Producing New Plays for Broadway (Working In The Theatre #321)

Hello. I’m Sondra Gilman, First Vice Chair of the
American Theatre Wing. Welcome to the American Theatre Wing’s “Working
in the Theatre” seminars. We are coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. For thirty years, we have brought you the
top professionals of the theatre world, who describe their personal experiences working
in this wonderful art form. Today, we will hear a candid discussion of
what it takes to bring new plays to Broadway. It gives me great pleasure to introduce the
moderator of this panel, Howard Sherman, Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Sondra. One of the most challenging tasks in theatre
today is said to be producing a new play on Broadway. We’ve come from an era in which, perhaps
a hundred years ago, you literally had hundreds of shows opening on Broadway, between plays
and musicals. Only a few decades ago, you might see fifty
to sixty new shows opening on Broadway. Now, we’re down to perhaps thirty shows
a year, and fewer and fewer of them have tended to be new plays. This year, however, is an exception. There have been a total of thirteen new plays
on Broadway, between commercial and not-for-profit productions. But it remains an extremely challenging part
of the context of theatre, is getting a new play on Broadway. And today, we want an opportunity to talk
to you all about how new plays get to Broadway, why we need to support new plays on Broadway,
and the machinery of getting them there. We have a terrific panel to talk to you about
that. We’ll begin from my right. First, we have Michael Hartman, who’s a
partner in Barlow-Hartman, one of the premiere public relations firms working on Broadway
today. Next to him is Benjamin Mordecai, producer
with both Benjami Mordecai Productions as well as Producers Four, a new partnership
he’s formed, and most recently producers of SIXTEEN WOUNDED. Next to Ben is Michael Parva. Michael is the Founding Artistic Director
of The Directors Company, making his Broadway producing debut with PRYMATE. To my immediate left, Daryl Roth, producer
of countless plays over the past several years here in New York, most recently the Pulitzer
Prize winner, ANNA IN THE TROPICS. And to her left, Rober LuPone, Co-Artistic
Director of MCC Theater, which is producing its first production directly on Broadway,
and that production is FROZEN, which was a great success for them Off-Broadway earlier
this year. Welcome to you all. Thank you. I’m going to start, even though he asked
me not to (MICHAEL LAUGHS), with Michae Parva, because this is Michael’s first venture
in commercial producing, and he’s doing it outside of the structure of The Directors
Company. So in an environment which we all know to
be so challenging and such a difficult economic model to work in, very simply, how did you
find out about PRYMATE? What drew you to PRYMATE? And what convinced you to make that plunge? Well, I wanted you to go with someone else,
‘cause I’m a newcomer here, with my esteemed colleagues, in terms of commercial producing. I’ve been producing Off-Broadway for years
now, but commercially, this is my first stab at it. And PRYMATE, what drew me to the project was
the subject matter, the people involved. I have a long-standing history with Ed Sherin,
the director, and Mark [Medoff], the playwright. And when I read this play, I was completely
taken with it. So it’s a very passionate reason why I’m
doing it. It stems from a love of the play, and then
to the people involved, and the cast. So that started it all. And did you get involved in the play really
from the moment you read it? Or certainly, there was a much-talked about
production of this play down in Florida. Right. Was it seeing it on that stage that really
convinced you to say – Yes, yes. Well, reading it first was the true beginning
of my love affair with the project. And then, seeing it confirmed my passion. I thought it was very challenging for an audience. It’s a kind of theatre that I don’t see
often on stage – or at least on the Broadway stage. You may see this in an Off-Broadway arena,
or around the country, but on Broadway, it’s not easy fare. And so I thought, it’s time. I mean, there’s been a lot of courageous
moves, with all my colleagues on the stage here, in terms of putting on plays that they
feel strongly about. And I’d like to think audiences are coming
around to supporting those efforts. And it remains to be seen! (LAUGHS) Yes, after seeing the play, it confirmed
my passion about this project. Now, Bobby, you produced FROZEN Off-Broadway
at MCC. Mmm-hmm. And certainly there have been shows from MCC
that have moved on to commercial runs, very notably WIT, which Daryl was one of the producers
of. Mmm-hmm. But you’ve taken the step, in this case,
of MCC is the producer of this show, on Broadway, at Circle in the Square. What was the choice, as a not-for-profit institution,
to self-produce commercially? I think it’s economic. You know, if we’re able to raise the money,
which is, of course, the challenge, then we’d like to bring the money, if there is some,
back to the coffers of the theatre. So from the standpoint of economics, if you’re
able to raise the money – and so far (KNOCKS ON THE TABLE), we’ve raised the money, you
know! (LAUGHS) – then you have an opportunity
to produce. Also, like Michael said, there’s a passion
about the play. And oftentimes, what happens when – you
know, we did not have this case with Daryl – Present company excluded. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Yes, present company excluded! But oftentimes, a commercial producer will
come in, as one did in trying to move FROZEN, and said, “Of course, oh, yes, you’ll
take care of all the artistic stuff, but we’ll make all the business decisions.” And understandably, it’s their money that’s
at risk. But we wanted to own the project. We had nursed it from its inception and we
wanted to bring it to fruition, hopefully on Broadway, and we did. So I think, you know, it’s non-profit versus
for-profit – I don’t think that exists any more, quite frankly. I think we’re all compatriots, because it’s
so difficult now because it’s so expensive. And even though we may seem like we’re competitors
with each other, because we have different shows, we’re all rooting for each other,
you know. Because a great show is a great show is a
great show, and that’s what we all respond to. And like, when working with Daryl, which we
did with WIT, it was terrific, because she brought information to us, as non-profit people,
that we did not know about. Her experience and her expertise certainly
got us over some bumps, and that information I’m now using now (LAUGHS) in this production
of FROZEN. I just think that, you know, if you have the
wherewithal and the economic fortune to be able to move the play, why would you not want
to? And particularly if you can control the project,
why would you not want to? And you made a choice, because certainly FROZEN
is not a large cast show – Right. And you did it in a small space Off-Broadway,
you made a choice not to move it to a commercial run Off-Broadway, but to move it on [Broadway]. What were the factors that weighed on thinking
about that. That’s an artistic decision. Really? Absolutely an artistic decision, because you
know, I mean, I understand now why, if you’re going to move to Broadway, why would you not
want to have a proscenium house with that balcony of five hundred extra seats, so therefore
it’s eleven hundred seats? And if you think the orchestra pays for the
production, that five hundred, if it’s filled, is profit. At six hundred seats, that’s just I’m
sort of like breaking even with this choice. But the play was done in a thrust, and the
play demands an audience participation. That’s the best way I could put it. The actors are in the audience, in this instance. If they’re not, proscenium, it became a
monologue, a treatise of monologues, which is not the experience of the play. And what Doug Hughes, the director, did is
he made sure that that didn’t happen by putting the actors in the audience, and that
was accomplished by a thrust. Try to find a thrust in New York, outside
of Circle in the Square, that can be considered a commercial theatre – it’s nigh impossible. So we were lucky and fortunate to get that
theatre, and that theatre particularly, because of the artistic and aesthetic reasons. To pursue that, in going back to WIT, WIT
was certainly a much-talked about play. It had great success in the production in
New Haven, which then went to MCC. But it did stay Off-Broadway. Was that an artistic decision? Was that an economic decision? How did that get made? Well, that was a very interesting decision,
that actually wasn’t a hundred percent ours to make. Exactly. (LAUGHS) As most people now know, happily, WIT is a
play that dealt with a very serious and sad subject, which ultimately was a hopeful and
beautiful presentation, of a woman dying of ovarian cancer. And when we went to talk to some of the theatre
owners that had Broadway houses, they weren’t too interested in having us come. No. And so, our decision to go to the Union Square
Theatre, which is one of the largest Off-Broadway houses, was pretty much made for us in a way. Right, right. We did contemplate Broadway. Ultimately, I think we ran longer, had a healthy,
healthy run Off-Broadway, because our weekly, you know, expenses weren’t as high as they
would have been on Broadway. People did find it, they sought it out. I think they would have found it if it were
nestled somewhere in a, you know, off-the-beaten-track place because of the play itself and the performances. And the only thing that it didn’t give us
was an opportunity to be Tony-nominated. Right, right. Everything else, I think, we gained, and gained
beautifully and smartly, by being Off-Broadway. I think, also, that times have changed. I mean, that was five years ago, ’98? Mmm-hmm. The economics of putting on a show Off-Broadway
are almost similar to on Broadway. Yeah. They’re much closer now. They’re much closer now. Five years ago, you could spend maybe two-thirds
of the money that it now costs to do a show on Broadway. But now, because of the economics, why not
go to Broadway, because it’s the same amount of money? Well, I want to come back to the economics. Ben, with SIXTEEN WOUNDED, that was a play
which had its premiere – it’s funny, we keep mentioning Long Wharf today, already
– but Long Wharf Theatre did it last season. And you and Jujamcyn got together to bring
it in. But it was not a simple transfer. It was not, you saw it, “Let’s bring that
in.” How did the road to Broadway affect that work? Well, there were major changes in the play
itself. We were all very excited about the play. Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn really was immediately
a champion of the piece. And one of my partners, Bob Bartner, also
was an early champion. And one of the decisions – that was led,
by the way, by Gordon Edelstein, the Artistic Director of Long Wharf – was that we really
needed to take a new approach if the play was going to be moved further. And at Gordon’s suggestion, and Jack Viertel’s,
who’s also with Jujamcyn, suggestion, Garry Hynes was brought in as the director and began
working with the author [Eliam Kraiem]. And very substantive changes were made to
the text, particularly the largest overall change was that the entire action of the play
took place in the bakery, as opposed to in multiple locations. I went to a reading of this new script, and
the result was that I was tipped over on the side of really joining in this project. As so many people have been saying, you know,
producing is really a personal decision. Someone once told me that producers really
only get two decisions, to produce something and to close it. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And everything else,
there’s a committee in the middle. But I really fell in love with the piece that
day, as Bob had, and Jack and Rocco, so we all joined forces. The cast, with the exception of one actor,
was entirely new. So it was really, you know, a new production
of a play that had first found life at Long Wharf. Actually, it was first done at the Cherry
Lane Theatre in New York, and then Long Wharf, and then we did it on Broadway. Now, why did we choose to do it on Broadway? Well, Rocco Landesman, in particular, felt
it was a very important play, that it had the power to attract six thousand people a
week for a period of time. And we all joined with him in that conviction. And we were also able to realize the play
fully. We raised enough money to really produce it
fully, the way we wanted to and the way Garry Hynes wanted to and the playwright wanted
to. So that’s sort of a long story as to, you
know, how it got to Broadway. It was not just a simple, “We saw it at
Long Wharf, let’s do it.” Really, there were those many steps. Now, Daryl, with ANNA IN THE TROPICS, again,
in some ways, an unusual pattern, because the show premiered at a small theatre in Florida
and won the Pulitzer Prize before most people had heard anything about it. Is that when you first became aware of the
play? Yes. That’s when I first became aware of the
play, and that’s when I first read the play. But I actually had not seen the Florida production. I knew that it was going to be done at the
McCarter, under Emily Mann’s direction. And so, Roger Berlind, who had, very generously
and graciously, helped Princeton and the McCarter build this gorgeous new theatre, which is
where ANNA was going to premiere, asked if I’d be interested in coming in with him
in producing it, if it was meant to go from the McCarter into a commercial life on Broadway. And since I had read the play and loved it
– in fact, the year that it won the Pulitzer Prize, I had another play that was nominated,
THE GOAT, Edward Albee’s THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? And so I said, “Who is this Nilo Cruz (LAUGHS)
and what is this play, ANNA IN THE TROPICS (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) that won over Edward
Albee’s THE GOAT?” That’s when I read the play, actually. And so, I realized that it was a major piece
of writing, and Nilo is a marvelous, marvelous voice in the theatre. And so, it all came together for me in that
way. And McCarter produced it in October, I believe. And Roger, yeah. And you – there was not a commit – We came very swiftly! And then you – ‘cause I think there are
so many things that have happened swiftly this year. Yeah. FROZEN has happened quickly! (BOBBY LAUGHS) But really, you went down to an early preview,
as I understand it, and you all said, “We’re ready to do it,” and made the commitment
to opening it on Broadway before it had actually even opened officially down at McCarter. There were a few reasons that that decision
was made, and I think, wisely so. Jimmy Smits, who was one of the lead actors
in the play, had a certain period of time that he was committed to do the play. And we didn’t want to have it happen at
the McCarter and then go down for a period of time and then go back up on Broadway, using
up valuable time that Jimmy was available to us and to the play. So that was one part of the decision. And there was also, you know, the timing issue. You know, when is it right to open a play
on Broadway? I don’t know that that question has a proper
answer any more. And Michael can attest to that! People used to say, “Oh, you must open first
thing in the fall!” “Nope, you must open first thing in the
spring!” “Nope, don’t open in the winter!” You just don’t know. So with ANNA, we just said, we’re all here. We’ve got the cast together. We were very supportive of that entire cast
moving. And we had a theatre available to us. You know, it’s always a risk. We just said, “Let’s take this risk now. The time is right for it.” And we did. Well, let’s just pursue that for a second. Very quickly, do people believe there is a
“good” time to open a play now? Michael? I don’t think that there’s a “right”
time to open a play. I think Daryl’s right. I think with ANNA IN THE TROPICS, it was a
really smart producing decision to bring it in, because the play won the Pulitzer in April,
so the Pulitzer had been a couple of months in the past already. The play opened at the McCarter and got great
reviews there. So it’s always, I think more so than considering
what time of year it is or what time in the season it is, I think it’s all circumstantial,
based on what the project is. I think using momentum is key. And I think it’s interesting, also, to point
out that all of the plays that we’ve talked about so far, all of the plays that are represented
here or the producers that are representing the plays here, all came from a regional theatre
or not-for-profit. And that’s basically the norm. All plays originate from somewhere before
they come to Broadway. I mean, that’s perhaps an overstatement,
but I think it’s – Well, the only exception in recent history,
if I might interject, is THE GOAT. And I can tell you, after Michael finishes
his thought, why we did that. But ordinarily, I don’t think it’s wise
to open a play on Broadway cold. I believe MATCH, actually, this season, also
fits that model. Oh, MATCH. MATCH, excuse me, those two, that’s right. Well, but pursue that, unless we’re cutting
you off, Michael – No, I don’t want to – No, no, not at all. Why, you know, with THE GOAT, certainly you
had a major playwright, you know, whose name alone is well known, Edward Albee. Right. But – It was based on a decision that Liz McCann
and Edward and I actually made, based on the subject of the play. The play is about a man who falls deeply and
passionately in love with a goat. (SHRUGS; ROBERT LAUGHS) And we thought that
people wouldn’t take it seriously if they, you know, traveled around the country, regional
theatres did it. It would sort of be out of the box in a way
that – we didn’t want it to be out that way. We wanted people to experience it, understand
the beauty, and you know, the writing and the sincerity of the story. And we really decided that if it happened
here and it happened there, people would just say, “Oh, ho-ho, you saw that bestiality
play, didn’t you?” and it wouldn’t have the import that it actually did achieve, I
think. There was a bit of mystery around it, and
that was the decision. Well, you raise something interesting about
shows that play in regional theatres, and I know you can speak to this and Ben can as
well, which is, sometimes when you have a new work, and Ben had this great experience
over the years of taking August Wilson’s plays through a series of regional theatres. It’s now well-known, the process that those
plays go through, playing at a number of regional theatres, sometimes for as much as a year,
year and a half, with downtime in between the engagements, before it comes to Broadway. By the same token, when you’re developing
a new work, you can also be in a situation where, if a new play is wonderfully well-received
at a regional theatre, it sometimes becomes harder to get the work done on the play that
you as producers might want to see happen. Mmm-hmm. Can you talk a little bit about that? And August not necessarily being the right
case in point for this, of course, but – I think every writer and every project has
its own rhythm. And one of the things that I’ve tried to
learn over the years is how to follow the rhythm that really is appropriate. I’ve felt that some of the biggest mistakes
I’ve made have been because I tried to force a process when the creative work was not at
the same time, or not in sync, I guess is the right word. So, you know, I’ve done all of August’s
plays, and I have a very good sense of August’s rhythm. And he requires that time, you know, to see
his new work on the stage, to contemplate it, and then to see it again, and work. That is what is correct for him. It may not be right for every writer. I also think that there are some opportunities
that you have, that you want to take, you know, such as moving the Nilo Cruz play, which
was absolutely the right decision, because you had a production that was ready and the
play was ready. So I just don’t think there’s a formula. I don’t think one can approach working on
a serious new work in a formulaic way. Well, don’t you think that all plays require
that investment in time and energy, in terms of before they’re even ready to come and
be judged? I mean, I think all of us would agree that
the investment in time and energy about the play, a new play in particular, is well-warranted. Yeah, I do think that. Right. Whether it’s a fast rhythm or a slow rhythm
or any rhythm. Sometimes, you know, you’re working with
a playwright, he has no chance for a rewrite in his own head. And then, the next day he comes back with
an idea, or the next year he comes back with an idea. I’m not sure that I really understand a
play until I’ve seen it produced. Yeah, right. I mean, I find personally that I – that’s,
you know, I discover a lot. Not whether I like the play or not, I know
that. But how to try to realize it in its fullest
fashion takes time for me, anyway. I echo that. Last night was the first preview of FROZEN,
and I was seeing (LAUGHS) things in the play that I’ve never seen before, just because
it was a different look and a different production, if you will, even though it’s the same production,
a different theatre, rather. And I echo that. Well, CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, while it’s not
a play – although in a funny way, it is a play, with music – Right, right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Which is coming from the Public Theater, also
in a very swift transition, as we’re speaking about, has such new nuances, such new beauty,
such new discoveries for everybody that’s seeing it now, just in transferring it from
one stage to another. Things happen. Right, right. And lighting becomes different and more magical,
or the actors, somehow coming from a smaller space to a proscenium stage. Things happen. And my experience of CAROLINE is that it’s
become so much more enhanced. And this move was totally the right thing
to do. Sometimes it’s good. I will say I’ve seen plays that I don’t
think should have moved to Broadway that have, that would have been – The wrong theatre. The wrong theatre, the wrong physicality. Right, right. You know, where intimacy is totally forsaken,
just for the sake of going to Broadway. And you know, I’m sad about that, because
then it doesn’t really serve the play. Well, this may sound like a completely innocuous
question, but Broadway is commercial theatre, with the exception of if you were at Roundabout,
Manhattan Theatre Club or Lincoln Center Theater, at this point. What makes a play commercial, or what makes
– We couldn’t answer that one! (LAUGHTER) As I said it’s – Mystery of life. Something you – But – I’m sorry. I defer to you. No, no. I don’t know what makes a play commercial. I think we could all have an hour and a half
conversation just about that. Well, we’ve got that much time! Okay! (LAUGHTER) But I do think you care about the
play. You read something or you see something and
you care about the artists, and that’s what drives you, I think. And in the course of that care and concern,
you end up developing it, working on it. The ideas interest you, the philosophy of
the play interests you. The art – the potential for art interests
you, and that’s the only thing I can go on. Well, I think that as a press agent, and somebody
that’s interested in commerce and a direct correlation to commerce and getting the word
out to the public, I think that to build a campaign there are five points, and you have
to have at least one of them. And I think the goal [is it] would be great
to have all five, but it rarely happens. I think the play has had to transfer from
London, with favorable reviews. (LAUGHTER) Well said! Transfer from a not-for-profit or regional
theatre, with favorable reviews. A star, or a variety of stars in your cast. A lauded playwright. And/or socially and/or politically compelling
subject matter. I think, as I build a campaign, those are
the five points that I look for and try and match up as many of them as I can. If you have all five, I think you’ve got
a good shot. You rarely have all five. Interesting. You know, on the other side of that – not
that I disagree, a play has to have that – but it has to touch people in a way that makes
an audience member who’s seen it go out and say, “You’ve got to go see this play.” Because that’s the snowballing effect that
you hope for. And when you read a play or you get impassioned
by it, I think as a producer you’re feeling, “Well, this is moving me, and hopefully,
there’s something in the universal aspect of it that you hope will go from beyond your
own personal reaction. That you feel, “There’s got to be a lot
of people that want to feel this and see this.” Because it can have all those things in place,
actually, and still miss the bottom line of people wanting to see the play for their own
personal – I just want to be clear, I said, “to build
a campaign”! (LAUGHTER) Not that the show actually does
sell, because I mean, the best-laid plans sometimes just don’t work! Yeah. For a variety of reasons, and I think, you
know – We can all point to those. This could turn into a five hour discussion
if we started getting into those reasons. I think the passion that we, as producers,
feel in choosing a work to support is without question the first step of, you know, believing
in it and being a tenacious producer. But all of those feelings can be there, and
your love of the piece and the play and everything can be there, and the audience doesn’t come. That’s true. Then we say, “Okay, what was the missing
link? What did we do wrong?” You know, and sometimes it has nothing to
do with the play. It could be – Competition. So many other things. There are a lot of plays on now – Timing. Timing, timing! Timing, weather. I mean, when we did MEDEA, which was a very
limited engagement, it was over the Christmas holiday, because that was the only period
of time, you know, that this cast, which was traveling around the world, actually, had
to do it here. And I think the lesson I learned is that I
will never do that again! MEDEA for the holidays is simply not — (LAUGHTER) Is just not what people want! What was I thinking? (LAUGHS) “Come see the mommy kill her kids!” I can see some interesting advertising campaigns,
but not necessarily germane to the project. It was so sad! But there again, you know, I mean to – But you don’t know till you do it. And you don’t! And once again, I loved that production! It was gorgeous. And I had the great honor of working on that
production. I thought it was one of the best things I’ve
ever seen. But it didn’t catch the wind. It didn’t catch on. But you know, to Michael’s point, also,
about feeling passionate about it – I mean, I applaud you for doing that because it was
such an extraordinary production. And you made the decision that if it didn’t
happen – It wouldn’t happen. In that window of time, it wouldn’t have
happened. And I think that that is a very important
decision, because I think that theatre has always been a platform for social consciousness. And I think that plays like that, I think
the competition for that, the competition for being the center of that, or the source
of that in people’s lives, that’s the thing, I think, that is getting very clogged
with other things. It’s easier, I think, for people that are
looking for something like that, there are things that are easier to ingest. There is, you know, a half-hour documentary,
or there is, you know, a story in U.S.A. Today. There are many other things now that take
the place of – you know, theatre used to be the foothold of that in our society. That’s it. That’s right. And I think there’s competition there. Good point. Okay. So you raise a question about a sixth element
I want to ask you about, that clearly you didn’t list it as one of yours, and I want
to know how this works. Talking about the plays that are here, FROZEN
deals with murder and pedophilia as elements in the play. I would say, a journey of a woman’s grief
to redemption. Okay. And forgiveness. And forgiveness. Well, I’m being reductive. (LAUGHS) You said, bestiality! (LAUGHS) You have some very controversial
elements, potentially, in PRYMATE. Wait, you have to name them! (LAUGHTER) We won’t be able to stay tuned! Yes, exactly! Well, you have the Palestinian situation in
SIXTEEN WOUNDED. Is there a place for controversy in the commercial
theatre? Is that something that you can use, or is
that something that you avoid? Well, it’s a good question, ‘cause we’re
up against reality TV. That’s a good point! And all that media that, you know – You can find at home. That theatre is a whole different beast, and
we are – that’s our competition, I think, though, in a certain way. So subject [matter] – the bar has been raised
or lowered, depending on how you view it, as to how and what we put on the stage. (TO BEN) I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. No, that’s all right. You know, I’m drawn to plays that have to
do with something about our society, about our world. And that’s what I’m interested in producing. And you know, there are other very good plays. There are, you know, some wonderful farces
that are really just wonderful frills that are thoroughly entertaining and a good evening
in the theatre, but I have no interest in them, personally. You know, the work that I like confronts us
in some way. Now, sometimes that is commercially successful
and sometimes it isn’t. But that’s what – and I think, you know,
this group here – I think this panel has that in common! Where does that come from, though? I’m curious, ‘cause I agree with you,
but where – I’ve never tried to detail what it is – ‘cause I’m more subjective
about my choices. But I agree with you that I feel a social
consciousness, I feel a purpose in producing. It’s not just, for me, entertainment, even
though I’ve acted in plays that are (LAUGHS) nothing but entertainment! But where does that come from, in you? A greater sense of – I can only answer personally. Well, that’d be good enough. (LAUGHTER) I didn’t really understand what was driving
me in the theatre – I’m being quite honest about this – until I started working with
Lloyd Richards. Because it was his passion for work of this
nature that, you know, connected somehow to me and made me understand what I really wanted
to do. So he was my mentor in this. And it was through him that I sort of found
my own place as a producer in this industry. And you know, but I really didn’t know that
– I didn’t come to work with Lloyd seeking that. I just – it was a result. And what about you? How did you? ‘Cause you have such a breadth of record
of choices and artistic product. I think for me it’s much like Ben, very
personal. I think the plays that I’m drawn to push
a personal button for me. They’re issues either I’m really curious
about and feel I’m in a position to put out there for people to digest. Or sometimes, issues that I’m really afraid
about confronting and think that maybe through theatre, I’ll have a better knowledge, and
therefore other people will, too. I think I like the effect that theatre has
on people, and I get a real, great satisfaction of being part of making that happen and being
part of being able to put that out there. I mean, I wouldn’t be – my head wouldn’t
be turned with a light farce of a play to produce. That just wouldn’t interest me at all. And I also think, in some way I’m honoring
my parents in a way, because my father was a very socially conscious person. My mother is a very smart and serious woman. And I think that, you know, they would be
proud of the sort of thing that I’m doing. Right. And I think everyone comes from their own
personal stuff, you know? And for me, it’s that. For me, it’s that. And I’ve been lucky! You know, some of the things – (TO ROBERT)
certainly, WIT, that we did together was confrontational theatre, you know, in a very delicate way. And it touched so many people’s lives! Right, yeah. And I feel, as I know you do, you know, just
so good about that! And so responsible for something good making
change. You know, whenever you can offer a dialogue
or a discussion and people start thinking about things, I think then, as producers,
we’ve done a good job. Michael, in promoting a show, can you build
that? You know, do you want to get into a situation
helping to build a conversation about a play? Well, I would say, in terms of controversy,
the controversy that I would always like to avoid in the selling of a show is that of
religion, because religion is so divisive. And very much of the time, when religion is
an issue, there can be no dialogue about it. It stays divided. But yeah, you can sell a show based on controversy,
but there’s got to be, at some point – the controversy can’t be such that it consumes
the entire perception of the project. If it’s a piece of it, I think it’s palatable
to people, because they perhaps think – and I also think, I think this is a good time
to talk about who we target as the audience for new plays. Mmm, good point. And I think we all sit in meetings and we
speak of this group of people that exists out there as “the avid theatergoers.” And I think there is the avid theatergoers
that go to plays and musicals, and then there is the avid theatergoer that goes to new plays,
which is a smaller sub-group of that larger group. It’s true. And I think that you always target them, right
off the bat, because they’re the people that you need to get in early. They’re the people that are compelled to
go and see what a new play is about or hear a new voice in the theatre. But you need to break out of that. Controversy, sometimes, is a way to gain attention
for your project, from people that maybe don’t normally go to plays. But it’s an issue that’s interesting to
them. Or it’s controversy in a different way. On ANNA IN THE TROPICS, it was the first time
that an all-Hispanic cast had opened a Broadway show, by a Latino playwright. And that was important in itself. Right. That is important, and in and of itself, a
bit controversial. And I think, you know, pushing the envelope
about whether that’s something to be – and the Times wrote a very supportive story about
this issue. And it became a little controversial, because
they talked about the issues of the avid theatergoing audience or a non-ethnic or a white theatergoing
audience having reservations about that. And is that fair, and is that something that’s
a given, or is that something that you can overcome? And I thought it was a really good article. And one of the other challenges we have, which
I think feeds into this discussion, is wanting to increase audiences in any way we can and
build audiences, new audiences coming into the theatre, and certainly try to target,
as Ben has done so successfully, new people. “Come in and see what we’re talking about! We’re talking to you, we’re talking to
you, we’re talking to everybody.” You know, even though this might have been
the first all-Hispanic cast on Broadway, the story was a universal love story, you know. And you’d think, with the pedigree of the
Pulitzer, that that would immediately telegraph to people that, “No, it’s something –” Bigger. Yes, exactly, something bigger. Something more relevant. Well, you mentioned the challenge of religion,
but now we’re coming to the issue of race and how that plays in. And of course, what you did with ANNA, Ben,
you had a comparable situation with FLOWER DRUM SONG. Again, we’re swinging over to a musical,
but it’s germane in that you had, as I understand it, the first all-Asian cast of a Broadway
musical, including the original production of FLOWER DRUM SONG could not even make that
claim. Right. There are racial issues at play with PRYMATE,
particularly in regards to casting the character of a gorilla. Mmm-hmm. And there are some who are questioning the
appropriateness of having a black actor play that role. And of course, some people are saying, “Does
that mean you can’t have a black man playing a gorilla? Is there a ‘right’ thing?” So where does race come into the issues? Well, you know, that’s a difficult question. I mean, if you have a play or musical where
race is inherent, you know, a fundamental quality, then that becomes, to me, an opportunity
to reach a particular market segment. I mean, I didn’t decide to get involved
with FLOWER DRUM SONG because it was going to be the first all-Asian musical! I got involved in it because of my relationship
with David Henry Hwang and my personal commitment to his work and what he was trying to say
in the work. But to expand on this topic, I think I have
a different kind of list from Michael’s list. I think that for a serious play on Broadway,
you have to be able to identify multiple market segments that would be interested in the play. There’s the small segment, as you had said,
of serious play theatergoers. But that’s not enough. You have to have another segment you can go
to. Now a star, a major star, can do that. A topic can possibly do that. If, you know, like an August Wilson play,
you know you can really reach out into the African-American community and try and draw
that sector in. So there are different ways of segmenting
potential audiences. But I think to succeed, you really have to
go beyond that small, serious play theatergoing audience and identify and specifically market
to other segments of the potential theatergoing community. We found with ANNA IN THE TROPICS – Michael,
I think you’ll bear me out – that many of the would-be theatergoers for ANNA IN THE
TROPICS felt so happy to actually be invited to the theatre. We did an all-Spanish press event, which you
should really talk about. And for the first time, people said, “We’ve
never been asked!” Regular people that are writing for magazines,
writing for newspapers, doing radio and TV, and they’re never invited specifically for
theatre, you know. And I think that was very interesting that
we learned that. Yeah. We sat in a meeting one day, and we talked
about the perception of what keeps an ethnic audience from coming to the theatre? And it’s about a perception that the theatre
is not a place where – well, basically, it’s that they haven’t been there before. And they have a perception of it that it’s
something that’s inaccessible or upscale or highbrow or too intellectual or something. And so, we thought, well, the best way to
slice – you know, chop that off at the knees is to bring ‘em in here and say, “No,
no, no, no! You don’t understand. You are important to us. You and people like you, we want here. You know, come in.” You know, and we had the press conference,
and we discussed where to have it, and we decided that it was essential that it be in
the theatre. (IN UNISON WITH HIM) In the theatre. So that they could be in the building, and
they could see that, it’s not a place that this other thing happens that you can’t
be a part of or that people that you’re writing for, your audience, you know, your
listeners, your viewers in Spanish media outlets can’t be a part of. And that you’re essential. It’s essential that you be a part of it,
and it’s essential that you come and celebrate this moment for all Hispanics, for this historic
moment on Broadway, that this is happening. And you have to be a part of it! And they felt very welcomed. They did. They were so appreciative, and that was – And I’m sure they’re now on your future
lists for regular, non-Hispanic, any kind of theatre. Because they really are – this is the way
we can reach out. It’s really true. It’s really what we can do to make the circle
wider, so we can get more theatergoers, you know. And whatever it is that we can do, it’s
what we have to do. Absolutely. I want to segue, and we’re going to come
back to some of these qualitative issues. But I just want to ask some basic questions,
because so many people in our audience don’t know exactly what it takes to get a play on. Very simply, of these most recent projects
that we’re talking about, what simply is the budget for these plays? For SIXTEEN WOUNDED, what was the budget? It was two point two million. PRYMATE? One point six. For ANNA? ANNA was about one point six, too, actually. (LAUGHS) One point five [for FROZEN]. And you are finding this money where? With difficulty. (LAUGHTER) Yes! I must say, we do a season every year. We do three productions. And non-profit, you know, corporations, individuals
and foundations, that’s how – and a benefit. That’s how we survive and we do theatre. This is the first attempt that I personally
have had in trying to raise money. And it is the hardest thing that I have ever,
ever done. I find a fierceness and a tenacity that I
didn’t know I have, and I find a belligerence that I didn’t know (DARYL LAUGHS) – well,
I’ve always known that! We knew that! (LAUGHTER) But by the same token, I am astounded – first
of all, my board, to credit my board, they stood up for this production, because they
believed in it. The next level, the next ring beyond that
has been un – I can’t even put it into words. It’s the most exhausting – “I have the
money,” “I don’t have the money,” “I have the money,” “I don’t have
the money.” “Whoop, we got it!” “We lost that.” I mean, it’s that kind of thing. That’s how it goes. Your heartbeat goes up, your blood pressure
goes up, you become depressed. The entire crew, the actors, everybody’s
waiting on the word. It is the most roller-coaster job I guess
I’ve ever, every attempted. And I must say, I think I’m better for it,
to be quite honest. I learned some stuff about myself that I didn’t
know. And I sat in the first preview last night,
and I saw four or five hundred people like this (SITS FORWARD, FISTS CLENCHED ON HIS
KNEES). Just watching the show. Not a sound. And for me, (IMITATES HIS HEARTBEAT) buh-boom!
buh-boom! buh-boom! Just touched my heart. It touched my heart, and I’m willing to
fight for what I believe in, which is this play. And it’s a fight. It’s an absolute, utter fight. The money-raising is more urgent when you’re
doing a transfer, also. Because you have a limited period of time
within which you have to raise the money to make the transfer happen. Right, right, right. If you’re working on doing a play and you’re
raising money at a normal course, you don’t book the theatre until you have the money,
or most of the money. So there’s a different urgency that you
experience in a transfer than you feel, just normally going forward and producing a play. It’s still hard, but you don’t have the
clock ticking. Well, and in an interesting situation, I happened
to speak to one of the actors in FROZEN about a week ago, and they told me that they had,
in fact, tried to make a few calls to people to help raise the money. That was a show, it existed, you had a company
and everybody wanted to see it go on. That’s typically not a role that you find
the performers playing, but obviously there was a commitment to keep that show going. Sometimes it is. Is it? Is it more common? Yes, sometimes it is. Everyone pulls together, and everybody really
wants to see what they can do to help. I’ve had actors introduce producers, you
know, to different people. “Well, I’ve got an aunt and I’ve got
a friend, and maybe, you know, because I’m involved in it” – that being the actor
speaking – “they might be able to help out or introduce us to someone else.” Everybody really gets on the same team. That’s what happened with FROZEN. Yeah, yeah. Because the time pressures were such that
we had to try to pull it together so quickly. In that situation. And you know, it’s – And it worked. It did. Michael, producing very — ? I echo what Bob said. Everybody (SIGHS) – I had to get a core
team together, basically, and then there was a ripple effect from that point. Core team being Chase Mishkin and Leonard
Soloway and Debra Black. And at that point, we all just went out and
beat the bushes. It’s very, very hard. It’s nerve-wracking and it’s insane. It really is. And we went through the exact same thing. So yeah, “I’ll have a check for you tomorrow.” “No, you know what? Invite me to previews,” or something. You know, “Let me see, I’ll make my decision
later,” or “Call me in a week.” And it’s crazy. But somehow, you get enough, just at the right
time – well, not every time, but in my case, just to get us to the next step, and then
to the next step, and then to the next step, and then to the next step. And you carry on, until you’re at the point
where you’re opening, or hopefully, beyond opening. But it’s – a widening of – I called
everybody I knew! (ROBERT LAUGHS) And asked them, “Do you
know anybody?” (LAUGHTER) And so, a lot of my friends – and
you find out who hates you and (LAUGHS) who loves you, who supports you and who says,
“Don’t ever call me again!” (LAUGHTER) But you get through it. It’s true, you’re a little stronger in
the end, and you say, “Geez!” Truly, I’m amazed at the, you know, the
verve that it takes to make cold phone calls or follow leads. Mmm-hmm. Oh, yeah! And what’s driving me is the theatre. Yeah, right. Well, that’s the only way you can do it. If you don’t love the project, step one,
if you don’t love the project, you can’t do that. Right. That’s right. That’s right. I mean, you put yourself on the line in such
a way that it’s demoralizing, really. Right. And unless you believe so passionately in
the project, you couldn’t possibly do it. It’s not like you’re selling stock, you
know? (LAUGHTER) Exactly. Listen, I must share with you. I think I made one big mistake in doing all
of this. Because I’m so passionate about this, just
“Go! (UNINTEL PHRASE)” You know, you get like
that? I thought he said he was in, do you know what
I mean? (LAUGHTER) You heard him, because you wanted him! I heard him say he was in! “Oh, he’s in! Our problems are solved!” Come to find, check time, he was never in. That’s right! So all of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh my God,
now what do I do?” Uh-huh. That’s right. Yeah. Well, they all do that! “I’m short,” you know? “Oh, my God!” And then, phone call, phone call, phone call. That’s the process. But that’s the one thing I’ve learned,
also! (LAUGHS) I really have to listen! To listen carefully? Yes! And then the question is, will I make money
on this one? Oh, God, we don’t even think about that! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I’m not even there! No, no, no, no! I don’t mean – that’s the question the
investor may ask. Oh, the investor! (NODS) The investor will say, “Well, Michael, what
do you think? Will I make money on this project?” And who knows, you know? I always tell investors, “Probably not.” Yes! And that you’re doing this for the right
reasons. You’re supporting good work. You’re making something happen that didn’t
happen before. And you’re going to influence a lot of people
that will see it. If you make your money back, you’ll be so
happy! And if you make a profit, which happens from
time to time (LAUGHTER), you know, you’ll be ecstatic! Exactly. But that’s not the reason to do it. No! You can never ask someone to put money in,
expecting to get it back, because it happens too rarely, sad to say! Ten to one isn’t a good formula? Yeah, go to the horse track! (LAUGHTER) Same odds. Same thing, exactly. (LAUGHS) Just so people understand, we’re talking
to you all as producers, and then you’re talking about investors. In this day and age, of course, we see shows
– not so much the plays – although it happens, where we’ll see eight, ten producers
on a project. CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, admittedly a musical,
has twenty or so up there. I’ll tell you why. And Ben referred to “by committee.” So I’m curious, as these projects are shepherded
forward, how many producers can you have on a project? How many producers do you need on a project? And who’s driving the bus? But please, first, tell us why there are so
many on CAROLINE? On CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, the situation was
deemed to be even more risky than normally risky. And so a group of people that, all producers,
came to see it at the Public and decided it was Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori and George
[C. Wolfe] and people we wanted to support, and that we loved, loved, loved the work. And we said, “Well, if we take this pie
– this, let’s say, six million dollar pie – and we make slices that everyone feels
comfortable enough probably losing, how many people would it take to raise this money so
that we can move it to Broadway and we can give it a chance?” Because we all loved it so. We love it so! And everybody that loved it came forward with
the amount of money they were willing to put up at risk, and it took that many people to
make it happen. But we all did it with the right intentions,
and we’re still, you know, thrilled to be supporting the work. And that’s how it got done. Some of the producers took a share that they
then had to go and find other people to lay off some of it on. Some of the producers just, you know, came
up to it and said, “I’ll take this. I’ll be responsible for this.” And that’s how it happened. And that’s why there are twenty people producing
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE. But it got done. Yeah, I think it’s a great effort. A great effort. And it’s all people in the theatre community
that were of like mind about this project. Right. I think it’s rare that it happens, and it’s
wonderful. It’s wonderful. You want me to comment about the committee? (LAUGHS) Well, you looked like you were ready to! You know, when a larger investor comes forward
to join the project, they like to really be involved, and they deserve to be involved. And so, you know, the sense of committee really
has to do with that. And unless one is going to totally fund a
project on their own – which very, very few people, if anybody, does that today – you’re
going to have a team of partners. And, you know, one of the things that one
learns is how to deal with that. You know, I have certainly had successes and
failures. Actually, I was involved with ANGELS IN AMERICA
in a somewhat odd way, at least I think. Rocco Landesman, again, had taken the lead. And all of the money to produce ANGELS IN
AMERICA was raised between, I believe it was fourteen producers. And I was not one of them. And Rocco called me up and said, “You know,
these fourteen people will never agree on anything. So, would you be the Executive Producer and
help us make decisions?” And that’s how I got involved with ANGELS
IN AMERICA. You know, it is complex, working with a team
of producers, but that’s how it happens. I mean, it’s the nature of the world. I mean, that’s what I would say. I think on CAROLINE – you remind of something
that also happened, because it’s the Tony Kushner connection. Everyone went to all the original ANGEL producers
to say this, you know – and of course, they were aware of it anyway, because they would
follow Tony’s work – but everyone was offered, anybody on ANGELS who wanted to be
involved was offered. But our committee is working a bit differently. We don’t have an executive overseer, but
we’ve broken up into smaller committees, so that people that are interested in marketing
sort of talk about the marketing. And people that are interested in, you know,
other things deal with other things. And then there are many people that are only
interested in finding the money to help make it happen and don’t come to the meetings
and don’t care, and have trusted those of us that are happy to be, you know, working
on it, really rolling up our sleeves and working on it. And they’re fine with that, because that’s
the role they want to play. So it’s sort of narrowed itself down by
self-selection, in a way. Not all twenty people are working on the project. That would be impossible. Let me move to a different aspect of new plays
on Broadway. Earlier, it was said, I believe by Michael,
that really everything we’ve talked about here started in the not-for-profits, and how
rare a show like MATCH or THE GOAT is in this day and age, even, you know, for playwrights
the stature of Edward Albee. If one is a playwright, is it even possible
to get a commercial producer to look at a new play, if it has not been produced elsewhere? Do you do that? What are the avenues that somebody would use
to get a play exposed to a commercial producer? Is it possible outside of not-for-profit? You know, we approach this world, producing
commercially, as everyone on this panel has been saying, with a kind of passion. I mean, I sometimes feel like a dog with a
bone about new plays. But you know, there is a new play that I have
been very interested in for five years. And I think it probably should be done Off-Broadway. It’s a writer who’s never been produced
in a major way, but I love the play. And I’m trying to look for the way to put
it together. In another way, you know, if it’s somebody
who’s known, who has – I mean, the first case I was using is a totally unknown playwright
– I just made the decision to produce a new play by Ariel Dorfman, who did DEATH AND
THE MAIDEN. It’s a two-character play. I know Ariel. He gave me the play, I read the play, and
that was it. I decided I wanted to do it. So you know, different methodologies, you
know, different ways that plays come to you. I receive – and I’m sure, Daryl, you receive
– Many! Many, many scripts, unsolicited. It’s very hard to keep up with that. And in fact, if it’s a completely unsolicited
manuscript, I really don’t generally read it. But if an agent that I know and respect calls
me, or if a writer I know says, “Look, I’ve read this play by So-and-So, I’m on a play
judging committee, I think you ought to look at it,” you take a look. Mmm-hmm. I mean, because you’re always looking, I
think, always. There’s something else that happens, which
sort of throws it back to the not-for-profit world. Oftentimes, I’ll be sent a play that is
a new playwright. And let’s say, I really like it and I want
to help this playwright come to fruition. Yes, yes. So I’ll call my friends in the not-for-profit
world and say, “Do you have a slot, or do you have a reading series, or do you have
anything that you could do to help this play have a first step, because I really believe
in it?” Well, the not-for-profit is happy to hear
that I believe in it, because then they think they’ll be able to have someone to be their
partner on it, which is great for both of us, and it will give a playwright a chance,
you know, to have a first something. And I think that’s, again, back to how not-for-profit
and commercial can work so well together, and should. And should, because lots of good things can
be achieved, you know, and it can come in and out of many doors, I think. There is a disturbing trend, I think, though,
to be looking for the one-, two-, three-character plays these days, which I think is not a great
particular trend. I don’t know if you are all faced – As opposed to a larger cast, you mean? Yeah, I mean, in terms of what – at least,
a lot of the writers that I’m coming across say, “Listen, I have this ten-character
play, but I won’t give you that. I’ll give you my two-character play.” And I want to read the ten-character play,
too! But there is a reality of, even if I like
it (LAUGHS) – Can you produce it? What do I do with it, because it’s not economically
feasible? So then, the not-for-profit world picks up
that slack. But then, it may also get done and run into
the problem of “Now what?” Does it get produced on Broadway? That’s another whole issue. Well, I think the problem is Off-Broadway,
more than on Broadway. You’re right, Off-Broadway. (BEN NODS) Because for Off-Broadway, it’s just untenable
to have a huge cast. It’s not working, yeah. I mean, we were pushing the envelope with
WIT. Right. But Broadway, I think, at least there’s
still a chance that you can have a larger cast. You’re right, you’re right. And when you say “large cast” with WIT,
eight? Nine. Nine. That’s what we had with JITNEY. So that’s a “large cast”? That’s about as big as you can make it work
Off-Broadway. Yeah, yeah. You’re really pushing the envelope there. You know, I’m in the clouds. I don’t really care how big the cast is. I really don’t, ‘cause I feel that a play
can be done. We may have to talk to the playwright to get
rid of some characters, you know! (LAUGHS) But I believe that, before I go into
producing head, I have to find the kernel, the passion and the raison d’être for doing
the play. And after having found that, then somehow
we find a way to do the play. Maybe you don’t go to Broadway, maybe you
go to Paris, you know? Or whatever, maybe you go to London and have
the big boys bring you back. You call Daryl incessantly. (DARYL LAUGHS) I mean, who knows, you know,
you make it happen. But I – ‘cause it’s hard enough to find
a good play. That, for me at least, the bigger question
is, rather than “How do I produce it?” is to find a play that I can put these guns
behind and want to produce. That’s a hard, hard, hard equation. There’s a lot of paper, but not a lot of
plays. And some of the new producers that I’m running
into really have narrowed their band to one- or two-character, you know, plays. Yeah. They’re willing to do that and try to make
that happen. And they’re new people in town, but they
can’t conceive of taking on a play with five or ten characters. You know what’s really interesting, in the
financial discussion that has to, you know, follow – a one-person show, sometimes, costs
exactly the same as a five-person show! Exactly. That’s true. As Daryl and I know! As we know! (LAUGHTER) And the sad thing is that the actor’s
salary is not what makes the difference in your expenditures. Right. I mean, it’s the same marketing, the same
advertising, the same theatre rent, the same everything, whether there’s one person standing
on the stage by themselves or whether there are five. Exactly. So you know, people think, new producers think,
“Oh, it’s going to be much easier for us to produce, much more, you know, economical.” Well, it’s not! Can I ask a question of all of you? I’m curious. Do you feel – I’ve been around the block
a couple times – do you feel that competition is good, and that there’s more competition
now, in terms of product, in terms of plays and musicals on Broadway and Off-Broadway? Do you feel that there’s been a decline
in all the years that we’ve done theatre here in New York? Because I can only speak to New York, but
do you have any – like my theatre wasn’t in existence eighteen years ago, so – I
know your theatre wasn’t there. Yeah. So these are two new theatres on the scene,
even though we’re, you know, teenagers, we’ve been around. So are we bringing too much product, [more]
that the market can bear? You know what I’m saying? Well, I would respond by saying, sadly, I
think the number of audience members has decreased. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) For various reasons. I wouldn’t discount 9/11, people maybe being
afraid to come into the city, although a lot of that’s back and feeling a lot stronger,
I think. Right, right. But when you look at the ABC pages in the
New York Times – Oh, it’s frightening! Yeah. And it runs from top to bottom, and you know
there are only so many people that are going to come and see theatre, you think, “Oh,
my God, there’s just too much out there!” And as a theatergoer, you say, “Well, how
am I going to choose what to see?” Well, what have you read about? What have you heard about? Who’s got a big star you ever wanted to
see from TV or film? And the choices are made for various reasons,
of course, some good, some not so good. But there is too much, in my opinion. And I can’t believe I’m saying that, because
I’m the biggest champion of new plays! Right, right. But I think it causes competition, in a way,
that’s just untenable. You know, how do you choose? How about you, Ben? Do you feel the same? Well, I think Daryl is very right. The nature of commercial audiences, if I can
focus on that, in New York has changed significantly. Really since the early nineties, when New
York became a tourist destination, and the commercial product, if you will, on Broadway,
could not survive unless there was a connection with that tourist market. And that is the cause of some of what Michael
was talking about, in terms of, “You must have a star, or anyone known.” I mean, there has to be a hook that someone
who’s visiting New York, who is not, you know, a regular part of the theatre scene,
so to speak – you know, why would they pay seventy-five, eighty, eighty-five dollars
to see a show? That’s one sort of answer to the question. But another way of addressing your question
is about this notion of competition. Frankly, that’s what I like about producing
commercially, either Broadway or Off-Broadway, because you know, you really have to work
at top form. And you have to have artists ready to work
at top form. And that really engages me. And the work has to be of the first order. And so, competition and that sense of “I
really want to mount something that is going to make its mark and stand tall in this competitive
universe!” is a challenge that I like. And I think that’s the thing that I find
interesting, ‘cause I find I’m looking for an event. Right. To me, theatre is an event. So it’s not just about a package of this
and that or X amount of characters or X amount of scenery. (THE PANEL NODS) To me, it’s some kind of
event that is new or unique, which makes it a new play in my case, new or unique. And it can be something about a family, it
doesn’t have to be, you know, wild stuff. But there’s something about it that creates
an event. That’s what – I’m the same way. I like that about new plays and about new
product, because that’s the turn-on, I mean, for [me]. Well, creating an event around a play is a
very interesting subject that Michael can address, too. And sometimes, you don’t have the wherewithal
to do that financially. Sometimes, you don’t have the subject and
the play to do that. Right. And it just doesn’t become the event that
it needs to. Some Off-Broadway small things become events. I mean, I think MATT AND BEN has become an
event, in a funny way, you know. And it’s small, and it’s done it. But getting to that “event” level is really
something that we all aspire to do, for the right reasons. Not just to say, “Oh, hoopla, hoopla, here
we are!” Yeah, no, right, no. But because, you know, you want to focus on
the play. You want other people to know you’re there,
and you want them to experience the play. So that event status is something we all try
to catch. Right, right. How do we do it? (ROBERT LAUGHS) Sometimes it’s tricky to
find out. And you know, there’s one thing, as long
as we’ve been talking, which – well, I won’t say, in case you’re editing us! (LAUGHTER) In case you’re cutting us off! But the one thing that we haven’t addressed,
which I think is the biggest factor in the success of a straight play on Broadway, is
reviews. Well, that was the next question. We’ve actually been very successful, because
sometimes it’s the first thing people want to talk about. Right. But what is both the overall journalistic
environment towards plays nowadays, and ultimately, are the reviews the be-all and end-all for
a new play in New York City? I think criticism – I’m sorry. No – I think that they are. I think the reviews are absolutely crucial
to a new play. Mmm-hmm. I think it – More so than a musical. Right. Absolutely, without a doubt. Because once again, you’re going for a targeted
audience, a smaller audience, and you’re looking to expand that. And I think a positive review in the Times
is the way that you do that most successfully. That being said, aren’t we having some concern
about who’s writing these reviews lately? I was going to say, literary criticism right
now, to me, is a shambles. I think it’s one of the crises of our industry. And maybe I can afford to say that, because
I’m a non-profit producer, but I remember the days of really wonderful criticism where
people – Intelligent criticism. Right. Walter Kerr, etc., etc., Clurman. Those guys talked about the play from a theatrical
perspective, about what they saw and theatre knowledge. The kind of criticism, which I think is a
crisis in our industry right now – I agree. The kind of criticism that we’re getting
is – the obvious word – Personal. It’s sort of personal. Well, that’s right. Forget the idea that it’s destructive and
all of that. It’s so obvious that it’s personal. It’s exactly that. It’s personal in a way in which it doesn’t
really enlighten or inform a prospective theatergoer, I don’t think, about what to see or what
not to see. And if “information fit to print” is the
way to go, I don’t know that it’s information fit to print. I think it’s a big problem. It’s very interesting, when you asked about
competition, and you asked for various opinions about “Is there too much product, and can
the market bear it?”, I actually had this fantasy, as I was sitting here pondering that
question, about (LAUGHS) I would like to ask the critics, for one season, to give everything
a rave review! (DARYL LAUGHS) Just as an experiment! It will never happen, but – But survival of the fittest, then. It’s fair playing ground. I’d like to be there when you asked them! (LAUGHTER) It won’t be happening, so don’t [wait]. See, the other thing, I really am empathetic
to them, ‘cause I’ve seen a lot of bad theatre. I mean, imagine having to go to the theatre
every single night of the week and having to write every, a deadline, blah-blah-blah. I’m empathetic to the job, and I think we
have people who really care about the theatre. Despite what they write, they care about the
theatre. Absolutely. It’s a matter of, I think, journalistic
responsibility, I guess. And literary criticism, not even journalism,
it’s just literary criticism. What is it that you’re writing about, and
what for? I wish they would teach that in universities. I wish they would teach people how to do criticism
that is actually critical in a positive way. Right. Not critical in a dismissive or negative way,
which is what I’m feeling is more – I don’t know. A lot of people writing for theatre now are
very intelligent and have wonderful ways of writing, but I don’t think they’re giving
the public, as you say, the tools they need to decide if they want to come and see this
or not! Oftentimes, it’s just a dismissive thing. So sadly, because Michael is a hundred percent
right in saying that reviews mean everything, it would be nice to know that those reviews
were actually thoughtful reviews, constructive. They don’t have to like everything. Nobody would, and that’s not even what I’m
suggesting. But it’s hard for an audience to make judgments
based on some of the reviews that I have read that don’t tell you enough, don’t tell
you anything. You know, I agree completely with the tenor
of everyone’s comments. But I would also like to add, you know, one
of the things that I have tried to do and I recently failed to do, is to have enough
strength behind a show that we’re not totally dependent on reviews. Now, as you said, Daryl, you know, it’s
easier with musicals with plays. Yeah. But I think that should always be our goal. You know, that there’s enough of a base
audience, enough of an advance through the first six or eight weeks of the run, so that
if you don’t get good reviews, you know, you can really try to develop some sort of
word of mouth. You can sort of neutralize the reviews by
being there. Right. You know, it’s very hard. It’s hard. I mean, I had, you know, I just produced SIXTEEN
WOUNDED, which closed very quickly, and it was a total failure, in terms of being anything
but review-dependent. And we didn’t get the reviews, and we closed. And I really, you know, I feel really personally
saddened, not – you know, I wish we had gotten better reviews! But I’m saddened that I, as a producer,
allowed ourselves to be in that position. Well, sometimes it’s not our choice. Yeah. I mean, I know Michael and I have had this
discussion many times, and it’s about sometimes people won’t pay attention and give you
an editorial story until the reviews! Yeah. They want to know if they should support it
or not. That’s right. That’s true. And so, you try very hard to build in that
support or that safety net, which I totally agree is the way to go. But sometimes – Michael, I know you know
this is true – the editors don’t want to hear about it. “Well, let’s see what happens when it
opens, and then we’ll do a story on your star, or not.” Right. FROZEN’s moving directly because of the
support of the Times. I mean, I must say that. Mmm-hmm. That’s when it can work! Exactly. It’s moving directly because of the support
of the Times. If I didn’t get that, if we didn’t have
that, that play would have – That wouldn’t be possible. Exactly. But, with FROZEN, ultimately, from the point
at which you finally got your money together and really were able to start selling those
tickets and making that move, your time is fairly short. You said your first preview was last night,
and your official opening is Tuesday, next week. Tuesday, May 4th. So, is it going to be re-reviewed? Are you expecting the press to come back to
it? Or are you simply trying to leverage off of
what was done at MCC and just build the audience from there? Both. I think we’re going to get a reprint, as
far as the Times is concerned. On page 17, I guess, (LAUGHS) you know, wherever
they do it, when they [reprint]! I’m sure. I mean, I’m not – and then, the out-of-town
critics and the, you know, the magazines. We’ll have the critics who didn’t come
the first time, they’ll come opening night. Because those publications aren’t publications
that regularly review Off-Broadway? Off-Broadway, exactly. But when it moves to Broadway, they’ll pay
attention. They’ll pay attention to it. Michael, you’re dealing with a very similar
– Not quite, yeah, yeah. Well, an even more difficult situation, because
your show played in Florida. It had a very large feature story in the Times,
which brought a lot of attention to the show. Right, right. But you’re coming in very quickly. Is there a safety net? Are you coming in and saying, “It’s going
to be up to what this group of people says”? For better or for worse, it’s going to be
up to the New York Times. (MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE) Because we didn’t
have time to do a mailer. We didn’t have time to do the prep on this
show, which may prove to be, in this situation, (TO BEN) like yours in a sense, that, you
know, should all of that have been put into place, way [before], you know? And so we build up an audience and build up
support that could keep it going, despite a negative review. But we didn’t. We knew that. We looked at it pretty squarely, I have to
say, with cold [eyes], you know. We just said, “This is the territory,”
and everybody on board said, “Are we all comfortable with that reality?” And everybody was comfortable with that, and
said, “We’re just going to have to see how that falls.” But I would say we’re completely dependent
upon a review, their review. I have to say, in addition to the review,
though, if word of mouth is good – Right. You can’t beat the challenge. True! At least, I haven’t beat the challenge,
but at least you have a leg up. If people are seeing the play, and they’re
coming out and they’re talking about it, and they’re liking it, and they’re saying
to friends, “You should go see this,” you know, at least you have a chance. You know, you have a chance. Yeah. If people like it, and audiences spread the
good word, that’s ultimately the best. The best. Yeah, sure it is. Yes. But can you, with word of mouth – certainly,
in my experience, regional theatre, you play five previews, and everybody in town knows
if the show is good or not, because enough people have come in. In a city the size of New York, and with the
scale of what you have to do to sustain a show on Broadway, can you sustain a show long
enough for word of mouth to get out, if indeed, in some cases, it has to outpace what’s
been written about in the papers? Is that feasible? What are the tools? What are the contexts that you create, to
sustain that? Well, you do need that base of direct mail,
or now, it’s much more about Internet sales and email blasts, I guess they’re called. An email blast, right. Email blasts. And so, if you have that base, and that cushion,
at least you have a running start. I have to say, it’s hard. It’s really hard. I’m not optimistic about it. You know, if the reviews are across the board
not good, or mixed to poor, and even if you have the direct mail out and you have all
the [email], you know, it depends on how far your pre-sale goes out. And it depends on how people are responding. Because it’s interesting, coupled with – if
somebody’s talking about a show, two people can be having a conversation about a new play
on Broadway. And one will say, “Oh, I saw this show,
Play X.” And the person may say, “I really enjoyed
it.” The other person may say, “What was the
Times review like?” You know? Mmm-hmm! And it’s all of a sudden tempered. A different story, yeah. It’s all of a sudden qualified with whatever
the Times review was. That’s right, that’s right. But sometimes they’ll answer by describing
the feature story. Right! (LAUGHTER) That’s another interesting thing! Well, you’re lucky if you can do that! I’ll say, in terms of PRYMATE right now,
what I’m going through today is that people have very, very strong opinions. And I think that everybody’s waiting. The people that are passionate about PRYMATE
are walking out – I’m getting people that are coming back to it three times, saying,
“This is amazing! I love this play!” And then I have people that say, “No, I
just don’t like this play at all!” Boom! (DARYL LAUGHS) Categorical, you know? Black and white! Black and white. And there’s a huge group that’s waiting
to see what the New York Times says, so that if the New York Times says it’s great, I
think it’ll be a flood of support. But it could go the other way. I don’t know. Is there a huge group? That’s what I have suspicions about. For a musical, yes. Well, you’re right, yeah. You mean, a huge group that will hear what
the Times says? A relatively large group! Yeah, I think so. Of audience, you’re talking about? Yes. That you’re talking about? I think so. You do? I think they’re all – there’s a huge
group waiting to get the word on it, and then they’ll say, “Oh, okay. I can like this, or I can not like this.” Yes. It’s my sheep theory. Yeah! (LAUGHTER) I think that the New York Times is the shepherd! Yes! (LAUGHS) And people are sheep, and they’ll follow
what they say, or they won’t! Unfortunately, a lot of it is a financial
issue. Right. I mean, a lot of people want to hear about
the play, which takes us back to why it would be great to have wonderful criticism. They want to hear about the play, before they
decide to plunk seventy-five, eighty, ninety, a hundred dollars for a Broadway ticket! I don’t blame them. So the information that people want to wait
to gather is a valuable point, I think. And there’s one more thing, if I may say
– Sure. Because of PRYMATE – and there’s a lot
of Internet buzz. Yes. Gosh! (PH) And a lot of the Internet buzz, though, are
people that haven’t seen the production! Right. They just start talking about it. Which is an amazing phenomenon, because they’re
saying, “Well, look, my friend saw this who saw that,” so we’re getting fourth-hand
reviews (DARYL LAUGHS) on the Internet, from people who have not seen the production, but
they think they know entirely everything about it. So I’m not sure what that’s about, and
whether that’s helpful in this particular environment right now. In some cases, you know, it’s positive. In some cases, it’s negative. But it’s not direct, which is of concern. It’s uninformed. Yeah. It’s totally uninformed. Which brings something to me, which I don’t
think I have an answer for. Besides my whole crisis in my own head about
criticism, I think as an industry, non-profit and profit, I don’t know how well we’ve
marketed the industry of theatre. Yes, yes. To a public at large. I mean, I just think that’s something – and
I don’t have an answer. Certainly, it’s something we struggle with
every show. Certainly, we had a lot of meetings on WIT,
how to get a target audience, how to blah-blah-blah-blah. But the issues of marketing, and particularly
how marketing has taken such precedence now in the effort of a play – Right. I don’t know that we’ve accomplished as
much as we want to, in terms of that. There are efforts being made to try to unify,
you know, many plays under one umbrella. I know the League is trying to do things,
and get the word out about “Broadway” generically, in a sense. That, you know, “Come back to Broadway”
or “Come to Broadway” or whatever they’re saying. And I think they’re trying. I think there are efforts being made. Yeah. I think efforts are made, but I think there
are inherent challenges in that. And I think it has to do with, many times
in ad meetings, we compare what we do to what big-budget films do. And I think that’s a good comparison, because
those are marketed brilliantly. Right. There is a huge budget for those things, which
we never have the luxury of. There’s also, on the flip side, it’s how
dollars are shared by the two responsible parties, the people that produce it and the
people that see it. Right. You know, and it’s the reverse. Movies have huge, big budgets for advertising
and publicity. Theatre has none. On the flip side, it costs ten dollars to
see a movie. It costs seventy-five to see a play, or a
hundred to see a musical. I think those are certain factors, variables,
that I think will forever sort of put a ceiling on what you can do, in terms of marketing
to a mass audience. And I also think, you know, in terms of editorial
outlets, many times when we pitch a show, a common answer from a publication can be,
“Well, we’re not going to do that, because Broadway is a local story.” In many ways, I think that there’s a real
perception of that, too. Now, on the other hand, if there’s a big
star in a play or a musical on Broadway, and it’s a household name, that’s no longer
a local story, and that sort of breaks through the local story perception. Unless it runs a long time. But I think there are real – I think there
are challenges there that I’m not sure how to get around. I don’t remember the challenges being so
great, in, again, in all the years I have been doing this. I think there is an increased sense of challenge
now, you know, in even the last five years. Mmm-hmm. Well, I think it is challenging. Yeah. I don’t know. It would be wonderful if it were more industry-wide. You know, that everybody pulls together and
tries to just say, “Come and see a play!” You know? “Come and see a play!” And we have a lot of work to do about that. Cost is a big issue. Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Ticket prices are a huge issue! Yes. You know, getting students and young audiences
to come in, huge issue. You know, once you get the past the good quality
of the work on stage, there are a lot of things to deal with, that we are responsible to do,
I think. We have literally just two or three minutes
left. But I want to ask, very quickly, we’ve talked
about the challenge of what happens with press, we’ve talked about how audiences respond
to that. Michael made a comment about people coming
out of the theatre and talking to him. Very quickly, how do you hear from audiences,
beyond whether they actually buy the tickets or not? Do you, as producers, have direct dialogue
with audience members at any time? And if so, how? I do. Email. They email me, they write me letters. I had a really wonderful letter by a lady
who absolutely hated the show that I did. Hated it! And I called her and took her out to lunch. (LAUGHTER) And we had a great lunch, and she
told me all that was wrong with the show, and I respectfully disagreed, and it was a
wonderful lunch. But I actively pursue that, because I think
we can all live in a bubble. I actually ask people like Daryl to come see
my shows all the time, just to see if there’s any future viability for a show that I’m
doing. So besides subscribers, I also ask fellow
producers to come and take a look. And you want feedback. And I want feedback. And you want feedback from people you respond
to. I always try to listen to audiences when I’m
visiting a show. I stand in the back at intermission, and I
want to hear what people say. I go into the ladies’ room, you know, I
stand on line like a person (LAUGHTER) and I want to hear what the comments are. You know, I just sort of want to hear what
people say! And then, you can go back with that information
and utilize it in a way that can be helpful. When we did THE GOAT, we had lots of talkbacks,
and we had lots of talkbacks with WIT, too. And then you get to really hear directly,
from people who are willing to stay a bit and have a dialogue. And I love that! People really say what they think, and want
you to hear what they have to say about it, good, bad or indifferent. That’s right! Exactly. I walked a couple down the street, next to
them, because we don’t have an intermission. So I’m missing some of the intermission
talk! (LAUGHTER) Can’t go at intermission! So this couple had a very animated conversation,
and I trailed them. They thought I was a stalker! You were! (LAUGHTER) I was! A theatre stalker! That’s right, at some point! But I try to listen all the time, yeah. And Ben? Oh, I’m a great believer in, you know, trying
to understand what an audience is seeing in the theatre. And you know, for almost every show I’ve
done, I’ve done exit surveys. Because you can’t be a hundred percent positive
that the way you’re positioning your show is the way the audience perceives your show. Mmm-hmm. Good point. And you know, one just quick example, when
I was doing August Wilson’s TWO TRAINS RUNNING, we started noticing that the audience was
getting younger, which was very surprising. And we did a survey, and something that had
never occurred to us was the fact that Lawrence Fishburne was in it, and that he had done,
about nine months before that, BOYS IN THE ‘HOOD. And you know, learning from that – I mean,
it’s not that we didn’t know and respect Lawrence, but we didn’t realize that he
was actually influencing who was coming to the theatre! And so, it changed our marketing, and we started
going, you know, into more youthful urban markets. And I think we got an extra eight or nine
weeks to the show, as a result of that. Terrific! We have to wrap up. These seminars, coming to you from the Graduate
Center of City University of New York, are part of the American Theatre Wing’s ongoing
commitment to supporting excellence and education in theatre and giving people more of an opportunity
to understand how theatre gets made, and of course, why we need to keep going to the theatre. I want to thank our panel for being with us
today, for their thoughts. It is indeed, as was said, a conversation
that could probably go for five hours! But today we had ninety minutes. I thank everyone for watching. I thank all of you for being here. And on behalf of the American Theatre Wing,
and theatre in general, go out and see a play! Thanks. (APPLAUSE)

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