted messaging to “buy” or “click here.” This social platform certainly should be used for that, but be sure to balance sales messaging with interesting and engaging content, too – this will build your brand, and make calls to action more effective! The quality of your pictures, videos, etc. will matter more than the volume of posts you do per day, or even per week.
3. Quality over quantity.
Less is more when it comes to writing captions for your posts. Instagram users are scrolling quickly through their feed, so having eye-catching, quality content is key, as well as having snappy captions. If a long caption is unavoidable, front load important information so it’s presented above the “see more” cut off.
4. Engage to get engagement.
Do you want to increase engagement among your followers or people coming to your Instagram page? Then you have to engage with your audience too. Running simple contests, asking questions, and of course, responding to comments can go a long way. Take care of your followers by responding, and they’re more likely to remain loyal.
5. Tell a story.
The Instagram Stories & Highlights features are key tools to improve your social media presence. Instagram Stories are easy to view, and a great way to share information quickly. Once the 24 hours of the Story is through, add important messaging from the Story to your Highlights so it remains. Also, use the “Live” feature to share exclusive content: your curtain call, a backstage tour, or a sneak preview of the show.
Using hashtags (#) in your content is one of the easiest ways to spread the reach of your posts. Show-specific hashtags are fantastic, but more important is utilizing trending topics such as #WomanCrushWednesday or #ThrowbackThursday, and including general hashtags such as #theater or #Broadway to draw in potential audiences who might otherwise be unfamiliar with your page. One note: always hashtag responsibly and don’t go overboard with them.
It’s a theater truism that the only thing that will keep your show going for a long run is word of mouth. Strong word of mouth is the gift of a great show. Not just, “You must see this show!” but, “I want to bring you to this show so I can watch you love it; besides, I want to see it again myself.” These rare long running shows are usually launched with great reviews, lots of press, lots of awards and berserk audiences from the get-go. As the impact of the reviews dies down, the press moves on and a new awards season rolls around, all that remains of this magic quartet is the berserk audiences.
As a producer, you should take some time to bask in this glory, but the truth is that when word of mouth is your best friend, you can do some things to see that it stays at that enthusiastic high of the early days.
First, don’t stop advertising and don’t cut back much either. It’s important that you constantly remind your potential audience that you’re there and keep your big hit top-of-mind.
Second, get involved with the audience experience. Go to the show – a lot. Shows are living creatures, just as all of the people who make the shows are. We’re fortunate on Broadway that there are many highly professional artists, musicians and crew that are capable of running eight a week brilliantly. But these are human beings and things change, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much, as a show goes deep into its run.
My particular bugaboo is sound. Somehow, shows seem to get louder as they go along. I don’t know why, but it’s happened on several shows with which we’ve been involved. Whether it’s that or something else you think you’ve spotted, talk to stage management or even the director. They can look for whatever concerns you and deal with it.
Make it your business to get to know the theater staff. The treasurers can be tremendously helpful in keeping the show’s ticket sales healthy. House management, ushers, ticket takers – everyone who is a part of the audience experience – is rooting for your show to succeed because it means they have a job. Your attention to them and admiration of what they do can give them a valuable sense of being a part of the success.
Only the lucky few get to experience the phenomenon of a big, huge hit. If it happens to you, be ready.
That’s not really been an issue. Nederlander is structured in a way that the satellites, for lack of a better term, run with a fair amount of autonomy. Senior management is spread throughout and most of the marketing is done locally. We periodically gather the senior teams, much like how The Broadway League organizes conventions. We’re a family company, so we refer to these as Family Meetings. We seem to have cracked the code for ourselves and know what works for us.
There’s a perception that theater owners are in a luxurious position right now; they are in many ways. There are a lot of shows ready for Broadway and, thankfully, a lot of producers wanting to make that happen. When I first came into the business in 1987, the average number of shows running at a given time was fourteen. Fourteen! Theaters would sit dark for two years. It was a different world. We still have the same challenge to deliver as much new material to audiences as possible. People underestimate how difficult it is to turn down a show when booking the theaters. It’s hard to say no – there are many great productions out there and a massive amount of creativity coursing through the industry.
Jimmy Nederlander, Sr; there’s nothing more to be said about that. I have the best story in show business and I’m profoundly grateful for it every day. Jimmy, Sr. changed my life; he set the course of my trajectory. To the day I leave this planet, there will never be another answer to that question. I wish for everyone that at some point in their life they meet someone as special and generous as Jimmy, Sr.
I think it’s always about finding another voice and not imitating something that was recently successful, which is enormously difficult to avoid! Broadway used to have about four or five staples; today, there are about nine or ten (of course, the number fluctuates depending on who is doing the counting). There is now a longer list of anchors. What’s interesting to me is the difference between current and older “blockbuster” musicals. When you look at a five-year period and combine the collective impact of shows like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and Come From Away, you start to feel the direction of new content, writing, and style within musical theater. I think that keeps the theater vibrant. It moves and evolves like an amoeba rather than a distinct line because imitation is ineffective and uninteresting. As I examine the major productions on Broadway right now, I start to see the overall trend that audiences are attracted to work that makes them feel. Between today’s political climate and the abundance of electronic devices and social media, individuals of all demographics are suffering from isolation. The theater is more and more a respite. I think people come to shows to both release and to feel, which is in many ways enabling more challenging content to be produced than ever before. People are hungry for connection. I don’t really see this changing anytime soon unless there’s a major societal shift. It’s quite profound and powerful to see what our audiences are embracing now.
My love for the theater started in elementary school. My best friend’s dad was an actor and I was invited to see him in Little Me on Broadway. When I went backstage to visit the dressing room, I found myself in a home away from home. From that moment on, I knew that the theater was where I wanted to be. Theater & storytelling gave me direction.
As a Broadway producer, I’m incredibly proud of the original 1983 production of La Cage Aux Folles. At the time, it was risky to stage a musical about a gay romance. La Cage was my first Tony Award. More importantly, the show offered a lot of timely valuable social commentary.
Of course, I’m also proud of the work we have done at BroadwayHD, bringing the best of Broadway, off-Broadway and the West End around the globe.
Other mediums were trying to adapt the stage to the screen, but it wasn’t until technology caught up with the popularity of live theater that we knew it was time to enter the game. With the advent of Glee, Smash, Pitch Perfect, and La La Land, we saw that musicals were going mainstream and appealing to a younger and younger crowd. We wanted to tap into that. Our first experiment was with the 2007 Broadway revival of Cyrano de Bergerac with Kevin Kline, which was picked up by a few outlets. When the instant download became ubiquitous in the industry, we knew we were ready to launch what eventually became BroadwayHD.
There’s something for everyone on our platform. You can find Tony-winning productions such as Kinky Boots, The King and I, and Falsettos with casts full of Broadway all-stars. You can also find smaller off-Broadway productions like Ernest Shackleton Loves Me and Daddy Long Legs; we are particularly thrilled about this aspect of BroadwayHD, as it gives these shows new life and broader audience exposure. We are cultivating new theater fans subscriber by subscriber; in fact, many viewers have commented that they’ve gone to see a local production of a show because of viewing it first on BroadwayHD. We also have ground-breaking productions of Shakespeare as well as a bevy of spectacular Cirque du Soleil performances.
My father taught me about business and exposed me to a variety of industries. Jimmy Nederlander taught me about producing; he told me to always be practical and warned me that critic and audience reception is unpredictable.
You must learn to be thick-skinned and prepare for a lot of rejection. Always forge your own path and trust your instincts! A streaming service for theater was met with resistance, but we have won over many hearts and minds and are thrilled with the product we are putting on the market. Also, take a CTI class – I wish I had when I was starting out!
I believe that this is the future of American theater. It is important that the industry starts embracing this concept as both a revenue source and promotional material to be accessed all over the world. While nothing can ever replace the experience of physically going to the theater, not everyone can get to New York. We want to make the medium as accessible as possible.
Check out the website for more information.
Written by: Pat Daily
In 1985, never having produced, I was encouraged to enroll in Fred Vogel’s CTI. I was in the early stages of producing Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class in an off-Broadway production starring Kathy Bates and Bill Pullman and… a live lamb. During my CTI session, I struck up a conversation with a fellow attendee, Robert Cole (CTI’s 2015 Robert Whitehead Award winner), and told him of my need for a lamb. He said he knew just the fellow and proceeded to put me in touch with another producer/gentleman farmer living in Westchester. The animal had to be fairly small because it was picked up and carried by a very lean Bill Pullman.
One thing led to another and before you can say Baaarbra, I had a sweet black lamb ready for her debut. Since the lamb is said to have maggots in the play, we named her Maggie. Boarding her, however, was a challenge. Initially, I found a horse stable on the Upper West Side willing to take her. I would walk her to and from the theater but being a sheep, she resisted the leash mightily, digging her hooves firmly into Times Square. She couldn’t be budged. I then jerry-rigged a wagon big enough to hold her, attached it to my bike and attempted to pull her. Uh, that REALLY didn’t work. She butted the wagon, I fell off my bike and it was back to “Taxi!” Most drivers would step on the gas when they realized what I was toting.
But eventually, I would find a willing driver and I’d shove Maggie into the cab – with her bleating and raisinet-ing the back seat. I had tried extra-large diapers to keep the raisinets contained but they proved useless. (Where was PETA then?) The drivers would ask what kind of dog and I would answer (sheepishly) “a sheep dog” but the smell of a barnyard animal is very distinctive and by the time the drivers realized it was NOT a dog, I was at the theater or the stable.
This went on for a month or so until the stable gave her/me notice. The bleating was distracting to the horses; I’d have to find another home for Maggie. A few blocks away there was a firehouse. Firemen like pets! They’ll love Maggie. It wasn’t love at first sight but when I offered to cook spaghetti meals for the firemen, they obliged and took her in. Meanwhile Maggie was growing into a sheep and getting too heavy for Bill to carry. We had to trade her in for another lamb. The next lamb we named Meryl Sheep. She was an excellent actress but constantly upstaged the others by bleating, butting her head, and raisinet-ing the stage. She got lots of laughs (in a non-comedy) and seemed very happy in the spotlight. Meryl Sheep outgrew the role too and it was on to the next. Meanwhile, the firehouse was getting sick of the sheep smell and our production was moving from the Promenade on the Upper West Side to 890 Broadway, a new theater that had just opened downtown. I bit the budget’s bullet and hired an animal wrangler (not Bill Berloni – I didn’t know of him then) to room and board any new additions that came along to get us to the end of our run.
CTI not only taught me a lot about producing, it taught me everything a city slicker would need to know about shepherding.
By CTI Staff Member: Madeline Carney
There’s no day-to-day that happens with any regularity. Nederlander is broken into multiple branches, as it’s a real estate company that owns many theaters. Some days are about the booking and maintenance of the Broadway theaters, some are about the programming of the theaters on the road, and others may not involve much theater at all. I like that my job requires these various elements to mix; a single day can be filled with a variety of business components.
I don’t think I have a favorite part of the job – I genuinely love every aspect and look forward to coming to work each morning. I think the problems, to the extent that we have them in the theater, are interesting ones to solve – there’s nothing cataclysmic about them. For example, right now, I think a fascinating challenge is to determine our future relationships with consumers; how can we make the experience better for our patrons from start to finish and beyond? A major piece of that is the ticket-buying process, and there’s a lot of change happening in that realm (some good and some less good). We will likely be in a different place in five years. I think another challenge is the shift in our audience demographics, both in age and makeup. We are in a period of great transition and the shows we create need to keep pace with these changes in order to continue inspiring our fans. Because of this, I believe we are going to have to alter the way we look at revivals of classics in the future. These challenges, whether big or small, contribute to the overall arc of our industry.
My journey was like that of many industry professionals; I was an actor when I was younger. My parents made a deal with me that if I went to business school and still wanted to be an actor by the time I finished at twenty-two, then they would send me to whatever performance program I could get myself into. That was a smart deal on their end! My accepting of this should have been the first of many signs that I wasn’t going to pursue a career in acting – I wasn’t absolutely hungry for it and was perfectly content with a business degree. I still acted through college, but when it came time to graduate, I had had some limited experience producing and knew enough to examine myself as a potential actor. Talent (or lack of talent) aside, looking at my abilities, 6’ 4” frame, overall type, and lack of need to act, I decided that performing wasn’t really for me. I then had to choose between being an investment banker or somehow finding my way into theater. I had a couple of excellent banking mentors who encouraged me to go unemployed and start sending out my resume, which is exactly what I did. A little circuitously, I ended up at Nederlander relatively quickly.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt to introduce them to these roles, but I’m not positive whether it would have any significant impact. Children are exposed to acting as early as six-months-old, from television shows to magicians at birthday parties, and it’s visually stimulating to them; the initial introduction to the theater and entertainment is via the performer. Unless a child is absolutely fascinated by a specific facet of theater, I think it takes them a long time to be able to fully comprehend the larger scope. In fact, I’ve experienced this first-hand. When we were doing On Your Feet,I brought my then seven-year-old twins to a rehearsal during the final days of run-throughs. I wanted them to see the bare-bones version of the show without all the moving scenery, lights, and costumes – maybe I could pique their interest in the behind-the-scenes aspect of theater. Jerry Mitchell and Sergio Trujillo gave my children lots of attention and walked them through the set model before the run-through to help them better connect some of the dots. After, when I asked whether any parts of the day had interested them, they rejected it all out of hand. Ultimately, I think you have to get older before you can absorb that kind of information, whereas performing is understood viscerally from a young age.
The show that changed my life was Evita; Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone rocked my world as a teenager. Che in Evita has always been a favorite role of mine, and I got to play him in college; I think I would want to do that again. Maybe ten people would pay to watch the train wreck that that would be!
My pathway to my current role included stops in an array of artistic and non-artistic roles. I grew up in the Detroit area with limited exposure to theater, but was fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive single mother and elementary school teacher to introduce me to this previously elusive world. I began professionally as an actor at age twelve, then found my way into singing opera, conducting, teaching, and producing. After retiring from the stage, I went back to school to study business and took a brief hiatus from theater to work in the corporate human resources world. After a lot of self-reflection, I decided that my primary passions are people and the arts, so I decided to pursue a career as a talent representative. I spent some time with UIA Talent Agency before opening my own consulting company, The Cruxory Group, which I founded to serve the market of artists running businesses without formal business training. Amidst this work, and after taking multiple CTI courses to sharpen my skill set, I produced and co-produced a variety of shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in festivals, and in international venues. Highlights from these experiences include collaborations with fellow CTI alumni; I served as Music Supervisor and General Partner for two award-winning productions written by Christian De Gré Cardenas, and as Music Director for the first musical to be staged in Liberia. Now, several years later, I’m back with UIA as Managing Director, representing actors, singers, and creatives while overseeing company operations and HR policy. Looking forward, I have an interest in building a literary department at the company. At this point in my journey, which was definitely a winding road, I’m leveraging my strengths and experiences to advocate for artists and help guide them through the ever-changing industry landscape.
Although it’s beginning to be addressed in some BFA programs, I’m seeing many artists enter the marketplace with a general lack of practical business knowledge. I would love to see more higher education programs encouraging creative entrepreneurship in ways that empower artists to identify their strengths and develop a well-rounded business-skills toolbox which will allow them to support their art while they find their place in the world.
I also think we can improve the ways we’re working on the systemic lack of diversity in theater. We should be committing our resources to diversifying theater makers. This goes all the way back to early arts education – how can we expose students to professions within theater beyond acting? It’s our responsibility to identify both the creators AND arts business people of tomorrow. I’m hoping we can create more funnels into a wider array of roles in the industry at an earlier point in one’s education.
Broadway Artists Connection and International Children’s Network recruited me to help produce and music direct the first musical to be staged in Liberia, The Wiz. We cast the show with young locals, some of whom were war orphans, ranging from nine to twenty-five. None of the individuals we worked with there had ever experienced theater. There were many unexpected challenges – some logistical, others theoretical. We had to consider equipment transportation, power conversion, the lack of radio space regulation, and water supply. The actors themselves had no exposure to the source material and had never read music before. As the country is emerging from a decades-long civil war, entertainment is certainly a luxury. Because of their reality, the students were all preparing for professions in medicine, law, and civil engineering to help rebuild their fractured community. A career in the arts was unimaginable to them, so we had to examine how to tailor the creative process in a way that they would appreciate.
We wanted to leave the community with the resources to continue these newfound passions in support of the belief that theater and the arts can be vehicles for education and development. We wanted to make an imprint and not just a memory.
While I value being a well-rounded generalist, I’ve learned and observed that challenges can arise when trying to wear too many hats simultaneously. Beyond the limit of effective multi-tasking, it’s important to be sensitive to conflicts of interest, such as a producer performing in their own show. There are hats that can be worn together with grace, and hats which need to be put away for a period of time. This can lead to a change in career trajectory, which can be panic-inducing; being fearless about it almost always pays off. Exploring new capacities will inspire and empower you, and and you can always return to the old role. If you embrace the risk, take the time to identify your inherent strengths, and prioritize the people involved in these decisions, you can balance loyalty and opportunity to find your path. You’ll likely be much happier, wiser, and wealthier for it than if you stood still and stayed safe.
Have a term that you’d like defined in a future blog post? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
“Joint Venture Agreement” refers to the agreement among the lead producers (or managing members) of a production. The key deal terms that are generally covered by this agreement include the following: (i) the amount of the capitalization, and the portion to be raised by each managing member; (ii) the portion of any out-of-pocket pre-production expenses and losses to be covered by each managing member; (iii) the split of producer compensation among the managing members, including the producer’s weekly royalty, the weekly office charge, the executive producer fees and the producer’s share of adjusted net profits; (iv) the amount of “torchbearer points,” if any, to be afforded to any managing members; (v) terms to be offered to any non-managing member co-producers; (vi) voting rights and the manner in which decisions will be made; and (vii) the form of producer billing credits.
In addition to supervising all things CTI, Amanda has raised money for over a dozen productions as the Scorpio Producing Associate. Read on to learn the tips and tricks from an industry professional!
You have a project and investors! That’s great; now what?
A production entity is the company formed for a production of a show in which investors invest. This will be formed by the show’s lead producer. There are multiple types of production entities. The most common type is called a Limited Liability Company (LLC). With this kind of entity, investors are given an Operating Agreement and either an Investor Questionnaire or a Subscription Agreement. Another is called a Limited Partnership (LP). For this type of entity, investors are given a Limited Partnership Agreement, Private Placement Memorandum, and Investor Questionnaire.
Most production entities (but not all) require investors to be accredited. An investor is considered accredited if they meet one of the following requirements:
The SEC regulations are designed to ensure that investors are “financially sophisticated.” If the entity does allow unaccredited investors, they can accept up to thirty-five.
Part of producing is keeping track of all the details and helping your investors navigate the paperwork. So, how do you do this?
Be organized! You’ll need a way to organize your potential investors’ contact information, especially if you plan to have many investors. When Tom and his partners produced Hairspray and The Producers, each show had over two-hundred investors. Both entities are still active. You’ll need to track things like investment name (is it an entity, individual, or spouses?), accreditation status, investment amount, and contact information. Keep in mind that the information will be used by not only you as a producer, but also accountants and your general manager. I highly recommend using Excel, as it’s easy to organize and manipulate the information. You can sort the data by last name, first show, state, etc. Ultimately, you need to choose whatever system works for you. However, it’s essential that you have a secure place to keep the sensitive information that you’ve collected about your investors.
The format of the Operating Agreement will vary depending on the production attorney. However, the content of the agreement is more or less the same.
It is vital that you review the paperwork. Legalese is hard to read but there’s no way around it. As part of your due diligence, you should carefully review the entire agreement. It’s important that you understand what your investors need to complete and/or sign so that you can walk them through the paperwork.
Congratulations, your show has opened! Maintaining your relationships with investors after a production has opened is just as important as finding them. You should keep your investors updated on the progress of the show so that they feel like insiders. There’s a variety of ways to do that! You can email your investors, either by sending personalized messages or using a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. You can also call your investors. Make sure all phone numbers are current and create a script for yourself so that you tell all your investors the same information. Alternatively, you can go old-school and send a letter.
Just because a production has closed doesn’t mean your job is complete with investors! Assuming the show is any sort of success, there will be subsidiary income after the production closes (see the blog post from March 29th for the definition of Subsidiary Rights Income). You will need to maintain up-to-date investor records so that they can continue to receive distributions and tax documents. It is your responsibility to relay any changes to the show’s general manager and/or accountant. This kind of maintenance can last longer than you’d expect. For example, the production company for the original production of Smokey Joe’s Café opened in March 1995 and the entity was active until 2014.
Anastasia was a great experience. One of the challenges was to honor the animated film while making sure that we made the production our own. We had to walk that line carefully. We didn’t want to just put the animated film on stage, but we also knew that we had to keep our superfans happy; that meant incorporating some of the original score and honoring the spirit of the movie. I think we did well at keeping a single voice at the helm. The songs from the movie were written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and they were able to add music to the Broadway show that was completely consistent with the animated feature. The Broadway production remained one writing team. I think that was enormously helpful in ensuring that the fans felt like they could recognize the voices behind the musical. Additionally, we wanted to make sure that the storytelling was sophisticated and honored the intelligence of the audience. Those that loved the animated film were now in their 20s and 30s. Because the fans grew up with the film, we had to make sure that Anastasia grew up with its fans.
I’m noticing a trend on Broadway right now that audiences seem to be gravitating toward darker shows – especially musicals – such as Oklahoma! and Hadestown. Why do you think that is? Was The Visit perhaps a little ahead of its time?
I do think The Visit was ahead of its time. I am drawn to darkness. This sounds like a cliché, but I think it’s only in confronting darkness that we can see the light. As someone who was on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic, I know that we as a community lived through hell, and now, not only do we have the federal right to marry, but we even have a viable, openly gay candidate for president. I often say that we used to only look at the obituaries, and now we go to the Styles section to see who got hitched. I believe that in surviving that darkness (which is not over, by the way), we found our sources of light and pursued them. Many of us feel we are living in a dark time again under this administration. I believe that using theater to place a mirror on ourselves is essential right now. By allowing ourselves to explore dark themes onstage, we are providing a path toward healing and hope. We leave the theater lighter because ultimately, the arts provide a forum for connection, healing, and mobilizing. For two-and-a-half hours, one thousand people breathe as one and become a community. There’s power in that. Now, people are recognizing the need for collective experience and connection.
What was the development process like for Hadestown?
It’s a falsely held belief that Hadestown originated as a concept album. Anaïs Mitchell wrote it as a DIY community theater project, and it was always intended for the stage. It became so popular that it then became a concept album. It’s been an interesting evolution. Anaïs and Rachel Chavkin connected and began working on reconceiving and theatricalizing it in a very different way from the back of a truck in a community theater to the beautiful production that appeared at New York Theatre Workshop under the guidance of Mara Isaacs, Dale Franzen and Jim Nicola. As producers, we believed in the show and wanted the production to find its path to Broadway, so it needed to be able to be presented in a proscenium. We took the show to Edmonton, then had the great opportunity to go to The National in London for further development. That production in particular unlocked much of what is now at the Walter Kerr; we learned a ton about the musical from that experience in terms of its dramaturgy, physical production, etc. The road for Hadestown to the Walter Kerr has been fortuitous and glorious. I’m proud to be a part of this producing team, and I’m glad we took our time to get it right.
You’re also producing a revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune. What are the challenges of doing a revival? What are the benefits?
The biggest challenge is determining whether the material is still relevant and still works. We did private readings and we knew instantly that it was still timely, particularly in the age of social media, where people are less connected than ever before. It’s easier to have a relationship on a computer by yourself than to take a leap across the void and fall in love and make human contact. Audiences are hungry for a story of two people searching for love and connection. We’re the first Broadway show in history to use an intimacy director, which we felt was essential in order to provide everyone a safe space in which to do their best work. Casting a revival right is another challenge. We had been working on getting Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald together for a few years and it was worth the wait. One of the biggest mistakes a producer can make is to settle for the wrong cast. Having the patience and faith that this was the right constellation of stars to bring to Broadway in this production proved invaluable. Audra and Mike are dynamite – though it was admittedly trying to wait for their schedules to align! As for the benefits of producing a revival – you know that the play works. There aren’t any rewrites to worry about (assuming it’s a true revival), so you can focus your energy elsewhere.
You’ve produced a wide variety of work. Is there something in particular that you look for in potential projects?
I’d love to give you an easy answer. I’m searching for that common denominator. A project somehow has to move and excite me, but I can’t quite predict or define what causes that. It starts with great writing, but it has to really pierce my heart; that can include making me laugh, cry, think, re-examine, question, etc. I can’t find a pattern, but I think that’s a good thing. I am constantly surprised by what draws me into a story.
As our 2019 Robert Whitehead Award Winner, what advice do you have for aspiring producers?
Trust your instincts. Don’t act out of desperation. Immerse yourself in the community. Be humble. Show up. Aim high. Take all the CTI courses that are available to you because they are truly fantastic.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I’m thrilled to receive the Whitehead Award. I had the good fortune of getting to share a meal with Robert and his wife and they have always been sources of great inspiration for me. To get a phone call from Tom Viertel, who I think is the embodiment of a great professional with integrity, means the world to me because he is a true role model – both as a producer and as a member of our community.
Tom’s passion and commitment has made him an irreplaceable member of the theatrical community. Read on for this exclusive two-part interview about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the importance of storytelling, and the challenges of creating a Broadway hit.
Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be a Broadway producer?
I’ve always loved the theater. I grew up on Long Island. When I was young, I begged my parents to take me to see a Broadway show. The first show I ever saw was The Magic Show, followed quickly by Pippin and Chicago. By then, I had completely fallen in love with theater. I studied politics and dramatic literature in college and went to law school with the thought that I might become an entertainment lawyer. However, when I graduated law school, AIDS was ravaging the city. I switched my focus and spent two decades providing free legal services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS. I felt a deep need to be on the front lines fighting for LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS/Human rights. After twenty years, I returned to my original dream of working in theater, but rather than use my law degree to be an entertainment lawyer, I felt I had the skill set required to become a producer. I took the CTI Three-Day Intensive which helped me profoundly, as Tom Viertel is truly one of the greats – and then it was off to the races!
What was your experience like advocating for those living with HIV/AIDS, and what inspired you to dedicate so much of your life to this issue?
I’ve always been interested in social justice. I was President of the statewide student government in high school, President of the student government during my undergraduate years at New York University, and Chair of the university-wide student government during law school. I’ve always had a deep belief in the importance of community, giving back, and intersectionality. I wasn’t interested in second-class citizenship for myself as a gay man. All our rights are intertwined – none of us are free unless we are all free. I saw my community being decimated by AIDS. My friends were sick, and the government was indifferent to our needs. The truth is, I thought I would provide these legal services for a few years; I never imagined that the height of the epidemic would last as long as it did and that the need for advocacy would be as great as it was. Once I started, I didn’t feel I could stop. As the demographic of the epidemic shifted, so did my focus. I worked for a decade in the Bronx. It just felt like the natural extension of everything I believed in. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and be a bystander – I wanted to be deep in it and give the fight everything I had.
You also serve as Chairperson of the Broadway League Government Relations Committee. Can you talk about the work of that committee?
I love working in the Broadway sphere because we get to tell stories that can change lives. My interest in politics extends to my interest in helping us as a producing community tell these stories. I believe that theater has tremendous worth. I love being a member of the Broadway League and I love representing producers on the city, state, and federal level because I think what we do matters. We as an industry were not well-enough organized in the past, so we had to work hard to catch up with film and television. Charlotte St. Martin has done a great job of strengthening the League. The world has finally started to notice not only the entertainment value of theater, but also its impact on communities, the economy, and job opportunities, all of which have been severely underappreciated. Attention must be paid! We are now taking ourselves more seriously as an industry, and my job is to ensure that the government does as well.
As a producer, what kind of work are you drawn to and what gives you the most satisfaction?
I am drawn to stories of human triumph that can move and inspire us (though of course I also believe in the importance of entertaining). Right now, I have Hadestown on Broadway, which is a glorious retelling of the Orpheus myth, and I think it’s about the resilience of the human spirit. I also think it moves the theatrical form forward. I believe that everybody can see themselves in the cast that’s on the stage at the Kerr and that, to me, is important. I also have a show that just won the Olivier Award in London, called The Inheritance, which bridges generations of LGBTQ people and tells a story of perseverance and strength. It implores us to look back and remember our past so that we can forge a better future for ourselves. I love stories that allow us to heal and leave us with hope.
What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a producer, and what did you learn from it?
I think the most important thing that I have learned is to choose projects that I’m passionate about. I don’t get involved in a project simply for the sake of doing so. I need to feel a deep connection to the material. Selecting partners well is also key because your team is only as strong as its weakest member. I think it’s important to surround yourself with the best and the brightest. When I’ve made sentimental decisions, I’ve been less successful than when I’ve allowed myself to be stretched. I now feel comfortable enough to surround myself with people who have skills that I lack. Rather than make me feel insecure, it makes me feel empowered and protected.
Our avid blog readers may recall one of our previous Vocabulary of Producing posts in which we defined the term “recoupment chart.” For today’s Tidbits, Tom provides a refresher on the basic elements of a recoupment chart, and explains why these documents are vital to the financial success of a show. Whether you’re the lead producer or an investor, knowing not only how to navigate and create a recoupment chart, but also understanding its importance will have you ten steps ahead of the curve. Read on to learn the tricks and tips of the trade.
Recoupment charts are key tools for producers both as a way of evaluating the economics of a production and to inform potential investors. The chart shows how quickly a production would recoup its initial investment at different percentages of financial capacity. The chart starts with the gross income at levels of financial capacity of the producer’s choosing. Although there are a variety of ways of presenting this information, recoupment charts typically consist of several columns, each indicating a different level of financial capacity. A typical chart would start with 100% of financial capacity (a sellout at stated box office prices) and work downward through columns labeled 90%, 80%, 70% and so forth. It might be more or less detailed than that and the last column might indicate the level of financial capacity needed to produce a break-even result – the amount of gross that would keep the show running without incurring a loss but providing no funds toward recoupment.
The expenses of running the show would appear below the gross in each column. Deductions from gross, “fixed” running expenses and the theater percentage rent would all be deducted from gross to produce an amount available for royalties and recoupment. Royalties to the author, director, underlying rights holder and others would then be deducted, calculated either as a percentage of gross or in a royalty pool, depending on the producer’s choice of compensation. If features like amortization are used, those would be taken into account as well. After all the aspects of royalty payments are calculated and deducted the amount left over is available for recoupment of the initial capitalization. That amount would be divided into the capitalization and the result is the number of weeks it would take to recoup the capitalization at each level of financial capacity.
Several things to think about:
The theater chosen for this exercise might or might not be the one the production finally gets and since all of the calculations depend on financial capacity, the choice of theater can vary results dramatically. A 1,500-seat theater will produce quicker recoupment (on the chart, at least) than a 1,000-seater. Unless the theater has already been actually chosen, it’s worth being a bit cautious about taking the results too much to heart.
These days, there are a lot of ways to affect financial capacity. In the real world, premium tickets, discounts and dynamically changing ticket prices can all have significant impact. Its certainly worth understanding whether the producer has assumed the sale of premium tickets in the calculation.
I put quotes around the word “fixed” in describing fixed operating costs. These costs include everything the production spends except deductions from gross and royalties and they are not, of course, literally “fixed” from week to week. Lots of costs vary weekly, from advertising to having understudies performing to the cost of repairing costumes. The idea behind these “fixed” weekly costs is a reasonable estimate over time.
No one has a crystal ball about any show that’s ever been produced. But in looking at a recoupment chart and seeing how many weeks it will take to recoup, it’s worth thinking about your opinion of the sustainability of grosses over many weeks at any particular level to achieve recoupment.
To have an informed opinion, read the chart that the Broadway League puts out every week for each show running on Broadway. There’s a lot of information in the chart, including average ticket prices, the percentage of seating and financial capacity that each show has achieved for that week and whether the show’s grosses are up or down from the prior week. You can put the recoupment chart in the context of what’s actually happening on Broadway and perhaps have a less cloudy crystal ball – which is the most any of us can hope for.
Perhaps one of the most frequent terms you’ll hear as a producer, the wrap is essential in determining the health of a show. Understanding the lingo of show business is key to a successful career on Broadway. Take advantage of the long weekend by checking out some of our other Vocabulary of Producing posts!
Wrap – The “wrap” is the total ticket sales for a given period. Wraps are mostly reported either daily or weekly, so producers often talk about “yesterday’s wrap” or “last week’s wrap.” The wrap includes all ticket sales for the day (or week) whether they are for performances within the period or beyond. All price points are included in the wrap (premium sales, regularly priced sales and discounts) as well as group sales.
Each week that a show performs, the box office treasurer, the theater manager, and the company manager reconcile gross income and the deductions from gross income for that week. Deductions are for specific items that the theater incurs on behalf of the show. The show also has its own expenses that it pays directly, such as salaries of actors and crew, royalties, and marketing costs.
Gross income before deductions is generally referred to as “gross gross.” Income after taking into account deductions is called “net gross.” When compensation is based on a percentage of gross income, such as the theater’s percentage rent or compensation to a star or to a royalty holder, net gross is used rather than gross gross.
The deductions include four categories:
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I’ve come across many people at CTI events who are specifically interested in the creative aspects of producing. What advice do you have for them?
I can only tell you what happened to me, which was that those seven years that I spent as a theater critic were the most important part of my career. I saw many shows and had to analyze them in a conversational way. In the process, without really meaning to, I learned a lot about what makes a show work. I then learned a whole other chunk of essential information about production once I came over to the theater-making side. But I understood the fundamental elements of a story from being a theater critic more than anything else.
One of the things that really surprises me is when people become producers of flop after flop and never seem to learn anything from the experience. They don’t appear to stop and analyze the reasons why a show didn’t work. The worst thing you can say is that a show did work, the audience just didn’t understand it. If the audience doesn’t understand the show, then it doesn’t work. You have to try to learn something from that. You can’t let your ego become so involved in the show that you refuse to learn what the audience and the financials have told you; you have to accept that that show is a failure. Then, you have to try to figure out why and not make those mistakes again. You can make new mistakes, but you shouldn’t be making the same mistakes repeatedly. A shocking number of people seem to be more and more militantly defensive about the shows that they’ve done that don’t work rather than try to use them as a tool. There isn’t much reflection done by a lot of people. On the other hand, I think successful producers do a lot of reflecting. They ask what went wrong. Was it in the conception; the carrying out; the elements of the story that were either not appealing or that were not well-told enough to be clear? What did we fail to do that others around us were doing? I think you can learn. I believe you can be taught a little bit – that’s what my book is for – but that you learn much more from the painful experience of having done something that didn’t work.
What would you classify as the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Dramaturgically, the biggest mistake I ever made was trying to produce a show with a passive hero. The best example of this was in Time and Again, which is a novel that has many attractive things about it. It’s a wonderful book that is not meant to be a musical for the most basic reason, which is that it has a passive hero. We could never get it off the ground. Of course, there were other design-related issues, but the fundamental problem was that I couldn’t devise a way to get an audience interested in the protagonist. That was the most important dramaturgical mistake that I ever made.
The most important business mistake that we ever made collectively at Jujcamcyn was that we had Chicago from Encores! booked in the Martin Beck (now the Hirschfeld), and Andrew Lloyd Webber showed up at our office and asked for the theater for Whistle Down the Wind. I was ambivalent about all of this because I was loyal to Encores!, but I was also somewhat timid because I didn’t want to be disloyal to Jujamcyn, and here was Andrew Lloyd Webber, commercially the most important artist of our time, knocking on the door. We kicked Chicago out and took Whistle Down the Wind, which then closed out of town in Washington. Chicago would still be at the Martin Beck if we had booked it twenty-seven years ago. It was our one shot at a show that would run more than twenty years! But what can you do? You go on. And lots of great shows have played the Hirschfeld, but it was a bad moment.
That segues nicely into my next question. Especially when you were just starting out in your career, did you ever worry about passing on a show that would go on to be a great commercial success, given the multitude of projects you’ve had to scout and evaluate throughout your lifetime?
It’s happened to me a couple of times. You have to assume that anyone would make an equal number of mistakes – except if you make enough mistakes, it turns out you’re not very good at that job and predicting what will actually be successful.
Much of it really seems to boil down to taste.
Yes. There’s no right or wrong, per se, but I think you can become skilled at reading a script and citing why a story falls apart or why it works. That’s a learned skill to some degree, but whether something appeals to you is totally a matter of taste.
It seems essential to be able to understand and communicate the difference.
When I look at something for Jujamcyn – which is different than for Encores!, where I’m really looking at the score and the history of the piece – I’m always examining the story. Is this story told all the way through to the end? Is it a compelling story that I want to tell? Is there a great role in which an actor can clear hurdles in a way that an audience will want to see, like a Madame Rose, Harold Hill, Alexander Hamilton, or Evan Hansen? Unlike film, where there are many takes and months of editing, in theater, audiences are hungry to watch a live person like themselves live through an entire story in front of their eyes. This is not only magical, it is a marketable commodity. I also ask whether the story interacts with the world we are already engaged in today, or whether an audience will be indifferent to the topic. Pieces like Angels in America, August Wilson’s plays, and Dear Evan Hansen had the advantage of already being in sync with current society and events. That’s important. Jordan Roth added an interesting component to consider when analyzing potential projects for Jujamcyn, which is whether a show is necessary. Is it something that people will feel that they must partake of, or is it just good? Various things can make a production necessary, but competition is so fierce in the marketplace that without this necessity it won’t survive. It can be heartbreaking. Every now and then, one sneaks by that feels unnecessary and becomes a hit, but never a mega-hit.
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I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this, as you’ve had experience as both a commercial producer and a theater critic. I’ve noticed that more and more, the reviews are not always in line with popular opinion and have heard that the world of theater criticism is shrinking. Why do you think that is?
I think there are a few answers to that. Probably the most important reason that theater criticism isn’t as powerful as it once was isn’t that the theater critics are less good – which is a debatable point that one could have any number of opinions about – but that the audience is now so broad and from so many different places that they’re not buying tickets based on reviews anymore. Someone planning a trip from across the country – or the world – decides what shows to see based on various kinds of marketing, including social media and advertising, and they don’t really know whether the critics liked the show.
When I was young, back in the early 60s, the audience was still largely based in New York and its suburbs. Everyone read the reviews and cared about what the critics said because there was no alternative information. There was no social media or ads on television, for example; the critics were kind of it. Even the advertising that was done marketed the show through quotes from the critics. They were the only real taste-makers. Now, theater criticism has to compete with an ever-broadening audience and an ever-broadening way of distributing information. It remains powerful for certain kinds of theater where there’s still a New York-centric audience, but that’s no longer the lion’s share of theater-goers on Broadway, so Broadway primarily produces for international and national audiences. And this isn’t just an issue for theater criticism, of course, it’s a problem for journalism everywhere. Newspapers are disappearing – my old alma mater, the Herald Examiner, hasn’t been around for a long time. We don’t expect the paper to hit the driveway in the morning — we turn on our phones and can check out a half-dozen news sources on the same screen at the same time.
I think as a result, many theater critics feel empowered to write in a way that is less about reporting what they saw on stage last night (and having an opinion about what was good and what was bad about that) than it is about trying to push the art form in one direction or another depending on their own aesthetics. I’m not saying that’s an invalid thing to do, but it’s different than what Walter Kerr and Brooks Atkinson were doing, which was essentially a reporting job with opinion added. There isn’t as much reporting in today’s theater criticism, but there’s a lot of opinion. A lot of the opinion is about the show but just as much is also often about what the production represents in terms of where the theater is going. I think that becomes a slightly inside baseball argument among people who want to talk about the aesthetics of an art form and much less a general interest piece of writing about whether to attend a show. It seems that many critics have taken on the responsibility of helping establish where the art form goes.
And of course, politics have always been relevant in theater and art, but it seems that we are seeing an extreme increase in the infiltration of politics both in productions and within theater criticism.
Yes. It’s geopolitics, but it’s also sexual politics and racial politics and I think it works in both directions. Critics can be, to me, overly critical of shows that are not involved in politics or revivals of older shows whose sexual or racial politics feel outdated, but they can also give a pass to some shows that are not particularly well done but are passionately making a contemporary point. Now, this is only my opinion and not necessarily the next person’s opinion, but that’s what I sense; many critics are driven toward or away from certain pieces based on things other than “I had a good time” or “I didn’t have a good time.”
Would you say that this evolution of theater criticism is having an impact on the industry and the kind of work that is being produced?
I think it may be having an impact on the non-profit part of the industry more than the commercial. In my opinion, the commercial part of the industry is heat seeking toward an audience and they’re not worrying too much about the critics. When you look at the evidence of shows like Wicked, which was not well-reviewed for the most part and has run for decades anyway, (or shows that got wonderful reviews and didn’t run because there was no real commercial audience for them) I think most Broadway producers view critics as an adjunctive entity that comes with opening a show. The critics are smart, so it’s nice to get good reviews, but from a marketing point of view, it’s less essential than it once was.
You have extensive experience in both the non-profit and commercial world. Is there any overlap between the two, or have they become polar opposite worlds?
I think they’ve become partners in a way. It’s like a Venn Diagram; there is a big chunk of work in which only non-profit or commercial producers would be interested, but there’s a certain amount in which both would be interested. In that overlapping portion, the worlds can work together. For example, many commercial producers will give enhancements to non-profit theaters to try out their shows. The non-profit and commercial producers can talk to each other about where the theater’s going, where it’s been, what’s good, and what’s bad. But each also has their own work that they’re doing for their own mission and interests.
I’m changing topics a bit here. When looking through your bio, I noticed that you credit yourself as both a dramaturg and a creative consultant. Is there a difference between them?
There is in the sense that as a creative consultant, you might be called upon to help a producer refine a list of directors or composers, for example, to hire for a project. I don’t consider that dramaturgy. But once a project is started, I think creative consultant is just an American way of saying dramaturg. So, I don’t particularly distinguish between them once that process has begun.
Would you say that dramaturgs are more prevalent in the non-profit arena than the commercial? I rarely see a dramaturg credit in a Broadway playbill.
Yes, and also in European theater (which is largely non-profit). In these worlds, it’s actually a defined job, rather than just associate to the producer. Dramaturgs do research for the cast and director and write program notes; they’re involved in the semi-academic side of surrounding the production with knowledge. They aren’t necessarily tasked with helping a production creatively or working on the script, as a lot of the shows are classics, but they provide research and facts which help the audience appreciate whatever they’re seeing. In commercial theater, I think, we use the term more to mean someone who’s working to help the creators make a better show.
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In your book, you talk about the end of the Golden Age of musical theater coinciding with the rise of the concept musical in the 1970s. These concept musicals veer away from many of the patterns of the traditional American structure; some are hits, and others are flops. What enables the successful shows to break away from the “rules”?
I think it’s almost always about the emotional pull of the experience. Sometimes you can create that emotional pull entirely without, or without as many, traditional story structure poles to support a production. Sometimes you can’t. A concept musical is more difficult to execute than a traditional story because with a traditional story, you know which elements you need. Without it, you’re wire walking with no net underneath you. It’s not impossible to achieve, it’s just harder. I think there have been relatively few shows that do it well. Come From Away is an interesting example of a show that doesn’t really follow any particular patterns of traditional structure, but it has an amazing pull because it’s ninety minutes of people caring about each other and being kind. That is so dramatically powerful in the world we’re living in today that the audience doesn’t need many of the more conventional tools.
Every production, no matter its format, requires something that will suck an audience in and make them care.
I’ve also noticed that audiences tend to love a piece of work because it breaks the mold.
Even if it’s a mold they don’t recognize, they love that it breaks the mold. They are excited when they feel they’ve seen something original and different.
Your book clearly required a lot of research and analysis. Was there anything that you discovered that was surprising?
One example of the patterns I try to illustrate in my book is the existence of specific types of songs within the score, such as the conditional love song. I found shows where I couldn’t easily identify these songs until closer examination. For instance, in Into the Woods, there’s a conditional love song for one, which is “On the Steps of the Palace.” I don’t know whether Stephen Sondheim consciously intended to write a conditional love song – probably not – but, nonetheless, that’s what it is. It’s a very unusual form of a very usual moment in a show where someone thinks, “Uh-oh, I’m feeling something that I’m not sure I want to feel or that I’m not sure I dare feel.” I ultimately uncovered elements or patterns in certain shows that I had previously believed to operate successfully without them; they were just hidden, buried, or executed in an inventive way.
I was watching the final performance of Kinky Boots yesterday and I realized that there is no “I Want” song in the show, but there is an “I Don’t Want” song. Knowing what you don’t want is sometimes the same thing as knowing what you want. It’s not a big departure, but it’s an interesting variation on a theme.
Speaking of the “I Want” song, another pattern of a successful musical that has yet to be broken is the presence of an active hero who desires something. Many musicals are adaptations of films and television shows. However, you note in your book that the need for an active hero is a non-issue in these mediums, which makes a lot of the content unsuitable for the stage. Why do you think musicals need an active hero whereas film and television do not?
I don’t have a good answer to that question. I think Stephen Sondheim had an interesting point when he said that farces are expresses and musicals are locals. I think the local nature of musicals – they keep stopping at every station (breaking into song at every plot point) – increases their responsibility to hold your interest. The audience can get off at any stop it wants, and it does sometimes.
One of the noteworthy things about Kinky Boots is that it’s based on a movie that has that exact issue; the protagonist is a guy who is forced into running a shoe factory that he is not interested in running, and that’s his only problem. He doesn’t have a specific want or desire. It’s a perfectly good movie premise; it’s a tough musical theater premise. The creative team had to solve that by writing a song about what’s going on with his soul, so it’s not just that he’s aggravated that he has to run a shoe factory, as in the film. It’s really a kind of “Something’s Coming” type song, but it basically says, “Nothing’s coming and I’m pissed off about it.” You start to care about him because he’s identified himself as a man who doesn’t know where his soul wants to take him, but, as I said before, he knows what his soul doesn’t want. I think it was a tough nut to crack, but they did, hence a six-year run.
And then there are shows that don’t have a six-year run, or much of a run at all for that matter, which make up the Encores! seasons. What I personally find most exciting about Encores! is the opportunity to see rarely produced shows on stage and examine them as markers of American musical theater history and evolution. How would you describe the primary mission of the program?
Well, the original philosophy behind the program was pretty simple. Judith Daykin, who was running City Center, wanted to re-incorporate musical theater into the programming and there wasn’t a big budget. We eventually decided to stage lesser known musicals by great writers that have wonderful scores even if the show itself isn’t a classic. We wanted to present them the way they were heard on opening night with their original orchestrations and vocal arrangements. We therefore agreed not to spend much money on scenery or costumes – the money would go toward the music. The opportunity of such programming would be just what you described. Encores! would allow audiences to see what a show was in a given time, which would provide interesting, compelling, or at least amusing information about the era. Viewers could examine what the original audience was like. Encores! would be a living museum, in a way, but more exciting because of the great big band on stage.
Each year during season planning, we follow the same basic guidelines. We ask whether the score is good enough to warrant a restaging (it doesn’t necessarily have to be by famous writers, but it has to be by writers of quality), whether the show is interesting enough to fascinate an audience even if it’s flawed, and whether it says something of note about the period in which it was written, who the artists were, and in what they believed.
Of course, as the politics of the United States have become more sensitized to a lot of issues – particularly racial, sexual, and gender issues – that were not previously a concern in the 30s through early 60s, editing these shows and exposing them in ways that allow the audience to enjoy even their outmodedness has become a big part of what we do. We have to ask whether a show, despite its great score, is so inappropriate that the audience won’t feel that they have permission to enjoy it. That’s a new wrinkle. The editing process has become much more complicated over time.
The guiding principle is that we want to do shows that matter (or that mattered in their time) and still have something to tell us.
I recently saw I Married an Angel at City Center and was struck by what you said about it being the experimental theater of its time. It seemed to want to veer out of traditional book musical territory but kept getting dragged back.
It didn’t have the courage of its convictions quite there.
Lorenz Hart, who was the lyricist on that show, had a real passion for trying to bring the musical into a more serious place, but he never figured it out. Probably the closest that he came was Pal Joey. But even though Pal Joey is about a slightly gruesome topic – essentially transactional sex and romance – and it doesn’t shy away from it, a lot of the show still feels like an old-fashioned musical.
It’s fun and funny to watch creatives try to wedge their way into a new world without really knowing what’s in that new world. Like in I Married an Angel, they decided to have these great big ballets and a ballerina as the star, but the show is still a conventional European romantic comedy. And then the characters all go to the Roxy Music Hall because they needed something to do in Act II and it was still a time where you could just say, “You know what? We’re going to have a little interlude now.”
Right – I think my favorite moment of the show is immediately following that interlude. In an attempt to cheer up about the possibility of having to move to New York due to the bank crisis, the characters imagine a trip to the Roxy. Suddenly, they all become performers at the Roxy and launch into an extensive dance break as if they’re putting on a show. By the end, Rodgers and Hart have to remind the audience where it just went and why, and then bring us back to Budapest. They do this with a single line that’s something like, “And that’s what happens at the Roxy.”
And now we’re back in Budapest! Yes, and there are things in that show that make no sense. The count is clearly from Budapest, but his sister seems to be from New York and it’s never explained. And then by casting racially diverse actors, we made the production even more nonsensical in a way, but it’s that kind of show!
Jack is a frequent speaker at a variety of CTI courses and author of the book The Secret Life of the American Musical. He currently serves as Artistic Director of Encores! and Senior Vice President of Jujamcyn Theaters, a CTI sponsor. We are thrilled to publish a multi-part series featuring this legendary creative and businessman. Don’t miss the unique opportunity to peek inside one of the true masterminds of theater, and be sure to check out Part Two next Friday!
Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity
You’ve had an incredibly extensive career, ranging from theater critic to author to producer and on. Can you tell us how you got started in the industry and how your path unfolded?
I was a theater kid. My grandfather built theaters – he built the Hellinger and the Broadway back in the 20s. My father was briefly a playwright in the 30s and produced a show in the 40s that closed out of town. My family was sort of always in the theater world. So, I naturally grew up going to the theater – I went to see my first show, Peter Pan, when I was not quite six years old and fell in love with it. I always wanted to do theater. I got waylaid briefly in the early 70s by Hollywood, which was a great period of movie making – it was the beginnings of the careers of Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. I decided that I wanted to be a screenwriter, but I was terrible. I eventually got asked by a college friend whether I wanted to be a theater critic for thirty-five dollars a review at a free weekly newspaper. This was in Los Angeles, where nobody knew anything about the theater, so the fact that I could write an English sentence and that I had a lot of personal theater history was enough.
However, that led to my being hired a couple years later by The Los Angeles Herald Examiner – now out of business – as their theater critic. I was thirty years old and I think that was the first time that I ever made enough of a living to cover rent. I did that for about five years before they made me the Arts Editor. However, I was Arts Editor for a very short time (about six weeks) before I realized I was climbing the journalism ladder. While I was briefly pursuing the film industry, and had a passionate, lifelong love for the theater, I had absolutely no interest in a career in journalism, so, I had to get out!
There was a press release in the newsroom announcing that the dramaturg of the Mark Taper Forum had just accepted a job as the Artistic Director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. I thought, “Ah-ha! They need a new dramaturg!” I called Gordon Davidson, the Mark Taper’s Artistic Director, and over a period of a couple months, talked him into hiring me. That was then my first real job in the theater as opposed to writing about the theater.
I did that for two years, then got a call from Rocco Landesman, who had just taken over Jujamcyn. He wanted to recruit me, not because of my work as a dramaturg at the Mark Taper (he didn’t even know anything about it), but because I had written a bad review of Big River when it was trying out at La Jolla. He thought it was a smart review. It’s hard to believe now, but about thirty years ago, Broadway was full of empty theaters. When Rocco took over as President of Jujamcyn, he made a deal with the owner, Jim Binger, that he would only come on board if the company could produce its own shows, as there was no other way to fill the theaters. In the late 80s, the only shows that were being done were from England – Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, Peter Shaffer, Tom Stoppard… – and they all went to the Shuberts and the Nederlanders because they had long relationships. Jujamcyn was dying on the vine. Jim Binger agreed to put up one million dollars of his own money for any musical of Rocco’s choosing and a quarter of a million for any play – he just wanted to fill the theaters.
I worked during this period as kind of a dramaturgical producer. I brought M. Butterfly and The Piano Lesson as scripts from Los Angeles. Rocco and his then-wife, Heidi, produced Into the Woods, and we moved Penn and Teller from off-Broadway into what is now the Walter Kerr Theatre. We filled Jujamcyn’s theaters. We used this model for ten years or so, and then, little by little, the business changed, the street changed, and the theaters started filling on their own. Jim Binger realized that he no longer had to put money into Jujamcyn shows, they could just be booked. So, Rocco and Jim agreed that Jujamcyn would still produce shows that the team felt passionate about but wouldn’t invest in every production that came into its theaters.
I went from being a creative producer all of the time to only a small amount of the time and being, essentially, a handicapper the rest of the time. I would go around the country and determine which shows Jujamcyn should book. It was less fun than producing but not “un-fun.” In the process, we had committed mainly to American work. This was partly an actual commitment that came from the fact that both Rocco and I (and later Paul Libin, who eventually came to work here) were all from the American non-profit world. It was partly because the relationships between British creatives and the Shuberts and Nederlanders were solid and none of us felt it was worth going to war with potential enemies who were much bigger than us. So, we decided to take the piece of the pie that no one else had taken – we had moral and spiritual reasons for doing it, as well as business reasons. We ended up working with August Wilson. We told him that we would produce the rest of his play cycle. We also produced a few of David Hwang’s plays, though only one of them played in a Jujamcyn house. We were really trying to push the envelope (at the time, the envelope was much narrower than it is today) and commit to certain artists.
When Barack Obama was elected President, Rocco decided that he wanted to become head of the National Endowment for the Arts. He couldn’t do that without essentially divesting himself of the business, which he had bought after Jim Binger’s passing. He ultimately sold the company to Jordan Roth. When Jordan came aboard, he was interested in taking over the responsibilities I oversaw, which Rocco never had any interest in doing. So, my job shifted once again. I became involved in some of the institutional issues at Jujamcyn. For example, we retrained everyone in hospitality. Then, Nicole Kastrinos and I set up a little company called Red Awning to assist in two areas of producing. I focused on the creative, dramaturgical side and Nicole handled the executive producing side. We’ve only worked on one project together, but we’ve each handled multiple projects on our own. This company mainly came about to help producers and artists who had talent and monetary means but not the experience to know how to put together a show (or know who could help them put together a show). We became sort of wise old owls sitting on their shoulder. I’ve done this for a couple of Broadway shows – Dear Evan Hansen and A Christmas Story – and I worked as a dramaturg on Hairspray. There are a few projects I’ve been working on that haven’t happened yet and may never happen, but I try to be helpful.So, that’s the latest phase of the Jujamcyn experience.
Encores!, which is the other hat that I wear, is a part-time position in a way. I was asked by Ted Chapin to be on the advisory committee that formed Encores!. It was comprised of about ten people and we sat in a room for a year trying to figure out what the program would entail. After the first Artistic Director, Walter Bobbie, left to do productions of Chicago around the world and the second Artistic Director, Kathleen Marshall, left to do Wonderful Town, I was asked to be the Artistic Director in 2001. I’ve done it ever since. It’s been great fun and has replaced some of the loss of creative control at Jujamcyn as we’ve stopped producing as many shows as we once had.
One aspect of your career that you didn’t mention is your book, The Secret Life of the American Musical. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I taught a course at NYU about musical theater structure for ten years. As I say in the preface of the book, I just decided I had all this information and it would be exciting to engage with students. It was enormous fun because they have tons of energy and ideas and they’re from a different era than me – the era actually turned several times while I was teaching which was interesting. But toward the end of his life, August Wilson said to me, “You know, when you’re young, you chase the work and when you’re old, the work chases you.” I was in the phase of, “You know, maybe I can put this off for a few days.” I thought I should teach so that I could meet the people who were chasing the work, which is healthy. In my last couple years at NYU, I wrote this book that codified a lot of the things that I taught in my class. I tried to expand the language and breadth of the book for both fans and professionals. Once I put the final period at the end, I just couldn’t go back and teach anymore – I had spent all of this time trying to say it right. So, that was the end of that phase of life.
Blog by: Sonya Matejko
There’s a new podcast out on the airwaves, and it’s helping you overcome your stickiest workplace dilemmas. STUCK is a business-focused podcast created by Damian Bazadona, Founder & President of CTI sponsor Situation, and Rachelle Pereira, Co-Founder of EQUALibrium Group. Each week, the duo works together to provide actionable tips for moving through common conundrums in the workplace.
Over six episodes, Damian and Rachelle exchange their views on everything from creating a diverse and inclusive workplace to preparing to give feedback to your boss. Once they hear a question, they only have five minutes to think about it before weighing in and trying to find a solution – together and unfiltered.
In the first season of STUCK, the powerful duo took questions from members of the Broadway community who had some sticky professional problems. You’ll notice quickly how Damian speaks from “the gut,” and Rachelle answers by “the book.”
Before Damian became a world-famous Mad Men-inspired marketeer, he was a kid with mediocre record spinning skills and a gift for creating diehard fans. Today, he leads Situation – a digital agency that’s best known for creating passionate communities for some of the world’s biggest brands. Under his leadership, the agency has won numerous workplace awards from Crain’s, Best Companies Group, Cynopsis, Digiday, and Fortune.
When asked why he wanted to start this podcast, Damian said, “I love nothing more than taking on challenging topics. By trying to answer tough workplace questions that have someone stuck, I’m personally challenging myself to use my knowledge in unexpected ways while hopefully providing helpful feedback for folks in our communities.”
Rachelle originally started her career as a counselor in Northern England, working with doctors and surgeons on basic skills like active listening, providing clear explanations and generally not behaving like a**holes. This led into a successful consulting practice that took her to NYC. In 2016, she co-founded EQUALibrium – a leadership development company that is best known for helping clients support and build Powerful Modern Leaders.
When asked about a workplace problem she’s proud to have solved, Rachelle said, “Nothing gives me more joy than when someone loops back to me (sometimes years later) to tell me how much I positively impacted their career, team or company. I just get goosebumps.”
What differentiates this podcast from other business-focused podcasts? Well, according to Rachelle, it’s the format. “I love the format. Quick but informed advice that everybody can relate to in less than 15 minutes.” I don’t know about you but having a workplace problem solved in 15 minutes sounds like a winner to me. (Maybe then we’ll have time for that mid-afternoon walk we always talk about.)
To listen to this six-part series, subscribe on Apple or anywhere you listen to podcasts. There are four episodes currently released and season two is already in the works. Got a workplace problem for the duo? Submit it here for a chance to be answered in the next season. Got a logistical question for Team STUCK? Contact the press team for more.
A committee of Broadway League members is getting ready to head for Washington, DC next week to engage with senators, congresspeople and their staffs about issues of importance to the Broadway community. The League’s Government Relations Committee and Legislative Council have become increasingly active in pursuing legislative and regulatory issues and we’ve had a good deal of success over the last few years. Several of the issues affect our investors (and ourselves) and without our careful attention, we’d be at a serious disadvantage.
Three years ago, we were successful at gaining parity with the film industry in being able to write off all our capital costs in the first year of production instead of having to write them off over several years. That eliminated what’s called “phantom income,” which was a great irritant to investors who were being saddled with taxable income before they actually had profits. It took years to accomplish and many conversations but, as a participant, I can tell you it was a fascinating and uplifting experience. Contrary to the impression sometimes left in the press, I met many smart, dedicated and well-informed public servants who give me hope for the future of our government.
This year, one of our main issues will be to ask congress to fix a Treasury ruling that our production companies are not entitled to the 20% reduction in taxable income that most pass-through companies, like our LLCs, are getting under the new tax law. If that stands, it will put us at a disadvantage in raising money from investors who have a choice of private investments, most of which will enjoy the 20% edge.
Wish us luck!
Subsidiary Rights Income
Subsidiary rights are the rights to license productions of a play or musical that the producer of the Broadway production does not obtain in the agreement with the author. Typically, the producer will bargain for the right to do a Broadway production and all the types of developmental steps that precede a Broadway production. Usually, the producer will also get options to produce a North American tour and commercial sit-down productions, commercial productions in London and tours in the UK and Australia/New Zealand. Some producers may also want to get options to produce in other, non-English speaking territories. That leaves a lot of potential exploitation in the hands of the author, including motion picture and TV productions, stock and amateur productions, such as in high schools or regional theaters, and foreign language productions. Income from these productions is called subsidiary rights income.
The agreement between author and producer will grant the producer a share of the income from these sources. Along with all the other rights the producer gets from the author, this right will be contributed by the producer to the Broadway production (which is referred to as the “mother company”). There are several formulations for sharing this income between the author and the Broadway production. In each formulation, the production will share in the income for a finite period of time, after which the income will belong entirely to the author.
A pink contract refers to an agreement between The Broadway League on behalf of its members and Disney Theatrical Productions, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E). Individuals who hold a “pink contract” are often called “pinks” or “pink contract crew” and are employed directly by the production. These include stagehands, wardrobe personnel, make-up artists, hairdressers and motion picture operators on touring shows and Broadway. They frequently work out-of-town tryouts and then come with the show to Broadway. Pinks represent the production, and work side-by-side with local Union stagehands who are employed by theater owners (e.g. Local One in NY). Pinks are sometimes referred to as “road crew” or “show crew” to distinguish between local or House crews. The term “pink contract” stems from the pink-colored paper on which the contracts were written.
Hudson Scenic Studio is a premier provider of custom scenic fabrication, automation, and painted drops, servicing the live entertainment industry since 1980. The company is behind the precision automation systems that lower the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square and the expertly crafted sets that mesmerize audiences on Broadway and on tour around the world. In 2007, Hudson opened its first Manhattan office, Hudson Theatrical Associates, to provide technical supervision, labor supervision, and production management for theater, industrials, and live events. Recent and current work from both companies include: Frankie & Johnny, All My Sons, Hadestown, Oklahoma!, Ain’t Too Proud, Be More Chill, The New One, American Son, Torch Song Trilogy, The Lifespan of a Fact, The Cher Show, Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, Hamilton, Aladdin, Lion King, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera.
~Conversation has been edited and abbreviated for clarity~
1. What was the primary impetus for writing this book?
Broadway has become hot these days with the success of shows like Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, and the NBC Telecasts. We’ve gotten international attention. I’ve found that there’s more people interested in investing in Broadway shows than ever before. I talk to a lot of these people because of my blog and because I speak at many events. The rise in potential investors is exciting for our industry, but I found there were a lot of questions. I wanted to make sure that people entered this world armed with the right information so that they didn’t make mistakes and then run away from us very quickly. I think that our business has been a bit of a gated community for many years and part of my mission is to bring down those walls a little bit. This book is one of those tools.
2. You mention in your book that you posted about seeking investors for Godspell on your blog, which prompted a flood of responses. How did you handle the high volume of inquiries?
I made it a rule of mine that I would talk to every single person. I believe that investing in the theater is high risk, and people need to understand the risk and have the right expectations before they invest. I think that when someone gets upset about an investment that doesn’t work out (whether it’s on Broadway or in the stock market), it indicates that they had the wrong expectations going in and didn’t understand the risks involved.
3. Because you believe in Broadway investing being more inclusive, you set your minimum investments at relatively low values. What techniques do you use to handle the high volume of investors?
It’s all about communication, there’s no question. I try to communicate as much as possible so that I can answer questions. I also do live events at times. For Godspell, I had shareholder meetings every quarter. I invited our investors to the theater, gave them an update, and usually had someone else involved in the show speak as well – the director, the advertising executive, etc… It’s about providing the experience of investing as well as the dollars and cents.
4. Aside from posting on your blog, how do you find your investors?
Posting on the blog was something unique for Godspell because you can’t legally just post a note anywhere seeking investors. The blog pointed readers to the “People of Godspell” website, which had all the information about investing. That was a different type of offering, however, and it required a lot more regulation than regular investments. So, if I started raising money for my next new musical I wouldn’t just post on my blog.
Most investments come from word of mouth, referrals, or people reaching out to learn more about my company and future projects.
5. In your book, you suggest that there be an alternative method to determining who legally can and can’t invest in a Broadway production. What ideas do you have in mind?
The closest solution I can come up with is what I call a “Stress Test for Investors” which would not only examine the financial situation of the potential investor but also their understanding of the risk involved. I do think our legal paperwork right now does a good job of explaining the high risk of investing, but I think a very simple ten-question checklist would be useful. It would ask things like, “Do you understand that you may lose every dollar of your investment?” or “If you do lose this investment, will you be able to maintain your living expenses?”. The test would simply reinforce that people understand the expectations. I think this is one way in which we could allow more people to get involved.
6. In your experience, what’s been the key to maintaining a lasting relationship with your investors?
Communication. I did a survey that found that the majority of investors weren’t disappointed when they lost money, but were disappointed if they didn’t know they were losing money. It’s about being honest. It’s a hard thing to do because no one likes to admit that things aren’t going so well, but you have to do it. That’s the key to long-term relationships for sure.
7. I appreciated the point you made about one of the primary challenges of selling a Broadway show; It’s a “non-essential” purchase, and you somehow have to make it a “must” product. What advice do you have in achieving this goal?
Well most of those things that become “must haves” are the result of word of mouth making them hotter than anything else. Be More Chill is a great example. It had tons of buzz and every teenager needed to experience it live. Another is the Amazon Coat – one of the hottest selling coats on Amazon. It’s a women’s coat with tons of pockets and is warm and inexpensive. It started selling so quickly that news articles were being written about it. The word-of-mouth had taken off and sales heated up so much that it started to affect press, which got even more people talking about the coat, which in turn increased already significant sales. That’s when things become a must-have. So, it’s really word-of-mouth – there’s not much more you can do. You can’t advertise that kind of heat. I always say that advertising to achieve that level of market penetration is just like screaming at someone to buy something, and they’re not going to do that. They’re going to wait until their friends say, “You gotta go see this show!” or “You have to get this coat!”.
8. Could a review help or hurt that word-of-mouth?
What I always find is that reviews are steroid shots to word-of-mouth and to a show’s life. If a show gets good reviews when it opens, ticket sales will spike, but they won’t stay up there unless word-of-mouth is good. So, a good review often will get a show through the period before their word-of-mouth has really hit.
9. You note in your book that for new productions, it’s important that the show be the star, rather than the show rely on a star. This may seem counter-intuitive to some of our readers. Can you elaborate on why this is an important consideration to make when selecting projects in which to invest?
I’m a big data guy, and if you look at the ten longest running musicals of all time, only Chicago had a star in it when it opened. However, it was a revival, which puts it in a somewhat different category, and had Broadway stars, not Hollywood celebrities. The key to long-term success is finding shows that will resonate over decades. You can’t be dependent on the star like a movie. The Godfather will have Marlon Brando in it for the rest of eternity. Phantom will not have Michael Crawford in it for the rest of eternity, but that show is so good and resonant that it doesn’t matter.
10. So what makes a show resonate?
That’s the secret sauce. I find my next projects by picking shows that I want to see, things that really resonate with me. I think I have a pretty good finger on the pulse of what the public wants to see because, frankly, that’s usually what I want to see. I think my tastes are generally aligned with the majority of Broadway audiences. I’m a theater fan at the end of the day. You can call me a producer, but I’m a theater fan, so I chose shows that satisfy that sixteen-year-old kid in me that drove in from Massachusetts wanting to see musicals.
11. How do you find your next project? Do you solicit scripts, come up with ideas on your own, attend tons of readings…?
Yes to all those things. There’s no sure-fire method to finding a show. Your eyes and ears have to be open all the time. Sometimes I come up with ideas for shows of my own. I thought there was a musical in the Vacation movie franchise so I’m developing Broadway Vacation. My stock broker asked if I had ever considered a musical about Joy Mangano, so now I’m working on that. Once on This Island was pitched to me by Michael Arden. So, my projects come to me in a variety of different ways.
12. You explain in your book that the success of a show often depends on whether it resonates now. Looking at this year’s season, is there a specific genre, topic, theme, or issue you think is missing on Broadway?
Well, Broadway has always been about adaptation, so I’m not going to say we’re missing new original musicals because there really never are that many of them. But I will say that we are very heavy on big brands right now. I think we’re over-weighted in big brands, where the emphasis is placed on a brand that makes a musical rather than a great story that makes a musical. I think there have been some choices to produce shows because there’s a built-in audience, not because the material is perfectly suited for a theatrical adaptation.
13. I’ve noticed more and more undergraduates attending CTI courses and complaining about a lack of producing education at the university level. As an NYU Tisch graduate yourself, why do you think this is, and what advice do you have for these undergrads?
It’s a real challenge and it’s a real mission of mine to start to get institutions around the country and the world (including high schools) to establish the concept that being a producer is a career, not just a hobby. I think schools don’t want to teach producing because it’s entrepreneurial and relies on raising money. The success of raising money is dependent on the individual. For now, I think the best undergrads can do is try to learn a little bit of everything. The most successful producers out there are the ones that can speak the language of the writer, director, designer, and actor. When you can really get into that mix and talk, listen, and understand, you can create something great. And when you create something great, money will come to you.
A tax liability can be defined as the amount of money an entity owes to tax authorities. These include local, state, and federal governments and can even reach across borders. Every entity is required to pay their fair share of taxes, but not every entity is taxed the same. Depending on the type of entity, the calculation may be different. For example, the calculation of taxable income and the rates of tax are different for individuals, corporations, partnerships and trusts.
In the world of theater and entertainment, most organizations are built as Limited Liability Companies or Limited Liability Partnerships. These organizations do not pay taxes because income is passed through to the partners or members of the organization. The individual receives a K-1 with their portion of income from the entity and they are required to report it on their individual return.
Many organizations elect to calculate and pay the tax liabilities for their investors. The organization will create an asset on their books equal to the amount of taxes paid on behalf of members, and repay themselves out of the calculated distribution the investor would usually be receiving. If the entity does not expect to be paid back by the partner or member, it is considered a distribution, and the basis of which the investor has in the organization is lowered.
It is important to remember that all individuals and entities are responsible for fulfilling their own tax liability. For any help structuring a tax friendly organization or preparing your tax return, reach out to Withum Smith+Brown.
With over 30 years of industry experience, our Theatre, Entertainment and the Arts Group understands the challenges businesses face within the sector, and offers practical solutions for film and TV productions as well as specialist services for individuals and small business with creative talents. Our clients around the globe benefit from the expertise and continuity of their engagement team and the rapport which develops in time from this crucial business relationship.
The CTI Blog is thrilled to highlight a recent podcast, featuring our very own Tom Viertel.
The CTI Blog is thrilled to highlight a recent podcast, featuring our very own Tom Viertel. CTI sponsor Ken Davenport interviews Tom about everything from his past in real estate to his hopes for the future of off-Broadway. Take a listen to this exciting Q&A session, and be sure to check out a few other recordings while you’re there!
Back in 1986 when my partners and I were just starting our commercial producing careers, the second piece we produced was an entirely improvised off-Broadway show called Sills & Company. We had a cast that included some of the all-time great practitioners of improv and we were at the Lambs Theater (now the Lambs Club), a beautiful 300-seat venue. The show opened to mixed reviews and, because it was completely improvised every night, no two audiences saw the same show. Word of mouth was decidedly mixed because some nights were a lot funnier and pithier than others. Our mantra got to be “you shoulda been here last night!”.
Performance after performance, we had half houses – about 150 people. We began to explore the possibility of moving to a smaller theater – say a 150-seat house – where our costs would be lower than at the Lambs and we imagined we’d be full every night. So, we scaled the show back and moved to the 150-seat Actors Playhouse. And every night, about 75 people showed up.
It was maddening. But if you stay committed to producing over more than a few years, you’ll encounter crazy and mysterious things like that and probably spend the rest of your life trying to figure them out. I know I have.
This week on the CTI Blog, Creative Strategist Carly Michaels gives readers a peek inside CTI sponsor Situation’s Burn Book (figuratively speaking, of course) to see how they turned Mean Girls into a sensation not only onstage, but also online.
Remaking movies into musicals is nothing new, but today’s hyper-digital world poses a unique opportunity for shows to transcend the big screen to the stage to a mobile device. While nothing compares to the experience of seeing your favorite movie re-imagined on stage, social media has the power to give fans the chance to live that experience on an ongoing basis.
Mean Girls on Broadway has been challenged with taking a movie, so pervasive in the heart of pop culture, and bringing it to life on the Broadway stage. Moreover, it cleverly utilizes the iconic references and beloved characters to grow an audience of more than a quarter of a million people across the brand’s social communities.
Below are five key takeaways on how Mean Girls on Broadway evolved from a pop culture movie to a pop culture musical (with must-follow social channels).
1. Own the iconic moments around the movie but make them your own.
Shows with existing brand equity have an advantage to leverage moments associated with the brand and the pop culture zeitgeist. However, when it comes to marketing the show, it’s crucial to put your mark on an already universal moment. Take October 3rd, for example, a day that has historically been synonymous with “Mean Girls” the movie and is now a holiday in the world of pop culture.
It was inevitable that the musical had to be a part of this trending moment but with a Broadway spin. And how did Mean Girls do that? By offering a free fan performance, leveraging the show’s cast and creative, and making the day all about the Broadway fans – not ticket sales. The musical made sure not to leave out the thousands of fans who couldn’t physically be at the show. For these “remote” fans, Mean Girls on Broadway released more than 168 unique pieces of social content so everyone could join the celebration.
2. Find new opportunities that expand on existing brand capital.
It’s useful to lean into the movie’s iconic moments, but it’s essential to create new moments that are uniquely associated with the musical. Behind the scenes, Mean Girls on Broadway has stayed abreast of moments that could be own-able to just the show.
Musicals inherently have the advantage of providing a more in-depth look into characters. For example, in the musical, Damian Hubbard flaunts his super-fan status for all things “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” specifically donning t-shirts of Alyssa Edwards and Bianca Del Rio. As tweets rolled in from fans of “Drag Race,” it was evident that Mean Girls needed to speak and engage with this specific community. The result? A panel and performances at DragCon in NYC, and a partnership that established a deeper and more authentic relationship between the musical and the drag community.
3. Bring the show and characters to life through content.
Regina George, Cady Heron, Gretchen Wieners – these are all household names to millions of fans. What happens when you re-imagine these iconic characters for the Broadway stage? Social media and its ongoing feed of content allows musicals to share a multitude of perspectives and voices through the lens of their characters. When you think of “Mean Girls” the movie, you view the story through the eyes of the protagonist, Cady Heron. Through social media, the show has been able to lean into multiple characters’ unique voices from Queen Bee Regina’s calculated confidence to outsider Janis’ empowered sass.
4. Give all fans a voice.
More than 13 million people attended a Broadway show in NYC in 2017-2018, according to the Broadway League. What about the millions of fans around the world that can’t make it to New York to see the show? That’s where social media has a huge opportunity to connect fans from all geographic locations into one centralized community. To celebrate its massive fan-base, Mean Girls launched an official Facebook Group where fans can share their love of the show and connect with each other. Through this group, the show created a home for thousands of super-fans, who are the first to engage with content and serve as brand advocates.
5. Make the music integral to your content strategy.
You can’t shift audience perception from movie to musical without putting the music at the forefront. In 2017, there were 400 billion streams via streaming services, making social media the go-to place to share music. Whether it’s larger pieces of content like music videos or lyric-based visuals– it’s essential for fans to resonate with the music, because that’s unique only to the musical. By taking fans’ online behavior into consideration, the show leveraged social to establish an official fan bracket to determine the ultimate Mean Girls Summer Bop, just two months after the Original Broadway Cast Recording was released. The show not only gained insights of the songs fans resonated with most – but also saw the highest performing Instagram post to date.
These takeaways go to show that the limit does not exist when it comes to re-imagining a pop culture movie into a pop culture musical.
Currently devoted to a variety of projects including DJEMBE!, Magic Mike Live in London, The Devil Wears Prada, Working Girl, and much more, Ashley took time out of her busy schedule to share the tricks of the trade. Learn about how her background on Wall Street eventually brought her to the Great White Way and beyond!
Can you talk about what you’re working on now? You seem to be immersed in a little bit of everything and partnering with multiple people and companies.
I am now lead producing my own projects as well as selectively co-producing projects.
Let’s talk about lead producing first, because there is a huge difference between lead and co-producing, although both are incredibly important!
Right now, I am lead producing a new, original project called DJEMBE! THE SHOW. We open in Chicago this April at the Apollo Theatre. It’s pronounced “jem-bey” and it’s what I call a “multi-sensory theatrical experience” because every seat in the theater has an African djembe drum on it. For about a quarter of the six-person, eighty-minute show, the audience plays along with the performers on stage. In addition, the show has world-class visuals and projections, as well as performances from Broadway talent. It’s not a dramatic narrative or story like in a play or a musical; It’s a concert. However, we do interact with the audience constantly, and there’s comedy and banter among the cast that keeps it engaging. I’d like it to live in the world of STOMP and The Blue Man Group. It is ageless, without borders, and able to evolve over time.
Historically, the djembe was used in parts of Africa to gather communities together for all sorts of activities, from births to deaths to feasts. We almost called the show GATHER for this reason. The core of the piece is about community and the simple fact that we are all human with common needs for home, subsistence, and love. Because of this, our tagline is All Together Now.
The singing and, of course, the music and percussion are spectacular. What’s particularly exciting is the transformative nature of the experience in which all four hundred people in the audience end up playing music together.
We built the show from an earlier version that toured in France. What we learned from the experience there was that people left elated, and many came back over and over again. With the addition of Broadway-caliber creatives and designers, my hope is that we blow people away and ensure they leave the theater with a sense of community that they just can’t get from Facebook or Instagram.
Beyond DJEMBE, I am also in development on new, original projects. I am currently working with playwright James Presson, country songwriter/composer/author/Nashville-based artist Rodney Crowell, and writers Zoe Sarnak and Emily Kaczmarek. Additionally, director/writer West Hyler and I are producing Pure Chaos, a Theater For Young Audiences piece, this spring at a museum space. I am excited about all of these projects!
Let’s now talk about co-producing, which involves investing and managing my and other peoples’ money in live entertainment. Nothing can happen in this industry without the investors who are willing to back the lead producers, the artists, and the projects. I think it’s very important that co-producers invest personally with their investors so that their interests are aligned. I handle investing via my formal investment platform, Fortune Theatrical Ventures.
I still enjoy co-producing because I manage a portfolio of investments for a dedicated group of theater enthusiasts who want to own what they love. The deal-side of theater is very interesting to me and I have been lucky enough to access a lot of different and exciting ones, which is doable given my financial background. I’ve also been fortunate to learn from some of the leading producers and lawyers in this industry. Co-producing also affords me the ability to constantly access projects led by great producers who I trust. I am a co-producer on Magic Mike Live in London, Kevin McCollum’s project, The Devil Wears Prada, written by Elton John, Shaina Taub and Paul Rudnick, and Robin Goodman’s project, Working Girl, with music by Cyndi Lauper.
What do you look for in a potential project? What gets you excited?
There are three main things:
How does a project makes me feel emotionally – can it be cathartic and transformative?
How is the author-producer relationship – do I like the people?
What are the structure and economics of the deal – is it fair and financially exciting for both the creator and myself?
However, overall, it’s about the connection with the creative team. Life is short, and not every project that is creatively exciting is going to be worth time away from my family.
Your background is rooted in Wall Street – what made you want to make the switch to commercial theater producing? How has your experience on Wall Street informed your work now?
My background from Wall Street, where I was first an equity analyst and then a partner at an investor relations agency, informs everything I do. I’d like to make an impact in commercial theater by simply setting the gold standard of communicating with investors as a lead producer. Co-producers can’t run the business narrative of a show because they are at least one degree away from the decision-making and don’t always have the entire picture of what’s going on. I know how it feels to invest in a show and not be communicated with or consulted, and then be surprised when things don’t (or do) workout. I also know how it feels to be told one thing and then learn another. Building trust with investors is important. It’s all about managing expectations and understanding what your investors want from the investment. Consistent and transparent communication is key, and I don’t see an industry standard – although I am not entirely convinced there actually can be an industry standard in commercial theater, but that’s a separate discussion. Some of the leading producers – the ones I look up to – are quite good at communicating, but not all of them. I’d like to establish my own best practices for my investors, and I am doing that by simply lead producing my projects with the communication strategies I formulated in my prior life.
As for what made me make the switch… I grew up in the theater and was a classically trained vocalist. Like most people in this industry, it started when I was very young and had dreams of being on the stage. Years later I realized that the skill set I had developed professionally was very relevant to producing, so I set out to combine my investor, financial, and project management experiences with my experiences in musical theater. Additionally, my husband and I were blessed with two children and I thought that producing theater would allow me more control over my time and the ability to spend more of it with my family. So far that is only partially true, but I am appreciative of how flexible many theater people are, like when one of my kids gets the flu and I have to reschedule an appointment. I can often have a child in tow when I see a show or have a meeting! Those parts I really love!
Do you have any advice to aspiring producers?
The obvious advice would be to spend time with writers and get a good sense of what stories you want to tell. However, I think the best advice is for aspiring producers to go to law school and become wise as an I.P-focused entertainment attorney. I regret not doing that. The establishment and negotiation of rights is a part of the business I find exciting, as well as a differentiating skill set.
What’s a question you wish I would ask you, and what’s your answer to that question?
Who do I want to work with in this industry?
It’s a goal to lead produce alongside some of the greats in this industry. It’s a short list, and they know who they are. 😉
Rachel Sussman is a New York based producer, involved in various companies devoted to theater development. Rachel is a co-founder of The MITTEN Lab and The Indigo Theatre Project and serves as the Producing Artistic Director for the New York Musical Festival.
She sat down with the CTI team to discuss her path to success, as well as her goals and ambitions for the future of theater.
Can you give us a brief summary of your background and what led you to your career as a producer?
I grew up in Metro Detroit in a family that deeply valued the arts. I joined a youth repertory theater company as a kid and participated in local community theater shows (it actually ended up becoming a whole family affair by middle school, with my mom, dad, sister, and me all performing in Fiddler on the Roof – our dog even ended up playing the pivotal role of “Sandy” to my title role of “Annie” at one point too). This passion for theater led me to become more intensely involved by high school, where my public school very luckily had a comprehensive performing arts company. I not only had the opportunity to learn about various acting techniques, but also dramaturgy, production management, and design. I attended NYU Tisch for my BFA in Drama, but continuously interned for nonprofit theaters and commercial GM offices throughout college. By my junior year, I realized that I wanted to be a part of the creative collaboration from the beginning, thinking up big ideas, not coming into the process later to perform. That intuition (and some incredible mentors) guided me toward the field of producing.
As a graduate of CTI, how would you say the program informed your career?
Having spent time working in both the nonprofit and commercial sector, I wasn’t convinced that commercial theater was for me. A colleague told me about the 14-week CTI program when I was working at RKO Stage, and I applied for the 2014 cohort. CTI gave me the confidence to take the initiative and pursue my own projects as an independent producer. It also helped me understand the nuances of the business, training me in how to be a strategically minded and thoughtful producer. That insight has shaped the way I’ve approached producing, especially as it relates to effectively locating and allocating resources and opportunities.
You have co-founded and/or work for multiple organizations that are dedicated to theater development, like The MITTEN Lab and the New York Musical Festival. Can you talk a bit about the missions of these organizations, and what excites you most about working on new pieces? Is there anything in particular that you look for when selecting a project?
The MITTEN Lab (A Michigan Incubator for Theater Talent Emerging Now) is an artist residency I co-founded in 2015 located in Northern Michigan aimed at providing early career theater artists with the time, space, and support to develop new theatrical works and engage with the local community. MITTEN was conceived to give early career artists the opportunity to generate and showcase work in an encouraging environment as well as play a part in expanding and strengthening the development of new theater in Michigan. The mission of the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) is to nurture the creation, production, and public presentation of stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse new musicals to ensure the future vitality of musical theater.
I feel a deep personal commitment and love for new work development, for plays and musicals alike. The process of guiding an artist’s vision from ideation through readings and workshops to production is profoundly exciting for me. As a creative producer, I am specifically interested in activating stories that exist at the intersection of passion and purpose. I gravitate toward theater that finds universality in specificity – theater that curiously navigates relevant themes and tensions reflective of the complex human condition. I look to present stories that may challenge audiences and their way of viewing the world, yet ultimately create a space for them to access new insights.
You conceived the idea for a new musical which is now being written by Shaina Taub. Can you tell us a bit about the project? How did the idea for the musical originate? What was the process of finding a writer for the piece?
I first encountered women’s suffrage in a meaningful way in my 7th grade social studies class and I become enamored with the history of the movement. I quickly learned that the women I associated with suffrage, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were long gone by the time the 19th Amendment passed in 1920. Names like Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Ida B. Wells were never directly taught in my public school – I had to go out and find information on them. Sadly, this is not surprising as women’s history has too often been a footnote in the overarching landscape of American history. Alice Paul was a radical Suffragist (the nonviolent American version of the British Suffragette), who pioneered civil disobedience in the United States and her organization, the National Woman’s Party, was the first to ever picket the White House. She fought for a federal amendment granting women the right to vote while Carrie Catt advocated for a state-by-state approach. I found the story of the movement, especially the seven years leading up to the amendment, so dramatically compelling and presumed a musical adaptation was already in the works. While there was a minor HBO TV movie that came out shortly thereafter, nothing major surfaced. The idea for musicalizing the suffrage movement stayed with me as I transitioned into producing and I felt Shaina was the right artist to bring it to life. We had gone to NYU together and I had been moved by her fusion of musical styles and her storytelling ability, ranging from rallying cries for social justice to the delightfully absurd. When I brought the concept to Shaina four years ago, she had never heard of Alice Paul either, but immediately became as captivated as I. It’s been invigorating to see the suffrage movement and these powerful female historical figures come back into the zeitgeist over the last few years – albeit under less than ideal circumstances – and for a contemporary intersectional movement to reclaim the history. I am astounded by the incredible group of women we’ve assembled to shepherd the project (including my producing partner Jill Furman) and look forward to sharing it one day soon.
Can you tell us what you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?
Don’t wait for permission. At the beginning of my producing career, I was extremely tentative in making decisions, waiting for someone else to validate my ideas. Over time I learned that impressing people is not as important as trusting my gut and making sure my voice is heard in a collaborative process.
What question do you wish I would ask you, and how would you answer that question?
I think the question would be: What do you think our industry can do to nurture the next generation of producers?
It’s imperative that we cultivate the next generation of producers by actively making and maintaining space for them, especially as it concerns rising female producers, producers of color, and trans*/gender non-conforming producers. Look at who is in the pipeline, what folks are applying for internships, and who needs mentorship. Our industry can go further in ensuring underrepresented voices have the chance to reach positions of power and this can have an extraordinary ripple effect on what work gets produced.
RACHEL SUSSMAN is a New York based producer. She is a co-founder of The MITTEN Lab, an emerging theater artist residency program in her native state of Michigan as well as The Indigo Theatre Project, a theater company of passion and purpose dedicated to producing play readings that benefit related non-profit organizations. She serves as the Producing Artistic Director for the New York Musical Festival (NYMF). Producing credits include the Obie award-winning production of The Woodsman (New World Stages/59E59), Don’t You F**king Say a Word (59E59), The Rug Dealer (Women’s Project Pipeline Festival), The Sweetest Life (New Victory), and Talk to me about Shame (FringeNYC, Overall Excellence Award). A 2014-2016 Women’s Project Lab Time Warner Foundation Fellow, Rachel is a trustee emeritus for The Awesome Foundation NYC, and a two-time finalist for the T Fellowship in Creative Producing. She sits on the Advisory Board for Strangemen & Co. and The Musical Theatre Factory. Rachel is a graduate of the Commercial Theater Institute (Fred Vogel Scholarship) and a University Honors Scholar alumna of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. www.rachel-sussman.com
Bonnie Comley is a three-time Tony Award-winning producer. She has won an Olivier Award and two Drama Desk Awards for her stage productions. She is also the founder of BroadwayHD, the world’s premier online streaming platform delivering over 270 premium live productions to theater fans globally.
She joined us to discuss her career in the entertainment industry, and how she’s found success.
Can you tell us about your background and what led you to your career as a three-time Tony Award-winning producer?
The Broadway industry is known to be inclusive and creative. It is a luxury brand recognized around the world. Ask anyone, “What is Broadway?” and they will tell you that it is the pinnacle of live entertainment – even if they have never seen a Broadway show.
According to The Broadway League’s statistics, the 2016-2017 season attendance topped those of the ten professional New York and New Jersey sports teamed combined, bringing in $1.45 billion in ticket sales and adding another $12.6 billion to the economy of New York City. Add another several billion for the US touring productions and international tours and it’s no surprise that everyone wants to be part of this business. I was no exception.
I started with a few one-day CTI seminars and eventually applied to the 14 Week CTI program. I also attended the CTI Summer Program at The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. I was able to combine my business background with my love of theater and take advantage of the networking opportunities provided by CTI. I started with co-producing several shows and then took the lead producer position in 2006 and won my first Tony Award with Jay Johnson: The Two & Only. To date, I have produced or co-produced twenty-five Broadway shows and won three Tony awards, and produced three West End shows and won an Olivier. I am currently developing a new musical using the songs of John Denver and I am always looking for the next project!
You are the founder of BroadwayHD.com. What inspired you to create this company?
I love Broadway and live theater and wanted to share this experience with people around the world. Not everyone can get to see a Broadway show so I wanted to bring the show to them, and with the internet, this is now possible. Streaming technology allows consumption of theater anytime and anywhere, so theater fans have access and engagement opportunities 24/7.
BroadwayHD is the only streaming service offering premium full-length stage plays and musicals. Subscribers have unlimited on-demand access to a library of more than 270 theater productions from Broadway and the West End and every month we add new shows. Our motto is, “If You Can’t Get to Broadway, Get to BroadwayHD.”
As a graduate of CTI, how would you say the program has influenced your career in the entertainment industry?
CTI is a tremendous resource for professional development. The ways we sell tickets and market shows are constantly changing, taxes are changing, union agreements and laws are changing and you just can’t be an expert on everything. The CTI courses are taught by working professionals who are the experts in their field. When you attend a seminar with a panel of these specialists, you can get a sense of their personalities and business style. There is an opportunity to ask questions and interact in a small intimate setting. The CTI seminars provide a unique forum for professionals to be completely candid about their experiences and opinions. The CTI courses provide a setting to network with peers and meet other potential co-producers and collaborators.
You’ve worked in TV and Film in addition to live theater. Have your experiences in each medium informed one another?
Good theater, like good film and TV begins with good storytelling. A brilliant story that is poorly executed is a tragedy; likewise, a simple story can be elevated with brilliant storytellers. By storytellers, I mean the whole creative team: the actors, the director, the writers, set, costume, lighting designers, etc. A perfect example is The Lion King. The plot is straightforward – I can’t wait to be king – but the theatrical elements of wood, fabric, and papier-mâché with words and music come together to transport you in a magical way. You don’t come out of the Minskoff Theater talking about the story line of The Lion King, you just feel reborn.
What is your process when looking for your next project to produce?
As an audience member, sometimes I want a musical, and sometimes I want a play. Sometimes I like to be challenged or feel uncomfortable with a subject to force myself to reflect. Some days, I just want to sit in a theater and have entertainment poured on me. As a producer, I don’t have a specific genre or theme that I need to move forward. I enjoy teaching master classes, participating on panels, and going to see everything from student productions and site-specific theater to regional and international productions. I look everywhere for good storytellers and they usually lead me to good projects.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were just beginning your career?
Award-winning shows don’t always make money, and money-making shows don’t always win awards.
How does that happen? We reached out to CTI sponsor Serino Coyne for some insights. Here are five ad campaign must-haves from Jay Cooper, the creative director of the Design Lab at Serino Coyne, the live entertainment advertising agency that’s been behind some of Broadway’s most iconic campaigns for over 40 years.
1. Define your audience first Who is your show for? Do you hope to appeal to a traditional (older, female) Broadway crowd? Or a younger, hipper audience? Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll be able to guide yourself to the right artwork. If you don’t, you won’t have a meaningful and targeted media buy, and may not be able to reach the people you want in seats (and they may not know how to find you).
2. Know your emotion Is your show a big and brassy musical? Or is it a small and intimate play? Your artwork has to convey the emotional promise either way. The worst thing is to have someone leave your show and tell their friends, “I thought it was going to be an uplifting night at the theater” — and the play was Macbeth.
3. Target the message Your play may have every emotion in the world: humor, sadness, joy, pain. Your poster shouldn’t. The artwork can’t tell that long of a story. Determine what message is the most important part of the show and let that guide your campaign. If you throw the kitchen sink at it, the result will be a swampy mess that will do one thing: confuse people.
4. Keep it moving Our world moves faster than ever, and your art should too. Even a static mark — like a logo — needs to have a compelling visual animated solve to it. That means video, animated gifs and anything else that’s easily shareable on social media. Theater is a marketplace that’s very digitally savvy, and getting more so every day. Young people especially won’t be aware of your brand if your art just stands still.
5. Art above all Your script and your cast inform what style of art your campaign should take. Does it call for a charming illustration or a bold graphic treatment? Or is better suited to an eye-popping photograph? There’s a big difference between a campaign for a big new musical with no stars (a fun illustration can make or break it) and a celebrity-led, limited-run play (a photograph of the celebrities will almost always help sell tickets). Even the most classic Greek tragedy needs a modern advertising campaign if it hopes to succeed.
Returning to your inbox this week with another theatrical term to flesh out your own producing encyclopedia, The Vocabulary of Producing features what “Vigorish” or “the vig” is, as defined by one of our Sponsors, Jason Baruch of Sendroff & Baruch, LLP – Attorneys at Law. In the context of show business, the vig refers to the bonus income from a financial success that goes to specific investors. Read on for the complete definition of “Vigorish,” and understand how this term relates to the gamble of investing in productions…
“Vigorish” (or “the vig”) – derived from the Russian word for “winning” – has a colorful etymology rooted in the world of gambling. In betting parlance, the vig is the percentage of the gambler’s winnings retained by the organizers of a game. The term “vigorish” also has been tied to money lenders to refer to the interest on a loan (or the “juice”). In the vocabulary of theater producing, the vig (sometimes referred to as the “premium,” “kicker” or “bonus share”) is the extra “taste” of profits offered to certain investors coming in early in the fundraising process or contributing a large share of the capitalization, or to “introducers” who are bringing in third party investors to fund a production. In fundraising for commercial theatrical productions, investors typically will receive all of the distributable net operating profits (i.e., receipts minus expenses) until they have recouped their original contributions, at which time adjusted net profits (or “ANP” – which are post-recoupment net operating profits less certain “off-the-top” deductions contractually promised to certain net profits participants) are allocated 50% to the producers and 50% to the investors (in the UK, this split might be 60/40 in favor of the investors). So an investor contributing 10% of the capitalization will be entitled to 10% of the 50% of ANP allocated to all of the investors, or 5% of 100% of the total ANP derived from the production. The fortunate investors or introducers to whom a “vig” is offered also will share in a piece of the producer’s ANP. The most favorable vig producers are likely to offer is what is known as a “1-for-1” deal: For every 1% of ANP an investor is entitled to receive from the investors’ 50% share of ANP, that investor also will receive 1% of the ANP from the producers’ 50% share of ANP. A 1-for-1 deal sometimes is referred to as a deal on “100% terms” because the investor will receive a share of ANP equal to her percentage investment: If she contributes 10% of the capitalization, she will receive 10% of the ANP. A less favorable arrangement from the investor’s perspective would be a “1-for-2” deal in which the investor will receive a 50% premium from the producers’ share, or 1% of the producer’s ANP for each 2% of ANP to which the investor is entitled from the investors’ share of ANP by virtue of the contribution (sometimes referred to as “75% terms”). Still less favorable from the investors’ perspective would be a “1-for-3” vig ( “66.67 terms”), a “1-for-4” vig (or a ( “62.5% terms”), a “1-for-5” vig (“60% terms”), and so on. Of course, just as “vigorish” means “winning”, the vig won’t matter much if the production fails to recoup – as is the case with the majority of productions – and there are no “winnings” to spread around.
Discover how this CTI sponsor (and alumni!) was entranced by the theater community at a young age after seeing a production of The Sound of Music, and how he went on to play a key component and even serve as producer for a multitude of beloved shows.
When I meet people for the first time, they often seem surprised I am a native New Yorker. My location certainly helped make the theater an important part of my life. My parents were avid theatergoers well into their 80’s. I grew up with seeing the distinctive red PLAYBILL binders in their bookcases and hearing about all of the latest shows.
At about age 8, I attended The Sound of Music with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel on Broadway. That hooked me for life. I was star-struck going backstage to meet Mary Martin (who played Peter Pan in that era) and “Theo,” who attended elementary school with my Dad in Vienna before fleeing Hitler and emigrating to the U.S.
Both my teenage son and daughter enjoy being on the stage, but I have been more interested in the business of theater, both as an investor and as an insurance agent. The Producers was one of the first productions I participated in. It was certainly fun to make a profit, but also to see how the scalpers made even more. That production provided a significant boost for premium and/or dynamic pricing.
Over the years, I have attended a number of CTI classes and other events which have led to further producing opportunities as well as clients for Owens Group Insurance, our family’s business. Giving back is part of the culture at Owens Group, so the decision to be a CTI sponsor was really a no-brainer. Our philanthropic work includes the firm’s employee-led foundation and our commitment to expend at least 3% of our time on pro bono risk management consulting for non-profit organizations.
Insurance is a line item in every show’s budget with workers compensation coverage usually being the most costly, especially for musicals with dancing. Insurance is a necessary evil that producers and general managers need to provide once payroll begins. Only a few insurance agents have the markets and expertise to cover live entertainment appropriately. Recent Owens Group insurance Broadway credits include War Paint, starring Christine Ebersole and Patti Lupone, Fully Committed, starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sylvia, starring Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford.
Bob Owens is President of Owens Group and has served on a number of charitable boards including the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the Horace Mann School, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz and the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership at NYU, co-chaired by Chelsea Clinton and Dr. Linda Mills.
After graduating from New York University with Honors in Politics, Bob worked on Capitol Hill for two Representatives. He subsequently worked as an investigative reporter for syndicated columnist Jack Anderson and as the co-author of the “The Investigators” column for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He also wrote the nationally syndicated “Insure Yourself” column for four years.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.
Edited for clarity from a recorded conversation with Madeline Carney.
On a particularly hot and sticky Manhattan afternoon, I found myself cooling off in the lobby of Disney Theatrical Productions (sitting on a massive violet velvet couch) waiting to interview President Tom Schumacher.
Wearing his signature color-block glasses, Mr. Schumacher emerged from two heavy glass doors, ushering me inside of what felt like Fantasia. In true Disney fashion, the office – a converted theater which had once housed the Ziegfeld Follies – was magical. A large, sleek balcony overlooked the army of desks below, and pianos, costume displays, and historical photos sprinkled the space.
As we settled into Mr. Schumacher’s office, which I couldn’t help but notice had some parallels in its design to the set of The Lion King, I had a long list of questions I had diligently prepared for the interview. Those questions were promptly cast aside, as I became transfixed by Mr. Schumacher’s fascinating and somewhat winding history. Here’s just a snippet of our conversation.*
You’ve had an extensive and impressive career in the entertainment industry. Can you tell us a bit about your career path, including how you got your start and what inspired you to enter the business in the first place?
I was born wanting to make theater. I was probably fifteen-years-old when my community center hired me to start directing youth theater – that was my first professional job. I then was a theater major at UCLA and they hired me the day I graduated to be a carpenter and a sound operator. A few months later, I answered a payphone in a UCLA hallway at midnight while we were striking a set. It was a friend of mine who was working for Gordon Davidson at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. He needed a driver the next morning for the legendary Joe Chaikin, founder of The Open Theater. I drove Joe Chaikin, the Taper liked me, and I’ve never been unemployed since. It’s a terrible, terrible way to get a job. But, while I worked for the Taper I worked on the Olympic Arts Festival and from that I met people who got me to Disney and then Disney asked me to produce a movie (I had never made a movie before, but nobody else would do it, so they had to ask me). And then Peter Schneider and I made a bunch of movies together and that grew into Disney Theatrical and here we are. It’s the most ridiculous way to have built a career.
So, what does a typical day look like for you?
Well, every day is different because my fundamental job is producing these shows all over the world. Part of my job is creating new shows. So, for example, yesterday I met with lots of business partners on various enterprises we have around the world. Today has been mostly about our current work. I started the day in our design studio looking at Christopher Oram’s set models to figure out modifications to Frozen for the first national tour. From there, I went into a meeting about licensing (we have many licensed titles that are in schools and professional theaters around the country). That went into a development meeting about new properties we’re working on; then I went to see a headhunter for lunch to help her with some searches she’s doing around the country. Now I’m doing an interview with you, and then I’m going to an annual operating plan meeting with the studio. After that is a reception for someone who has worked in our wardrobe department for twenty-four years and is retiring, and then I’m at a show tonight. That’s a typical day.
Speaking of licensing – can you talk a bit about the goals of that program?
Like many people (maybe yourself, and certainly people who are reading this) I started doing shows as a kid – you know, I played Tommy Djilas in The Music Man and Charley Bates in Oliver!. I did all these shows acting as a kid and then eventually began directing and producing licensed material. So, to me, we needed to make a giant commitment to making our shows accessible to elementary schools and high school students and colleges and summer stock and all the places that I got to work. We began the licensing program a number of years ago and, fortunately, because our titles are so well-known, the shows we developed are being done in schools all over, including the upcoming Freaky Friday. (The movie starring Heidi Blickenstaff is ours too. It’s really exciting because Heidi did our stage version which we launched at the Signature Theatre in D.C. and then took around the country. The Disney Channel partnered with us and they made a movie out of it, which premiered early August).
So, the shows that you develop are not always Broadway bound?
There are two different kinds of shows. There are things that really want to be on Broadway, but there are also titles that we’ve developed knowing that they are perfect for licensing markets. These shows activate people (and I wrote a book about this; I’m working on the third edition of this now), because kids are shown that there are all these jobs in theater beyond those onstage: backstage, in the house, and in the box office. The more that we can put out material that people genuinely want to do, the more we’re developing an audience for Broadway.
How do you distinguish what’s meant for Broadway versus a licensed title?
I suppose that’s fundamentally instinct, but there are certain factors, and it’s different depending on the producer. For better or worse, we at Disney represent a brand, so you have a certain set of expectations when you come see one of our shows. Those expectations have altered over time, but I think fundamentally there’s an expectation that a Disney show is going to be something like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, or Frozen – one of these big ones. Those also have the great advantage of playing to the broadest possible audience, which for us has been useful – a serious New York theatergoer can come and enjoy these shows, as can an international theatergoer. In the case of The Lion King, now running over twenty years, a substantial part of that audience has seen the show before and is actually speaking a foreign language, but they understand what they’re seeing. The fact that we can play to an international audience is very, very helpful on Broadway. And then there’s Newsies, which was developed for licensing and through a bizarre sequence of events ended up on Broadway. But still, its greatest power will have been in its touring, which was very successful, and in its licensed work.
You mentioned The Lion King. How do you keep such a long-running show fresh?
There are two things that we do to keep the production’s presentation contemporary, one creative and one strictly business.
The first thing we’ve done is work very hard to keep the show fresh. So, for example, if you were to watch a video tape of the opening night performance and last night’s performance side by side, you’d see many changes. We’ve cut twelve minutes out of the show since it opened on Broadway, we’ve redone orchestrations in places, we’ve reworked choreography in places. Twenty years is a huge span of time, and what the audience is comfortable with, what we’re comfortable with, and what we want to put onstage has adapted. The most important thing is to keep it fresh and contemporary for the audience and we’ve always kept working on that.
The second thing we’ve done is adapted the marketing over the years, though always playing on Julie Taymor’s artistry, as that has dictated how we sell – you see her costumes, you see her designs, you see what the show looks like. We have represented it that way since around the fifth anniversary.
What is the biggest challenge of bringing a classic and beloved film (like The Lion King) to the stage as a musical?
Keep in mind that one advantage we have had with almost everything we’ve done is that when we have adapted a movie, we adapted a musical movie. So, with The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, etc., the audience knows the songs, so we’re not turning something into a musical; music was always the language for telling the story. I think where some things can struggle or stumble slightly is trying to find a way that music tells that story – does it need music to do it?
Now, we add a lot of music – there’s vastly more new music in Frozen than the original film, but what Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez did was to expand a movie that was conceived as a musical into a full-scale stage musical. That’s very different from taking characters who did not organically sing and have them start singing. It’s a big difference.
Now there are many stories that I think do sing. I’ll give you a really good example, which is the creation of The King and I. When Gertrude Lawrence saw the movie, Anna and the King of Siam, she asked Richard Rodgers to make it into a musical for her. But, when you think about who Anna is, two characteristics allow her to sing: she has a great deal of inner monologue, because she’s alone with Louis, her son, in this foreign land, and the second part is, she’s a teacher. Teachers stand up in front of you and present, so those two things – inner monologue and teaching – become windows into musicalizing.
Shifting gears here – in addition to being the President of Disney Theatrical, you serve as Chairman of the Board of The Broadway League. Can you talk a bit about that position?
Because I grew up in the non-profit world, I understand the notion of boards and structure. Both my father and my grandfather ran trade associations, so I really understand the hard work of Charlotte St. Martin, who is a dear friend and a sensational partner.
Charlotte and her remarkable staff at the League do all the work and the Chairs rotate in for three-year terms. The Chairman must represent a variety of members of the theater industry. Because I am an active producer, serve the function of a theater operator (though Disney doesn’t own the New Amsterdam), oversee several North American tours, and I used to be in regional theater, I have experience with many parts of the business. However, my real job is to listen to people, and find out what they need. When I chair a meeting, my job is to say, “Now what do you think?”. If I can do that, then I think I’ve done the job, which is to provide a fulcrum, a place where the information goes, to then activate it through all our sensational committees, and to listen to Charlotte.
You are obviously very accomplished, but do you have any more goals you’d like to see through in the entertainment industry?
I’ve probably pursued the same thing my whole career, which is to try to find new ways to communicate to audiences and to introduce artists. So, if you look at what we’ve done with what we’ve produced, we have very often introduced people who may not have worked in that specific form before. So, we’ve given a lot of opportunities to people, whether they’re actors, directors, choreographers, or designers whose work has not yet been widely seen (for example you might have noticed we don’t star-cast until very late in the run of a show, and some of our original cast members have become stars because they were given this chance). There’s no question that our shows have a very broad sense of entertainment. They’re very accessible, but we’ve also used techniques and cast shows in ways that may have been unexpected, and I think that helps to break down some barriers. When people engage with theater, they recognize that the arts are a viable way to spend their time as well as a way to make a viable living. The arts bring vibrancy to a community. Pick any theater in America, commercial or non-profit, and the impact they make in their community is enormous, whether it’s driving restaurants, parking, hotels, or local industry. The arts keep communities alive, and the more work Disney Theatrical develops, the more we can send shows out in the world that do that.
You know, I’ve had this odd career of working in the commercial world and the non-profit world, working in the film world, working in the theater world, working on these tiny things, working on big huge hits, and I frankly don’t find the experiences that different. I find most of the elements the same, no matter the scale, because you’re in service of an audience, you’re in service of the community, and you’re in service of the creators of the material. If you can be in service of the audience and in service of those creators of the material, you’ve done your job as producer.
My parents dragged me to an audition for a local theater company when I was five years old, and I was hooked. After flirting with the idea of becoming a lawyer, I ended up at Tisch at NYU studying acting, until I got a production assistant-ship on a Broadway show, and realized that I enjoyed the other side of the business so much more.
That internship led to a career as a company manager for ten years on such shows as Ragtime, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Gypsy, and many more, until I started producing my own shows in 2004.
I never set out to run a company. I set out to produce shows. Having a company is a by-product of that. Many people think they need to get an office and then start producing. It’s the reverse. Find a show. Produce a show. Let the office and company rise up around you. I ran my company out of my apartment for two years.
Everything I do supports my core mission of trying to get more theater out there in the world. I work with lots of writers and directors in trying to help them get their shows off the ground. It takes balancing but it’s something I’m passionate about, and I always believe that if you’re passionate about something you can find the time for it.
Producing a totally original musical is a unique process because it’s like creating a brand new start-up company that no one has ever heard of before. It’s super challenging, but it’s also super fun, and I also feel like shows like this can be the most exciting and rewarding when they do take off, like a few of my early shows.
It has to hit me in the gut. It has to be something that I want to see over and over. And it has to be unique or have some quality that has never been seen on a Broadway stage before.
Just because you live and breathe your shows doesn’t mean everyone else does. You have to always be marketing.
If you want to be a producer, start producing something today. Anything. Doesn’t have to be a Broadway show. Produce a Shakespeare reading series in your dorm room. Find a friend who is a playwright and produce their show in the park. Create something yourself. But start. Because something good will come from it. It will lead you to bigger and brighter things.
Broadway is notoriously seasonal. The ebb and flow of New Yorkers’ theater-going habits, tourism and weather, along with a host of other factors, all contribute to these ups and downs. Sometimes the good periods can last for weeks, sometimes only a few days. The summer has become especially good with so many visitors looking for Broadway experiences, even though New-York-based theater-goers tend to head for vacations out of the city. Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks provide big ups, even if just for the week itself. Holiday weekends like Presidents’ Day and Veterans Day also do well.
Other periods – for example, the winter weeks from mid-January to Presidents’ Day and the period right after Labor Day weekend are more challenging. So are the Independence Day week and, often, Halloween. These aren’t immutable truths. The weeks right after Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas used to be bad ones, but that often hasn’t been so in recent years.
The September period that we’re headed into used to be one of the biggest lows for Broadway grosses as kids head back to school but Broadway Week, a promotion of the Broadway League and NYC&Co, has gone a long way toward ameliorating this difficult time. Broadway Week is a 2-for-1 promotion offering half priced tickets to a great number of shows during the two weeks after Labor Day. Last year, Broadway Week sold thousands of tickets for that period and what used to be a precipitous drop in grosses became much more of a mild dip. A similar promotion in the difficult winter period, Kids Night on Broadway, has also been effective in increasing sales.
Marketing and promotions can’t solve everything, but well-planned and well-timed, industry-wide initiatives can make a big difference.
CTI 14-week alumna Hannah Rosenthal is an accomplished theater professional who is currently the booking coordinator and assistant to Orin Wolf at NETworks Presentations. Discover how Hannah’s career in show business was sparked during her childhood by an influential educator from the suburbs of Baltimore, leading her to work alongside the lead producer of the 10-time Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit, and learn the key advice she would give to aspiring theatrical professionals.
My interest in theater began in a Baltimore suburb where I attended a public magnet school for the arts. I had an amazing theater teacher who not only put together very slick middle school productions, but also worked diligently to get as many students as possible backstage, onstage, and into the audience. I was incredibly fond of the experience he created for me and my peers, and knew that I too was interested in creating theater and getting as many people as possible involved! However, I didn’t know this interest was a career until I attended the University of Michigan and became involved in their wonderful student run theater company, MUSKET. There I learned what a producer was and ultimately majored in Performing Arts Management.
After college I moved to New York and began working as an assistant. I have been very lucky to see how a show comes together from many angles by working in a casting office, an agency, and for several wonderful producers. I currently work at NETworks Presentations as the Booking Coordinator and Executive Assistant to the President, Orin Wolf.
I hope to always work on the development and production of new theater. One day I would like to have a producing office of my own.
My previous boss, Ruth Hendel, told me about CTI, and I am very grateful that she did! CTI was incredibly helpful to me because so much of producing is personal and situational. Getting to hear anecdotes from numerous producers about how they spearheaded and supported their productions was invaluable.
Because a great deal of my background is as an assistant, I am frequently in a busy office where projects are in many different stages, and there is not time to pause and have things explained. While a lot of learning comes from being on the job, CTI answered many of my questions that were as small as defining specific terminology to as big as gaining a full understanding of the role each team member plays on a production. I left more confident in how all of the puzzle pieces come together.
Most importantly, as someone who aspires to produce her own work, the 14-week course did an excellent job in helping me understand the first steps necessary in turning a project from an idea into a tangible possibility.
Thank you! I take absolutely no credit for the production’s success, and feel very fortunate that Orin has allowed me to have a close look at a project he has been shepherding for so long. Opening a show and going through awards season are two big undertakings. It requires a lot of attention to detail in order for everyone to be in the right place, focused and ready to do the best work possible. I think I play a small part in making sure this happens.
I’m excited by any material that makes me emotionally invested in a new perspective and that is told in a way that feels accessible. Currently, I am working on a new play called The German Party by Elisabeth Frankel. I am also involved with SheNYC, an organization dedicated to showcasing the work of up-and-coming women in theater, and am one of the associate producers for its summer theater festival.
It is equally important to work as an assistant and make time for projects of your own. Any side project, no matter how small, allows you to apply what you’re learning in the office and shape your distinct personal taste.
Long-time thespian and producer, Ray, tells us about his goals, his huge array of abilities, and his fabulous alter-ego, Doris Dear. A fascinating, inspirational, and wide-ranging career in the entertainment industry gives him a unique perspective on theater-making of all kinds. Based in New York, he has championed new work in the US and across the pond in London. Underpinning everything he does is a strong focus on equality and inclusion; giving time and action to a cause close to his heart.
I am celebrating my 42nd year of working full time in the entertainment industry, starting out as an actor/singer/dancer and then moving on to directing, choreographing and writing. My first professional job was at 18-years-old working in the “borscht belt” as a singer/dancer doing “summer stock.” A year later I was hired by Walt Disney Productions and spent 5 years learning to be the best I could be at my craft. Soon afterward, I moved to Denmark where I produced several shows with a former Broadway gypsy, Gene Nettles, who invited me there to work with him. It was an experience that deepened my knowledge and theatrical skills beyond anything I could have imagined.
When I came back to the states, I started my on-camera television career. I did several local TV morning shows in top 20 markets and then moved on to hosting shows for HGTV, The Food Network and had a syndicated design show through Fox Productions. I was also producing major LGBT events throughout the world at the time, and decided it was time to produce on TV, and became a senior producer and director of a syndicated woman’s magazine format show.
No matter how far I went from theater it was always calling me. I went back to theater with a successful show I created and was approached by investors and decided that before I accepted, I needed to attend CTI to “get the facts” and knowledge I needed to make a truly informed decision that would protect me and my property. Once I took the 3-Day course I realized producing commercial theater was a natural step for me and was where I truly wanted to be. I then moved on to taking all the one-day courses and was invited to participate in the O’Neill Intensive CTI course, which truly changed my life in theater. The experience at the O’Neill forged new strong relationships and partnerships for me and opened the world of commercial producing to me.
I created DeForest Theatricals to “make theater grow.” I believe as a commercial producer I have a responsibility to create a commercial entertainment experience for the audience. I am attracted to many different types of theater whether it be a socially relevant piece, LGBT pieces, a musical which lifts my heart or comedy which brings laughter to my soul. Most of all, the piece has to speak to me on some level.
I think as theater professionals it is our duty to constantly try to be better at how we treat each other in the industry and how we spend our money bringing new shows to commercial production. I serve on the LGBT board for SAG-AFTRA and also on the SAG-AFTRA presidents committee on Sexual Harassment. I have spent most of my adult life fighting for and demanding equality in all aspects of life. As leaders, it is most important for us to lead the way – to make theater a safe space for everyone involved and support each other. By constantly reevaluating our work and our work spaces, we can assure that we create those safe places. With the rising costs of commercial theater I believe it is time for us to seriously look at how we develop shows and financially support that development. We have to think outside the box, find new avenues of producing and bring more creatives into the commercial producing space.
I currently serve on the board of the non profit theater Pipeline Theater Company. After my theatrical lawyer invited me to one of their shows several years ago, I was really blown away by the creativity and theatrical “eye” this small company had. After meeting with Ariana Schrier and Natalie Gershtein who run the company, I was asked to join their board. The show I saw, The Gray Man, really stuck with me, so I decided to meet with the first-time writer and discuss optioning the piece to try and take to a commercial production. I immediately realized it was not really a commercial piece for NYC and after meeting with several high-level producers, Tom Viertel included, I decided to try to bring it to the UK. It’s a wonderful piece of mystery and horror that scared me to death when I saw it! I went to London this spring and met with several theater owners and producers who are interested in partnering and possibly bringing the show to the UK for a commercial production.
Here in NYC, I am working as a co-producer with Jack Viertel and his production group on Bull Durham, A New Musical that we will have on Broadway very soon. It has everything I love – big musical numbers choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, amazing music by Susan Werner, script by Ron Shelton and directed by Marc Bruni. I met Jack Viertel at the O’Neill Intensive with CTI and he has been a great teacher and sounding board for me. It is a prime example of how CTI can connect you to great professionals and how important relationships are within the industry. I am also working with a Pulitzer Prize finalist, one of our great American writers on his newest piece. It is a journey unlike anything I have ever experienced. I love the creative involvement and find myself learning more about the process of artists.
The interesting thing for me is that when I was at CTI, I said… “I’ll only do a musical” and “I won’t go to produce in London”. LOL. Never say never. The biggest difference in London versus New York is costs. The cost of bringing a commercial production in London is much less than here in the states for Broadway. The economics are very different and the risk in London is much less.
Ha! The secret is out! I grew up in Staten Island, NY. My parents were Taffy and Duke! With names like that it writes itself! My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and during her decline she opened up to me about her life as a 1950s model and strong woman who believed in being her best.
She changed laws, protected children and was a strong believer in family and friends. To deal with her slipping away, I decided to write and perform a show about her. Doing it as “Ray” seemed to have limitations so I created a character named Doris Dear. Doris Dear is 1950’s “Americas Perfect Housewife.” She tells stories through songs and stories and uses magazines from the period to highlight those moments. I only meant to do it once, but it became a sold-out hit and 4 years later I now do several shows a year in NYC, where I invite talented amazing people to perform with her. It’s like a “Dinah Shore meets Judy Garland” TV show. I have traveled around the US performing the shows and it continues to grow with now a possibility of taking her to TV!
I am truly a lucky man. Having a 40-year career in entertainment is truly unbelievable. My advice to anyone who is considering joining this amazing bunch of people would be: you have to love it to make it. Follow your heart, listen with your soul, and build relationships with others like you. And most importantly… learn to listen.
Thank you for the opportunity to chat today. And thank you CTI for opening up this amazing world to me!
Ahead of bringing the upcoming musical The Prom to Broadway this season, Dori took time with us to discuss her eclectic career, ranging from her early days as an investment banker, all the way to producing Tony Award-winning plays, and musicals!
I grew up dreaming of producing Broadway shows and directing films, but I had no connections whatsoever to either world. This initial challenge, I believe, turned into a giant win for me as it launched me on a VERY eclectic career path. I’ve loved every adventure.
I was advised by my college mentors to get a rock solid foundation in business and finance before losing myself to a career in the entertainment industry. So, my professional life began as an Investment Banker at Morgan Stanley in Mergers & Acquisitions, then in Strategic Planning for NBC and Paramount. After graduate work at Harvard in Business and at the Kennedy School of Government (Public Policy & the Arts) and later at the Yale School of Drama, I immersed myself in film and special effects. I helped launch a small film company and began producing movies. I supervised production on the film Dirty Dancing (as well as the “DD” TV Adaptation) and produced a slew of low budget films. This lead to a thrilling opportunity to run a division for Walt Disney Imagineering, supervising all their cutting-edge, f/x-driven Theme Park films (including Muppet Vision 3-D).
Afterwards, I relocated to New York to begin my career producing Broadway shows. I’ve had parallel careers in film, TV and theater ever since. Non-Theater highlights include: directing and producing a TV series with Alan Cumming, directing and producing a TV series with Isaac Mizrahi (also Exec Producing his film Unzipped), spearheading President Clinton’s Post Presidential Website and directing, producing and writing six feature documentaries, including ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway, Gotta Dance, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life; Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love and The Last Blintz (a doc about the closing of the Café Edison).
On the Broadway side of my life my producing career began with Bill Irwin and David Shiner’s Fool Moon and includes such productions as: Thoroughly Modern Millie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Crucible, Flower Drum Song, Legally Blonde, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the upcoming musical The Prom.
I’m so very fortunate to be able to pursue projects on stage, on screen or on TV that I care deeply about; stories that I feel must be told.
CTI has been invaluable to my career over and over and over. I can’t imagine taking on the responsibilities of producing a Broadway show without the training CTI offers. Not only was I able to grasp all the complex moving parts of producing, but CTI introduced all of us aspiring producers to the movers-and-shakers in the business. So much of my day-to-day work now as a producer is informed by my many invaluable CTI experiences over the years, particularly hearing experienced producers candidly share their war stories. Learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do!
Regarding The Prom, I was invited to dinner by Casey Nicholaw along with Bob Martin, Chad Begeulin and Matthew Sklar to talk about an idea for a brand new musical. They pitched a two-line idea that Jack Viertel had dreamed up: What if a teenage girl wants to take her not-yet-out girlfriend to the Prom and the PTA, as a result, cancels the entire event. What if a group of Broadway divas swoops into town to save this girl, but ends up making things far worse? With this off-the-charts dream team and this brilliant idea, an immediate ‘yes’ was a no-brainer. Bill Damaschke joined me as my GP Producing Partner and we were off and running. Who knew this incredibly exuberant story with non-stop humor, giant heart and the urgent message about acceptance and tolerance, would be so timely. The show opens on Broadway November 15th.
Half Time, a new musical directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, captures the unexpected adventures of the first-ever, senior Hip Hop squad for an NBA Basketball team. TRUE STORY! The show is actually based on a documentary film I directed and produced called Gotta Dance. I wanted to craft a fun, funny, feel-good, inspiring story that made the statement “Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re A Cheese,” given all the ageism I’ve seen out in the world. When this group of incredible, fiercely-determined seniors chasing a very unlikely dream landed in my lap, I knew, from day one of shooting the film, that I was laying the groundwork for a musical. With an extraordinary creative team: Bob Martin, Matthew Sklar, Chad Begeulin and Nell Benjamin and a dream cast that includes Georgia Engel, Lillias White, Andre de Shields and Donna McKechnie, the show has surpassed every possible dream.
Each show has been had many Readings, Labs, and Out-Of-Towns; in Atlanta (The Prom) and Chicago and at the Paper Mill (Half Time) specifically.
I couldn’t be more passionate about both shows. Both messages of The Prom – advocating acceptance, tolerance and hope for all – and Half Time – Go For It!!! Chase your dreams, no matter your obstacles – are so urgently important to me.
I love storytelling, whether on stage or on screen. I believe strongly in the power of both mediums to entertain AND to change the way people see the world. As a filmmaker, I’m able to tell stories that come from deeply personal experiences; stories I need to tell. When my worlds collide, like they have on Half Time, I’m ecstatic. The experience of telling the story on screen, and now on stage, has been thrilling.
By: Tom V.
Success in the theater is an alchemic thing. So much has to fall into place — the right script and score, the right director, designers and cast. The right developmental path. Even the right mood of the theatergoing public when you finally arrive on Broadway.
Here’s one of my favorite stories:
Years back, Rocco Landesman was asked by its owner to take over Jujamcyn Theaters. He wasn’t well known in the Broadway community — he’d produced one show and, although it had won the Tony Award for Best Musical, he was mostly teaching at Yale. One of his first hires was my brother Jack, who had been a dramaturg and later a prominent theater critic but on the West Coast, so he also had a low Broadway profile.
Because the two of them were kind of X-factors on Broadway, quite a few producers, general managers, ad agency executives and others stopped by to introduce themselves and get to know Rocco and Jack.
One of these was a man named Arthur Cantor. Arthur had been a publicist and a sometime producer with an ordinary track record over many, many years. He was an old man by the time he sat on the couch in Rocco’s office. During the conversation they touched on many subjects and at the end of each of them Arthur would slump on the couch, sigh and mutter “I don’t know… I just don’t know.” Topic after topic, “I don’t know… I just don’t know.” Finally, he got up and left. Jack and Rocco looked at each other and said “there goes the dumbest producer in all of America. No matter what the subject he ‘just don’t know.’”
But the longer we stay in the theater the clearer it is that Arthur was telling us everything we would ever really know about this crazy business — you just don’t know.
I think that’s why experienced producers always advise those just starting out to “follow your passion” when it comes to picking projects. Your passion is as apt to be on the mark as anyone else’s and there’s nothing as satisfying as making a success of something you care deeply about.
This accomplished CTI alumna began her career with Walt Disney Studios,went on to work at Nickelodeon, MTV Networks, AZN Television, and even helped to launch Spike TV. Peilin has also kept her foot in the stage door of Broadway, where she was a Company Manager & Artistic Associate at the Roundabout Theatre whose projects included Cabaret and Sideman, andhelped to launch the Tony Award-winning musical Fosse.
As Chief Creative Officer of Pearl Studio, I oversee all the content created by Pearl Studio. A CCO is a bit like a CEO, but for all things creative. My job includes overseeing everything from buying and developing ideas and scripts, to overseeing films in production, to working with writers, producers, songwriters, and visual artists on all facets of the development and production process. I am also responsible for the overall creative direction and goals of the studio. The mission of Pearl Studio is to be a premier family entertainment brand, creating original world class films that enchant, inspire, and awaken audiences around the globe. My goals are every day to actively do something towards that mission.
Growing up, I never thought working in film, TV, or theater was something you could do for a career. I never knew anyone who worked in the field. I went to college at UCLA, and ended up doing a bunch of internships, including one on a scripted drama television show where I really got to see (through fan mail) the strong impact that what we were creating had on viewers there. From that moment, I was hooked! I was lucky that my first job out of college was at the Walt Disney Studios in Creative Development. Since that time, I have pretty much worked in creative development for my entire career. It has spanned a number of mediums and genres — film, television, animation, digital, and of course, theater, but always in creative development. CTI has been a great inspiration to me, as well as a great resource for networking, finding talent, and learning about new projects. I did what I like to call the CTI “trifecta” of programs — the NYC 3 Day, the O’Neill 3 Day, as well as the NYC 14-week. Each of them was a different experience, but I got a lot out of each of those programs.
First, being in the CTI community is always inspiring — being in the company of others striving to achieve similar goals, as well as hearing the stories and experiences of speakers that have achieved certain goals, was always energizing and exciting. Second, I have met so many people through CTI that have directly led me to very fruitful creative endeavors. It’s been so fruitful, I’ve actually kind of lost count. One example is I met an actress at a networking event during the NYC 3-day, which directly led me to producing a musical. And that experience led me to meeting songwriters who I actually ended up hiring on a film project right here at Pearl Studio! You never know where one thing will lead to. The other great thing I love about CTI is the camaraderie amongst those in your classes. These people are your peers and potentially your greatest supporters — you kind of end up growing up in the industry together in a way. The relationships I made in the programs I participated in definitely extended far beyond the duration of the class.
I think one of the key things that makes content global is having universal themes that everyone can relate to. The idea of home, and finding home, for example, or the concept of family or belonging, are meaningful whether you’re a child in Brazil or a grandmother in China. There are certain things that can resonate worldwide. When you’re looking at global content, I think it’s important to make sure the broader scope of what you’re saying or talking about is wide enough to be universally relatable. The particulars and details of course can (and should) be specific to a character or a culture, but the larger themes can be relatable to any culture.
What makes a project exciting for me is working on something that I feel people are going to be moved by, and that has the potential to perhaps expand the way that people see the world. We talk about “awakening the audience” in our mission statement — and that’s really at the heart of what we mean by awakening. We currently have two projects in production at Pearl that I’m really excited about. ‘Abominable’ is the story of a Yeti trying to get home to Mount Everest with the help of three Chinese teenagers. This is being produced in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation and will be released worldwide by Universal Pictures in the Fall of 2019. Our second project is called ‘Over the Moon.’ It is being produced in collaboration with Netflix and is the story of a little girl who decides to build a rocket to go to the moon, in hopes of meeting a legendary moon goddess. What I’m most excited about on ‘Over the Moon’ is the opportunity to work with animation legend Glen Keane, who is directing the film. Glen was at Disney for almost 40 years and is the animator who created so many beloved Disney characters, including Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid,’ The Beast from ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Rapunzel from ‘Tangled.’ Watching Ariel and ‘The Little Mermaid’ was one of the things that made me want to work in animation to begin with, so it’s kind of a lifelong dream to be able to collaborate with him on this film. I know he will make ‘Over the Moon’ an unforgettable and deeply moving film.
There are many practical differences in terms of budget, players, approach, or scope, but actually there is also a lot of overlap as well. Probably more than you think. First, at Pearl we hire talent from the theater world all the time. Playwrights as well as songwriters are most common, but sometimes set designers or choreographers as well. And of all the film genres, the process of animation development and production is probably the closest to theater, because of the storyboarding process. All films are storyboarded first before they are animated, so you get to see the whole film up on reels (storyboards) before any sequences ever go into animation — which is quite similar actually to the workshopping process of theater. You get the opportunity to see something up on its feet, and then re-write or reconceive based on that experience, and then go at it again. Unlike live-action where footage has been shot, storyboards can be quickly re-drawn and changed to be something completely different. It’s one of the parts of the process that I really enjoy the most, because getting at the heart of characters or story and being able to see what’s working and what’s not working — that’s to me the purest and most meaningful part of the development process. And that’s true regardless of the genre or medium you’re working in.
My advice would be to always follow your passion and listen to your heart when it comes to picking your projects. No one can tell you that your taste or what you love is wrong — it’s your taste! When I started out in the industry, I was playing a lot of catch-up, and I often found myself questioning whether the things I loved were worthy or worthwhile or “right,” but what you learn over time is that no one really knows or has all the answers. And so much of it is also about climate, and timing and medium and purpose.
I remember early on in my career I came upon an obscure student film that I thought was really hilarious, and I took the initiative to try to share that film with other executives at my company in hopes of being given the opportunity to pursue other projects or ideas with the directors of the film. At the screening, people were bored and restless, and all of these seasoned and well-respected executives left the screening room before the film had even ended. I was mortified and thought certainly they would never value my opinion again. A short one year later, the directors of that film, launched a then unknown television show called…’South Park!’ And Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the directors I had been trying to “champion”, became household names forever. So, as you can see — you never know!
I began my career in the film business, working in both NYC and LA. I had a series of jobs – from producer’s assistant to development executive – and then decided to leave LA and get my MBA at Columbia. I knew I wanted to start a production company (at the time, I was thinking it would be a film company), and I thought having the business background would serve me well. After graduating, I produced a small, independent film. Soon after, my father, who had been investing in and producing theater for a while, started his own theatrical production company with two other producers. Having grown up in NYC, I was a huge fan of theater, and thought it would be fun to learn about the business. So, I joined my father, and associate produced three productions with him, two on Broadway and one off-Broadway. While involved with the revival of Sly Fox, in February of 2003, I went to see a very early version of In the Heights in the basement of The Drama Book Shop. I was blown away by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s talent, and getting involved with that project changed my life forever.
CTI was enormously helpful at the start of my career. I learned so much about the business, hearing from representatives in all areas of the industry, and got a chance to network too. And of course, winning the award was a huge honor, and is something that will be in my bio forever. The icing on the cake was that Lin-Manuel presented me with the award.
I don’t take on too many projects, because every project is a labor of love, and I need to feel passionate about each one. I look for material that is unique and special, but because it is a business, I have to believe the projects can have broad appeal. An aspirational or relatable tale, a singular idea, vision, sound, or fresh take on a story are all elements that speak to me.
Film is more of a director’s medium, whereas theater and tv are more writers’ mediums. Also, producers in television and film get paid at least some of their salaries upfront, whereas theater producers don’t make a dime until a show is actually produced. Theater is more of a research and development business. But at their core, each medium represents different modes of telling stories, and great stories being told in exciting ways are what interest me.
The first piece of advice I always give people who are interested in theater is to talk to as many people in the industry as you can and reach out to people in positions of power whom you respect or who inspire you, to set up informational interviews – many won’t respond, but some will. I always recommend taking at least the CTI 3-Day seminar, because it’s a great crash course. Finally, always trust your gut, and do things you’re passionate about.
Next month we begin our O’Neill Summer Workshop. Led by Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Tom Viertel, this CTI course offers producers-in-training the opportunity to “risk, fail, and risk again.” There’s a reason the O’Neill is a destination for creators around the world. Come explore the magic and inspiration of this beautiful campus yourself at the O’Neill Summer Workshop.
Tom Viertel, Chairman of the Board of the O’Neill, sat down with Executive Director, Preston Whiteway, to discuss the history of this legendary theater.
Tom Viertel: The O’Neill has won the Tony Award for Regional Theaters. Do you think of the O’Neill as a regional theater? If not, how is it different?
Preston Whiteway: The 2010 Tony was an incredible moment of recognition for us, however, the O’Neill is so much more than what we often think of as a “regional theater.” In addition to our programs in music theater, plays, puppetry, and cabaret, we also support emerging directors, arts journalists, student playwrights, an undergraduate school, and house museum. The works and artists we develop leave our stages and play regional theaters across the country as well as Broadway, off-Broadway, and film/TV.
TV: The O’Neill has had an enormous impact on American theater, including being the launchpad for so many important careers. Can you talk about some of them and how they got their start at the O’Neill?
PW: The O’Neill is home to thousands of artists. Some of our most high-profile are: writers August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Edward Albee, John Patrick Shanley, Kia Corthron, Christopher Durang, Jeanine Tesori, John Guare, Robert Lopez, David Auburn, Theresa Rebeck, Samuel D.Hunter, Jennifer Haley, Alfred Uhry, Tom Kitt, and John Logan; directors Lloyd Richards, Jason Moore, Leigh Silverman, Thomas Kail, and Rebecca Taichman; actors Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep, Danny DeVito, Kristin Chenoweth, Al Pacino, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cynthia Nixon, Kelli O’Hara, and Steve Kazee.
TV: The O’Neill has been growing over the years you’ve been Executive Director. How is it different now than it was when you took over?
PW: One of the greatest joys of the O’Neill is the ways the organization is able to be innovative and adapt to serve the theater of today and tomorrow. We have shifted methods in response to our artists and to better serve the field, and as a result, our programs are stronger than ever. Over the last decade, the O’Neill is in sound financial footing and has established a broader national reach, with consistent premieres of O’Neill-developed work across the country and the world. What hasn’t changed one bit is the magic of our campus and the absolute focus on the artists- they remain at the very center of everything we do. What’s improved, many will be happy to hear, is the quality of our housing and food.
Jim Joseph was born and raised in The Bronx, NY and currently is the Theatre Manager at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, the Broadway home of Manhattan Theatre Club. Since graduating from Marist College in 1991, he has worked in many different areas of the performing arts and Broadway including Development, Education, Marketing, Box Office and most notably Front of House and Theater Operations.
In December 1995, he was a part of the inaugural staff at The New Victory Theater, the city’s first theater dedicated to kids and family programming, helping to launch The New Victory Usher Corps – a groundbreaking, youth development program for NYC youth. From 1995 until 2008, Jim hired over 400 teens and young adults, giving most of them their very first job and helping some of them launch careers in the professional theater as artists and administrators.
Jim has worked in the off-off Broadway community as a director and producer, working with the ground-breaking Latino Theatre Company, Vaso de Leche Productions, and the actress/poet/activist La Bruja on her one woman show Boogie Rican Boulevard among others.
As an arts administration consultant, Jim has worked with The United Palace for Cultural Arts in Washington Heights, The Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College, 59E59 Theatres and The Apollo Theater.
In addition to his theater operations consulting work, he has been an advisor to the theater program at Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2010 and has served as an adjunct instructor of theater management.
He is a graduate of the Arts Leadership Institute (2010) and the Commercial Theater Institute (2014). He is a member of the Venue Committee of the Broadway Green Alliance, the Broadway Security Steering Committee and the Broadway League’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
I’m the Theatre Manager for Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway home – The Samuel J. Friedman Theater.
No one ever chooses to work in Front of House – Front of House chooses you! LOL
I was offered an opportunity early in my arts management career to house manage an off-Broadway production and I discovered very quickly that I had the skill set to do the job.
Every day I have 650 variables to my workday. Every audience member presents a unique set of challenges and demands, making no two performances alike. It’s the ability to adapt to many different variables but still deliver consistent service that makes the job a challenge.
With the success of WICKED and the Disney musicals, we are seeing less original ideas on stage. Most works are adaptations of well-known properties and their success is dependent on the audience’s knowledge of the source material. Movie studios see the potential profits of a successful musical and are becoming more and more involved on Broadway.
I don’t think there have been too many steps taken, sadly. Broadway producers don’t think of the Broadway industry holistically enough to even think about answering this question. They are concerned about their show and selling enough tickets to pay back their investors so that they can invest in the next project. There have been efforts made to increase diversity by the non-profits in their administrative offices and some shows have had success using “color conscious” casting.
Producers need to work harder on developing new creators and new properties. Invest in creators of color. Find the next Lin-Manuel, the next John Leguizamo, and don’t forget about the talented writers of color who have been under-represented on Broadway – the Lynne Nottages and Nilo Cruzs of the world.
Create work where they can see themselves represented. It all starts with the art that’s being produced.
By: Tom V.
We’re in the fascinating and short time between Tony nominations and the awards themselves as I write this. It’s a period when there are interesting things to learn about how shows are looking at their nominations. You’ll only be able to get a personal view, since you won’t be in on the overall strategy each show is using but if you’re sensitive to what you’re seeing, you can learn something. Producers and their marketing teams spend a lot of time talking about who their main audience is and how to reach them. Are they dedicated theater-goers who look at the New York Times or theater websites? Are they predominantly TV watchers? Are they tourists who are looking for a show to see and spending time in Times Square? Are they millennials who are focused on social media on their phones?
These producers have suddenly been presented with a new “asset” – Tony nominations – and armed with that news, they are making choices within (and often exceeding) their budgets about how to reach their specific audience. So, pay attention to how much of that information you’re getting and where you’re getting it from, and you might begin to get a glimmering of a show’s overall strategy. Are you seeing paid advertising or social posts on Facebook? Dominating ads in the Sunday New York Times or in a strip banner across the Arts page? On a billboard or a trash can in Times Square? On TV? There’s only this short time for producers to make the most of this opportunity because once the awards have been given the value of nominations quickly fades. Producers are trying to make the most of it, and so should you.
Learn about how Thom’s early days as a company manager and stage manager led him to travel across the country, work with stars such as Daniel Radcliffe, Kathleen Marshall, and Matthew Broderick, and even manage a concert in the East Room of the White House.
Tom Clay: My current position is Director of Theatre Management. I work with a team in the Operations Department of the company and we are responsible for the operation and management of nine Broadway theatres. Part of my duties include working with the managers in each theatre to ensure that all of their weekly financial paperwork is in order. Each week we “settle” the box office receipts and expenses with each production so there is a large amount of detailed documentation required. Every theatre employee is paid weekly so in addition to accurate paychecks, union benefit reports must also be prepared and submitted.
Other responsibilities that are under my supervision are the preparation of emergency plans for each of the theatres, staff training in safety and customer service, and the review of employee performance. I also work closely with the production in each venue, especially when new productions are about to begin performances. The “taking in” of production involves a large number of people to execute it and it often happens in a fixed time frame so there is little room for error.
One final area that I am involved with is small renovation and restoration projects. Several of our theatres are between 80 and 100 years old, so they require constant maintenance and upgrading. Today’s audiences have high expectations when attending a Broadway show, so we work to provide a magical experience from the moment they arrive at one of our theatres.
There are many things I enjoy about my position, but the thing I think I enjoy the most is being able to work in a creative and constantly changing environment. While Broadway is a business, the people that make theatre are wonderful, interesting individuals who I get to see make magic every day. With so many varied productions in our theatres, I am fortunate to be part of an always evolving experience.
As for what I enjoy least, I don’t think there is any part of the job that isn’t enjoyable in one way or another. Everyone here has one goal and that is to put on the best possible Broadway experience for our patrons and producers.
TC: The Nederlander Organization is one of the largest family-owned entertainment enterprises in the world. While the primary focus is on owning and operating nine Broadway theatres, the company also owns and operates venues in other cities in the U.S. and U.K. Additionally, the company is leading producer of many of Broadway’s hit shows.
TC: As the spring is a busy time across all of Broadway with many new shows opening, there is one project that I am involved with that is unique and exciting. Later this year the 108-year-old Palace Theatre will be restored as part of a massive development project happening on the corner of Broadway and West 47thStreet. In partnership with real estate developers, the theatre will be restored to its former glory along with the addition of new dressing rooms, lobbies and stage equipment. As part of the construction project, the theatre will be raised 35 feet from its current position and a new entrance created on West 47thStreet. A new hotel will be constructed on top of the theatre and retail space created below. The entire project is estimated to take three years.
TC: The start of my career was like many, I believe. I was attracted to the magic of the theatre in middle school and thought about a career as an actor. I was in the plays and musicals while in high school and then pursued a college degree in theatre. While in college I began to see that the life of an actor could be difficult and challenging so I began to question if that was something I was ready to commit to. Through taking a variety of theatre courses, from directing to design, I realized that I could still work in the theatre without being an actor. I began to stage manage for the school productions and found it to be even more fulfilling that any of the acting roles I had. After completing my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to be offered a stage management position at the local children’s theatre. I would also work in the summer as a stage manager for local musicals which were both great opportunities to learn about the craft of theatre outside of an educational setting.
After working as stage manager for about five years, I became interested in opportunities beyond stage management and was attracted to the work that producers were doing. I wanted to be heading in that direction and decided to get an advanced degree in theatre management to grow my skill set. I received my Master’s Degree from Columbia University in 1996 and began working in the management offices of the Really Useful Company. After 3 amazing years working in that office I took a job as the assistant company manager on the national tour of Riverdance. I remained with them for 3 years and for the next two decades worked as Broadway company manager as well as a tour manager for Radio City Music Hall.
After a fulfilling career as a Broadway company manager, I began to look for the next theatre opportunity. Having worked in many Nederlander Theaters I was well aware of the company and its importance to the theatre in this country. I was in contact with several colleagues within the organization and when my current position became available I accepted immediately. It’s been great to continue to use my skill sets and contribute to this wonderful organization.
TC: Both the stage manager and company manager fill two important roles on a production and work very closely together.
The stage manager is responsible for the actual running of the performance. In rehearsals, they work closely with the director to rehearse the production and gather all of the information that will be needed to execute a performance. During performances, the stage manager ensures the actors, crew and staff report on time and maintain their performances as directed. While the show is running, the stage manager directs the crew and scenic elements through the calling of “cues.” Basically, the stage manager is in charge of the backstage area and to make sure the performance happens as planned from beginning to end.
The company manager’s job differs in that they do not work backstage in the same function as the stage manager but functions as representative of the producer. The company manager usually oversees the day-to-day business operation of the production from generating the payroll and paying bills to assisting with ticketing and marketing initiatives. Company managers often create contracts for the cast, crew and creative team, and assist in executing the contract terms. As there are over a dozen unions on Broadway, the company manager must understand each one’s rules and carry them out accordingly. The company manager works closely with the theatre’s box office to record ticket sales and box office revenue. These are just some of the major areas the company manager is responsible for and those duties can change depending on the needs of the production.
As you can see from the above, both positions have different responsibilities but each manager works closely to keep all areas of the production running smoothly. As a stage manager, I always enjoyed the rehearsal process to see how the show gets created before an audience sees it. As a company manager, I really enjoyed seeing all of the elements from the “big picture” perspective and how they all come together to create a show.
TC: This is a hard one! I have been so fortunate to work on some amazing productions and alongside some remarkably talented individuals. I have enjoyed working with great directors like Michael Grandage and Kathleen Marshall as well as talented actors Matthew Broderick, Daniel Radcliffe and Janet McTeer. Because it was unique in so many ways: I was asked to company manage a concert of Broadway music held at the White House in 2010. As part of a series on Public Television, I assisted in organizing some of Broadway’s top talent to perform for The President and Mrs. Obama in the East Room. That one is hard to top.
TC: I have both a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre and a Master’s Degree in Theatre Management. I think each person has a different path to a theatre career, so a university degree may not be for everyone. I wanted the university training structure which also led to connections within the commercial theatre, but many of my colleagues have degrees in other fields. The one thing I can recommend for someone looking for a career in this business is experience. That is often more important than a degree. Learning how theatre works, what the various roles – on and off stage – are, and who the current players in the business are are all key to success. Immerse yourself in theatre. Observe and learn from others. See as much as you can and read about theatre in New York and around the world. Working as an intern or volunteering as an usher can be very beneficial to experiencing how theatre professionals work day in and day out. This will prove to be an invaluable asset.
TC: To echo the above, learn as much as you can about all aspects of the business. Understand how directors and designers work and interact. Know how advertising and marketing agencies operate and sell shows in the digital market place. Learn about budgeting and unions as in the end, everything comes down to money. Read about the latest playwrights as they are the ones providing the new productions on the horizon. Hone a critical eye and form your own opinion about what makes good theatre. Love the art and artists, but always remember that at the end of the day, it’s a business.
Suarez is currently executive producing “Rise,” a drama for NBC. He consulted on NBC’s “The Blacklist” and “The Michael J Fox” show for Sony Television and consulted on the launch of the Emmy winning “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” for TBS. Suarez was previously executive producer of NBC’s “The Book of Daniel,” and served as executive producer of “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” which won a People’s Choice Award for favorite new television comedy series. For Sony Pictures Television, he developed and produced the live-action comedy series “The Tick,” “Partners” and “Secret Agent Man.” Previously Vice President of Development for NBC, where he oversaw production on the Emmy-winning series “ER,” the Emmy-nominated series “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Just Shoot Me,” and “Men Behaving Badly.”
Flody Suarez: I was the V.P. of Advertising for a small film company releasing art house films, and through that experience I got to work with a lot of young, scrappy producers making passion projects. It was an interesting learning experience and it taught me a lot about the budgeting and marketing process. From there, I went into TV at NBC and was able to learn from some pretty amazing executives and producers. Warren Littlefield was the President of NBC and he is a role model in nurturing and supporting producers. I was lucky enough to work on projects with Marcy Carsey, who set the bar for helping comedy writers and comedians navigate the network process to get their vision on air, and John Wells, who is fearless and brilliant at pushing a drama to be intelligent and provocative in a way that engages audiences. I am kind of a sponge and like to watch and study what makes other people successful. I was lucky to have a front row seat to some really special people.
FS: I have a lot of television experience, having worked in comedy, drama, long form, and reality programming, but Broadway is something new to me. The drive for me to try theater was mainly project specific. I had these two ideas that really could only live on stage, so I moved to NY and started to try to learn about this process, which is similar to TV in that it is ultimately about finding great writers and nurturing their process. It is also wildly different from TV in the way shows are built, both creatively and structurally. I was lucky enough to meet Rick Elice, who is writing the The Cher Show and Joe Dipietro, who is writing What’s New Pussycat, The Tom Jones Musical – they are both brilliant and I have loved watching them shape these very different shows. The process is much slower than television and it is a much more intimate process in that there are no studio or network notes. The process is really between producers and their creative team.
FS: When I came to New York it was with the intention of finding a producer to bring aboard The Cher Show to help me navigate this world. I met with a lot of people and was really stunned at what a small and interconnected business this is. People are passionate and professional and really opened their doors to me – this is a special community and I have been blown away by how kind people have been. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop of Hamilton and was a little stunned at the confident way it was presented. Every aspect of it seemed to have been meticulously planned. I spent a great deal of time watching Jeffrey while watching the show. Like Marcy Carsey, John Wells, and Warren Littlefield, Jeffrey is someone at the top of his game that I can watch and learn from. We started to do a little TV as well, so there is a nice flow of knowledge between us. We have Rise, a new drama from Jason Katims, airing on NBC this March. It is a book Jeffrey loved about a high school drama teacher and really feels right as our first TV show.
FS: The Cher Show is something that has been in my head for over a decade and I finally had to just pack up and move to New York to dive into the process. Cher has had an incredible career and her music has spoken to audiences for over five decades. It is a powerful story about believing in yourself and never letting someone else define your success – her iconic status creates a ton of opportunities to tap into sounds, images and moments that have a personal connection to the audience.
FS: Every job is a learning experience. Watch everyone around you. See what they do that works and what they do that doesn’t work. Realize that they all have hopes and dreams and are doing a job. They are trying to get ahead just like you. Make friends, help people along the way. It is a small business and those people will be in your life for a long time. Be nice and be honest. It will pay off. Pursue things you are passionate about and surround yourself with people you respect. Know that failure is part of the process. Keep moving forward. Don’t let anyone discourage you. If you believe in something find another way. You will get one hundred “no”s for every “yes”.
By: Tom V.
Welcome to the start of a CTI blog. If you’re here on the CTI website, I’m guessing Broadway is a passion for you and you’re interested in learning more about how the business of Broadway works from the inside. It’s a business that is both thrilling and frustrating, a life-changing experience and enough to drive you crazy.
Over the past 37 years at CTI we teach the teachable part of Broadway producing. Using what they’ve learned here, dozens of CTI alums have gone on to produce some of Broadway’s great hits. Our courses are all taught by working Broadway professionals – from producers and general managers to ad agency executives and attorneys. Our networking opportunities will help connect you to these pros and to others who are like you – excited to learn more about the business of Broadway.
This blog will be a kind of supplement to the CTI courses that you can enjoy whether or not you take the courses themselves. We’ll be talking about best practices, the difficult issues that arise when you produce a show, emerging trends, and how-to resources.
I’ll write some of them, we’ll do some interviews with important players, and go into some nuts-and-bolts ideas too. Along the way, we’ll define some terms to give you the working vocabulary you need. I hope you’ll join us both here and in person at CTI’s courses. You couldn’t pick a more exciting field.