BroadwayHD’s Stewart Lane

The CTI Blog features an interview with sponsor BroadwayHD’s CEO, Co-President, and Co-Founder Stewart Lane.  Read on to learn more about the philosophy behind this innovative streaming service and the people who have most influenced Stewart throughout his career.

What attracted you to the theater?

 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.

What work are you most proud of?

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.

When did the seedlings of BroadwayHD begin?

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.

What offerings can you find on 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.

Who were your mentors?

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.

What advice would you give people who want to go into the theater?

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!

What would you say to those people who are skeptical about streaming platforms in the theater space?

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.

Little Bo-Pat and her Sheep

This week, CTI alum, Pat Daily, shares one of her wildest show business stories.  What happens when you mix Sam Shepard, Midtown Manhattan, and a couple of barnyard friends?  Read on to find out! 

*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.

Nederlander’s Nick Scandalios Part One

*By CTI Staff Member Madeline Carney 

It was a hot, sticky Manhattan afternoon – the kind where the pavement starts to melt into a gooey black tar – when I sat down to chat with Nederlander’s Executive Vice President, Nick Scandalios.  His assistant led me to a quiet conference room, starkly decorated aside from the Hirschfelds scattered across the walls.  I was immediately drawn to the Peter Pan sketch, an ethereal cartoon boy floating among stars and pixie dust.  Nick quietly entered the room, taking a seat beside me at the table.  He seemed hesitant to interrupt my admiring of the picture.  The interview that followed was a refreshing, inspiring, and heartfelt conversation that I was reluctant to end; below is a pared down, edited version of the exchange that I hope captures the wisdom and generosity of a true theatrical great…

What does your role as Executive Vice President of The Nederlander Organization entail and what does your typical day-to-day look like?

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.

What is your favorite part of the job and what are some of the biggest challenges?

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.

I’ve heard that you once aspired to be an actor.  How has your journey led you to where you are today?

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.

As you noted, it seems as though the entry point into the industry is through acting.  I’ve had this conversation with several industry members now; do you think we should be working to educate more young students about the variety of professions within theater that exist beyond acting? 

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.

If you had the opportunity to bring any show to Broadway and return to your acting roots for one day only, what show would you pick and why?

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!

 

 

An Interview with CTI Graduate Aaron Sanko

This week, the CTI Blog features an interview with graduate Aaron Sanko.  Aaron has completed the 14-Week, 3-Day, and O’Neill Intensives. Join us as we discuss Aaron’s journey through the industry and how he believes theater can be used as a source of education and empowerment.

Can you tell us a bit about your career path and how you ended up where you are today?

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.

You’ve clearly had a variety of experiences and vantage points throughout your career.  Is there anything in particular that you’ve noticed that you think this industry can improve?

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.

You mentioned earlier that you’ve produced a show in Liberia.  Can you tell us a bit more about that?

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.

Can you share any life lessons you’ve discovered throughout your multi-faceted career?

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.

A Word from a Sponsor – The Vocabulary of Producing

CTI Sponsor Michael Sinder is an entertainment attorney who has worked with Tom Viertel on a number of theatrical productions.  He joins the blog this week to discuss “Joint Venture Agreements,” one of the most fundamental aspects of producing.  Have a term that you’d like defined in a future blog post?  Shoot us an email at commercialtheaterinstituteinfo@gmail.com!

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.

The Nuts and Bolts of Capitalizing a Show

Couldn’t make it to today’s Investor Relations/How to Pitch seminar?  That’s okay!  One of our speakers (and CTI Program Manager) Amanda Harper joins the blog this week to provide insight on the nuts and bolts of capitalizing your show.  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!

The Mechanics of Raising Money

You have a project and investors!  That’s great; now what?

Production Entities

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:

  • Individual or couple with a net worth exceeding $1,000,000, excluding the value of the primary residence
  • Individual whose annual income is more than $200,000 or a couple whose joint income exceeds $300,000
  • Entity where the owner meets one of the above items (and therefore is an accredited investor)

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.

Tracking Investors

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 Paperwork

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.

During the Run

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.

After Closing

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.

 

 

A Q&A with Robert Whitehead Award-Winner Tom Kirdahy Part Two

The CTI chat with producer Tom Kirdahy continues.  Read on for exclusive insight into trends on Broadway right now, how to develop a brand new musical, and more!

As the lead producer of Anastasia, did you find it difficult to recreate such a beloved and popular story for the stage?

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.

A Q&A with Robert Whitehead Award-Winner Tom Kirdahy Part One

The esteemed lawyer, producer, humanitarian, and Whitehead Award-winner Tom Kirdahy shares his remarkable past with the CTI blog.  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.

Tom’s Tidbits – Why are Recoupment Charts Essential to Producers?

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.

Vocabulary of Producing – Wrap

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.