Who Knows?

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.

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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.

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