Production: Contact (Working In The Theatre #283)


(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome to the American
Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 26th year, coming to
you from the new Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These seminars offer a unique opportunity
to explore with the professionals the realities of working in the theatre. Today we have the Production seminar, and
it is devoted to that wonderful show, CONTACT. We will follow the creation of the play from
its inception, through the production, and then what follows. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the Board
of the American Theatre Wing, and I hope that you will enjoy and learn from today’s experience. I would now like to introduce our moderator
for the seminar, quite a veteran producer and now President of the American Theatre
Wing, Roy A. Somlyo. Roy, would you now begin? (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Isabelle. Isabelle’s told you why we’re here. We’re going to explore a lot about CONTACT. Let me introduce our panelists to you. On my right is Bernard Gersten, the Executive
Producer of Lincoln Center Theater. He did produce CONTACT. Bernie has had perhaps three decades of experience
in the not-for-profit institutional theatre, as well as some commercial exposure. And next to him is John Weidman. John Weidman is a playwright. He is credited as the author of CONTACT. You may have known that he is a collaborator
frequently with Stephen Sondheim. WISEGUYS is your current effort. ASSASSINS, PACIFIC OVERTURE. OVERTURES. Please, you did more than one, didn’t you? (LAUGHTER) Yeah. And Susan Stroman is sitting next to me. Susan is the director/choreographer of CONTACT. She’s got a wealth of experience on Broadway. She did CRAZY FOR YOU, she did BIG, she did
STEEL PIER. And she’s very acclaimed for her work on OKLAHOMA!
in London, which never quite got to America. Yet. But we’re still waiting for it! We’re still waiting for it. Next to her is Thomas Cott. Tom is the Marketing Director and Director
of Special Projects for Lincoln Center Theater. And he, too, has had both commercial and not-for-profit
experience. And Tom is a lecturer and a consultant on
theatre arts. And on my far right is Andre Bishop, the Artistic
Director of the Lincoln Center Theater. And Andre, if I’m not mistaken, you’ve probably
spent your entire professional career in the institutional theatre, the not-for-profit. Yes. So let me start with you, if I can. Tell us, now we all know that CONTACT now
has just set the world on fire with this production, and what we really want to know is, how did
it really start? What’s the very beginning of CONTACT? Well, it’s so funny to talk about something
that has become what you just said and think back to its beginning, which wasn’t really
all that long ago. I don’t really remember, because I forget
everything except what happened this morning! (LAUGHTER) But I think, truthfully, I had
noticed Susan Stroman for a number of years and had seen a number of her shows. And I had met her once or twice socially,
but I didn’t know her at all. And I had this idea, and you know, one doesn’t
have that many ideas in one’s life. At least I don’t! (LAUGHS) But this was, as it turned out, a
good idea. I thought that she, number one, should come
to Lincoln Center Theater and enjoy the benefits that this institutional theatre that I have
worked in all my life can offer, which is a certain ease of production, a kind of dignity
afforded to the artists who work there, and freedom to create something new and something
that she really wanted to do. And I guess I had felt, perhaps presumptuously,
I felt that she really had the makings of a director. And I thought it would be great to invite
her to come to Lincoln Center, where we could give her a home and have her create something
new, not just for us, but for herself. So I called her. I had cleared the way with her beloved agent,
Flora Roberts, and I called her up. And I said, “Would you be interested in coming
in and talking to me about a show?” And she said, “Yes.” I mean, what else could she say? (LAUGHS) I guess she could have said, “No!” (LAUGHTER) But she said, “Yes,” and she came
in and we talked. And I just said, “Look, I think you’re really
talented. You should be doing your own work. Lincoln Center Theater can really do such
a variety of things for the people who work there. Please come here and do something, whatever
you want, whenever you want.” And we had a lovely talk, and I was instantly
smitten. And then she went away, (LAUGHS) and I didn’t
hear from her for months and months and months. And because I do not have much aggression
in me, though I’m working on it (LAUGHTER), I didn’t dare call her, because I thought,
“Well, it was a good idea and we had a nice time, and I know I can, you know, kiss her
when I meet her as opposed to shake her hand, but nothing’s going to come of this.” And then suddenly, one day she called and
she said, “Well, I’ve been thinking about your offer. And I do have an idea, and I’ve called John
Weidman,” – whom I had known from when we produced ASSASSINS, when I was working at
Playwrights Horizons – “and we would like to come in and talk to you about an idea we
have.” So they came in. And we talked about this idea that turned
out to be the basis of the third piece in the play, in the evening, called “Contact.” And it was loosely based on a short story
by Ambrose Bierce. And you know, when guys like me have meetings
with people like them and they recount to you the plot of what they want to do, it always
sounds awful! (LAUGHTER) You know, the plot of HAMLET sounds
boring. Well, I think it sort of is boring! (LAUGHS) But what you do is you say, “Oh,
that sounds wonderful!” because you believe in the talented people. If people are talented, you know they will
make anything good, I think. We never heard this before! (LAUGHTER) We thought he loved it! (LAUGHTER) You know, it sounded interesting, but an idea
is an idea. This is getting worse! (LAUGHTER) Well, Andre, was it just a one-on-one meeting,
just between you and Susan? Yeah, and then John came in. But the point is, they wanted to do something,
and they were given an opportunity to come there, and they seized it. And so, you know, I said, “Great, this sounds
good.” I mean, I’m being joking, it did sound good. And they went away. Anyway, that’s how it started. There were workshops and all of that, but
it started with a phone call. And I sort of wish every play and musical
could start with a phone call, and it rarely, if ever, does. Well, Bernie, as the Executive Producer, obviously
you are in continual communication with your associate. How does the producer look to something like
this, where an idea is just going to suddenly come to life? Well, the idea was not what came to life. What came to life was the work itself. What was offered was not to do a production,
but to do a workshop, to investigate an idea in a rehearsal hall. And the miracle, I think, of CONTACT is the
work that took place. The original idea was miraculous. The fulfillment of the idea in the workshop
was what was deeply affecting to us. And at the end – what were the dates of
the first workshop? It was in February. February? Yeah. And it’s amazing what has taken place in the
elapsing, what? Ten months, nine months. Well, nine months, it makes great sense when
you think of it that way! (LAUGHTER) But what happened was, the first
workshop was of the third work, of “Contact,” which Susan and John will describe in detail,
I presume. And after a month’s work – it was only four
weeks, wasn’t it? Or five? The first workshop. Five weeks. Five weeks. And after the five weeks, we came to a runthrough
and we were bowled over and deeply, deeply affected and moved and just couldn’t get over
it. So that was a miraculous experience. But you must realize, that was not a commitment
to do a work. It was a commitment to do a workshop. It was a commitment to process, not to production. The commitment to production followed after
the process. Well, I think we should identify a workshop,
because it’s a term that sometimes in the commercial theatre has a different connotation. Right. In this case, it was purely a creative experience. So, what did you do? You’d been given a license to do a workshop. Well, after I met with Andre, I actually went
right home and I called John Weidman, and I said, “You’ve got to come over, because
Andre Bishop said if I had an idea, (LAUGHS) we could do something there!” So he came over, and in fact, we started right
away meeting once a week or sometimes twice a week and trying to develop an idea. And in fact, I called John because I wanted
to do something very contemporary, something that happens in 1999, and a creative piece
for now and for today’s audience. And John has a very contemporary wit about
him (JOHN SNORTS) and dialogue about him. And plus, John loves dance. And not all writers love dance. But you had worked together? Yes, so I’ve known John through the business,
sure. You had worked together on BIG, wasn’t it? Yeah, right. So he came over and we just tossed out some
ideas. And we both knew about the Ambrose Bierce
short story, “Occurrence at Al (PH) Creek,” and we loved that short story. And we thought, “Is there any way to turn
that into a story that happens in 1999? But I told John about an experience I had
had a couple months before at an underground swing club in lower Manhattan, where I went
to this club and there was a girl there in a yellow dress. And she would step forward when she was ready
to dance with a man, and she would dance with him, and then step back after she was done
and get lost in the crowd. And then again she would appear and step forward. And I myself got obsessed, watching her. Because of course, it was in Manhattan, everyone
was dressed in black and dark clothing, and this girl would step forward. And at the end of the night, probably about
three in the morning, she disappeared. And then I wondered, you know, at some point,
she was going to change some man’s life, you know? She was gonna dance with the right fellow
and change some man’s life. And I told John this story. And we tried to then see if we could combine
the two short stories, and we came up with “Contact.” When we had what we thought would be right
to go into a workshop, we went back to Andre with this short story. And he set up a workshop for us. But it all came out of a very pure place. For Andre and Bernie to give us eighteen dancers
in the cellar of Lincoln Center, and just let us have this five weeks to create, through
improv and through following our idea, you know, it has come out of a very pure place
of creating. And we could have not done CONTACT in any
other place but Lincoln Center. Yeah, even before we got to the workshop,
the process of figuring out what we wanted to do was unfolding in a way which was only
possible, as Stro said, because we were doing it, you know, with Lincoln Center Theater’s
arm around our shoulders. When I sat down with Stro in her den, there
were no assumptions about where we were headed or any obligations we needed to fulfill, or
anything about what the piece needed to be when it was finished. And we didn’t even talk about it in those
terms. We didn’t talk about whether it should be
a conventional musical, we just played with possibilities. And we let the piece expand from an image
into what it ultimately came. I mean, along the way, we found ourselves
talking about whether or not people should sing, how much should they talk, in what way
would dance express the story? But it was a rare and entirely satisfying
creative experience because it was able to proceed at its own pace and without any requirements
that needed to be satisfied along the way. And indeed, it wasn’t until we were pretty
much ready to go into the workshop that we sort of stopped and said, “You know, this
looks like it’s going to be about an hour long. Is that an evening in the theatre? Will it need more?”, you know. But even at that point, we didn’t worry about
it. All we worried about was fulfilling the ambitions
for the piece which had developed as we imagined this third piece, which was “Contact.” And then, you know, once the workshop was
done, that process continued in a different way. But it was terrific. It does not happen. You don’t get to have this experience very
often. As you’ve said, it could only have happened
at Lincoln Center. Is this unusual for you, as a producer, to
have this kind of thing take place? I think maybe everybody in the world doesn’t
know what workshops are. That’s right. All right. I mean, most everybody in the world who’s
likely to be listening knows what productions are. People decide, on the basis of reading or
listening or some combination of reading or hearing, or listening to somebody tell a story,
or being handed a script, or listening to a bunch of songs, that they’re going to produce
a play or a musical. And then the process is very familiar to watchers
and listeners of this program. You assemble money or you’re an institutional
theatre and you do it in a slightly different way. But what workshops are, workshops are creative
investigations of, in some instances an idea, in some instances a fully developed work that’s
written and composed and lyrics are there and text is there. In this instance, it was the examination of
an idea in private with no performance goal ahead. Nobody was going to perform it, necessarily. It would take place over a period of time,
and the discovery of the work and the evolution of the work would take place in the privacy
of a rehearsal process. A workshop is a rehearsal, but usually rehearsals
lead to performances. A workshop does not have performance as its
end goal. You may decide, in the course of a workshop,
that you’re on to something, and you’ll say, “Well, we’ll perform it for somebody. We’ll perform it for the producer and his
nearest and dearest, or for the staff, or some combination thereof.” But public performances are not at the heart
of workshops. Under commercial circumstances, workshops
are frequently done with a view to achieving or acquiring backers of the work. And then, it’s a demonstration with a purpose. That was not the purpose of this. The purpose of this workshop, and it’s a luxurious
kind of activity, was to discover if there was anything there, if there was a there there,
if the work would evolve in a way that would satisfy its authors and a director. And so, the re-occurrence of the word “pure”
about this was very much in evidence from the get-go. From the telephone call that Andre made, there
was no arching purpose. He wasn’t asking Susan to do a revival or
to do some work that was in hand. He said, “Could you use the theatre to explore
some desire of yours that perhaps has not yet been identified?” And that’s what took place that was really
quite amazing. Bernie, do you think that in the commercial
world, which I think more people are familiar with, that there’s the opportunity to do something
similar? Do you think there’s ever an opportunity? Yeah, essentially the same resources. What are the resources? The resources are a place, a private place,
money and will. Now, where? Anybody can assemble those three elements,
theoretically, but more often, they occur in the not-for-profit sector, in the not-for-profit
theatre, perhaps, than in the commercial arena. Not because one is pure and holy and good
and the other is bad and evil and money-driven. That’s not the reason. Those are just coincidental aspects. (LAUGHTER) I don’t think everybody will agree with you! No, no, no. I say jokes! There are jokes involved. Oh, really! It’s interesting to note that the workshop
process began in the non-profit theatre. Actually, Bernie worked on the very first
one, on CHORUS LINE. I don’t know if it was the very first one. Was it the first one? I think so. Well, certainly the best-known one. And I think it was subjugated – Well, what Thomas is referring to is the fact
that at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre, many years ago, a workshop
was begun which was also based more on material than on an idea. The idea was, there is something in this raw
material, which was a bunch of confessional, first-person tapes that were developed by
Michael Bennett. And over a series of workshops, A CHORUS LINE
was born at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre. On the first day of rehearsal, I had the effrontery
to say, and you know, I was sort of self-conscious about saying it and I thought it was a bad
joke, but I made it partly, I didn’t make it totally. I said that the last time I had been in a
rehearsal hall with a bunch of mirrors along the wall and a bunch of dancers warming up
in leotards, something quite remarkable had evolved. (SUSAN LAUGHS) That was some three decades
before, or almost three decades before. I had no expectations that lightning, which
rarely, I am told, strikes twice in a similar place or the same place, would strike again. It has been a strike. The number of people from the outside who
have said to me, “It’s really quite surprising that you in your lifetime have had an experience
with A CHORUS LINE and with CONTACT.” I was amazed. I think that the fact that we bring up A CHORUS
LINE is not coincidental, just because you were at the birth of both. I think CONTACT has been compared so much
to that, I mean, in terms of its acceptance, in terms of its creativity, and also, by the
way, its reviews. I’m kind of interested in your [experience],
Tom, particularly. Here’s a show that appears in an evolution
from a workshop. You eventually decide that perhaps it’s ready
for an audience, and you expose it to your audience of 299 seats each night, and wow! It explodes! Now you’ve got notices. But we knew even before the notices. That’s really the true test of a popular show. Right. No question. From the very first preview, audiences of
all stripes were enjoying this play. We had audiences that were very young, audiences
that were older. And unilaterally, the response was very, very
strong. And it was interesting that after the reviews
came out that there was that extra lift that comes with reviews, but it was always a very
audience-pleasing show. And you can’t get out of the way of that. I mean, you have to help it along. Well, let’s take it, Andre, if we can. You now have this workshop which everybody
looked at and knew it shouldn’t just end there, you should do something. What were the next steps, then, to bring this
eventually to an audience? Well, we had to do another workshop, because
there was a debate as to whether an hour’s show was long enough. And I went to Bernie and said, “Do you think
an hour is enough time?” and (LAUGHS) he said, “Yes, it’s fine.” (SUSAN LAUGHS) And then the next day, in Gerstenian
fashion, he said, “No, no, no! We can’t do only an hour!” I didn’t say it like that! (LAUGHTER) No, you say it in a very gentle way. How did you say it? Let me hear it. I say it nice! (LAUGHTER) Nice! He said it nice. That was very nice, that was very nice. There’s never been a one-hour show in memory. People like ninety minutes show. DANCIN’ (PH). DANCIN’ was an hour long. (LAUGHTER) About that. And it ran for years. And I was happy, because I felt an hour wasn’t
long enough. Anyway, so we had another one of those meetings,
and (LAUGHS) it seemed clear that we needed, you know, if “Contact” would be the end of
the evening, we needed something for it. And you had discussed that before. I had said, a first act. A first act. There had been discussions of this Fragonard
painting, “A Girl in the Swing.” I mean, even before we did the first workshop. And there was also discussion, I mean, I think
at one point, there was a sort of schematic idea that if we had three pieces, the first
piece would be all dance, the second piece would be in a bar and would be all dialogue,
or monologues. Right. Which actually, that was the one idea that
I did not think was a good idea. When did you decide that it would be three
pieces? Up until now, you were talking about one. Well, no, after this meeting, we talked about
various ideas, including the first half should be just another full-length. But then they thought about it and, I think,
decided that it would get in the way of “Contact.” The monologues idea was thrown out. And then they came back and said, “We have
two ideas.” One was “The Girl in the Swing,” the Fragonard
painting come to life, and one was to take place in an Italian restaurant. And I must say, the description of that was
hilarious! (SUSAN LAUGHS) So again, you know, we were
in the enviable position to say, “Okay, let’s do another workshop,” in the “cellar,” as
you call it. The cellar! It’s colder than most cellars in the Beaumont
basement. “And let’s workshop these first two pieces,
probably not do ‘Contact,’ the third piece, with it. Let’s just focus on these two, get most of
the company back.” And that’s what they did. So the process repeated itself for the second
workshop. But by that time, we had committed to doing
a production of one piece or two pieces or three pieces, so that there was an end in
sight. And Stro and John were working very, very
quickly, because the other complication was, they both have busy schedules, with WISE GUYS
and MUSIC MAN. And Susan said, “You know, if we’re going
to do this, we have to do it in the summer.” And we were able to capitalize on the second
workshop, and we had a bit of a break, and then we went right into rehearsals for the
production, with mostly the same company. And that was a great help. The other short stories came from, actually,
when we started to work on CONTACT. We came up with quite a few short stories
and different ideas. Save it for CONTACT 2. CONTACT 2! But when Andre and Bernie asked if we could
put together a first act, we did have in the back of our minds already some other ideas
for short stories. But what we did was, do a takeoff on the word
“swing,” because “Contact” does have a lot of swing dancing in it. So we thought, “Is there a spin-off on that
actual word?” We both knew of the Fragonard painting called
“The Swing,” and we thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a piece of what we really thought
Fragonard was thinking about when he painted that picture?” And then the second piece was a takeoff on
the word “swingers.” You know, men from the 1950’s, the Rat Pack
type. But as we developed that piece, it was clear
that it was more important for it to be about the woman and for it to be about the wife. So it sort of veered from that, but still,
we stayed it in that time. But all three pieces are about people connecting,
their ability to connect or their inability to connect or their want to connect. And all three pieces are about fantasy, the
first one being a fantasy that is realized fully, in real time, and the second one being
a daydream fantasy, and the third one being a subconscious fantasy, where your subconscious
comes out and saves you. So it does have a connection, all three stories. John, for those of us who have been fortunate
enough to see CONTACT, and I think it’ll be an enormously growing audience for many, many
years, but I think that maybe it would be well if you’d explain this is not the kind
of piece that you’ve written parts for people, with dialogue as such. Could you explain that? Yeah, I’ll explain a little bit about the
form, and then I’ll talk a little bit about how we got there. You know, Stro and I are credited as “co-authors,”
and indeed, we are. And one of the things that became clear, as
we started to talk about what we wanted to do in our earliest meetings was that, what
we were headed for was a piece in which the storytelling would be carried by movement
and dance, primarily. In a way, I suppose, the way singing, music
and lyrics, carry most of the storytelling, ultimately, in a successful musical. So that there is a balance between dialogue
and dance which is unusual, and I think which many people recognize is unusual. At the same time, all three little pieces,
the narrative, the stories are quite simple, but they are story-driven, all three of them. And they have very clear and very present
narratives. They are not impressionistic dance pieces,
by any means. They’re three little playlets. Three little short stories, as Stro says. And the first piece has one spoken line of
dialogue in it. The second piece, the language is much more
present than it is in the first piece. And in the third piece, that process continues,
the balance between movement and dialogue. But dance, movement, is always the primary
vocabulary, the primary language of storytelling over the course of the evening. And I think one of the reasons why, you know,
Andre referred to sort of our first ideas of what the first two pieces might be about,
there was an intellectual neatness to the idea of movement, language, and then language
and movement combined. But as a result of seeing “Contact,” having
worked it in a room, it was clear that that was not what the evening wanted to feel like. And because we had the ability, because the
theatre gave us the permission to do the first piece and not do anything more than the first
piece, we learned an enormous amount from having to do it, which then informed the decisions
we could make about what needed to go with it. If we had had to design an entire evening
before we went into a rehearsal room, I don’t know where we would have wound up. I mean, we might well have wound up, you know,
throwing something out, trying to replace it with something else. We didn’t have to do that. We could do it one step at a time. And that’s what got us where we wound up. It was terrific. I think there’s one other thing that needs
to be observed, which is when “Contact” was done in the first workshop, its length was
its length. And I don’t know, was there a bar added in
production, in the rehearsal for production? It seems to me it was exactly the same length
when it was final. (LAUGHS) Yes. But there was no pressure, saying, “Wait,
this is great, but we have to make it into a two-act work.” Right. “You have to have a first act and a second
act. It has to be a single work, a unified work.” That’s not what it was about. That’s right. It was perfect as it was, and it was, you
know, whatever work remained to be done, beyond the workshop process. But it was not an attempt to stretch it or
make it fit into some other form, because that might be a better idea, you know. And so, the idea of finding a first act and
a different first act was, I think, wonderfully organic to the preservation of CONTACT as
it evolved. Yes. In terms of your characters, I think that
of all the musicals I’ve seen, I don’t think there are more vivid characters than in yours. And yet, as you say, there’s very little dialogue. Did you delineate the characters to each of
the people that you cast them, or did that come out, again, in the workshop? Well, it’s a combination of both, I think. Well, yeah. I think part of the appeal of CONTACT, also,
is especially the two characters, Karen Ziemba in the second piece and then Boyd Gaines in
the third piece, the audience relates to those characters. They find something of themselves in those
characters, because those characters are very strong. And I think when we went into the workshop,
we actually did know what those characters were. But hiring someone like Boyd Gaines and letting
him find his footing in that short story has just made it richer. He plays a character who is thrown into a
world of dance, and it was very foreign to him. And it’s about somebody taking a chance in
a foreign place. And Boyd Gaines, really, the actor, (LAUGHS)
is being also, not only as that character, is being thrown into a very foreign place,
with all these dancers. So his vulnerability is very true and very
real. But your ensemble of dancers, each one of
those is a specific character. Yes. And how did that get created? Through the workshop. Well, through the workshop. I mean, we went into – and then I’ll turn
this over to Stro. I just think it’s of some interest that when
we went into the workshop with the first piece, we had a script, which was a finished description
of what the show is. We knew where the story started, we knew what
the incidents and episodes. And the dialogue gets massaged the way it
always does, but essentially, everything which is said on stage basically was there. There was more that got cut and so on and
so forth. But the people in the dance club, who were
not Boyd Gaines and who were not the bartender, were simply described as “the dancers in the
club.” And then, through a combination of casting
and what Stro developed with the dancers in the room – and this is what I mean, this
is as much the writing of the piece as anything that was on paper before we started – we
wound up with this very clear set of specific people. Every dancer in CONTACT, and all three short
stories, has a back-story, a character. Every dancer has a character and a back-story
in each story of the evening. How did you find the dancers? Are all the dancers people you’ve worked with
in the past? Many of them are. Some are new, though, some are new. But some I have worked with in the past five
or six years, yes. Well, why don’t we just talk then, since you
had characters that you had in mind, what was the casting process when you did that? Did you evaluate can they fulfill these characters? Well, all the dancers are really actors who
dance, dancers who act. They all are very good actors. And they’re all very creative, also. And so, if I have had them in my lifetime
in another show and know that they are creative, they got into CONTACT. Because it was very stimulating and nurturing,
and being in a very protective space creatively, and to have all these very creative minds
together who all dance, you know, it was thrilling. So they were cast with that in mind. They’re all very bright. And for example, there are three fellows in
CONTACT who are obstacles to Boyd Gaines. And it’s Jack Hayes and Sean Hingston and
Robert Wersinger. And they all have to be technically very strong,
but they all have to look very powerful. They have to look like they’re a threat to
Boyd. So I had to cast three fellows who would look
like they would be trouble to Boyd! (LAUGHS) And yet, they had to be technically
beautiful dancers, at the same time. But the fact that they were threats, that’s
something that you envisioned in the original script, I presume. Well, I can’t remember at what point that
idea entered the stream of ideas that wound up in the rehearsal room. But those are the kind of conversations that
we had, as we were heading for the workshop. I wanted to ask more about the workshop and
the form. In production, how fully developed were the
two workshops? And what was the cost of them? I don’t mean in complete dollars. But how do you find out how much this is going
to cost and how much you were going to capitalize it for? The basic cost of a workshop are the talented
people who are working. They get paid very, very modest wages for
that period of time, and there are minimal props. In the case of CONTACT, what was required
were sturdy objects like pool tables and the divan, that had to be readily moved and yet
extremely stable, so those were among the impediments. And then ultimately, the creation of the swing
and its physical requirements were developed in workshop. Not at great expense, but just in finding
the technical means of doing it. But the cost of the workshops, I think of
both workshops, which were a five- and a four-week period, so it was nine weeks with about twenty,
twenty-two people being paid in the workshop, was some two hundred and forty, two hundred
and fifty thousand dollars. And is that because you had the facilities
within Lincoln Center? Yeah, we had the rehearsal hall. But all the directly attributable costs of
the workshop came to that. That’s not so unusual. The cost of that is almost comparable to what
one would pay in a commercial [setting]. Yeah, it is. Except for the fact that they’re renting a
studio. At what point did the designers come into
the mix? Because I think design plays a very exciting
part of CONTACT. When did you bring them into it? Very early on, actually. Because you know, I know that the collaboration
for me, for the choreographer, with the set designer, with the costume designer and the
lighting designer, it always happens early on for me. Because when I choreograph, I actually imagine
things lit and I imagine people dressed. So when I am choreographing, I am choreographing
in full Technicolor (LAUGHS) at all times. So I do bring them in early. And when we did the first workshop to CONTACT,
sort of in the middle of maybe that third week, I asked Tom Lynch and William Ivey Long
and Peter Kaczorowski to come in and watch and discuss with me what they saw and how
what they do could support the dance. I should say, too, that about the first three
days of the workshop, all we did do was dance. And we would switch partners and we would
dance more, and I would pair people up, just to see how they did make contact with one
another, how they connected. Some of them were aggressive with each other,
some were gentle with each other. And by, just for three days, doing improvs
of just dancing with one another, we pulled out these characters. How did you figure out what the girl in the
yellow dress would wear? (LAUGHTER) Well, I understand that there were many yellow
dresses. Still are, yes. There were many. And after this show report last night, I think
there’s going to be another one! (LAUGHS) That’s right. Because the yellow dress has to do many things,
because the fellows have to lift her, and of course, the dress would be too slippery. Or the dress would be too long and her heel
would go in the skirt. Or the dress would have sparkle and it would
actually take the skin off of some of the fellows (LAUGHS). So it went through many, many versions. But there are nine now, right? Yes. There’s actually a yellow dress shrine in
the basement (LAUGHTER), with some yellow flowers underneath of it, trying to find the
very perfect yellow dress. So it has a mystery about it, and William
Ivey Long has put his finger on it. It’s a very beautiful dress, and it dances
beautifully. And Deborah Yates, just in passing, there
was never a moment of temperament from her throughout the whole process of putting on
these nine different dresses, you know, while she was building her performance. She was great. We’re going to sell them in the lobby! (LAUGHTER) Instead of T-shirts. From last workshop to opening, first preview,
how long? Well, it was February, the first workshop. And then June? June, yes. June was the second workshop. And then – August. — previews started in September. Well, Tom, once you found that you had a show
that you were ready to sell to the public, that becomes kind of close to your department,
almost exclusively. What did you do? And what are your future plans? Obviously, it’s sold out completely, and this
is a show that no one can get into. You never say “sold out completely.” (LAUGHTER) You argue with Bernie! I never argue with Bernie. (LAUGHTER) No, actually, it’s interesting. In this show, once again, it was a collaboration. And the idea for the poster image was the
very first thing we started with, and we talked to Stro and John about that, obviously. But even the company itself came up with ideas
for the poster. (LAUGHS) Yes! Some of which were quite wonderful, and some
of which were rather pornographic. (SUSAN LAUGHS) But a lot of that thinking
about how to present this evening, because it’s actually three different parts. And do you try and get a sensibility for the
show that represents all three parts or just do one? Actually, the window card, which we have with
us today, is two-sided, because it has two of the main images, which are two of the plays,
with Karen Ziemba and – How do you display a two-sided window card? Well, you know, it rotates. (LAUGHTER) Right, right. And similarly, in our advertising, we’ve been
rotating the images, so that people will get a sense that there’s more than just one idea
to this. Well, now, you’re with an institutional theatre,
which has, you say, a “membership” of some fifty thousand. That’s right. All fifty thousand people can not see your
production. It’s a limited engagement. Well, not yet. No, I mean, in the initial announced engagement,
they can’t see that. And obviously, if you’ve got a fifty thousand
membership, that’s going to be over a hundred thousand seats that you have to [have]. No, they only get to buy one ticket. That’s how our membership works. That’s it? Yeah. A couple has two members. That’s right. Oh, that’s how you get two members. It’s not like a traditional subscription. Oh, I see how you get two seats. You get two memberships. That’s right. Well, could you tell us now, what is the significance
of a membership? And how that’s not the same as a subscription. Right. Well, in brief, this theatre has always done
things a little bit unusually, for institutional theatre. Most notably, we run popular shows for as
long as they possibly can. It would be a shame to run CONTACT for twelve
weeks and then close it, because we have to bring in another play for a subscription season. So we developed, about fourteen years ago,
the membership, as an alternative to subscriptions, so that we would have more flexibility, and
the audience would also have flexibility. Members join for a modest fee. It’s now twenty-five dollars. And then they can choose to see or not see
whatever we offer them during the year. And they don’t see everything that we offer
them, because we do a lot of shows. So they pick and choose. And some people love musicals, some people
don’t. So they may have wanted to see CONTACT in
the first instance, before the reviews came out, or not. Now that the show will have a longer life,
they can still see it in the Beaumont. Do they pay the same price as anyone, a non-member,
when they buy their tickets? No, members pay a greatly reduced price. Well, right now, it’s thirty dollars, which
is compared to a top price of sixty-five dollars for CONTACT, so it’s more than half. So if somebody pays twenty-five dollars for
a membership, and they see one show, they’ve already made up the price of their membership. It’s a great bargain. Which is why we have so many, and why they
renew so regularly. Well, do you have a cap at fifty thousand? I mean, what would happen if you got more? We actually have suspended membership at the
moment. And it has less to do with the size of the
membership than it does with the number of plays we’re going to be able offer people
at this point. So you can’t join right now, but we will reopen
it at a future date. Well, now, what about subscription? How does that relate to it? Do you have a subscription? We don’t, no. None at all. Membership replaces that as our core audience. And does your membership affect both the Mitzi
Newhouse and the Vivian Beaumont? It does. We actually have two categories of membership,
one that includes both theatres, and one that is a Beaumont only membership. What are the prices of those, then? Well, twenty-five dollars is the Beaumont
membership, and thirty-five dollars for the full membership. But both are now closed. Thirty-five dollars for the two? To join for a year. And then, all these different members pay
thirty dollars a ticket. So it’s a great bargain. It is. More contacts! That’s right. (LAUGHS) Yes. But the Newhouse, because it’s a smaller theatre,
tends to fill up nicely with members. The Beaumont, because it’s three times the
size, the members only represent a portion of the audience, so that’s a challenge for
us as well. We’ve been talking about institutional theatre,
and I think more people are familiar, perhaps, with the commercial theatre. I think it’d be interesting to know the relationship
between the artistic director and the executive producer, and how you function in an institutional
theatre. Most of the institutional theatres have this
paired structure. And actually, it’s somewhat misleading to
say that the executive producer is the producer and the artistic director is artistic, you
know, and has her or his head in the clouds and is not into practical matters. We bill ourselves, it says that “Lincoln Center
Theater is under the direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten.” Andre is responsible for the core artistic
decisions. He is the person responsible for the repertory
and artists. It’s like an A&R person. Nobody says A&R, but it is A&R. And the responsibilities of the administration,
marketing, fundraising, and financing of the theatre are primarily my responsibility. But the entire theatre is jointly owned and
operated – not owned, but operated (THOMAS LAUGHS) – by Andre and me. And we’ve had a very, I think, satisfying,
rewarding, peaceful – You say that. What does he say? (LAUGHTER) Well, he’ll say. This is my view! Relationship over what, now? Ten years. Nine. What happens? How does it all come about? You just mentioned the marketing, fundraising,
development. Take it from the top of how does this happen. You have a meeting, you’ve got a show. Where do we go from here? Where does Tom come in? Where does your advertising come in? Well, our offices are straggled along a very
long hallway, and all the offices give off. And so, what you do is you walk up and down
the hallway, (LAUGHTER) and you kind of – I see. And whoever is there you pick out, I see. Grab. So whoever’s there you talk to, and that’s
how it works out. This is actually true. That’s exactly how it works. Sometimes they’re not all there, so you have
to do it all by yourself? Sort of, yeah. On Saturdays, and sometimes on Sunday. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But the reality
is that institutional theatres are set up not for individual shows. They’re set up as institutions. They have a program of work. They operate fifty-two weeks a year. And what we all attempt to do is balance what
some people sometimes refer to as the four elements without which you can’t have a theatre. Which is, the place where the theatre takes
place, the money that provides the fuel on which the theatre runs, the artists who people
the theatre, and – what am I missing? And the audience. The audience. Oh, them! (LAUGHS) Those are the four core elements of the theatre. And all we do is each theatre, both commercial
and noncommercial, reorganizes and replans for these four elements in a different way. That’s all we do. If you’re a commercial producer, you do it
on a one production at a time basis. You decide to produce a play, and so you bring
together those four elements for that one play. If anybody here wants to produce a play today,
let me advise you, it’s very difficult to get a theatre. (LAUGHTER) And it’s hard to do a play without a theatre,
unless you’re doing – I think it’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is being done at the bus
terminal today. (LAUGHTER) I read about that in the New York
Times. You know, it’s a site-specific production. But if you want a theatre, it’s a bad time
to be a producer. On the other hand, if you have an institutional
theatre, you sometimes have a twenty-five year lease. And we have five more years on our lease,
we go to 2005. So we have two theatres, actually, till 2005,
and then we could renew it for another twenty-five years at, I think, the same rent, which is
only a dollar. That’s a very favorable rent. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Have you asked for a reduction? (LAUGHTER) No, we’re rent-controlled. (LAUGHTER) But despite the fact that you plan for your
whole year, and you have all of your plans there, you have to treat each production as
a separate piece. (NODS) Individually. So this is a production – Within. — within the whole thing. But if you take one production, and I’d like
to know, step by step of how it came to [be]. We did that. I mean, Andre made a phone call. No, Andre did the creative part and the telephone
call. In the beginning … I mean, it’s like God. You’re saying, “It’s too dark out here, I’m
want to start creation going.” What happened in the process? I want to know when did the advertising come
in? And what kind of advertising? Well, Andre walked down the hall and said,
“We’d better do some advertising.” (LAUGHTER) Something like that. All right. Well, actually, Isabelle, you know, the thing
is, at Lincoln Center, John and I were brought in to the advertising with Tom and discussed
the logo. And Tom was fabulous, and Andre and Bernie,
about collaborating with the people who actually created the show. You don’t do that in the commercial theatre. You know, there’s something that’s been said
here. It all sounds very storybook. (LAUGHTER) And those of us who have been through
the pain of really creating musicals, and I won’t put a label on your show, we’ll talk
about that. But any kind of show, it doesn’t really quite
go as rosy as this. Is that really true? Is that what happened? Let’s talk about the screaming fits! Let’s do that. No, but it sounds like – No, but it has to do with the collaboration,
because in the commercial theatre, you create something and then other people come in to
it and take it someplace else. And in fact, right down to the poster, they
collaborated. And in every step, they make a phone call,
saying, “You know, we want to do a commercial or we want to do this. What do you think?” It’s all about collaborating with the people
who created it, and that’s what makes it different. Are you ever brought into the cost of it? “Well, we would like this commercial or we
would like this poster, but it would cost X number of dollars more?” In a small way, yes. In a small way. But, seriously, were there no barbs in this? Is this so untraditional, in terms of its
creation? You know, honestly, there weren’t. You know, we have been through the wars. I mean, I have. I’ve been through the wars and come up smelling
like a rose, and I’ve been through the wars and not come up smelling – And not come up! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Yeah, not come up, absolutely! (LAUGHTER) Come up smelling! Come up smelling! But you know, in either case, the process
was similar. In this case, “storybook,” I wouldn’t want
to put that label on it. But I believe that the show evolved and was
created in as smooth and satisfying a manner, from Andre’s first phone call to opening night,
as [possible]. The experience for me was one I don’t expect
to have again (LAUGHS), in exactly this way. Plus, you know, the way the dancers are treated,
with great respect at Lincoln Center, from everyone in that building. And so, if you’re treated with respect and
feel this dignity, you just create more. And you feel a sense of freedom to make you
even create more. And I know that for them, a lot of them, it’s
the first time they’ve really felt that freedom. There may be a lesson here for all commercial
producers, for all, actually, institutional theatres. If the atmosphere is so pleasant, as you seem
to describe it, maybe that’s why it’s so telling on stage, that it’s so exciting. Because it is an unusual piece, and when you
tell it, it’s kind of like, “We went into a basement, and we created this story, and
look at what happened!” Well, but it’s not just that the atmosphere
was pleasant. I mean, it was that, I think, because of the
people involved. But you know, the process was designed so
that it never got ahead of itself. It never had to get ahead of itself. There was never an expectation that we felt
we had to satisfy – No timetable. You weren’t producing a date, right. Exactly. There was no necessity. There was not a slot we had to fill. There was no expectation as to what that slot
had to be filled with. I mean, we’ve talked about this, but the only
thing we had to do was to go into a rehearsal room with a bunch of dancers and see what
we had five weeks later. That was it. And yes, it was pleasant, but it has more
to do with the fact that that’s the way the show was developed than the fact that we all
got along, although we did. How long did your core of dancers that you’d
worked with before, how many auditions did you have? Or did you have any auditions for dancers? Yes, we had about two, maybe three, just an
audition looking for that girl in the yellow dress, that special girl. Yeah. How do you deal with the auditions, if somebody
is not right for the [part]? Oh, it’s difficult. Because whenever I have auditions, I would
love to hire them all. You know, because they all are very talented. They’re all so good! But how do you let them know? If they’ve made it that far, to get in front
of me, they’re very talented. And it’s very difficult to reject anybody! What do you do, then? If they’re rejected, what’s your process of
rejecting someone, though? Do you tell them on the spot? Take them to dinner first, and then — (LAUGHTER) No, not necessarily. I thank them for being there, and I do try
to explore every aspect. Like, for example, the dancers in CONTACT,
they would do the combination, but then I would toss out different emotions to them. I would want them to do the same combination
as if they were flirtatious, or do the same combination as if you were drunk. Do the same combination as if you were aggressive. Do the same combination as if you’ve never
danced before in your life. And see how they do that, and act that combination. Because I need people who act, not just dancers. I need people who really act out emotions,
and that’s part of the process of the audition. And at the end, you know, I thank them for
what they have done. And then we actually have a long discussion
about who was there. So you can not make a decision right away. They go away. So you don’t make the decision right away? No. You’ll know if somebody really wows you, that
that person’s going to make it, but even then, it’s quite a discussion with John and me laying
down [the pictures] – The reason I’m asking, we’ve discussed this
on seminars before, and there was the point that a director has made, that says that he
feels it’s more honest to say to them, as you said, “Thank you very much and you really
are good, but not quite right,” and let them know immediately, as opposed to “You’ll hear
from us,” and they wait for the telephone. But you know, so many times, those people
have gone out the door, and I’ve thought, “You know, they’re not quite right.” But when I have this discussion with John
or lay them out, they’re absolutely right and they get the job. You can make a decision too fast. Yeah. I mean, there’s one aspect of this, and this
is really true, I suppose, of any group, but particularly true in this case, is that when
we were hiring people initially, we were hiring people for the third piece, for the dance
club. And the balance of types in the club was something
which is very, very important to the way the piece operates. So until we had pictures laid out on a floor
– Of the club. Of the club, basically. There might have been two people who were
spectacular, but they were so similar that you would not want both of them in the club. So somebody moved off the floor and somebody
else moved in. So there was a constant process of sifting. Could I talk, and maybe it’s the marketing
department, or whoever’s department it is, but eventually, somebody’s going to put a
label on what this show is. I mean, you’re moving it now into a commercial
venue, and maybe some of your fifty thousand members will get an opportunity then to see
it. What are you going to call it? I mean, what would you prefer it to be known
as, because everything eventually gets categorized. And you call it a “dance play” now – Right. I think you should go into that first, why
did we call it a dance play? Right. So ask the question. (LAUGHTER) Why did we call it a dance play, Bernie? Oh, gee, don’t ask me! (LAUGHTER) Well, I notice also in your billing, that
you’ve changed. Sometimes you are co-authors and sometimes
you’re the author and you’re the director/choreographer. But I see it’s “written by” the two of you. Yeah. It was always “By Susan Stroman and John Weidman”
at the top. That’s always there. And then there’s other credits they separately
get. And then specifically what they do, which
I think is unique in itself. That’s unique, but obviously, it’s very revealing
to exactly what this show is. But all right, what is the answer to the question? Why is it a “dance play”? Well, let me answer one way first and then
I’ll turn it over to Tom. I mean, because I’ve been asked this question,
too. And again, yes, when Stro and I went to work,
we simply sat in a room and looked at the tools we had and put them together to see
what we would wind up with. There was absolutely no thought as to what
the piece would be. It was like watching something unfold. And then when it was finished, the issue of
labeling it came up. But what it was was not something we ever
talked about or worried about. What we should name it was not something we
ever gave any thought to while we were creating it. And I think that, you know, is revealing about
the way in which we got to where we got, you know. The work you did. Now Tom can answer, I’ll stay out of it. Well, I just want to say that the great thing
about the phrase “a dance play” is that it triggers a discussion like this. It says to people, “Well, what is this thing? It’s not a play, it’s not a musical. Or it’s both. There’s all this dancing.” And it positions it, I think, to people to
say, “It’s not quite what you’re used to seeing. It’s something new. It’s something fresh.” And that’s always exciting for people to see. So I think in the first instance, the first
go-around, it was helpful for people to think of it as different, as special. And now, people, I think, have embraced it
as a musical, and we’re perfectly happy to call it a musical. Well, I don’t know if we’re perfectly happy. (LAUGHTER) Well, I’m perfectly happy to call it a musical. But eventually, don’t you think that when
you’re in the commercial venue, you’re going to be up for awards, including our Tony Award,
you’re probably going to fall into, it would seem you’re going to fall into the musical
category. Yet, you don’t have any playing musicians
and you don’t have any vocals, as such. But that came out of, really, because this
story is about a man’s life flashing before his eyes, as would yours, you would think
of songs that were connected. You wouldn’t think of a new Broadway score
if you were leaping off a building! (LAUGHTER) But you would think of songs. (LAUGHTER) “Saturday Night Fever”! (PH) Yeah! (LAUGHTER) Let’s not go there. A whole new score! What would you think? You know, but you would think of songs that
would push buttons to your own emotions. That’s why there are songs in there like “Run
Around Sue” or songs like “Beyond the Sea.” And because it is this swing dance, but it’s
not pure swing dancing, because in fact, this character doesn’t really know what swing dancing
is. So he conjures up them swing dancing to “Simply
Irresistible,” which no one would ever do. But in fact, when he sees this beautiful girl,
he thinks of the phrase, “She’s simply irresistible,” and that’s the song that comes to his mind. And then we put swing dancing on top of it. So in fact, it came out of the idea of the
text of the story, of the reality, and it’s very contemporary to feel this, of the reality
of your subconscious coming out and trying to save you. You would think of songs that push buttons
to your own emotion. Who did select the music? I mean, you have such an eclectic style of
music. (LAUGHS) Well, John and I both. You know, I have a lot of music in my apartment,
and it really ranges from classical to jazz to – And you put ’em all in! Yes, yes. But for example, in the second piece, it’s
classical music because the story is about a husband telling his wife not to move. He says, “Don’t move!” And of course, he leaves the room and she
gets up and does a wild dance. And what she does to rebel, she does classical
ballet, because that would be the ultimate rebellion. If someone told you not to move, you would
get up and do classical ballet when they left the room. So that called for a classical feel. And it’s all classical ballet, but classical
dance sections of ballet music, so it really has an exuberant dance feeling to it. But in “Contact,” in our third piece, they’re
all contemporary classic songs. So in fact, they actually push the emotions
of the audience, too. And let me just add to that, you know, before
we got to the workshop, when Stro and I were designing the piece, she had sort of an armful
of possible songs which we played around with. And you know, selection of the songs, it was
a process that worked back and forth. I mean, because the songs have a beginning,
middle, an end, they become scene structures within the piece. And so, the choice of a particular song was
made as the notion for a particular scene within the piece was developing. And often, the song would suggest the scene
which would happen during the song, and often, it would happen the other way around, that
a particular event which was going to occur in the club would suggest a different piece
of music that would be the arc over. So it really was a very interesting process. Plus, the idea that it’s contemporary, it
takes place in a bar. So you see a bartender with CDs. Yeah. So everything about it has almost a cinematic
quality to it, and a very cinematic quality for 1999. So what is it? (SUSAN LAUGHS) Is it a musical? Are you asking me? (LAUGHTER) Well, I mean, if one has to [say],
I think it’s more a musical than anything else. It’s more a musical than not. It’s more a musical than not. But it was appropriate to the story to use
this music, rather than a new score. Yeah. You know, I mean, Mr. Hirschfeld, the great
artist and caricaturist, came to the opening night. He comes to many of our openings, and he sits
in the front row. He’s ninety-four. He’s ninety-four years old. He’s a fabulous man. And a great, great man, and a theatre lover,
even to this day. And I had heard, I didn’t talk to him, but
someone told me that he loved it. And I thought, “It’s going to be very interesting
for me to see what this guy, who has sat through probably fifty years at least of opening nights
and drawn the great –” Seventy-five. “Seventy-five years of opening nights, and
drawn and seen all the great stars of all the great musicals, pretty much of the twentieth
century.” And I thought, “Well, I’d love to know what
he’s going to make of this show.” And he just loved it. And it was reported to us that he said, “You
know, I honestly feel that this, whatever this is, this form is the new form for musicals
in the twenty-first century, this combination of story and dialogue and some version of
song and dance.” And there he was, this distinguished man,
at a very advanced age, just seeing the future of the musical in front of him, through his
going to CONTACT. I think that’s very true. I think to the strength of the characters. A lot of the musicals that have been written
in the past ten years have lost the strength of character. And there are two very strong characters in
these stories, that the audience gets on and rides with them. They hook on to those characters and they
take that ride with those characters. And I think that is what feels fresh to an
audience today, because it is lacking in the musicals. Well, as Susan explained, you need this music. You need the exact, actual music that’s in
this show, in order for it to succeed. The classical, as well as the swing music. Now, you couldn’t play that in a pit orchestra,
it just wouldn’t work. So what arrangement do you have with the musicians’
union, and what will you do when you move it to a more commercial venue? Pay a lot of music rights. You talk about a commercial venue, and I don’t
know what those are. You mean a Broadway theatre? Well, the equivalent of a Broadway theatre. When you move it to the Vivian Beaumont, where
you become Tony-eligible. Well, that’s not a commercial venue. It’s Lincoln Center Theater. There are no musicians there, except when
there are. There’s no requirement in the house that there
be musicians. And so consequently, the whole point of this
is not the avoidance of musicians. Right now, in the Vivian Beaumont Theatre,
there’s a more conventional musical taking place, and it has a complement of nineteen
musicians. So, although this is a commercial discussion
that, “Ah-ha! They’ve got a new idea for a musical – no
musicians!” (LAUGHTER) That’s the not the idea of the
musical. No strings or brass. (LAUGHTER) Because we do pay quite a lot for music rights. Well, it’s very true. So somebody’s getting paid a lot of money,
some musicians. The music rights are very expensive. Composers and lyricists. The composers, yeah. And the recordings, you pay for that, too. Yes, you pay a lot of money for those rights. Payments are being made on that. That’s the answer to your question. Great. But I think the point you make is simply that
in terms of distinguishing the Vivian Beaumont, if this show were to have moved from the Mitzi
Newhouse to a – To the Royale. To a larger house, please! (LAUGHTER) Or the Barrymore or something. The Broadhurst, let’s say the Broadhurst. Whatever! If you moved to that, you would have encountered
a – Yeah, where there is a house requirement that
there be a number of musicians, there would be what are called “standby musicians” or
“walkers.” But in this case, you were relieved of that,
because of the nature of [the Beaumont]. Right. Did that enter into your decision, in terms
of where you were going to move the show? No, no. No, the decision about where you were going
to move it is what was available. The Beaumont was available. And it was very desirable, by the way. But now, we get a sense that perhaps money
isn’t as critical to the institutional health. Oh my God! (LAUGHS) No, that’s not true. Money is extraordinarily important. I know. So I think maybe you could develop that a
little bit, because it sounds like you work in luxury, and in the commercial theatre,
people are looking at CONTACT and they only wish they could have done it. But the instant excuse is not that we didn’t
assemble the talent, or not that we were not that creative ourselves, but “Well, they’re
subsidized, and they don’t have these problems.” And I think that you – They’re not subsidized. I mean, that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever
heard. “They’re subsidized.” It’s such a passive act. Just, why doesn’t everybody get subsidized? It sounds like a really good thing to do. What you do is you raise money. I mean, you subsidize yourself. You raise money from – You subsidize your production. The theatre. Well, the theatre is self-subsidized, by the
money that it raises. (ISABELLE LAUGHS) It’s not that complex. All of the art operate – the art structure,
the art infrastructure, the artistic organizations of New York and of the United States and of
the world, are subsidized. Some of them are subsidized principally by
government. Some of them are subsidized by very, very
wealthy individuals. Some of them are subsidized by, again, the
four categories – these are the other four categories – of those who provide funds,
which is government, individuals, foundations, and corporations. Those are the only four sources. Some of us have been looking for a fifth source
for years! But meanwhile, we’re making do with the four
sources. The only difference between the commercial
theatre and the institutional theatre, that which is not-for-profit, is that the commercial
theatre raises money, which is subsidy, which is investment capital, for one show. And either it returns that capital, if it
succeeds, or it loses that capital, if it fails. We plan, not to fail artistically, but to
fail economically (TOM LAUGHS), and therefore, we raise the money that we need to operate
our theatre and to do a number of plays. And every so often, the tables are turned
on us, and there is a play that is viable and earns more money than it spends. Most of our plays cost more than they earn. And it’s very simple in the theatre. When plays cost more than they earn, they
require subsidy. When they earn more than they cost, they throw
off an excess of profit. And what do you do with that? You spend it on the future years, or on this
year, or on more plays. It’s invested. Nobody goes on a vacation (LAUGHTER FROM THE
PANEL) to the South Seas as a result of it. In other words, what happens is the money
that a not-for-profit theatre does earn, in excess of its costs, either builds up an endowment
or endows future years. It’s re-invested. Or pays off debt. Well, okay, but you leave out [things]. It’s a very pat explanation, Bernie. But I think that in the commercial theatre,
they are totally dependent upon ticket sales, and in the case of– No, they’re not totally dependent on it. They’re totally dependent on ticket sales
and capitalization. You can’t have one without the other. Well, once the capital is expended, they are
then at the mercy of [ticket sales]. Yes, of course. And in the institutional theatre, because
you’re doing the kind of product that you do, you anticipate the economic failure, as
you say. Right. So you can keep the show running, whereas
in the commercial theatre, unless they get further subsidy – It’s more simply stated than the reality,
but okay. Yeah, all right. But that’s why, I think, they can concentrate,
too, on the art and the artists. Lincoln Center is the closest thing we have
to the Royal National Theatre in London. I’ve been very lucky to have been asked to
work there last year, with Trevor Nunn on OKLAHOMA!, and it’s that same sort of nurturing,
all about the artists, all about the dancer, all about the actor, to make them feel comfortable,
and not to make it feel like you have to have an ultimate goal. Just to let you do the work, in the cellar
of Lincoln Center, in the cellar of the National Theatre. And that helps the artist create. It’s more about for the art of the theatre. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the theatre
could be created exactly under this formula? Where you plan for financial, economic failure. Right. I think if everybody [did], maybe there’d
be more productions. We should all move to London! (LAUGHTER) But maybe we’d have more productions, if they
could be based on that. Well, we couldn’t have more production. Every theatre’s filled! Their schedules. Well, that’s because they’re waiting for the
audience to buy tickets. I think the co-existence is very interesting. The co-existence of the two sectors is interesting. And the interplay between them is very interesting. And this is a relatively recent phenomenon. I mean, it’s forty years old. It’s only for the last forty years, I mean,
right at this point, it’s interesting to look at a hundred years of American or New York
theatre. In the last forty years, which is only forty
percent of the century, there’s been the not-for-profit theatre. It hasn’t done in the for-profit theatre. The for-profit theatre is flourishing. In fact, all they’re doing now is regretting
that they tore down the theatres that they tore down! In the twenty years before the last forty
years. Well, it is cyclical, and I think we’re now,
as our economic – Or maybe it’ll get better! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I think as articulate as this whole panel
is, we still have to stop, and there are still some more questions that I want to ask. And you have to begin churning here (POINTS
TO HER TEMPLE), because there are lots of things that you haven’t explored. It doesn’t seem possible, you’ve been so open
about everything! But there’s still more that I want to know. I couldn’t think of what to hide! I do! But we have to wait right now, because we’re
going to stop and take a break, take a deep breath, stand up, and come back immediately
again, so we can continue this discussion on the production, the team that made possible
CONTACT. And it’s an exciting team, truly. So please just take a deep breath and come
right back, and we’ll start all over again. (APPLAUSE) This is CUNY-TV, the City University of New
York. (APPLAUSE) Welcome back to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” Before we return to these wonderfully knowledgeable
panelists, I would like to point out to you that the Wing is more than a sponsor of seminars,
more than our famous Tony Awards, which is given for excellence in the theatre. We are an organization whose year-round programs
are dedicated to serving the theatre and the community, with a goal of developing new audiences. And to achieve that goal, we have created
audience development programs for students, like our “Introduction to Broadway” program,
which began seven years ago and has enabled almost 80,000 New York City high school students
to attend a Broadway show, and for many of them, for the very first time. And through our “Theatre in Schools” programs,
theatre professionals like these on our seminars and the panels go directly into classrooms
to work with and talk to students about working in the theatre. In addition, we have our hospital program,
which dates back to World War Two and our legendary Stage Door Canteens. And today’s version of the program brings
talent from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and the cabaret world to entertain patients in hospitals,
senior day and nursing facilities, and service organizations and AIDS care and child care
and hospital facilities in the New York area. They bring the magic of theatre to those who
can not get to the theatre themselves. We are proud of the work we do and are delighted
with the wonderful working relationship we have with the theatrical community, and grateful
to our members and everyone who makes possible all that the American Theatre Wing does. And so, now, let’s get back to our seminar
on the production. And , President of the American Theatre Wing,
will moderate this and will bring out all of the questions that haven’t yet been answered,
on what it is to produce that show called CONTACT. Roy, will you now start this? Thank you, Isabelle. We’ve been talking about CONTACT, so let’s
find out, how did it get its name and what does it mean? (SUSAN LAUGHS) Now, who wants to address it? Who named it? Well, John and I both. We did toss around different names. Ultimately, the evening is about people making
contact, and about connection. And it just seemed to be what the show is
about, ultimately. And it has a clean sound, it looks good. You know, we did toss around some other names,
but in fact, it has an immediate – Like what? Like CONNECTION? CONNECTION, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t remember. Because actually, in the middle of the workshop,
we started calling it CONTACT, the first workshop. And it just has an immediacy to it, you know,
and it sums up a visual. Well, it fits. It fits! And is it a short form of “contact dancing”? Contact dancing, yes, because swing dancing
– because the dancing is contact dancing, it’s about making contact, also. The dance. It’s metaphoric. Yes. Because even the second piece, although it’s
not swing dancing, it’s classical ballet, it’s about Karen Ziemba making contact with
the headwaiter. That’s when she’s happiest, when she’s connecting,
being lifted. So it’s when they make contact that she’s
happiest. Although it should be said that when we met
with Andre early on, Andre said, “Well, you’re not gonna call it that, though, are you?” (LAUGHTER) And of course, we immediately said,
“No, no! No, no, no, no, no, no, no!” And it was only as the piece evolved that
it just seemed to be as if we’d given our child a temporary name and suddenly it was,
you know, [permanent]. That’s like the Chinese idea. The Chinese give their children “milk names”
until they find out what the character of the kid is, and then they give the full name. Yes. I think this is the same idea. Yeah. Did you have an alternate title in mind, at
any time? SUB-PACIFIC. (LAUGHTER) No, I have this theory now that
all good shows – it’s, of course, ludicrous – they begin with “C,” the word (SIC) “C.”
CAROUSEL, CHORUS LINE – CABARET. CABARET, CONTACT. And all the shows we’re doing this season
I know of so far – KING LEAR. (LAUGHTER) Will have “C” in their title! We’re doing a new musical called MARIE CHRISTINE,
and THE TIME OF THE CUCKOO. But no, I mean, I don’t mean to – not only
all stories, all titles. I mean, the title OKLAHOMA!, in its day, which
I understand was – COKLAHOMA!, isn’t it? (LAUGHTER) It was a second title. Originally, the show was called AWAY WE GO! And I’m sure if someone said, “Well, we want
to call our show OKLAHOMA,” and that was before they added an exclamation point, well, it’s
after the fact the title seems appropriate. And I think CONTACT, in the middle, you know. But once the show was done, CONTACT actually
seemed like the perfect title for the whole evening, and for the penultimate piece. I would like to go public now, with my theory
of names. Please! Somebody has to say, “Well, Bernie, what is
your theory?” What is your theory? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) My theory of names is that names tend to act
like shrink wrap around that which they are the name of. (JOHN AND SUSAN LAUGH) And I learned this
some time back, and I learned it, first of all, in relationship to an individual. Adolph was always a very, very bad name for
me, when I was a kid, until I met Adolph Green, and then the name “Adolph” shrunk-wrapped
around Adolph Green and supplanted Adolph Hitler for me, and Adolph became a perfectly
lovely name. The next experience was with a show called
HAIR, which was the first show we did down at the Public Theater. And these guys came in, with very long hair
and curly hair, and said, “The name of this show is HAIR.” I said, “HAIR? That’s a terrible name for a show! Nobody will ever come to see a show called
HAIR! It’s too dumb a name!” Well, I didn’t prevail. (LAUGHTER) And gradually, that name shrunk
around the show HAIR, and hair as something that grows out of your head was as nothing
compared to the show HAIR. And did I have another example? Those were two very significant examples of
how names form around shows. CONTACT has altered a meaning to us, those
of us who say CONTACT a great number of times every day now. And it now is the name of a wonderful evening
in the theatre, whether it’s a musical or a dance play. And that’s what CONTACT means. And CONTACT will, increasingly, shrink around
this show, until CONTACT will mean the show, and it’s irrelevant what former associations
you have with the word “contact,” or what it formerly meant to you. My idea for the poster originally was a photograph
of Amelia Earhart standing in front of her aeroplane, with her hand on the propeller. And then the title would say CONTACT, and
everybody would know what the show as about. (SUSAN LAUGHS) I’m glad you didn’t prevail. (LAUGHTER) I think, I don’t know who said
it or where I saw it, but it was CONTACT and NOT CONTACT as well, which I thought was so
very [right]. In one of your places, it’s a show about contact
and not making contact. Well, I think, yes, the connection and the
ability not to, and the ability to, yes. That goes to the dramatic part of it, as well. Because even in the first short story, which
we haven’t spoken much about, the Fragonard painting on the swing, it’s most exciting
when they make contact on the swing, when the girl on the swing and the servant get
on the swing together and make contact. That’s when the story really soars. Mmm-hmm. Well, you could have called it WHOOPEE! (LAUGHTER) They do that, too, on the swing, yeah. Could we get back to a little bit of the basics
of producing the show? Now you’ve got this successful show, it’s
at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. And you have to close it, because you’ve got
other plans. Another “C” show coming in. Another show, called CONNECTION, maybe? CUCKOO. CUCKOO, all right, CUCKOO. All right, so you’re moving it now to what
I consider a commercial atmosphere, if not a commercial theatre building. But the ticket prices are similar to the bargain
prices on Broadway. Who is your audience? Who are you targeting now, when you’re moving
it up to the three-times-larger theatre? Well, what’s great about this show is that
it has an almost limitless theatre audience, because it communicates mostly through dance,
as we’ve said. And so, there are not the same language barriers,
so people who are not strong in English, for example, would enjoy the show greatly. Musicals tend to have broader audiences than
plays, generally. So we’re going up to everybody, and I think
you’ll see a great variety of people in the house. All right, but a show opens – The interesting thing about the audience is
the range of ages that respond so positively. That’s true. So that if, indeed, Alex Hirshfeld is at the
furthest extreme of great, great enthusiasts, there are also kids who are coming to the
show and really going for it in a big way. Well, now, how do you do this? You’ve opened a show that will not have tickets
available to the general public, for six months. But we’re selling now, though. But you’re selling now. How do you maintain the interest for people? Only three hundred people a night are able
to see the show, word of mouth is so critical. Thirty thousand people will see the show,
which is considerably less than it would be if it were upstairs now. How are you going to maintain that enthusiasm
to get the ticket sales, so that you can run the fourteen years that this looks like it’s
destined to run? They’ve put John and I out onto the street
with flyers. (LAUGHTER) Yes! We were actually handing out [flyers]. OVERTALK It’s worth going out into public for shows
like this! (LAUGHTER) We’re sending one dollar to every person in
the Manhattan zip codes. But no, if someone can’t come see your show
for six months, how do you maintain their interest there? Well, we’re doing a number of different things. We’re obviously doing a lot of print advertising,
which some people have already begun to see. We’re planning a television campaign. We’ll do direct mail. It’s ways of sampling the show before you
see it. Radio campaign. And the reviews and feature stories that continue
to come out about the show. There was another review that came out this
morning. So it’s a continual process. But my concern is you get people so excited
about wanting to see a show, and they can’t really get a ticket to see it for another
six months. I mean, that’s a – But when can you get a ticket for THE LION
KING (TOM LAUGHS), which has been running a year and a half? You still can’t. When is the first available ticket for? Well, I think that probably, they’ve had those
two years of – But it’s not dissimilar. You couldn’t get them, people know it. The ticket becomes more valuable when you
can’t get it. (TOM LAUGHS) You value it more, or you have
to wait for that fulfillment of the pleasure of seeing the show. But they have fifteen hundred seats – You get to look forward to it for a long period
of time. Well, you’re absolutely right, you’re right,
except they have fifteen hundred salespeople out every night, and you only have two hundred
and ninety-nine. Yeah, but we got the creme de la creme! We’re going to have to come back when you’re
at the Beaumont and do much more of this, because apparently we have run out of time. Aww. And so, I have to say thank you so much. And there is so much more that I know that
you can give us, and so much more that I would like to ask you, but I have to just start
with this is the American Theatre Wing seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” and the production
team of CONTACT has been with us and is with us. And so wonderfully, wonderfully grateful we
are to you, for giving us your time and your energy and explanation of how CONTACT came
about. Thank you so much for being here. (APPLAUSE)

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