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.
Can you tell us a bit about your career path/background and what you are currently doing now? What are your ultimate career goals?
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.
You took the CTI 14 Week in 2017. How has that affected you thus far?
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.
The Band’s Visit just won ten Tony Awards – congratulations! As lead producer Orin’s Wolf’s assistant, in what ways do you think that has impacted the production?
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.
What excites you about or draws you to a project? Are you working on anything personally right now?
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.
What advice do you have for our readers who are also young, emerging professionals?
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.
We talked this week with another CTI alum. Everyone who joins our courses brings with them a rich history of experience, and Ray DeForest is no exception.
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.
Can you start us off by talking about your career path and your background? How has CTI informed and affected that path?
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.
You are the President and owner of DeForest Theatricals. What type of work does your company produce? Is there anything in particular that draws you to a project?
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.
Is there something in the theater industry that you think can be improved, and how would you propose to change it?
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.
You are currently working on three commercial productions to bring to both the US and the UK. Can you tell us a little about these projects, and how producing in New York differs from producing in London?
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.
You produce and star in a one-woman show as Doris Dear, can you tell us a bit more about that?
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!
Finally, what advice do you have for our readers?
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!
Taking center stage this week is four-time Tony Award-winning producer, Emmy Award-winning director, and CTI’s Robert Whitehead Award recipient, Dori Berinstein!
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!
To start us off, can you talk about your career path and your background?
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.
As a recipient of the Robert Whitehead Award and a Commercial Theater Institute (CTI) alum, how has CTI affected your career?
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!
You have two theater projects underway The Prom and Half Time. What drew you to each of these shows?
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.
You also act as a director, writer, and producer for documentary films, including Gotta Dance, which is the original source material for the stage adaptation Half Time. Can you talk a bit about the process of working on a project in a variety of capacities?
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.
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.
– Tom V.
We take a peek behind the curtain and chat with Peilin Chou, the Chief Creative Officer of Pearl Studio (formerly Oriental DreamWorks), an accomplished producer who has worn many hats through her diverse and fascinating career in show business.
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, and helped to launch the Tony Award-winning musical Fosse.
Can you talk a bit about your position as Chief Creative Officer of Pearl Studio? What are some of your responsibilities? What are some of your goals?
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.
What led you to this career path? How has CTI affected you?
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.
What do you think makes content global? What are steps that producers can take to make a production appealing to a wide audience?
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 to you? Are you working on anything now that you are particularly enthusiastic about?
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.
Can you discuss the major differences and similarities between producing in the film industry versus the theater industry?
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.
Do you have any advice for our readers?
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!