Producing Commercial Theatre (Working In The Theatre #338)

(APPLAUSE) Hello, I’m Sondra Gilman, Chairman
of the American Theatre Wing. Welcome to our “Working in the Theatre” seminars. Today, we will be discussing “Producing Commercial
Theatre.” We’ll be back to tell you a little bit more
about the work of the American Theatre Wing. But right now, let me turn you over to our
panel and our moderator, President and Executive Director of the Rogers & Hammerstein Organization,
Ted Chapin. (APPLAUSE) Thank you. Now, we wait. It’s television. (OFF-MIC CONVERSATION) Thank you and welcome to a seminar devoted
to “Producing for the Commercial Theatre.” And we have a distinguished group of independent,
successful producers. I’d like to introduce the panel to you. Kevin McCollum, producer of among other things
AVENUE Q and RENT. Elizabeth McCann, producer of among other
things WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and some upcoming shows this year, also the managing
producer of the Tony Awards. David Stone, producer of among others WICKED
and THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE. Susan Gallin, producer of among others SPAMALOT. And Tom Viertel, producer of among others
the current revival SWEENEY TODD and HAIRSPRAY and THE PRODUCERS. Welcome. (APPLAUSE) Now, I thought I would start this seminar
with a quote. Let me read this. I don’t do this often, but “The cost of production
these days is so astronomical that investors that are reluctant to trust their funds to
any, but the tried and true. The hazard is further increased by the fact
that the cost of attending a musical has risen so that although there is a public longing
for entertainment, people are unwilling to risk the price of a ticket.” That is dated January 25th, 1952. (LAUGHTER) So, I thought I would start by
asking Liz McCann who’s been around a bit, the more things change… ? I don’t know. Did she– Did she give that? Is that her quote? I wasn’t there in ’52, no. I phrased that wrong; however, the more things
change, the more they stay the same? Pretty much. Pretty much. I think you know when you talk about– What’s
the first part? Cost rising. I mean, we’re in the business of making something
out of nothing. That’s what we do. I mean we take a blank piece of paper, and
we read it. And a director says, “I can spin a web with
that blank piece of paper.” And we make a total commitment of faith. We are the last of the believers I always
think. And I bring this up, because I think too often–
I have a great fondness for producers. I don’t like ’em, ‘cuz they’re my competition. But I admire the tenacity that makes them
do that. I don’t think there’s one person on this panel
that couldn’t have a more relaxed life and probably financially a more rewarding life
some place else. So what grabs ’em? It’s the notion of creating something out
of nothing. Being there at the moment of creation. You know, I also think that’s true of investors,
because they’re the people– You know, people say it’s hard to find investors. They’re there. When you have something, if you believe in
it, they’re there, and they’re the passionate people. I mean, we’re passionate about what we do. Those investors are passionate about theatre
too and wanna support us. So, sometimes I think that’s misleading. In the old days, I know that there was always
the feeling that a person could invest in Broadway and individuals could invest in Broadway. Is that something that’s changed in this world
of corporate– No. No. I think individuals actually make up the majority
of investing. What I always say about any show is you create
something from nothing as Liz said, is the philosophy of why you’re doing it. Why do you have to do it as a producer? Why does this director have to do it as a
director? And it’s never about “Oh, because I need a
gig.” It’s really about I think people are thirsty
for this. It’s that great human experiment that you
do when you produce. And there is nothing as magical as the research
and development of “What if?” And I think that is innately human. It’s scary. It’s exhilarating. And to have that range of emotion in your
business is rare, and it’s why individuals are still there, because the corporation does
not have those responses. A corporation looks at everything every three
months and decides, “Okay, what does this mean?” It’s a bottom line. And we are in a human bottom line mentality
when we produce. And if we do that right, the bottom line will
come. Well, I think that’s right. I think the key to everything is that you
can overcome all of the economic disadvantages by the passion of your audience. People will pay whatever is needed for the
kind of experience that theatre at its best delivers. And that is the thing that in 1952 and today
really overcame and overcomes the economic disadvantages that we all suffer with. And of course the trick in being a producer
to some extent is to have that passion and understand it, because obviously we wind up
sharing that passion with the audience of anything that we go through to produce, but
still remaining business-like and understanding what the parameters have to be, so that you’re
not producing you know in hysterics. I think that’s what producing is. It’s about balance. That’s the art of it, is being able to you
know follow the passion of the artists and get them what they need and get completely
taken away by the process of it, the creative process, but still to make proper business
decisions. And it’s easy to just do the art, as a producer. And we’ve seen perhaps producers who’ve just
maybe done things that weren’t the right, in terms of business decisions. And it’s easy to just look at the bottom line. The hardest thing is to navigate the two. And on WICKED don’t you have Universal Pictures
as one of the producers or investors? They’re one of the largest investors and co-producers,
yes. And have you kept them in line? (LAUGHTER) They’ve been very, very supportive. They were there at the beginning, and it was
originally supposed to be a film. And they like to be reported to once or twice
a year, you know, on big picture stuff. And mostly they let us– Well, you have good reports to give them. I imagine that helps. We do. We do, so that helps. But it’s also passion. You send them checks. It was also your passion and Mark Platt’s
(PH) passion. Absolutely. So, even though it was a large company, it
was the passion of two people. Absolutely, absolutely. Is that something indicative of other experiences
where if corporate– Since you are all individuals. I made that point, and I can’t stress it enough. And none of you that I know of for a corporation. Therefore, you are individuals out when you
have to raise money. Have you worked other organizations, institutions
like Universal? Well, I mean, in the end, it’s all just people. It’s true that they may be people representing
large amounts of money. But sooner or later, you’re talking to some
guy from Miramax or some guy from New Line or some guy from Universal, you know, who’s
trying to absorb whatever is going on on a human basis. So, I haven’t found much difference between
dealing with the investor who writes a check for $200,000 and the person who works for
a movie company whose company has a million dollars in the show. Although what is happening and where the corporate
influence is interesting and also is a reason why many things are getting funded that might
otherwise take longer to get funded is that when you are a commercial producer and you
invent it from thin air– I’m not talking about things that have specific underlying
rights that already have obligations to those rights. But if you create something from scratch and
with original characters, a corporation is very interested in investing not just for
what happens on Broadway, but because when you are that initial producer in the live
theatre, there is an incredible bundle of rights that get activated. And many corporations are interested in investing,
and they’ll say, “Fine for Broadway. But you know what? We’d really love to have a first look at you
know electronic media, or we’d love to be the person–” A lot of this corporations will
find a complementary relationship in what you’re doing and what their core business
is. And we’re seeing that more and more. That gets exploited through the life once
the project gets going. And a lot of producers take that money as
a hedge against the future and a lot of producers also find it offensive, because they’re saying,
“Look, I’m taking risk. Let’s see what happens, and then I’ll come
to you if there’s something we can do together.” And it just varies on the personality of the
producer and the kind of project. But that’s where producers are very– Corporations
that are producers have other agendas than just necessarily the Broadway production. One of the most interesting things from my
point of view about producing has been the sort of endless learning curve. You know, when we started in this business
20 years ago, we were doing Off Broadway, and you might get a national tour in addition
to the show that you were doing in New York. Today, with you know the obvious London and
Australia play-offs, there’s also a lot of venues in Europe now that play these shows. We’re beginning to produce in China and East
Asia. Obviously a number of these pieces have now
been made into movies or are about to be made into movies. THE PRODUCERS is opening in the next couple
of days. So, you wind up kind of getting the opportunity
to kind of learn a lot about not just what it’s like to produce here, but what the aftermath
of that is, what the challenges and excitements, Las Vegas, whatever it may be, that exist
out in the larger world. And I think that’s for me one of the great
rewards of doing this. Are those different and new territories primarily
financially rewarding or are they as artistically rewarding as we talked about producing on
Broadway? I think it’s sort of a mixed bag. They’re financially rewarding when they’re
financially rewarding. You know, I mean, it’s like everything else. There’s risk attached to every one of these
things. Some of them are easier to cope with than
others. Las Vegas obviously is something where you
can protect yourself from you know risk. But staying balanced as David put it and sort
of understanding the risk/reward possibilities while trying to recreate the art or even improve
the art is what those experiences are about. And for the most part I think you could say
that they’ve been on balance easier to make money with than New York is. Do we think Vegas is going to be the Broadway
of the future, as it was reported in the paper recently? (LAUGHTER) It was also reported that maybe
it isn’t gonna be the Broadway of the future. Well, no, here this is my opinion. I have a show, AVENUE Q, that’s currently
in Vegas and SPAMALOT is going to Vegas. And
my feeling about Vegas is the theatre– Theatre happens when people show up. You know? And in Vegas, the phenomenon of the past ten
years is it’s gone something like 20-some million to 35 million to 39 million is the
estimate of how many visitors, 2.9 nights, and they are there purely, purely to be entertained. Now the idea of Broadway in Vegas, I don’t
think that’s correct, as much as you have 39 million people in a given year looking
to be entertained 24/7. And you only can spend so long at a table. And the idea of humor, comedy, which AVENUE
Q has and SPAMALOT has, has been a tradition in Vegas. So, yes, AVENUE Q and SPAMALOT were on Broadway,
but the idea that we’re a Broadway show is really not the point of being in Vegas. What being in Vegas is about is about entertainment,
and people who are looking to be separated from their money 24/7 and in the process being
entertained for doing that and feeling they got great value. So, that’s what’s happening. And as the CIRQUE shows are 100’s and 200
million dollar extravaganzas, the idea of having shows that happen to be on Broadway
and are popular and are funny and are entertaining, the threshold of entry for Vegas, it’s a very
reasonable business model. And for the shows from the theatre producer’s
standpoint, it’s a bonanza. So the good news is it truly is in the Vegas
vernacular a win/win. Would you ever think of starting a show in
Vegas? I would think of it, and then I would realize
if– You have to start shows, in my opinion, even shows that start out of town oftentimes
are created in New York, in terms of where the community of artists live, most of them,
and I would venture to say starting a show in Vegas, you start with a certain set of
expectations that are different than opening a Broadway show. It might happen, but it’s going to take a
community that decides to move out there and live there before that happens. Whenever there’s talented people, you can
create things. I’m a great believer in that. I mean really talented people. Well, Vegas has created shows. CIRQUE shows, but Broadway I’m talking about. So specific Two Act shows. No, but I mean haven’t– My mind’s going. Weren’t there one or two shows created for
Broadway, I mean in Vegas? Not that I’m– I know they were talking about
MISS SPECTACULAR. (OVERTALK) (UNINTEL). There were. Which ones? I’m searching too. There was– (OVERTALK) Well, I know MISS SPECTACULAR was supposed
to, but that never got– Yeah, exactly. But it was developed to happen there, yeah. It was developed because of the venue. Right. But it never actually got produced on any
level. Are there plans for Vegas for WICKED? Down the line perhaps. But you know we believe that WICKED’s been
a very successful tour and wanna keep it out there. In fact, we have not only a touring company
which just recouped after about 36 weeks $11 million which is a big tour and a quick recoupment,
but a sit-down Chicago company, ‘cuz there was such demand. And you know what Kevin is saying about the
cost of moving are so enormous that sitting in one place is certainly valuable, but at
the same time, so is going and building your brand as it were across the country. It’s counterintuitive. It not only sells tickets when you go to St.
Louis, but with the people who couldn’t get a seat for three weeks in St. Louis will come
to Broadway. The tours help Broadway too. Go ahead. I mean when you said Chicago something went
into my head about nothing really changes, because we think when we start here in New
York and we create something that everybody in the United States has heard about it. And nobody’s heard if it passed Newark. I mean that is the truth of the matter. Now when he said he went to Chicago, I remember
years ago there was a standing kind of rule of thumb. These crazy rules of thumb. You played New York for a year, and bing then
you opened a Chicago company, ‘cuz in theory, you then spread the brand down through the
Midwest. Is there any truth to that? There is. And when you look at you know Chicago, there’s
35 million people in a four hour drive of Chicago. Right. But the reason we did it was simply because
it took off the first day we went on sale. And Jimmy Nederlander said, “Why would you
leave? You know, you have to do a company that just
stays here.” Because he was a landlord, of course. I think that was what he was saying. (LAUGHTER) (OVERTALK) Right, right. There is that. Because he was very much concerned with the
growth of WICKED in Chicago. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, absolutely. But I think that you know one of the things– How they renegotiated the rent for the extension,
but go ahead. (LAUGHTER) Insider information. If he did, I’m sure David got to the better
end of it. But I think that you know when we were putting
WICKED out on tour we were very conservative. We had no idea that it had filtered out around
the country to the extent that it had. I remember right after it opened, we were
in Chicago and I was in the suburbs. And everyone had heard of it. But I was in L.A. that same trip and– Nobody, yup. — no one had heard of it. So, I thought, okay, well, we have to be careful,
and I remember talking to Margot Lion (PH), who’s one of the Tom’s partners on HAIRSPRAY,
and just finding out you know what had gone out recently and what things they did right,
what things they did wrong, what we could learn from it. And whenever we said, you know, “We should
be there for ten weeks, we said, “Great, we’ll be there for six” and in order to create that
sort of demand. You know, we look very smart in retrospect
that the tour has done as well as it has, but actually we were just being conservative. And did you do the same with HAIRSPRAY and
THE PRODUCERS in terms of touring? We did. We thought we were being conservative. In some cases, we did some overbooking. It was a funny time when both shows went out,
because there were a lot of blockbuster hits out simultaneously. THE LION KING, MAMMA MIA!, HAIRSPRAY, THE
PRODUCERS. And PHANTOM was still doing well as well. So, you’d come into a market, and there’d
be three other shows there simultaneously or at least one would be selling while you
were performing. There were a couple of occasions where it
got really hair-raising, as popular as the shows were. So there’s a lot to think about as you tour
around. And the nice thing about Las Vegas in theory
at least is that it can absorb almost an unlimited number of shows, because the turnover of people
is immense. I mean in San Francisco, the vast majority
of people who are going to the theatre are people who live in and around San Francisco. There’s a minor tourist component, but it’s
not a big deal. And in Las Vegas everybody’s turning over,
what, 2.9 Days. So, you know, if the last bunch, some of them
saw the show, then the next bunch is coming in right behind them. I persist in thinking that Las Vegas is very
much a cyclical thing though. I mean we’ve been through probably two or
three periods in my lifetime when Broadway shows were a big thing in Las Vegas, and then
you know a couple of them fail, and the whole thing disappears for a while and then it comes
back. I don’t put much long-term stock in this idea. This is a popular idea now and I think it’s
just sort of building up a head of steam. But I would be willing to bet that five, seven
years from now, you will see some other form of entertainment dominating and Broadway shows
being less important for a while, and then having the whole thing start over again. But the thing that’s in common with all of
us and how you create hits, first of all, the show has to be popular or good or whatever,
capture the imagination of the public, however you wanna define it, but it’s about going
to the environments where you can create a tight ticket, where there’s an awareness of
the show and a sense “I better call now, if I wanna good seat.” And one of the things that is true is in what
Tom said about perhaps some overbooking, and I came from booking. That was my first business in the theatre
really, and it’s all about trying to keep it as intimate as possible of a ticket, whether
it’s a show that can do a million and a half a week like WICKED or a show like AVENUE Q
that only can gross 500 at its top on Broadway. It’s all about how’s the venue suited for
the show. And that’s the important thing to look at. I wanted to pick up on some statistics that
have been floating around here and also ask Do you as independent produces, do you do
testing to know that there’s 2.9 days in Vegas? Do you use those sort of marketing tests? And do you use them and are they helpful? I do go door-to-door in every hotel room in
Vegas. This is good. “How long are you here?” And it’s weird– 2.9 days. — they’re there for 2.9 days, but they shower
only one every four days. It’s weird. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, but the whole world of marketing– I don’t believe in that. Some people do. I ask friends, and I ask fellow producers. And we have a– you know, “What was your experience? What do you think?” And I talk to the venues themselves. I don’t have a focus group. But the thing is every major city, every city
has a Tourism Board. And those statistics are easily gettable. But sometimes cities are just out of proportion,
their interest in theatre, to their population. Boston is one of the best theatre markets
in the country; San Francisco is. They’re not as big as Dallas or Houston. (OVERTALK) I wouldn’t do a sit-down production
of– We’re doing SPELLING BEE in San Francisco. I wouldn’t be doing that in Dallas. So, when you opened in Chicago, you were not
planning on doing the company being a sit-down company? WICKED was a weird thing. The tour started in Toronto, and then was
going to Chicago and then L.A. And we went on sale in December for a run in May, and
the tickets went out in a week, were sold out in a week. So, we just rushed and mounted a company,
so that the tour played its seven weeks. The costumes and the actors went to L.A. where
a new set was waiting for them, and the new actors and their new costumes rehearsed on
the set that just stayed there in Chicago. So it was sort of a weird– I mean WICKED, I think it’s fair to say, WICKED
has found an audience that I think nobody would have understood at the beginning that
it found. And it’s scary. It’s so successful. And more power to you. I don’t think it’s a norm. No. Well, I think I believe that the statistics
that we use and quote are either used for sales purposes. We’re selling somebody with those statistics
on an idea, or they’re used to comfort ourselves. (LAUGHTER) I think it’s pretty unlikely that
any of us are really making decisions based on those kinds of statistics, because in the
end, we go back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this seminar which is
it’s all about passion. I mean David presumably produced WICKED and
Kevin produced AVENUE Q because they loved the material, loved the shows. And there’s no way to know when you start
whether anybody else will love it. But the producers who survive are the people
whose passions tend to mirror enough of the audiences so that they can attract an audience
to their shows. Well, not only that. I mean, any time I’ve produced anything, thinking,
“You know what, this is gonna work, this is gonna make money, I’m gonna do this, because…”
it’s never worked. (OVERTALK) And any time I’ve said, “I just
love this, I don’t care if it works, I love it,” it always has. But it’s based on some education. Yeah. I mean you also know what– You don’t just jump in. Yeah, yeah. I get teased a lot for a quote I use, is I
kind of say, “We’re in the drug business” which is and the drug we’re trying to create
is what gets the hair on the back of your neck to stand up. And I always say if it’s a five hair on the
neck standing up in a musical, you might have a shot. It might not be logical in terms of business,
because it doesn’t fit any formula. And I’m anti-formula anyway. But it’s that what you’re thirsty for and
you don’t know you’re thirsty for. And it’s that kind of “Oh, that surprised
me.” And if you’re gonna spend $100 on a ticket,
there better be five really wonderful, emotional surprises to your story. You know, we’re talking about theatre as musicals. I mean plays are really what I came into this
business for. And, Liz, I think you mostly do plays. I’m too chicken to do musicals. (OVERTALK) I have done musicals. But they blew up in my face every time. So I say no. That’s not my bag. But I think one of the things that you said–
I think if you’re fortunate enough, ‘cuz you produce something out of passion and you think
you can find your audience, but you haven’t– One of the interesting things happened with
WICKED is the teenage girls went ballistic, right? But they became a force behind that musical. Unh-unh (NEG). You don’t agree? No. I mean it’s this thing in the media. It’s fascinating. They’re there. They’re probably ten percent of our audience. They’re very vocal. And they come back a lot. They don’t have the buying power to do that
every week all around the country. And it’s that it’s every audience. But they definitely are talking about it a
lot. But that’s not mostly who’s there, and I think
that’s not even– a small part of the (UNINTEL). But I think what it is is it’s the outsider
in everyone. That’s right. We all at some point of our life whether it’s
when we were a teenager or we’re an adult or whatever, we all define ourselves as human
beings who are trying to figure it out. And your story has such powerful emotional
pull for that you might not belong now, but if you stick to it, you’re going to not only
blossom, you’re going to change the world. Well, I think all the shows, plays, musicals
that work the best are the ones also that operate on many different levels at the same
time. In the case of WICKED, you know, young kids
appreciate The Wizard of Oz aspects of it. Teenagers appreciate you know the outsider
and the popular girl. Adults appreciate what friendship is and about
sacrifice, and there’s a political aspect to it. And they can all go together and then talk
about it afterwards. I think that’s the case. You know, MAMMA MIA!, people say it’s about
Abba and fun. The reason why it’s successful, I’m convinced,
is because the relationship between the mother and the daughter in that show is totally real. And “Who’s Your Father” is a pretty emotionally
interesting idea. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) No, I saw it, I thought to myself, “How clever
that they’ve taken an emotionally rich idea on which to put a lot of stuff that people
will come to the theatre to enjoy.” So, you can have a great time and you also
take something away from it. It’s having some sort of emotional experience
as well. HAIRSPRAY is like that too. So I think that every show that really works
is because it works on many different levels. I have a funny story about RENT. When we were producing it for the first time,
people who were very knowledgeable in the business were outraged that we just said RENT. We didn’t say a musical; we didn’t say whatever. And our logic was our audience doesn’t know
what a musical is, part of our audience that we’re gonna want. And why are we imposing on them what it is? It’s RENT. Yes, it’s on Broadway. And if you’re a rock concert fan, you can
look at it as a concert. You can look at it as an opera of you’re a
BOHEME fan. You can look at it as musical comedy, because
you know of how it’s structured and the music. You know, you can look at it any way. Or a play with music. You decide what it is. It’s not our job to tell you what it is. And that’s how you get all those audiences
when everybody can attach, given their own sensibility which is what you’re talking about. Let’s pick up on the idea of plays and producing
plays. This is a seminar on commercial theatre. Is the Broadway world hospitable to plays
these days? Hospitable. Well. (LAUGHTER) You know, why don’t I bounce this
question to you? You know, the margin of success for plays
is of course difficult. Last night I was looking at a tape called
“Broadway’s– Golden? — Golden” which was a section of excerpts
from plays that had been shown on the Tony Awards. And it started with GREAT WHITE HOPE. And they went through a whole gamut of plays. And some of them went back to the days when
they showed quite a big chunk of a play on the Tony Awards. And I sat there watching, I thought, “Hmm,
you can’t– It’s very difficult to put a play out there where the public is used to watching
advertising.” You know, it’s very difficult to reduce a
play to a television commercial, radio commercial or even a scene. I was very depressed. But anyway, they do tend to lie flat. An example. Well, I mean, I’m always being surprised. I was involved with the Nederlanders in a
play called COPENHAGEN. And by all rhyme and reason, COPENHAGEN should
not have worked. I mean, we were desperate for investors. And for Nederlander to be desperate for investors,
you know– We had a meeting one day and three high rollers got up and walked out of Jimmy’s
conference room. And I said, “So, now what I do?” He said, “Produce it.” That’s all he said. I said, “Where do we get the money?” He said, “Produce it.” That’s all he said. He said, “If I have to, I’ll cover it.” Well, the amazing thing about COPENHAGEN is
that I don’t know why it was so successful in New York. It was much more successful than it was in
London. Unexplainable. (UNINTEL). But I would sit with the press agent and say,
“How do we get the scientific audience?” We didn’t have the get the scientific audience. It found us. And we had five Nobel Prize winners in physics
one day in the audience. I mean, New York and Americans were fascinated
by that whole notion. The Jewish audience found it fascinating because
of what I reflected of– the tremendously fascinating story of– Oh, you don’t wanna
hear about COPENHAGEN. But what I mean is it was just amazing. But in contrast, if I’m correct, you did a
wonderful production of VIRGINIA WOOLF last year. It got great reviews. It was wonderful and couldn’t really find
an audience. Give you an example. Last performance of VIRGINIA WOOLF in New
York, which I love to say is– The audience for DOUBT, they went home in the middle of
our second act. We were across the street. It’s very depressing to see a whole audience
be able to go home in 90 minute, and your actors still have another 90 minute to slug
through. That was the street where every actor on the
street was nominated for a Tony Award. That’s right. ‘Cuz they’re both plays that had four actors,
and they were all nominated. Four actors who were all nominated. So anyway, Sam Rudy and I, the press agent,
are standing in this lobby at the last performance. Time to go on to the third act. We turn to go, and some lady says, “You goin’
back in?” And we said, “Well, yeah.” And she said, “Well, nothin’ happens, does
it? It’s just more talk, isn’t it?” And I thought, “Oh god, my– ” And the company
manager said, “Oh, no! It’s fabulous, ‘cuz you find out–” And she’s
going (SIC) on a whole shill spiel about what happens in the third act. And the lady said, “Oh yeah, I know all that,
‘cuz I saw the good version.” And I said, “Excuse me. What–” She said, “You know, the one with
Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. That was the good version.” And I thought that’s what we’re fighting. We’re fighting a very strong image of that
movie. And ironically, the playwright’s contention
and it’s true is that was the wrong image. The movie is not VIRGINIA WOOLF. The play that Edward and Anthony Page put
on the stage was the real VIRGINIA WOOLF. Lightning fast, quick-witted. And yet there I was educated in three minutes. But let’s not confuse COPENHAGEN which is
a new play that no one had seen before and didn’t have that image out there and VIRGINIA
WOOLF which was distributed electronically, you know, 30-some years ago, and what we’re
competing with in a revival, ‘cuz VIRGINIA WOOLF, brilliant production, I was there,
mesmerizing, but it’s– It’s not new material. It’s not new material. And so let’s concentrate on you know new material. I think a new material play in terms of the
people and the collaboration is really either your relationship is primarily with your playwright. And in a musical, you gotta lot of people
down to the orchestrator (SIC) who needs to be taken care of from an intellectual property
standpoint. And so, the collaboration aspect of a musical
(OVERTALK) versus the personal– I’ll trade you seven orchestrators for Edward
Albee any day. (LAUGHTER) If you wanna have a conversation
with Edward Albee, you go have it! I tell you, a room full of orchestrators are
easier. But you know what I’m saying? And if VIRGINIA WOOLF was an original play,
the first out of the box and we saw that performance, Liz, you’d be running for many, many– Well, but there are other– You know a few
years ago, Tom was quoted as saying, “It’s very hard to do plays on Broadway.” And I was very, “No, no, no, that’s not–
You know, that couldn’t possibly be true, because I am a play producer.” And my impetus for working in the theatre
is about what plays do to people. I’ve done three plays, four plays in the last
four years. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I think that they were cast well. You know, they were about issues that people
wanted to talk about, cared about. There was a group of people that really loved
the plays. Each one ran for six months. Each one of the last three plays did not get
a good review from the one newspaper that needs to support plays. I think the whole difference in what’s happening
now is that you can do a musical, and if there’s an audience for it, you will have that audience. It doesn’t matter what happens with the critics. With a play, there isn’t enough of an audience. So, if The New York Times, and we’ve done
this, it’s not the critics’ fault, it’s our fault, if The New York Times doesn’t like
your play, then you’ll fun for six months and that’s it. Were these Broadway, all Broadway plays? RETREAT FROM MOSCOW was Broadway. (OVERTALK) WOMAN BEFORE A GLASS is Off Broadway. And THE SHAPE OF THINGS which was a huge hit
in London didn’t get a good review. Unless there’s a star– A major star. — because for a play, you know, really only
one serious play, I’m convinced, can run each year on Broadway, although last year there
was DOUBT and PILLOWMAN. (OVERTALK) Both recouped. Yeah, a couple of ’em, yeah. But that was an exception. But usually there’s one, unless there’s stars. (OVERTALK) Well, I think one of the things that’s underlying
this that’s really as scary as anything you’re saying about plays on Broadway is that commercial
Off Broadway has just disappeared. Yes. When we started in this business 20 years
ago, we were Off Broadway producers, and we produced a string of shows Off Broadway, plays
Off Broadway. And that was a very good environment to produce
in. You know, we did several plays by Pete Gurney,
and we did a play by Alfred Uhry and one by Terrence McNally. And you could make commercial sense out of
those plays. It was a good to build our careers, but it
was also a circumstance in which you could actually have a successful run with a play. That’s completely disappeared. I don’t know that there’s been a successful
run with a play Off Broadway in the last three years. And the result is that plays that would have
played Off Broadway, it’s funny, ‘cuz in those days everybody would go, “Oh, my goodness,
you know, if this play were ten years ago” – This is back in the 80’s – “it would have
been on Broadway.” Now they all are on Broadway, (OVERTALK) and
everybody’s going, you know, “Ten years ago, this would have been Off Broadway.” But the result is that the stakes are so high. I mean, you’re talking about $2 million to
produce a play on Broadway. The stakes are now so high, and the audience
is so diminished that nothing but the single outstanding event actually succeeds. But I think a lot of this started actually
with RENT and that when RENT and AVENUE Q and SPELLING BEE and on the play side PROOF
(I think was a play that would probably years before have been Off Broadway, and it’s the
prototypical Off Broadway play, in fact.) and they all went to Broadway and worked,
because when the numbers started being you know close, when it’s $2 million to do PROOF
on Broadway, or probably less at that time, and– $800,000, $900,000 to do it Off Broadway,
yeah. (OVERTALK) and you say, “Well, why not?” I mean when we were, and this is a musical,
but when we were looking at SPELLING BEE, it was $2 million to do it well at a large
Off Broadway or $3 1/2 million to do it on Broadway and have more seats and the exposure
of that. Well, it was a no-brainer. And I think that Off Broadway is left, I’m
sorry to say, with not the product that it used to have. I was doing this union negotiation recently
for the director and choreographer’s guild for Off Broadway where I have not really worked
since VAGINA MONOLOGUES and Susan and I did FULLY COMMITTED together. In the last five years, there have been 120
commercial productions. Five of them have been profitable. And you know, that includes MENOPAUSE THE
MUSICAL and something like BUG which just recouped and made a dollar and a half in profit. And that’s even scarier than Broadway. It’s over with. And when we were doing FRANKIE AND JOHNNY
and DAISY simultaneously, STEEL MAGNOLIAS was running successfully, and there were at
least one or two other shows whose names I’ve now forgotten. OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. (OVERTALK) And OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, exactly. And now those plays would be on Broadway. Well, yes, but the problem is only one of
them would succeed. Right. So, we’ve gotten into a situation where the
play filter has become so severe that you know it’s almost impossible to produce, because
if you’re not that one, there are no other alternatives. Yes. Do you think this is a phenomenon of “Six
Feet Under,” HBO (OVERTALK) doing– You know what’s interesting is we used to have the
mini-series I remember when I was growing up in Hawaii. And you know, “Rich Man Poor Man” and things. And actually what’s happening with HBO which
is obviously attracting a lot of writing talent as well is that, and a lot of it is very theatrical
now, we are seeing a lot of very theatrical applications on our television. And what’s different about plays is that an
audience looks at those words and says, “Well, that’s like a play. I saw VIRGINIA WOOLF.” But they actually saw the movie. The thing about it is a musical is something
that does not translate in the brain by seeing it on the screen as well as seeing it live. And that’s the one thing the musical has that
it very still– Now as technology changes and we get into holograms, I don’t know that
that’s gonna be the case. But right now, plays, the audience is thinking
about it in two dimensionality, ‘cuz they’re reality-based typically. And musicals have an element of fantasy that
doesn’t translate as well through film. Like hopefully THE PRODUCERS will. And RENT has obviously spurred more people
to go to theatre, because it’s a movie, because of awareness. But so I think there’s something in there
too. And I don’t have the answer. I’m just fascinated by what’s happening with
how we’re delivering our entertainment. But the other night when I watched “Boston
Legal” I’m sorry. But I find it so fascinating, I can’t stand
it. We did a play called THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA? And the flack was flying all around us. I mean, we were doing a play about bestiality. No we weren’t. I kept saying, “Listen, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY
INTO NIGHT, is not about drug addiction. And THE GOAT is not about bestiality. Now can we just all simmer down?” But the fur was flying. So, produced THE GOAT and it won a Tony Award
and all of that, okay? Now I turn on “Boston Legal” the other night. Three years after THE GOAT. And Candice Bergen is confronted with a case
about a woman wanting an annulment because her husband is sleeping with a cow. And I think “Whoa! Wait a minute! Wait a minute, wait, we’ve just been ripped
off.” (LAUGHTER) And you know something? And bless David Kelly, ‘cuz he’s very bright
and he handled this very well. But there it was. ABC, ten o’clock, Tuesday night, bestiality
in all its glory. Now, it wasn’t about bestiality. You know, he very carefully picked up from
the good points in Edward about the human sexual condition and put it right on ABC. But we caught the flack, and he caught the
ratings. I mean, it’s just silly. (LAUGHTER) But do you think the flack was– (OVERTALK) We’re gonna take a pause here. We’re gonna take a pause here for a few words
about the American Theatre Wing and we’ll be back. (APPLAUSE) I loved that. I could not believe it. You know what Edward said when I told him? Are we off-mic? That was 45 minutes? I called up Edward and I said, “I gotta get
you a copy of “Boston Legal” ‘cuz this guy had
an affair with a cow.” (OFF-MIC CONVERSATION) Jeffrey, what you had said about– Kevin. Kevin. So, start again. (LAUGHTER) Wanna stop? Wanna stop? Yes, please. (OFF-MIC CONVERSATION) Kevin, what you said about the difference
between plays and musicals, to me, the experience of a play and why I produce a play is because
the people go into the theatre and they have an experience. They are sparked to think about something. They’re elevated in a way that doesn’t happen
if you see that play on film. And if you see the same idea translated into
a television show, it’s a plot. It’s a story. It’s not about something that’s going to enlighten
you in some way. Maybe that’s you know a kind of idealistic
way of thinking what theatre is. I agree with you. That’s the reality of going to the theatre. As a theatre-goer, I get it. I’m really responding to what is giving the
audience the excuse to say, “I think I’ve seen that?” by not going to the theatre. You know, I’m a great believer, and I talk
about this a lot, today’s society, we market so many things based on “Oh, look! It’s convenient. You don’t have to leave your house.” And we call the Internet interactive, even
though it’s actually isolating. There’s nothing interactive about sitting
at your machine and talking to people on a machine. This is interactive. Now the people who are watching this on television. They’re not interacting with us. So it’s not interactive for them. It’s just interesting, and they’re watching
it. Let’s hope. And I think what Liz was saying about, “Oh,
I saw the good version” which was the film, I’m just talking about an audience point of
view of a certain generation that hasn’t been exposed to the theatre, especially since we’ve
taken arts out of our schools for the past 25 years. And what I’m talking about is how do we convince
people, as a producer, someone who would produce plays, how do we educate them and give them
the sense that it’s not just words. It’s actually going to the theatre. And what I’m saying is musicals have an easier
time, because that is something they don’t normally experience by turning on their television. Well, I think that there is a really small
audience for serious drama. There are a lot of people who go to the theatre,
and there are some plays that are sitcoms. And they go to see those plays, and they say,
“I’ve been to the theatre.” And they feel good about it. But I think that what we care about doing
is serious theatre, is something that will change people’s lives. So it’s protecting. It’s how do you bring that very small audience,
and it’s a small audience, how are you able to produce plays economically for that very
small audience? I don’t know wanna put words in your mouth. But I would think that also part of this is
that you’re doing something for a greater good of the theatre in general, yes? Hmmm. I worry about getting too– (LAUGHTER) You
know, here’s the thing. And I’ll give half of what I earn to charity. Yes, go ahead. It’s entertainment. I always say the real serious issues, if you
really want to make important theatre, make sure that you’re touching their emotions or
you’re making them laugh. If you present it as it’s important, it’s
probably gonna be less important. If they’re laughing and then they realize,
“You know, I was laughing, but what that really was about was that” or “I thought THE GOAT
was about this, but it’s about that,” it only– And I think it’s application of how your emotion
is dealing with it that it becomes (quote/unquote) important. I think it has to be entertaining first. I really do. Engrossing. Engrossing. Well, that’s an even better word. Engrossing. I would challenge the word “entertainment,”
because I think to go back to something Susan said– Yup, better word. — I do think an audience, this is copped
from Edward, has to leave the theatre enriched and– Well, they do when they see RENT. I mean, they feel– Was RENT important? Yes. Yes, in many ways, because it was a new composer
and all that. But you know what I mean? I don’t know how to describe it. It’s you grab ’em by the throat, and they
will remember they’ve been there. But that’s it. If people leave the theatre and they’re thinking
about something in a slightly new way, it doesn’t matter what it is, then it’s accomplished
its goal. And it’s not that it’s good for you– To what extent do you think the not-for-profits,
and now we’re kind of back in the area of The New York Times and (UNINTEL), I mean,
they produce more plays on Broadway particularly now that MTC is at The Biltmore and The Roundabout,
both of them have Broadway houses and Lincoln Center regularly takes a Broadway house. They have their subscription list. Between those three theatres, they must have
a fixed audience of about 90,000 playgoers. To what extent does that impact on our audience? Yeah, that’s where they go to see their plays. They make their commitment to see four plays
a year. Yes and no, because I think what non-profits
do, and they do it better than we do, is nurture writers, nurture artists. They can say, “We’re doing your next play
regardless of really whether it’s good or ready or not.” We can’t do that. We have to make sure the play is great and
the largest audience wants to see it. And it’s no accident that DEATH OF A SALESMAN
or WEST SIDE STORY were developed in the commercial theatre, because they had to be good or else
people were walking out, you know, out of town. And I think that, look, the non-profits are
great, and not only do we sometimes move things from a non-profit to a commercial production,
and they develop artists and audiences too, but I still think that the best work has to
be in the biggest possible venue. I gotta say I sort of disagree with you. I think that there’s a mentality that goes
on at non-for-profits and it’s very unhealthy in terms of the development of really exciting
new work which is that they’re always gonna be on to the next. They know they’re gonna produce five, six,
seven, eleven shows a year, whatever it turns out to be. And so they can’t really linger over any of
them. They come in and they do their work. They do what we as producers do which is to
sort of you know try to interact with the artists to make this you know better. But their mandate is to produce a lot of theatre
every year. And I think it’s– We have to get it right. It’s what you’re saying, but it’s a sort of
kind of a depressing quality to it. I think it’s very difficult these days for
not-for-profits to take the challenge of experimentation, because they’re captives of their subscription
audience. (GENERAL ASSENT) And here’s what’s interesting. Total captives. (OVERTALK) Here’s what’s interesting that’s been going
on for at least the last seven years and I’ve been involved in a few of these. Actually, I’ve dealt with not-for-profits,
believing in something, had all the rights and gone to them and say, “I have the rights
to this show ‘cuz I’ve been developing it for a couple of years. Are you interested in this?” And they say, “Yes!” And then actually what’s happening is sometimes
the commercial theatre producers are bringing product to the not-for-profit that is developed
to a certain point, but now needs to add an audience. (OVERTALK) And that is actually, and this is not versus
(SIC) not-for-profits, not at all, it’s a different kind of collaboration where actually
what has shifted from the regional movement and the not-for-profit movement as not-for-profits
have had to deal in the Broadway arena to bump up their exposure and get more donors
and things like that, but they really– there’s so much time working with fundraising as well
as development. All we do is try to develop shows that people
wanna see. That’s kind of what I devote my time to all
the time. And sometimes things bubble up to me, and
I’m saying, “You know what? I really need to add an audience now. And this is a great not-for-profit. We have a great relationship. Let’s work with this not-for-profit and take
it to the next step.” And that’s what’s happened on a majority of
my shows. But a lot of that has to do– I mean the not-for-profits
are in a very different place and it has to do with their needing money. One of the first plays that I did was OTHER
PEOPLE’S MONEY. And we did at Hartford Stage. And we had the rights to it. It wasn’t our production; it was their production. We were told, and I’m very close to most of
the people that I worked with then, that if we behaved ourselves really well, we could
come in to auditions. It was their production. And to me, that was right. I mean, but then as the not-for-profits needed
to be doing plays that would move on to commercial houses or commercial success, they allowed
commercial producers to become involved in their productions. So it’s not quite as pure as it was. But here’s the deal. The relationship that you had was with the
playwright initially. And you said, “Let’s go to the Hartford Stage
to do it.” Uh-huh (AFF). And my job is also to protect the playwright,
and it’s also better for the playwright to say, “Oh, here’s somebody…” So that it’s a natural progression. So that it’s actually everybody wins, because
the whole notion of you can’t come to auditions, I said, yes, if you have nothing to say and
you’re not a smart person or you’re not somebody who’s collaborative or you’re a pain in the
butt, whatever. But the reality is we’re all trying to make
theatre. And that has changed since OTHER PEOPLE’S
MONEY. And I find the collaboration to be one of
we are actually giving something of great value, if we have the rights. Here, not-for-profit, take our rights and
take it to the next step. And we’re all professionals here. I think it’s a healthier way of what’s happening. And we are actually great risk-takers. We have to be, if we’re gonna stay in this
business as commercial theatre-goers. And all I’m saying is that I wouldn’t know
how to produce seven shows a year which is what a lot of these not-for-profits have to
do to serve their audience. So, I think we are a wonderful tool, and it’s
a mutual relationship that will only get better. But it’s essentially an economic relationship
in my view, not a collaborative artistic relationship to nearly the same extent. The reason you take a show to a not-for-profit
is because you can give them $100,000 and the show and they’ll put it on, where it would
cost you $2 million to stick it on Broadway. I agree with you that the collaborative aspects
of it have gotten smoother and easier. About 25 years ago, 30 years ago now, there
was a conference called A.C.T. (OVERTALK) You know down at Princeton. And it was a conference of commercial and
non-commercial producers. And this is really in a dim and distant past. And I wasn’t there. But apparently it was a dog-fight. I mean, people screaming and yelling at each
other. And we did a reprise of it four or five years
ago. (OVERTALK) And it was all just, “Oh, yeah,
we made a deal with these guys. And (LAUGHTER) wouldn’t it be interesting
for us to make a deal?” And the atmosphere between the two sides has
absolutely changed completely. But it is, I always think, pretty much an
economic transaction rather than a (UNINTEL). (OVERTALK) You know, but it’s interesting. But this is what I do when I do these relationships. The person who runs the organization, he’s
very important in the not-for-profit. And they also have a certain audience make-up. You know, we have to cast each other in that
relationship. Like “Oh you know what? That person who runs that theatre company
has had a relationship with this author before or not. And here’s somebody who we have a mutual goal
of protecting this person.” So, yes, the economics are definitely there,
but there are places I would not say here are my rights– You have to be smart about it. — because I just think that it would be just
purely money. And then if it’s just purely money, I have
missed the opportunity to add another really good brain, given what this show is. So I try to get balance. I grew up in the era where many of the play
bills on Broadway said David Merrick presents…. the play. Sometimes eight shows a year. Right. So my question is In all these various things
that we’re talking about, you guys as the independent producers, does there have to
be, does there not have to be one person who is “the producer” on each project to be successful? Well, David Merrick used to use the expression,
“Who has the muscle?” (OVERTALK) It’s a very good expression. David always said he had the muscle. But on a Jerome Robbins show, Jerome Robbins
had the muscle. But it meant somebody had to be charge and
have a clear idea of the vision. I think that’s what David meant. I think when there are a lot of producers
and a lot of interest, it’s hard. It takes more time. But Tom’s group, there are often many names
above the title of the shows that Tom works on. Sure. Except from my own experience, it’s never
been a problem as to there’s somebody who you talk to. Yeah, well, we’re very careful about sort
of lines of communication. But although we might only talk through one
voice to the director, for example, to try to make changes and give notes, that voice
will have heard everybody else in the producing group and collectively, we’ll have decided,
you know, what notes to pass on and what notes not to. And more and more, I think, realistically,
it’s not the producer who’s sitting there with the vision, if you will. I mean, it may be when the project starts
out and it’s just a producer and a piece of property. But as you begin to add first authors and
then directors, they begin to run with the vision. And I think that’s as it should be. You know, you can have some impact on the
way the project comes out by being careful about you know attending rehearsals and attending
previews and you know giving your thoughts. And you can have quite a lot of clout actually. But in the long run, if you’ve got the right
creative team, you are 90 percent of the way there. And if you don’t, your notes aren’t gonna
change things. They’re not gonna make the difference. I’d like to talk about one of my big mistakes. It involves you. I had an opportunity through Howard Panter
to put a substantial sum of money into SWEENEY TODD. Big, smart, New York girl said, “SWEENEY TODD
is not– SWEENEY in London or SWEENEY in New York? Right there in New York. In New York. I don’t know if you knew that, but Howard
who produced it in London and was producing it with you here asked me if I would like
to make an investment purely on an investment basis, not on a co-producing basis. And I said, “No, come on, SWEENEY TODD will
never be commercial.” Now I’m smart, right? Now I’m sitting in the theatre watching people
yell and scream and applaud your production of SWEENEY TODD, and I’m killing myself. (LAUGHTER) That’s what the show’s about. (LAUGHTER) And I’m thinking to myself that the success
of that show is it’s in a different form. It’s non-traditional in its approach to it
(SIC). And sometimes I think the problem with our
plays is, and part of it is the influence of television writers, is they’re naturalistic. They’re purely naturalistic. We’ve lost track of the EQUUS’s which had
a heightened theatricality or the AMADEUS’s which had a heightened theatricality. And I think (COUGHING) a lot of the nat–
You know, The Biltmore Theatre, nice square box on stage. Produce naturalistic plays. When have you heard dialogue like, “Attention
must be paid?” Our writers aren’t even writing theatrical
dialogue. I mean I really think there’s something in
the nature of where plays have gone that it has to break out of. Well, I think from my point of view, there’s
a lot of– B.S. theatre that goes on, you know, people who are breaking the envelope
in one way or another, pushing the envelope in one way or another that is essentially,
it seems to me to be pretentious. Every once in a while, we produced a show
called MNEUMONIC a couple of years ago that was like this and SWEENEY. The way in which it pushes the envelope is
really illuminating. And that was what I think is at the heart
of what makes the show exciting and may make it successful is that it is a different form,
but it’s a different form that actually illuminated the material and actually makes the material
clearer and more riveting than it might be in other forms. And that was what excited me about the project. I mean this production is much stronger than
the one in London. The one in London was just indicative of what
it could be. But even then, you could see that it gave
you a– You know SWEENEY TODD is, what, maybe one of the two or three most important musicals
of the last 50 years. It gave you that musical in a way that was
not only different, but different in a way that bore on the musical and actually, you
know, sort of raised it to another level emotionally. I keep coming back to the idea that this is
a business about emotions. You cannot get $100 from people for you know
treating them to a piece of intellectual material. You have to get it because you were touching
them in ways that television can’t and generally speaking movies can’t. Without that, I don’t think you’ve got anything
to base a show on. So, a teacher of mine years ago said to us
theatre students, “You’re all studying candle-dipping and electricity has been invented.” So that’s kind of what we’re talking about
here. (LAUGHTER) You’re candle-dippers, and they’re
good candles. (OVERTALK) But the main thing about candles
is if you get them right you can mold them into anything you want. That’s very good. That’s very good. But I do wanna ask, because I think we sort
of have an obligation. And, what, SPAMALOT is $15 million? Eleven. Eleven, sorry. (LAUGHTER) What’s the difference? Where is the $11 million? And I know, you know, 1952, they said it was
expensive, too. But how does that $11 million get broken down
roughly? Well, try-out in Chicago for one which is
always an expensive proposition. You did it on THE PRODUCERS. $3 1/2 million for the physical production. Physical production. That’s costumes– A million $2 million to put the physical production
in the theatre and conduct previews and work calls during the period when you’re getting
the show right. A million to $1 1/2 million in advertising. $2 million for an out-of-town that you might
mitigate with income from the out-of-town. And the balance is largely in rehearsal costs
and you know administrative overhead. And creative fees. Creative fees and stuff like that. But those are the big things. But to me the thing that’s really ratcheted
it up is the cost of putting the show in the theatre. The lowdown goes there. It’s now absolutely absurd. Based on theatre costs, based on technology,
based on what? Based on stage hands. Labor costs. Yeah, stage hands. It’s all people. This business is nothing but people. I mean the amount of material in a show is
pretty limited. It’s all people costs and people have to you
know get raises (UNINTEL). It’s people costs without efficiencies. You know, we have issues. We’ve wrestled with this for a long time. And given the cost of everything, the idea
of– we’re in a situation– And none of us here are anti-union. We have great respect for everybody who works
in the theatre, ‘cuz again there’s easier places to work. But I think all of us are anti-inefficiency
or anti– Yeah, that’s the right word. In that we have issues where you can’t refresh
crews, you know, when it’s safer if you could. And you know, hours in the theatre are defined
(OVERTALK) by certain times of the day and different categories of work which just means
you have to put more people in the theatre. And once you get more people in the theatre,
it becomes inefficient, because you’re running into each other because you can’t do everything
at the same time. And different unions will have different time– But they all have to show up for a load-in. When a load-in is called, a load-in is called. And everybody’s there. And it’s an inefficient use of manpower. And all the people who work in the theatre
are dedicated and great people, but we have to all, we owe it to ourselves as a community
to really get honest with ourselves about how we trip over ourselves when we’re trying
to create theatre. And it’s a metaphor, but it’s also literal. We actually do trip over each other when we’re
trying to do it all at once, because the rules says everybody has to show up. But you just say, “Go sit. Go. You don’t have to do that. Wait a few hours. Have some more coffee, and then we’ll do it.” But we’re payin’ top dollar and we’re going
in to double time and triple time when we don’t have to. It’s unfortunate. The head of CIRQUE DU SOLEIL, Guy– What’s
his name? Vegas will teach us how to do that better,
by the way. That’s the power of Vegas. Years ago when I knew the CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
better than I know today, and I’m kind of curious about the fact that they are now planning
a theatre at the bottom of 42nd Street in conjunction with Clear Channel, and I will
remember the name of the founder of that, and he said to me one day, “I couldn’t create
on Broadway ever.” He said, “The union rules would kill me.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, because if I’m on a roll and
I’ve really got an idea going and everybody’s in synch and somebody suddenly says, ‘It’s
five minutes and you’re at the end of the four hour call and we have to break for an
hour,'” he said, “that’ll kill the effectiveness of that rehearsal call.” He was much more concerned about how union
rules impact on his ability to efficiently get the creative process going. Absolutely. But that’s the same thing, because then you
have to just wait and gear up again. But if we really wanna look at commercial
theatre and what the elephant in the room is, it’s that sense of Guys, there’s 24 hours
in a day. This is prime real estate. You know the technology of what we’re doing
here is not rocket scientist. It’s important. But it’s very good craftsmen, smart people. And the wage is plenty. I’m not even talking about the hourly. I’m not talking about any of that. It’s all work rules. (OVERTALK) They just have to get the work
rules fixed for all of us. But you’re all tenants, right? I mean you’re talking about load-in when you
as tenants, independent producers– We are also the employers. Employers of the people who are doing it. Yes. But is this a tenant/landlord partly relationship? Have to work together. But it’s also the unions. Everybody has to come to the table and says,
“Gang, let’s just get smart. Let’s just get smart.” And a lot of the not-for-profits in New York
control their own venues. So I wonder if their problems are probably– Similar. They have to deal with the same. Same unions. But everything is based on the Broadway rules
which basically have been in– You know, nothing’s been changed in 100 years. It just gets confusing (SIC). There’s never been a stage hand work stoppage
really. Several years ago there was something that
the League of American Theatres and Producers paid for which was called The Bain Report
(PH). Did you ever read it? Yes. Right? Yup, I was on the committee. And one of the things that was proposed was
the formation of something called the Broadway Initiative which was going to be a collaboration
between producers, theatre operators and key union executives– Unions. — in a process of finding out a way through
all the things you’ve raised. The budget called for 10 cents a ticket to
be put on the table to fund this ability of these various groups to work together. It never happened. I don’t know why we have to fund the ability
to work together. That’s what I– I’m not talking about funding the ability
to work together. Paying for the attorneys to talk about it? I’m not talking– Now you’re being cynical. (LAUGHTER) You really are being cynical. And I saw through you ten minutes ago. Right. But also, I mean, one of the things, I mean,
Kevin and I have been toiling in the fields together on a show which, WHITE CHRISTMAS,
which is being done in a way of trying to tweak the model, trying to take a model that–
you know, trying to create a new model of how to do a show. And I think I assume that that’s something
that you as independents have to be thinking. How can we figure out if it’s not Off Broadway,
if it’s not you know– Well, right. I mean, WHITE CHRISTMAS is right now a seasonal. We can get about six to eight good weeks. And we’re basically going in to partnerships
with the local communities and having them talk to their unions and saying, “Look, we’re
gonna bring this back every other year. Let’s create the WHITE CHRISTMAS contract. Let’s create the WHITE CHRISTMAS contract,
because we’re leaving a lot of economics there on the table for the local market to develop
retail aspects, to sort of like create new traditions.” And mayors are getting behind it. And one of the things on the road that I’ve
been jumping up and down about is cities are in the business of producing theatre. If you’re in the business of making sure your
retail is happening and your parking lots are filled, then you should be in the theatre
business. You shouldn’t just give it away. You as the mayor of your town really have
to realize this is a gathering asset. And when you gather people, you create not
only a community, but you create economics. And hopefully WHITE CHRISTMAS is part of that
new philosophy. And we’re getting people from Boston to San
Francisco to Chicago to the Twin Cities to really get excited about “Help me create a
tradition in my market of theatre-going.” But, in fact, exactly the opposite’s happening
in a lot of markets, markets where municipal buildings, theatres were owned municipally
and were underwritten to some extent, not that they were paying to produce shows in
the theatres, but they were simply making it more attractive by municipal subsidies. They’ve privatized those buildings, and individual
private landlords have come in and raised rents and changed economics all for the worse. So maybe in some of the very large cities,
this isn’t the case. But certainly in a lot of medium-sized cities
in America, they’ve completely abandoned the idea of underwriting all the theatre. But I think we’re at the peak of that, Tom. I think you’re gonna see it coming back. I am anticipating that actually it will go
back, because the economics, when you raise rents that much and you need to create that
much revenue out of a venue, it’s not practical long-term. There might be cycles of blockbusters where
it is practical. But you know we just lost, we saw that The
Wilbur is now available to anybody who wants it in Boston. It’s one of those smaller venues. I think one of the things that is happening
is I think cities are starting to realize and with you know the power of something like
WICKED sitting there, it’s like “Why aren’t we really looking at this as really a development
plan?” And I am guessing, ‘cuz that’s all you can
do in the commercial is– is to guess, I believe it’ll cycle back. I think we’re kind of at our peak. That’s my guess. I hope you’re right. I have to say that what worries me about what
you just said is the “like WICKED.” There is no “like WICKED.” There’s WICKED. And then five years ago, there was THE LION
KING and THE PRODUCERS and a couple of other shows. PRODUCERS and– But if one of those blockbusters comes along
every five, six years, that’s a lot. So the notion that you can sort of build a
model that’ll cover a lot of cities with that in mind is a stretch. For myself, and you know, David, you’ve been
luckily insulated from this to a very great extent, the road seems to me to have deteriorated
very badly. And you can see the grosses in Variety. You’ve got three shows out there that are
doing business, and everything else is not. And it is absolutely going to make what has
been a relatively stable piece of our business far more risky than it’s ever been before. And I think, you know, one of the things when
you produce a Broadway show, obviously, we’ve talked about passion and it’s all very important
that we have something that we love, but in the long run, you look to these secondary
resources to supplement your income and to be able to make a case for the initial production
itself. And when something as important as the American
road starts to deteriorate the way it seems to me that it has over the last three years,
that’s very serious stuff. Well, and it’s one of the reasons why this
new model of WHITE CHRISTMAS, if we’re not touring, you just sit down and the city owns
it with you to sort of “Let’s make this a tradition every year.” But the idea of it, and I doff my hat to Kevin,
is a Christmastime musical, not Radio City Music Hall, not THE NUTCRACKER, but an actual
musical that you can see that it works like a musical, but it happens to be called WHITE
CHRISTMAS. Uh-huh (AFF). But also isn’t part of the road that everything
was ratcheted up for the series of blockbusters that came along to which WICKED certainly
plays into it? And then once the blockbusters aren’t there,
either the locals have gotten too greedy or somebody’s gotten too greedy, so the economic
model– Or is it that the audiences have said, “I’ve had enough, and I’m not interested in
this?” No, I think it’s the former to a very great
extent. What happened was, particularly with PHANTOM
OF THE OPERA which was the first big blockbuster on the road in our collective producing time,
subscription periods that had been one week turned into two weeks. And even though there weren’t nearly as many
subscription load-ins, you know, the dollar amounts were smaller, it didn’t matter, because
shows like PHANTOM could fill up the rest of it. And shows like PHANTOM and then later MISS
SAIGON and SHOWBOAT started to play well beyond subscription. And what happened was that people who weren’t
subscribers realized they didn’t have to become subscribers, because they could actually buy
a single ticket to an extended week, rather than subscribing to an entire series. And the result of the combination of those
two things is that every week you play in those markets is poorly supported, so that
unless you’re WICKED or LION KING, you have to sell a lot of single tickets. And the advertising budgets for single ticket
sales in those cities is not particularly large. They had depended on subscription sales to
insulate themselves against economic risk with the result that a lot of shows come into
these markets and fail now. And it’s absolutely gonna lead to reapportioning
risk, and it’s going to lead to a lot of shows not going out. And (UNINTEL) one other thing is in my opinion
too while they were searching they were also trying to lower their purchases of shows. And the shows, there were really good shows
that didn’t sell as well as they should have. And there were some really sort of not so
great shows that just got pushed through the system, because they were affordable to the
buyer. And so the quality was very spotty for a while
too, and I think again going back to WHITE CHRISTMAS, it’s all about delivering quality
and creating event. WICKED has event. PRODUCERS has event. And it’s just there’s a notion of event to
it which I think as producers we have to be smart about, about why is this different. Why is this better than what you might think
it is? And how do we communicate that? But you probably were involved in the most
celebrated non-road event in deciding to take AVENUE Q to Las Vegas rather than to tour
it. And I presume that that didn’t just have to
do with Las Vegas. It also had to do with your perception of
the road. But not only my perception of the road, but
what the road was telling me about how much my show was worth. They compared my show to another terrific
show called URINETOWN. And URINETOWN had just gone out and hadn’t
done as well as everyone wanted it to do. And then the buyers set their price based
on what they could afford, based on comparing us to URINETOWN. And I said, “Well, we’re a very different
show than URINETOWN. Every show is different. There’s no formula. I think my show is worth X.” And they said, “No, your show is worth Y.” And I believed them that that’s what they
were gonna pay me. So I found a better way to do it, and also
I wouldn’t have to load-in and load-out. And I think we’re the kind of show you have
to discover. We can’t just say, “It’s AVENUE Q. Hey, we’re
right from Broadway.” It’s one of the reasons why we’re in an 800
seat house. We’re a musical in an 800 seat house. There’s no other musical in an 800 seat house. How many in SPELLING BEE now? Seven hundred. 700. Okay, well, except SPELLING BEE. At the time, there was not. And so it made sense for us to sit in one
place and let people find us. Will you take SPELLING BEE out on the road? Well, with SPELLING BEE is we’re doing sort
of a hybrid. We’re doing two sit-down productions, one
in San Francisco at a 700 seat theatre, one in Chicago at a 550 seat theatre. Very similar to the New York production in
that you can have word of mouth and discover it and keep a tight ticket. And then the rest of the country will get
a tour, because it is not an expensive show. So, they need to have, the subscription series
need to have a less expensive show, so they can afford SPAMALOT which is more expensive. And so it works out fine. I mean the crazy thing is that in St. Louis,
we will be playing two weeks of SPELLING BEE in a 4100 seat theatre. But that’s the subscription and the numbers
actually work for them to make money and us to make money. Well, we would have done the same thing if
Vegas had not you know come up. And what you’re seeing which is really interesting–
We were recently at the League of American Theatres and Producers conference and there
was a session on– road attractions and producing– Actually, it was a session on not-for-profits
and commercial producers. And I mean, you know, you guys have all been
to sessions like this. It’s always about the deal. You know, how do you compensate the not-for-profits
and so forth. Nothing to do with that at this one. This was all about a series of not-for-profit
roadhouses, commercial roadhouses that were on a not-for-profit basis mounting productions
that they shared, revival productions that they shared that could tour seven or eight
places. So what we’re seeing I think as a result of
the deterioration of what we think of as the traditional road is people like yourself (COUGHING),
excuse me, yourselves finding alternative ways to present your shows as opposed to simply
doing a traditional road tour and the roadhouses finding alternative product– To produce. — to send out and around, because you’re
not supplying them anymore. Uh-huh (AFF). And we’re seeing a substantial change, I think,
in the way the road is conducted. And it’s just the beginning of it. I don’t think anybody could predict what this
will look like five years from now. But it won’t look like what it looked like
two years before this. Right. Do you find that you have to allocate your
advertising dollars differently today than you did? In a different way? I mean, sort of keying in on all these things
that you’re saying, do you find that, I mean, in the old days, you know, the full page ad
in The New York Times and a little ad in perhaps you know outside of New York. But is that a producer’s responsibility to
figure out? These dollars have to be television, this
is this, this is– I just did my favorite thing in a long time
yesterday. We did the entire 2006 media plan for WICKED
which is a luxury certainly that you can sit there a year out. There was one ad in The New York Times for
the whole year, and that simply is because we like to take out a Halloween ad just wishing
everyone you know Best Witches. (LAUGHTER) Right. But than that, and that– You know, it’s all
about other mediums. But I think that you know so much of it now
is learning how new technology works. I’m not a computer person; I’m a little analog
myself. But I am having to learn this, because it’s
effective. Now, you know, in some of the markets we’re
on tour with, more than 50 percent of the tickets are sold on the Internet, so therefore,
we’ve gotta start doing more there. I think that you know we also watch when you
put an ad into The Times, certainly the announcement ad is effective, but after that, I’m not convinced
a quote ad increases ticket sales or anything else does. So that we’re starting to pull out of not
just The Times, but print in general. We see that radio works certain times and
TV works other times. But by instinct or by looking at the box office
in terms of what works? Both. And not instinct, experience I think. (OVERTALK) But I think it’s interesting that
I got more mailings about SWEENEY TODD, and I don’t know what mailing lists I got, of
you know interesting and very good things. And of course, I love the AVENUE Q’s on top
of the cabs if they’re still there. You know, “Take me to AVENUE Q.” And I sort
of am aware of– I think it’s very much of a question of what
your project is and what your product is. You know, we opened within four days of JERSEY
BOYS. And watching what each show did when they
opened was really interesting, and I thought, instructive. SWEENEY TODD ran a double truck. It ran two pages of advertising in The New
York Times. We believe that that is still our audience,
although I agree with David that a lot of the audience for other kinds of musicals isn’t
necessarily there. But in the case of SWEENEY TODD, it’s definitely
a serious theatre-goers’ piece. We wanted to position the show as an event. We did two pages in The New York Times. The Dodgers who produced JERSEY BOYS did a
two inch banner along the bottom of a page. And radio. And started on television the next morning. Television! Now typically, television is something you
would do a year into a run. (OVERTALK) Didn’t even think about a television
ad. They were ready. They knew that they were not likely to get
a terrific review in The New York Times. That this was not gonna be able to the theatre-goers’
show. That they had to, in fact, skip over the theatre-going
audience and go straight to you know a tourist and out-of-town audience. And they went on to television. It was I thought a brilliant thing to have
done, but it absolutely is a function of what they had. In the case of COLOR PURPLE, it’s the same
thing. They’re not looking for a theatre-going audience. They know that those reviews will never propel
theatre-goers to pay $100 for those tickets. But they have a tremendous Oprah-oriented
audience, and that’s where all of their muscle and all of their bucks are gonna go. Q and RENT don’t advertise in The New York
Times. Very rarely. But do you guys rely on– But you did for a while. It depends on what we’re doing. The first year generally that’s what you are
advertising in The New York Times, then you pull out. (OVERTALK) For RENT, we had to, because I think a guy
named Ted Chapin said, “Talk to me in six months and see if it has legs” in The New
York Times. (LAUGHTER) (OVERTALK) In The Wall Street Journal, thank you very
much. The Wall Street Journal. So I had to take ads out and say, “Ted’s wrong.” (LAUGHTER) I didn’t. How long has RENT been on Broadway now? Ten years in April. So, there’s been a kind of switch in how we
look at advertising from the day you opened to– Well, we had to be in The New York Times,
because everyone thought, you know, no one’s going to go see that show on Broadway. All the experts were very– And we didn’t
know either. And we took that ad out, and we did very well
the first day we went on sale, so. I had an odd adventure this week. I’m riding the 104 bus which I’m convinced
is peopled by subscribers to MTC but anyway I’m riding the 104 bus. And I hear this guy say to the bus rider– Yeah, ‘cuz they’re all asleep? (LAUGHTER) — says to the bus rider, “How much do you
get paid an hour?” I’m so startled that somebody’s asking a bus
driver (UNINTEL). The bus driver says, “$40 an hour.” And I’m thinking, “Wait a minute, there may
be something here.” So, I look up, and it’s this rather heavy-set,
black guy asking how much a New York City bus driver gets paid an hour. So, I’m so startled. And he sits opposite me. I said, “Do you drive a bus?” He said, “Hell, no, I’m from California.” And I thought getting bizarrer by the minute. And I said, “What are you doing in New York?” He said, “Well, my son-in-law’s in COLOR PURPLE.” He said, “Look, I gotta terrible notice here
in my pocket.” I couldn’t believe I was there (SIC). He said, “You know we had this big party last
night. And Oprah was there. Everybody was yelling and cheering. We were all feeling so good!” He said, “You people write mean stuff in New
York.” And I’m sitting here thinking, “I’m losing
my mind this morning.” He said, “Look, let me show you in the back
of my pocket here. I gotta notice from my daughter-in-law.” He said, “Her voice was good the other night.” And I thought, “I don’t believe this.” And I said, “Wait a minute, calm down.” And we passed the Broadway theatre at about
10 after 10. And there were like ten people in the lobby. And I said, “You see those ten people? They don’t read papers. They just know they wanna see your show. Calm down.” And he said, “I don’t know. You think so?” And he got off the bus and walked into the
lobby. And I don’t know where he went. Maybe went back to California to get a $40
hour job. (LAUGHTER) But that impact you keep thinking of. We’ve all lived through it, and it’s horrifying
when you gotta room full of very happy, up people and somebody says, “Ben Brantley didn’t
like us or someone didn’t like us.” And then we have to pull ourselves up out
of psychological depression and say, “How are we gonna sell whatever it is we have to
sell right past The New York Times?” Recycling back to the beginning, it is emotional,
and you do it because of your passion. And if someone doesn’t agree with your passion,
if you’re passionate, your job is to just move on and use that paper for the bird cage
and then keep moving forward. I’m wanna ask somebody– I have cats. Okay, or the cat box. (LAUGHTER) You have all had the opportunity of producing
long-running shows. And I’ve always sort of been of the mind that
producing and maintaining a long-running show is almost another skill. It is. Do you find that? And is it less fun? I think that’s why, excuse me, a commercial
producer has an edge and it’s very valuable for not-for-profit having a commercial producer,
‘cuz we know how to run with those rights. We wanna keep it on as long as possible and
how to exploit it and cast-replace and all of that nonsense. Sorry, go ahead. I remember saying when WICKED opened to Mark
Platt who’s my partner and to Stacey Snyder (PH) who’s the chairman of Universal, you
know, in a film you open– You’re done. — and you’re done. And I said, “If we do our jobs really right,
we’re never done.” It’s sort of like Chinese water torture. You have to keep doing you know the same thing
in a way. And it’s almost about finding ways to challenge
ourselves, not just in maintaining it artistically, but also you know going to other territories
and building an advance and all that. And casting. And casting. Absolutely. One of the things I tell people when they
say, “Oh, you know, hey, I got the money for the show, let’s do it,” and I say, “Well,
tell me more about this money.” The reason I ask about it, and I said you
know I won’t take anybody as an investor, who you have to really deal with, until I’ve
really spent some time with them and had lunch with them and they get to know me and Gate
(PH), ‘cuz god forbid, you have a hit. You have to be in bed with these people for
ten years. God forbid you have a hit. And these are people you just, for some reason,
you just don’t– Money, there’s expensive money and inexpensive money. And if you’re ever gonna be a producer in
the commercial theatre and if there’s somebody who’s willing to write you a check, you have
to go to lunch with them. You have to spend some time with them, talk
about their belief system, get to know them a little bit, because god forbid, it’s a hit. Failures take care of themselves. Everyone loves each other on a failure. “Oh, we tried. Oh, it was great. Oh, I love you.” Somebody wrote a show about that, I think. (OVERTALK) You know, five years down the line
if you’re a hit and you’re not getting along, it’s a problem. You also have to sit through it. If it’s a hit, you have to sit through it
so many times– Better love it. Hundreds of times. — that you better love it. Yeah. But also do you not have to see it from time
to time and ask somebody, “Ooh, ooh, wait a minute. We have to take out the improvements.” Oh sure. We have resident directors on it. Yeah, I think a lot of what goes on though,
there’s– Only produce shows you’re prepared to see
more than once. Right. Yeah. There’s obviously a lot of business stuff
that goes on, figuring out how to you know change your advertising campaign and you know
spin out the way the show is perceived and so forth. But a lot of it has to do with the diplomacy
of keeping a bunch of people who show up in one building every night on track, comfortable,
happy, disciplined. It’s an interesting set of skills. I think one of the groups of people that don’t
get nearly enough credit in our business is the general managers who are to a very great
extent charged with the details of keeping the company functioning, not just the actors,
but stage hands and you know everybody and getting that done and done right so it doesn’t
spin off the rails. And sometimes you can’t help it. I mean, there are people who will just make
mischief backstage and there’s nothing you can do about it. But getting that right makes a huge difference,
both in the way the show plays and the way everybody’s sanity is. You know, I mean, you have to get that right. But also as one of your partners said on one
of these seminars to a sassy question of mine about who are all these names above the title,
he said, “Listen, it’s a half a million dollars a week. It’s a business that runs half a million dollars
of costs and expenses a week. Think about it.” Yeah. You know? I know you might love the “David Merrick presents…”
notion, but it wasn’t a half a million dollars then. It wasn’t even the equivalent. (UNINTEL) hundred. That’s exactly right. And even David Merrick produced with some
partners. I mean, certainly Leland Hayward (PH) you
know was a significant partner for David. And my guess is David Merrick if he went backstage
twice in the course of a production was probably a lot. That that’s what Leland Hayward was there
for, was to keep what I’m talking about on track and going. And here’s the good news on the post and having
all those names above titles. There’s a lot of people in the “go go” 90’s
and you know all the money that had been generated in the past 25 years and capitalistic, you
know, and we are in New York where there’s a lot of money, they wanna put their money
into the theatre. There is not a theatre to be had coming into
this season really that’s available. Part of the reason is because of the long-running
shows that you know once you’re open, our job is to make sure it never closes, but the
#2 is is that there’s a lot of people who really wanna put their money into the theatre,
who have come from other industries, who are maybe retired or wanna change of life in terms
of what they do with their day. And they’re willing to say, “You know, I’ll
give you a million dollars, but I really would like my name above the title. I’m not gonna get in your way. I just wanna learn.” And those are the people you go to lunch with
and get to know a little bit before you take their money. And but at the same time, it is a wonderful
thing that so many people are looking to the theatre. It’s a bizarre dynamic right now. I don’t quite understand it on every level
of why, given the economics are so bad, but at the same time, I think it’s because people
are searching in today’s world, and there’s been a lot of events in the world that are
very different than they were 15 years ago, and it’s that “I wanna affect human beings,
I want to be part of gathering human beings” I think is a very strong ethic which I’m very
encouraged for our future. Just a minute. Before we stop, ‘cuz we’ve run out of time,
I wanna read – This is the only time I’ve done this, read first and read at the end
– the quote that I started this thing with was written by the way by Alan Jay Lerner
in the published script of PAINT YOUR WAGON in 1952. But I wanna end with Oscar Hammerstein on
the subject of producers, ‘cuz I think this is the best way to thank all of you here for
what you do and for being here today. And this is Oscar Hammerstein defining a producer. He says, “A producer is a rare paradoxical
genius, hardheaded, soft-hearted, cautious, reckless, a hopeful innocent in fair weather,
a stern pilot in stormy weather, an idealist, a realist, a practical dreamer, a sophisticated
gambler, a stage-struck child.” So on that note, thank you very much. (OVERTALK) Can we email that? (APPLAUSE) I have a few people I wanna send it to. (OFF-MIC CONVERSATION)

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