Production: “Damn Yankees” (Working In The Theatre #221)

(APPLAUSE) This is an American Theatre Wing
Seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York, which is located on 42nd Street, where Off-Broadway and Off-Off
Broadway all meet to present their wares, to present their talent, and to present quality
theatre, so that they nurture, they feed each other, all to the benefit of the audience. The American Theatre Wing is very proud of
its Tony Award, which is not for the longest run or the greatest review, but it’s for recognition
of the achievement of excellence in the theatre. And that’s very important. The audience is
the beneficiary of that. And what the American Theatre Wing does is to continually try to
feed theatre into the audiences and into the communities. We have a year-round organization.
We say “Theatre.” We are dedicated to servicing the community through the theatre, through
our “Saturday Theatre for Children” program, which is just that. We bring live, professional
theatre into elementary schools and children line up to see professional theatre at a very
early age. We have our “Introduction to Broadway” theatre,
which is a very important and very wonderful program. And thousands upon thousands upon
thousands of youngsters have come to see their first Broadway play. We do this program in
cooperation with the New York City Board of Education, Junior and High School division,
and the wonderful generosity of the Broadway producers, who have made it possible for the
children to see the show. And also, not only to enhance their horizons and to learn a new
language, but also, I hope it provides the audience of the future. These seminars are brought to you because
we feel that it’s important to know what it is to work in the theatre, what it is to work
in the theatre through the eyes of the performer, the playscript, the director, the scene designer,
set designer, the producer, the unions and guilds, how to work with them and how they
work for you. We believe in theatre. We also send professional theatre to hospitals and
nursing homes and AIDS centers, so that those who can’t come to the theatre have the theatre
brought to them. And this, again, is done because it’s the American Theatre Wing, with
the theatre community. I am indeed very proud to be part of an organization such as that,
that can call upon the people that we do, not only for the seminars, but also for our
programs year-round. And now, I’m going to turn this seminar over
to our co-moderators, George White, who is President of the Eugene O’Neill Center in
New Waterford, Connecticut, and Brendan Gill, who has long been a New Yorker, an author,
and a critic. And this seminar is on the production. We have the producers of that wonderful play,
DAMN YANKEES. It’s a whole team of the production of DAMN YANKEES. And we’re going to ask them
all the questions, where it came from and how it got to where it is. Would you take
this over now, Brendan and George? Thank you for coming. (APPLAUSE) I’m singularly unfit to be a co-moderator
of this program, because I, as a child in 1927, gave up reading very much about baseball
when my hero, my Yankee of that day, Push-‘Em-Up Tony Lazerio (PH), was the main star of the
baseball world. Things have changed, I understand, considerably since that time. But George White,
not even born at that time, knows everything about baseball. On my far right is Rick Elice,
who is officially the Co-Creative Director of the theatrical advertising agency, Serino
Coyne. Co-Creative Director is a very serious thing to be. It shares a position with God.
(LAUGHTER) Also known as Nancy Coyne. (LAUGHTER) He is said also to be, in spite of his extreme
youth, a former dancer and actor and singer. I don’t understand how that’s possible. Next
to Rick is Charlotte Wilcox, who’s the General Manager of the production. Broadway credits
for Charlotte include GREASE, MY FAIR LADY and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. And on my immediate right is another extremely
tall young man (LAUGHTER). We are looking up to all of you this morning. And that’s
Mitchell Maxwell, who is the producer of the show and the President of something called
Workin’ Man Films. And “working” is pronounced “workin'” and there is an apostrophe at the
end, so he is pronouncing working as it was pronounced in the eighteenth century, and
I’m very grateful for that backward glance. (LAUGHTER) Brendan, thank you. I’m going to start off
a little differently by starting on my immediate left, with Mitchell Maxwell’s sister, Victoria.
And we have Tinker, Evers, and Chance, that’s a whole other thing. (LAUGHTER) But we’ll
start with Tinker here, who is Victoria Maxwell, who is the producer, Vice President in charge
of Production at Workin’ Man Films. On her left is Peter Cromarty, who is President of
Cromarty and Company, an entertainment public relations firm. And playing in left field– Actually, Tinkers, Evers– Chance is first
base. Chance, right. Frank Chance, absolutely. Is
Robert Barandes, who is a partner of the New York law firm of Roper, Barandes and Fertile
(PH), who is also the legal advisor to DAMN YANKEES. So that’s the lineup. Now, you said, before we came on this stage,
how interested you were in having a seminar of this kind, in order to be able to tell
all of us what the nature of a musical comedy production is. Young as you are, like Rick
you look extremely young to me– Thank you. (LAUGHTER) — but have you been in producing, and for
how long, and is this the first major thing of this kind you’ve ever done? No, I produced my first play in New York in
1975. I was twenty-one. It ran about an hour. (LAUGHTER) The show ran longer than an hour,
but the run was about an hour. It was down at the Cherry Lane Theatre. I’ve done about
fifteen shows Off-Broadway, and this is my second show on Broadway. And I started out
much younger, before this process began. You were just out of school at twenty-one.
Now, what were you [doing]? I was actually still in college. I was still
in college and had spent a great deal of time in college doing plays, producing plays, directing
plays. And actually sold 50,000 shares of stock to kids in my dorm at a dollar a share.
(LAUGHTER) And then bought a summer theatre on Cape Cod in 1974 and produced and directed
all the shows there for three years. And in a wild state of hubris, came to New York and
produced a show in New York City. Did the SEC know about that stock? Oh, yes, it was fully registered. Oh, it was? Fully registered with the SEC and it was,
you know, a filed offering. Robert was not my attorney at the time. So I spent several
years in jail, I think. (LAUGHTER) But no, it was fully registered, and that’s how I
began. Victoria, did he drag you along with him?
Right over the cliff or what? To the Somerset (PH) Theatre, actually, I
was twelve years old, as costume mistress, yes. (LAUGHTER) At that point. But I didn’t
work on his first Off-Broadway show. Where was the theatre on the Cape? The theatre was in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
It was called the Priscilla Beach Theatre. Its claim was that it was either the oldest
or one of the oldest summer barn theatres in the country. And it was really quite lovely.
And it was really one of those things right out of a Judy Garland/Mickey [Rooney movie]. Do you have it still? Oh, no. I ran it for three years and then
actually got out financially solvent, actually with a profit, by selling all the props and
all the furniture. Because we had two big farm houses on the grounds– it was non-union.
It was non-union! (LAUGHTER) All the actors and the musicians lived in the house. We gave
them room and board and fifteen dollars a week. You’re very entrepreneurial. Well, started young. You might sell me your jacket before this
is over! I’d be delighted. (LAUGHTER) Brendan, it’s you, that’s right. Tell me,
and Victoria too, we’ll start on the producing team. Do you come from a background of theatre,
either of you? Or did you wake up one morning? A little bit about that, how did you get involved
in this? Where did you get the disease? Our folks were very, very much involved in
community theatre, and had produced, when I was eight, nine, ten, eleven, before Victoria
was actually born, produced GUYS AND DOLLS in community theatre and BELLS ARE RINGING.
And I worked the light board and was an usher and all of that and got bit with the bug then.
And then, when I was in high school, I had a company called the Troubadour Theatre. And I had eight kids in a band and we traveled
around to summer camps, with sleeping bags and I sold GUYS AND DOLLS, THE FANTASTICKS
and DAMN YANKEES to summer camps as a form of entertainment, rather than taking the kids
to a local movie or whatever. And we actually had a wonderful time. I did that for three
years. And that’s how I earned enough money to go to college. It was very profitable,
on a risk/reward basis. It was very, very good. And we played three years. And one summer
we actually did fifty-four shows in sixty days. It was also non-union. (LAUGHTER) But that’s how I got started. And that led
to the summer theatre. And then I spent some time in England, working in all the regional
theatres in England, directing and learning how to produce. And then I came back to the
States and started actively producing. And the first success, if you will, that I had
was in 1978, where I met Robert, who represented me on a Harvey Fierstein play Off-Broadway. That’s really the equivalent of selling newspapers
and starting out, that’s how you get started. It sure is. What were you looking for in England? At that time, I was very interested in directing
and I wanted to go– well, I actually had a girlfriend in England, that’s the real reason. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) But I wanted to work– What did you sell her? You sold her something,
I know. I definitely sold her a bill of goods. (LAUGHTER)
So I spent a lot of time working at the regional theatres and working as an assistant director. And then you passed through directing to become
a producer. Or are you still a director? Well, I have directed a couple of things here
in New York. We won’t talk about one of them. One of them we could talk about. And I just
found that my strengths were in putting the project together and not really in working
so directly with the actors. And I enjoy the process from beginning to end and the challenge
of creating all the work and really being responsible for all of the decisions. And also, I found it to be an easier way to
get into the theatre professionally, because I could create my own work. By being a producer,
I could say, “I’m going to do this,” and I did it, rather than saying, “Somebody has
to employ me,” which was really not my nature. And then, when I actually did start directing,
I directed in England, and we had a success and brought the show over here to the Minetta
Lane Theatre, in 1986, and Peter was the press agent on it. Well now, getting into DAMN YANKEES, let’s
see where each one fits in and when they came on board, starting with– Brendan, do you
want to take this? To Charlotte. Well, I think that’s a very good question.
But who was the first person? Well, obviously, your sister, Victoria, had to be in at the
very beginning. On DAMN YANKEES? Yeah, we were talking about the production,
just the DAMN YANKEES, when you started putting together the whole group of people. But you’ve
already been working with how many of this group? All of them? Well, Charlotte is the first person, the only
member of this panel that had not done a project with us before. We had worked with Rick before
at Serino and Robert has represented us for thirteen, fourteen years. I know it seems
like a hundred. Peter has been working with us since the mid-eighties, and Victoria has
been working with us, for me, forever. And then Charlotte joined the team and DAMN YANKEES
in, I guess, May or June of ’92. What was the team, when she joined it? When
you say “joined the team” of DAMN YANKEES, what was it then? Well, we decided to option DAMN YANKEES, I
guess, in October or November of ’91, where we made our first inquiries as to whether
the rights were available. We approached George Abbott’s representatives, and we optioned
the material. So that would be Robert started there. Right. I guess one of the stories that’s good
about that is you said that you gave up baseball in ’27. George Abbott’s attorney, which is
Mr. Colton (PH), one of the scions in the industry, has represented Mr. Abbott continuously
since 1928. (LAUGHTER) Okay? He’s eighty-nine years old. And so our first contacts with
trying to obtain the rights were actually with him, who represents the owners. Of course,
some of them are estates. Mr. Abbott has refused to let it be an estate, as he still owns it
and still controls it. And that was Mitchell’s dream, was to say, “How do we get this on?” Well, what is the process, when you did that?
I mean, you pick up the phone. I think everyone would like to know. What do you do? Apart
from saying, “We want to do DAMN YANKEES?” Actually the whole process of what an attorney
does, in terms of getting the rights, etc. Attorneys are always responsive. Mitchell
starts it first. He wants to do it. He had actually contacted Mr. Abbott’s representatives.
But I happened to know Mr. Colton for many years. So the next call is to his lawyer.
I represent him on all the projects. Spoke to Ed about the availability of the rights
on doing this revival in New York City. At the time, there were other people interested
in it, and we had to present our credentials as to why this package was better than any
others and they made the election of going forward with us. But it took us– What were those credentials? What did you
have to present? Well, in terms of credentials, we’re talking
about the skills that Mitchell brings to the table of how he wanted this project to go
forward, his dreams. Because any time you’re doing a production, the dreams that you see
on the stage really are broken down into a lot of different people. The authors, and
here we had authors who were still alive. Okay, the director who eventually is brought
on board. But the person who orchestrates it, as Mitchell was just talking about, is
the producer. He’s going to have to raise the money, and to raise money, you have to
have a dream you can sell, that you can give to people in a fashion they can understand
why this deserves an investment. And that’s a hard thing to do. I think, when I first met Mitchell, I gave
him an anecdote that was given to me years ago, when I first started as an attorney in
the theatre business. A producer was sitting with me, who will remain nameless, and he
said, “Finding creative people in the theatre is very difficult.” And I, being very young
at the time, said, “Yes, the artist, the director, the writers, impossible.” He said, “Nah, they’re
technical. Creative is raising the money.” (LAUGHTER) And it is hard to do, because that’s
truly a dream. Think about what you’re selling. Something that’s just going to be an image,
that isn’t created just on paper. That’s what we sell. That’s what we’re able to do. That would have been Mr. Colton’s first question,
wouldn’t it have been? It was. Where are you going to get the money or how
do you get the money or have you got the money? The first question is not “Have you,” because
they know it takes a long time. But Mitchell and I, over the period of time that we negotiated,
which was, I guess, from November to May before we actually had a contract– that’s May of
1992, from November of 1991– had come up with a way of doing this that was somewhat
different, in terms of bringing in a regional theatre that could let us develop this old
play into a modern version of that old play, without violating any of its basic tenets. It happens to be a theatre that I represent,
and if they were not in California, I’m sure that Tom Hall, who’s the Managing Director
of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, would be here. Because he and Mitchell were able
to share the producer’s dream and then bring in their Artistic Director, who is Jack O’Brien,
to give it life. And when we did that, we were able to then show the underlying rights
owners that we had a two-level structure that would give a great deal of weight and life
to that show. A two-level structure? Explain that a little
bit. Well, we were going to do the show first at
a regional theatre that has a great deal of credentials, the Old Globe Theatre in San
Diego. It was going to be directed by Jack O’Brien. I don’t remember when we brought
Rob Marshall into the package. Much, much later, because we weren’t really
sure– Did you have your capital then? Did you have
to raise money when you thought of Jack O’Brien and going to the regional theatre? How far
along were you with capital? Package first is to have enough front money
to do all of this, so that you’re not reaching into your own pocket. But then, we actually
created a double level financing structure to do this. But then, in getting the rights, did Mr. Abbott
want to know whether you had enough capital? No, he was willing to rely on Mr. Maxwell’s
abilities. That’s one of the things that you’re actually selling, because to put the money
away before the rights is impossible. In fact, you must have the rights in place. And what Mitchell and I were able to formulate
was a way of raising a significantly smaller amount of money that would be needed to do
the show directly on Broadway, to enhance the production at the Globe. Their production
is their own, and their own artistic creation, with Mitchell’s input. Because unless it was
going to be something that he wanted to bring to New York, it wouldn’t be viable. They wouldn’t
have done it. I know the Old Globe didn’t have enough money
for this. Well, since they produce thirteen shows a
year and have a very large budget, they would have enough money to do this show, which they
wanted to do on their own agenda, to do a show much smaller, than that which would have
shown us something warranting the move. So our offer to them, as has been done on a lot
of projects, was to enhance their budget to allow the show to be done in a fashion that
you could see the value for moving it. And they have a very high reputation, the
Old Globe. Sure. Jack has done a terrific job, and they’re
really wonderful people. Yeah, he’s a wonderful director. And INTO THE WOODS was done this way, years
before this, and done creatively as well, with Mr. Sondheim. What about Charlotte, then? You’re at the
theatre? Well, it’s actually before then, because that’s
when we start doing those budgets, that we bring in the General Manager to tell us, “Gee,
how many dollars are we really going to need?” When I came into the project, Mitchell and
Robert had already begun negotiations with the director, with the choreographer, with
the star. And they were well on the way with the Globe. So at that point, we had to have
a series of meetings with the Globe, to find out what they were planning, so that we could
then determine what we needed to add to their production, and then on top of that, do a
full scale Broadway budget. Now, Charlotte, when you say “a full scale
Broadway budget,” I understand there are two questions and two things. Do you negotiate
with the unions, in terms of how many men in each case? That’s one question. And also,
how do you train to be a General Manager? You can go in that order. Well, the second one, I’ll start first with.
I started out as a receptionist in a general manager’s office and spent years learning
the business and putting in long hours and working. And really, the only way to train
is experience. When I started, you couldn’t go to college to learn any management courses.
I don’t think there were any at that time. Now you have them everywhere. And they’re
certainly valuable and helpful. And then, after you finish them, you still
have to go to a manager’s office and work. The budgeting process and the negotiating
process, usually you do the budgeting first with an idea of what negotiating will involve,
because that’s the only way you can budget. Then, the reality of what each item costs
varies slightly, once you actually start those negotiations. You don’t get into numbers of
people, etc., except in terms of your cast, specifically, because you don’t know what
your physical production’s going to be until you get there. And that determines the number
of people you use. But the size of the production in the Old
Globe would be bound to be smaller, just in physical terms with the stage and everything,
compared to Broadway. So you have to bring a designer in very early, I would think, to
say, “We’re going to have two different physical–” Well, the physical production at the Globe
was designed sort of to be, by analogy, it was the suit that you buy and it was the foundation,
and then as we moved to New York, we added the haberdashery. We added the tie and the
shirt and the pocket square and we dressed it all up and we made it Broadway worthy.
And [as] we designed everything and budgeted everything, we added to what we had at the
Globe. We didn’t throw anything out. And that enabled us to finance the show in
a two tier way, where we committed $700,000 of the enhancement money at the Globe, but
really captured a great deal more value than the $700,000 as we went forward, which enabled
DAMN YANKEES to be on Broadway for a number that we’re very proud of, for a number that
is far less than the average musical that’s hitting Broadway today. Can you tell us what that is? Can you say what the sum is or not? I have no problem with that. Do I have a problem
with that? Absolutely not. You should be proud of it. DAMN YANKEES came in for about 3.4 million
dollars. And the norm is what, Charlotte? I would say, now they’re going five to ten
million dollars. That’s wonderful. Indeed. Is the next step, Peter, and then
over to you, Rick? Which comes first? Yeah, public relations or advertising? I think most probably I came onto the team
next, in about, I guess, May of ’93. I got a call from Charlotte, saying that the Maxwells
wanted me to work with them on DAMN YANKEES. And I, like, you know, without a moment’s
notice said, “Yes, I would be more than happy to.” And then we announced the show in the
New York Times that June. We wanted to do that before we went away for the summer, so
that people could learn about the project happening at the Old Globe. Their performances
began in September. Well, you say you announced it in the Times.
You didn’t take an ad. Did you call up somebody? How did you do that? What goes on? We put all the information together in an
announcement release and I sent that over to, at that point it was Glen Collins (PH)
who was writing the Friday theatre column. And then he did a terrific feature for us. And did you feature George Abbott? Oh, most definitely. And actually, I believe
it came out on his 106th birthday, which was about June 25, which I think is just about
right. Perfect. Because he’s a fortunate addition to the whole
thing. Oh, most definitely. Because George Abbott is a saint, and can
figure in newspaper publicity, as well as other ways. One of the reasons we went to the Globe, away
from the financial rewards of it and the fact that we could work on the show out of town
without the hot lights of New York and the pressures of New York, was that we did not
want to do the original production of DAMN YANKEES. And in very complex negotiations
with Ed Colton, that Robert oversaw for us, we developed a situation in which we got the
right, which is very unusual, to do whatever work we wanted to on the book and the structure
of the show and the change of the order of the songs. We actually gave songs to different
characters. We added a lot of material. We excised a lot of material. And we had an understanding with Mr. Abbott
and Mr. Adler, who wrote the score, that we could do really whatever we wanted to do in
San Diego, to show what we had in mind.. And then they would see the show in San Diego
and either disapprove or approve those changes. Our position always was that they were going
to approve the changes and we sort of said, you know, “Let the torpedoes go,” and just
do what we thought was the way to bring the show into the nineties. And we were fortunate
enough that they loved the show in San Diego. I’m not sure they loved everything that we
did, because it was change and change is often difficult. But we had a meeting following
the opening night in San Diego, in Mr. Abbott’s suite in San Diego. The opening night where? In San Diego. With Mr. Abbott in San Diego
in his suite. And he said something to the effect of “You have a big success. You have
a big hit. It’s not what I would have done, but who can argue with a hit?” And as we progressed
to go over, line by line, note by note, we stayed with his adage, which was “If it gets
a laugh, keep it.” So that came back to help us when we were discussing, or for want of
a better word, arguing, about some of the things in New York. We constantly said to
Mr. Abbott, “Well, you said, ‘If it gets a laugh, keep it.'” (LAUGHTER) So there are
several things in the show that he wasn’t particularly wild about that get a big laugh
and that stay in the show. What’s the original date of DAMN YANKEES in
New York? It opened in 1955. Thirty-eight years ago. So it’s quite a long time. Yeah, thirty-eight
years. God, that’s a long time. And ninety percent of the material in DAMN
YANKEES, other than the structure and the story, is really markedly different than what
we started with, when we went to work in November of ’91. Including the fact– Brendan, you wouldn’t
know this, but there are no more Washington Senators either. (LAUGHTER) Fill me in. Yeah, right. But then, Rick, okay, you were
called in, obviously, I assume by Charlotte, right? Was it you who called? I can’t remember. It was the summer of ’93. And you have DAMN YANKEES, and given that,
now you’ve got to advertise it, promote it, give us an insight into your mindset. What
do you do in terms of knowing the show? What’s the difference between advertising
and publicity? Right. And how are you going to promote it?
What do you glom onto? Well, advertising is space that you pay for
in various media, print, outdoor, broadcast media. It is also space that you can barter
for. You can trade tickets for space or for airtime. And publicity, through Peter’s good
office, is getting as much free space as you possibly can. So the advertising budget of
any show is a substantial part of the weekly running cost of that show. And with DAMN YANKEES, we had sort of a luxurious
situation which was that there was an extant production which we were able to see long
before the show was going to come to New York in San Diego, and sort of get juiced up about
it. And then, to find what it is about this particular production, as in anything that
one advertises, you try to find and then exploit what is most compelling about that, in order
to sell it to as many people as possible, to as wide a range of, in this case, theatregoers
as possible. And something that we wanted to do was make
clear through the expression of the show in advertising that this was a contemporary look
at a classic Broadway musical, that it should not be considered a revival in the way that
we used to think of as revivals, before people used to reconceive shows. You can think of
successful revivals like GUYS AND DOLLS, CAROUSEL, DAMN YANKEES, on Broadway now, which have
reinvented– Are really classics. — have taken something wonderful and reinvented
it, put a different spin on it, to make it appealing, both to an audience that would
remember it from when it appeared originally and to the people who are going to the theatre
today, a younger audience, hopefully. With this show, we always wanted to attract a wider
audience, an audience for whom baseball had some appeal, as well as the traditional appeal
of Broadway musical comedy. But it was musical comedy that was really the niche here. In a rather crowded season last year, DAMN
YANKEES found itself, in many cases, head to head with an excellent production of CAROUSEL
at Lincoln Center. CAROUSEL and DAMN YANKEES were opening at about the same time. And therefore,
we had to attract as much a part of the theatregoing audience as we possibly could, away from that
show and to this show. And so the primary way that we chose to do that was to focus
on the fact that DAMN YANKEES is a musical comedy. If you stand out on the TKTS line
or in front of the theatre at 7:30 and ask people what it is that they primarily want
to see when they go to the theatre, musical comedy is the first choice of most people. Musical comedy, therefore, we had to exploit.
CAROUSEL does not fall into that category. We wanted to make it very, very clear that
DAMN YANKEES was the show to see, if you wanted to have a great time. And it was also a show
that was something that, since the primary ticket buyers are women, this is something
that you might drag your husband to, but at the end he would be glad that he came along.
(LAUGHTER) How do you say that CAROUSEL is the natural
rival as a musical comedy? Well, it just happened to be the way the calendar
fell. They were coming in at about the same time. They were both major revivals of great
Broadway shows. CAROUSEL had the added advantage of having received a tremendous amount of
critical acclaim the year before, when it was playing in London. It had the imprimatur
of Cameron Mackintosh and Lincoln Center. It appeared to be the press’s darling at the
outset of the season. And it was our job and Peter’s job to both differentiate and maximize
the appeal of DAMN YANKEES. One of the things you also have to do, as
soon as advertising begins, is be sure what your graphics are going to be, your logo and
all that. Sure, sure. Now, really, who decides that? What made you come to that? Well, the original image of DAMN YANKEES was,
I believe, Gwen Verdon sort of standing, arms akimbo and legs spread, in her little “Whatever
Lola Wants”– what would you call that? A bustier? (LAUGHTER) I hope I’m pronouncing
that right, Isabelle. That’s okay. (LAUGHS) And we didn’t want to do anything that would
be that exploitative, with a show in 1994. And also, what we did was we talked to people.
And we brought people up for random interviews and talked to them about the show. And when
asked to describe the show– What people? We would stop [them]. Our offices are on Broadway.
We would regularly bring people up, with the promises of doughnuts and coffee, to talk
about the theatre and why they’re interested in seeing what they’re seeing. What it is
about an ad that appeals to them. You know, it’s test marketing in an ad hoc, rather unscientific
way. But we do get to learn, for a low expenditure, what people who go to the theatre are expecting
and what they’re taking away with them, which helps us go out– So in that way, the window card thing and
the logo was born? Well, what people were describing was a Faustian
bargain between a man who sells his soul to the devil to become a young baseball player.
The character of Lola doesn’t really quite fit into that précis. You have to get into
a much longer conversation about Lola, who in this case was also the marquee name, Bebe
Neuwirth, in the show, in order to make sense of that aspect. So we decided we wanted to reduce the aspect
of the Lola character and represent her merely as a pair of lips on the baseball and the
DAMN YANKEES title sort of arcing around it in a way that is reminiscent of the architecture
at Yankee Stadium. The lips, I can tell you, in that sort of trivia way that in years to
come, when people watch this broadcast (LAUGHTER), they may want to know that the lips do belong
to someone on this panel. (LAUGHTER) And she’s free to raise her hand, if she so chooses.
(LAUGHTER) I’d do it immediately! (LAUGHTER) So do I. We all do that. I’d like to bring
up– Is that when you first came into it, when
they wanted your lips? (LAUGHTER) No, actually, I was at the meeting and I think
I just had the most neatly applied lipstick that day. She did win out over a great many people. There were a great number of lips. It was quite a competition, yeah. Well, beyond that, I wanted to ask– Well, we now have everybody in place. And
we’re up to your logo and your window cards. Yes. You haven’t opened on Broadway yet. Let me add one other thing, that DAMN YANKEES
had, which is really, really wonderful. There’s an old expression in advertising, “You can’t
hum the announcer.” What DAMN YANKEES had, as sort of its flagship number, and was tremendously
exploitable through advertising, is the song, “Heart.” It’s a song that everybody in this
country knows, on some level. And it is a song that, because it’s in the show, we were
able to use in the advertising for that show, without having to pay the billion dollars
you’d have to pay if you were Stouffer’s and you wanted to use it for Stove Top Stuffing. So we were able to have the most wonderful
jingle in the world. In advertising, it’s called “jingles,” you know. On stage, it’s
called “showstoppers.” (LAUGHTER) But it’s the thing that gets people singing along in
their cars or at home or while they’re in front of the television. And it’s great, because
what it does is carry over. So long after the commercial is over, somebody still has
that song caught in their head and then it begins to act like a one-two punch. The next
time they see the ad or the next time they see the poster, they think, “That’s right,
that’s what I’m interested in seeing.” There’s something else I wanted to add about
the artwork, too, is that now, in the 1990’s, all Broadway shows do merchandising. And we
wanted to choose a graphic image that was simple, an icon that could be put on T-shirts
and jackets and baseball caps and key chains, something that would really translate to a
variety of media. So we went with this simple image that has worked beautifully on baseball
hats and posters. Victoria does not get a royalty on this. That’s terrible. I don’t. You know, I’ve been meaning to talk
to you about that. You’re getting bitterer and bitterer about
that. (LAUGHTER) I really am! But who chooses the artist? Is it done in-house? This particular image was done at our shop,
yes. It really depends. The same way you wouldn’t necessarily, you know, wear a tuxedo to a
greasy spoon, you wouldn’t necessarily go to the same artist, regardless of what the
production was. So you try to find somebody whose particular skills fit the project. Then who makes the decision about targeting
your advertising? How much media, how much television, how much radio? We have many, many meetings to decide how
the money is apportioned. And Mitchell, Victoria, and their partners came with some tremendous
deals in place for barter and trade, which involved TDI. Do you want to talk about this? Yeah, would you? Yeah. We made a landmark deal on this show,
actually. We were partners with a company called TDI, which is Transportation Displays
Incorporated. And they own outdoor media and some cable television time and radio time.
We made a purchase of $100,000 of outdoor advertising space, and they in turn made a
$100,000 investment in the production. Then, for participation on the general partner side
of the limited partnership, they gave us $400,000 worth of free advertising space. That consisted
of outdoor billboards, the sides of buses, was it? Sides of buses, and some television
and radio time. It was cable television, on Manhattan Cable. Was that an unusual arrangement. It was a landmark arrangement. Well, to put that in context a little, a pre-opening
budget for a Broadway musical would rarely exceed $750,000. So, you’re talking about
$400,000 of that, $100,000 plus another $400,000, could be used toward that figure. It’s another
example of good producing on their part, to be able to keep the costs to the show down,
by finding ways to increase the budget without necessarily paying for it yourself. So they’re also gambling on getting their
money back over a period of several years? That’s right. Yes, they were. Also, I think, part of the
relationship, which Victoria helped forge, was really about their desire to, for want
of a better expression, give back to an industry that feeds their industry. And it really was
an opportunity, because of the musical comedy aspects, the family aspects of the show, that
all of their clients, all of their buyers, this was a great piece of work for them to
be involved with, for them to, you know, sort of puff their chest out and say, “We were
responsible for this, to some degree.” We also were able to, because DAMN YANKEES
was such a famous title and it does have baseball so much in its story, and DAMN YANKEES is
not a story about baseball, per se. It’s a story about passion and love, and baseball
is just– The backdrop. — the conduit to that. We were able to forge
relationships that were very unique in our advertising, with Madison Square Garden Network,
who broadcasts the Yankees, and we were also able to make a deal with Tops (PH) Baseball
Trading Cards. Now, who cooked that idea up? ‘Cause it’s
a brilliant idea, to deal with MSG and all that. Well, we all sort of cooked it up. You know,
we all sat around and we said, “All right, where do we take these ideas? Where do we
take the givens of this geometry problem, baseball and musical comedy, and how do we
reach a different market?” And it was just a marriage of ideas between MSG, which broadcasts
the Yankees, and was broadcasting the Knicks at the time. We traded tickets. We made a
relationship where they were involved with the production. They gave us some television
time. We then made the relationship with Tops Trading Cards. They printed up a beautiful–
I wish we had them here– Yeah. But they printed up a beautiful set of twenty
Broadway trading cards, which are really patterned after baseball cards. And I was just yesterday,
that Peter set up, I was at the New York City public schools with Charlotte D’Amboise, who’s
now playing Lola, using these baseball cards to introduce young people to the theatre.
And we went to a public school and we gave out all the baseball cards and all of a sudden,
this musical, which these kids had never seen, came alive in baseball cards, which they are
used to relating to. Sure. That’s a wonderful idea. I have some visual aids. It just so happens. It’s not the baseball cards, but it’s an application
of the baseball card idea in advertising, which is an example of why it was a good idea,
because when ideas can expand out and serve several masters, that’s when they are really
effective in the selling of the show. And before the Tony nominations– the Tony awards,
as Isabelle said, of course, are given out for excellence. But we who must market the
theatre can not deny the impact that the Tony awards have at the box office. Economically, I know. And it’s our job to try, therefore, to do
whatever we can to garner as many nominations for any particular production as that production
could possibly get. And it was our best guess that, because of the crowded category of musicals
and musical revivals in the ’94 Tonys, that every nomination would really be hotly contested. And so, what we wanted to do is, prior to
the nominations coming out, campaign for them in a way that oftentimes, in Variety, you’ll
see a film campaigning for an Oscar nomination, “for your consideration.” We came up with
a “for you consideration” kind of concept for DAMN YANKEES, which made use of the baseball
card idea, and tried to position anyone who could conceivably be nominated for a Tony
award for this production of DAMN YANKEES, was pictured both picture-wise and the back
of the card, you know, we used the stats. The stats in this case were, you know, we
used the rave reviews that the individual had received at the opening of the show. This ran the day before the Tony nominations
were announced. So we hoped not only would it have impact at the box office, but it would
also be the last thing that the Tony nominators would see as they went into their room to
decide who would be nominated. Hopelessly suggestible group of people. (LAUGHTER) I would agree with you, Brendan, entirely. It couldn’t hurt. It couldn’t hurt, was the
theory. Yes, I know. And even if it had no impact on the nominators,
it would enable us to use a number “10” here, when a week later we knew that people were
going to be using numbers of their own, because they would have their nominations. It’s still an awfully good ad. It was also a good early use of color in the
New York Times, which finally sort of got hip to the idea that every paper in the country
had color except the New York Times. (LAUGHTER) How much more does that cost you in color? It depends on the size of the ad. A full page
ad is twelve percent surcharge. Smaller sizes go up to about twenty percent above the cost
of black and white. And what does that cost, then? Bottom line. That ad cost $60,000. This is a $60,000 ad. So when you take into consideration the $400,000
we got from TDI, which is still out there on the highway and on the buses and the phones
and the train platforms, it was quite an arrangement that we were fortunate enough to make. Beyond that, it’s an arrangement that the
company didn’t pay for. As Victoria said, this is something that the producers thought
was important. And they paid for it, our of their participation in the show, with no effect
on their investors. $400,000 is better than ten percent of the budget of the show. It’s one of the reasons that the show was
able to cost three-four. We got that $400,000 without actually paying for it. Sure. I wanted to pick up with Peter a little
bit, now that the show is open and it’s running, and obviously, you interact with Rick, but
isn’t your job now really to keep this going? And how do you do that? I mean, when you say
“PR,” that’s to a lot of people, kind of a “What is that?” I mean, what is PR? Because
I assume, one of your major jobs is to keep this in front of the public, is that correct? Definitely. And if so, how? Because once it’s open, it’s
gotten the reviews– He doesn’t have to talk now. I think, from the very start, we wanted all
the publicity associated with the show to be fun, because we knew the show was very
fun. So from the moment the marquee went up, with the world’s largest illuminated baseball– Which we got Rawlings Baseball Company to
pay for. Right. (LAUGHTER) We had, you know, television
cameras there when this ball was dropped into place in Times Square. We just have explored
many different fun things associated with the show to explore through different forms
of media. I mean, from the ball to our relationship with opening the Yankees game, you know, the
season game? To with the baseball season being canceled this year, how we reacted to it. I mean, that’s like one of the funniest stories.
And like Mitchell called and said, “They’ve canceled the season. What can we do?” So,
as I know everyone knows on this panel, the dimming of the marquee lights on Broadway
is usually reserved for when dignitaries of the theatre pass away. We made it Broadway
baseball’s darkest hour,” and we had our marquee dimmed that night and brought the baseball
players out and put their caps over their hearts. (LAUGHTER) And we had no less than
about twelve television crews, and this went across the country. So it’s these types of
things that we do constantly to keep the show out there. One of the best things that Peter arranged,
and it was really so much out of another time, was through, actually my mother, who sells
group tickets on Broadway, one of her clients wished to ask his future fiancée to marry
him. So Peter arranged the whole thing at a matinee over the summer, in which Vicki
Lewis, who played the reporter in the show, stepped forward after the curtain call and
said she had a hot story right off the press. And said, “Is this young lady in the house?”
and the woman stood up. And Vicki said, “You better sit down.” (LAUGHTER) And she said,
“This gentleman–” I don’t recall his name now– “would like to know if you’d marry him?” And we were sold out, we were 1500 people
there, and they all sort of went, “Ooooh!” (LAUGHTER) And it was really just using, again,
it was really fine. And everybody in the audience talked about it. We got really dozens of letters
about that they were participating in something so special. And that television coverage hit about forty-three
markets throughout the country. Oh, God. So it’s just amazing, you know, how that can
impact. Now, your mother sells tickets. What does
your grandmother do? (LAUGHTER) She sells my mother. But you know, I remember I was at opening
day at Yankee Stadium. It was brilliant, because I suddenly thought, “Wow, what a very good
marketing thing, because you had the chorus dancing on top of the dugout. That’s right. Which was, there you had what 55– 65,000
people, knowing it was the chorus and obviously the scoreboard had the whole thing. Which
I mean, I didn’t know it was you, but I remember thinking, “Boy, that marketing is really good.” But in that regard, it’s the good time that’s
the special effect, as it were, or the spectacle of DAMN YANKEES, in the way that the big shows
have become about special effects, like helicopters or chandeliers or tires going up to heaven.
Or you know, big show boats coming out on stage, that sort of thing. The special effect
of DAMN YANKEES is the great fun of the production. And the audience genuinely has a good time.
Sometimes that’s just puff, when you hear that about a show. They do. The audience comes out of the theatre having
had a terrific time, and that is a special effect that you can transport around to places
like Yankee Stadium or, you know, the Thanksgiving Day parade, without losing anything, because
it’s kind of contagious. Let me take one step back. Where did you get
your money from? Where did we get our money from? I called
up all those people who bought stock when I was in college. (LAUGHTER) No, actually
some of them did invest. We have 178 investors in DAMN YANKEES, which is more than I think
any show on Broadway. We orchestrated the financing of the project
in a two-fold way. One of the things I wanted to do first was bring in a major backer, a
major investor. And we went and we made an arrangement with Polygram Diversified Entertainment,
which is the sixth largest entertainment company in the world. And we got them to commit 25%
of the budget. And once we had that 25%, we sort of had the anchor in place, a foundation
to go and raise the rest of the money, from 177 other investors. Most of our investors
in the show are $10,000 to $25,000 investors. We also tried to do something that I’m very
pleased we were able to accomplish. One of the reasons that I optioned this play, away
from the fact that I wanted to do it and had an affinity for it personally, and I like
what it has to say in the nineties, even though it was written in the fifties, was there was
an article in the New York Times several years ago about NICK AND NORA and about how NICK
AND NORA had become such a debacle. And many of the people interviewed in that article
were, fortunately, people of great means, of great wealth. And I took sort of a personal affront to the
fact that it takes more to produce a Broadway musical than great wealth. You have to have
passion, you have to have taste, you have to have some sort of vision. And I decided,
after conversations with Victoria and then with Robert, that what we were going to do
was we were going to bring in what we thought would be the next generation of Broadway producers,
who, although the numbers have become so staggering, we felt if we could find six or eight partners,
who would each commit ten percent of the budget, which was a workable number, that we could
partner this thing and deliver a show on Broadway, without spending ten million and without having
shopping centers to back us up. And we were fortunate enough to do that. So we began that process by saying to people,
“Look, why don’t you invest some money in the development and enhancement in San Diego?”
And we used the expression that you got “a cheap look at the whole cart.” You got to
see what you were going to invest in, in New York, before you put up all your money. So
we were fortunate enough to make alliances with six people who have now become partners
on all of our projects, because it all worked out so well. Had they been before, or they came on [now]? Basically, two of them were very, very small
partners of mine, when I did a play Off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre called OLEANNA. And
the investment there was very, very small. And two of them had worked on that with me.
And four– What do investors expect to get, a profit
or the fun and glamour of being in the theatre? Well, I think Polygram Diversified Entertainment
would expect a profit. (LAUGHTER) They would like a profit. I also think that everybody would like a profit.
I don’t think that anybody puts up $25,000, no matter how well-to-do you are, and says,
you know, “Fine, lose my money.” So therefore, it’s on your record that you’re
getting this kind of money? Yeah, I mean, your track record and your ability
to raise money in the future, if you’ve had a success in the past or successes, it is
easier to raise money. But I do think that there are a great many people who are interested
in the theatre, who are very willing to invest their money– and we know this is a difficult
investment– invest their money, and as long as you deliver something that makes them proud
and makes them glad that they were participating, they’ll come back. They may not come back
ten times, but they’ll come back two or three times. How far is this now? This show has virtually,
almost been a year. Is it beginning to pay back now? The show has paid back a good portion of its
investment. We opened on March 3rd, and it’s now almost November, so we’ve been running
about eight or nine months. We’ve paid back a good portion of the investment, and business
is very brisk through the end of the year. And I’m very sanguine that by shortly after
the show runs a year, with the revenue from New York and the revenue from the road, the
show will show a nice profit. One thing I forgot to ask, way at the beginning,
and you tell us where it comes in, the choice of the theatre? Well, in our case (LAUGHTER), we had no theatre.
I mean, we had numerous discussions, “Where are we going to put this show?” And this was
something that Charlotte really had to deal with, which she can talk about, in terms of
you design a set for a specific theatre. So she was up against keeping our options open.
And we wouldn’t have had a theatre, except for the demise of a show that never came in,
which was announced for the Marquis. That’s right. And then it shut down out of town, it didn’t
come in. And we really had about four days to– You begin looking at theatres and trying to
make deals with theatre owners? Yeah, Charlotte, why don’t you tell us? It’s very hard to make a concrete deal with
a theatre owner as far ahead as we were. We started, I came on board in the spring of
’92. We weren’t actually going to open until the late winter of ’94. So you can speak to
theatre owners and you can get them excited and they’ll put you in line. But they don’t
want to commit that early, because they don’t know if you’re really going to happen and
they can’t tie their real estate up. Our designer had designed for the Lunt-Fontanne
Theatre. And when we were getting ready to come in, it clearly wasn’t going to be available.
We had a lot of theatres that we were juggling. There was a period when I’d make four and
five calls a day to the general managers of the different theatre chains, to find out,
“Well, what will happen if this doesn’t happen or if this does happen?” And then all of a
sudden, literally in about four days, PAPER MOON canceled and we knew we had our chance.
And we knew we could fit into that theatre. We went to Jimmy Nederlander and made it happen. Can you tell us what the usual arrangements
are with the theatre? In terms of finances? Every theatre will,
right off the bat, charge you for their payroll package, which is the stagehands, the box
office, the ushers, the porters, the ticket takers, the theatre manager, the doormen.
Whatever that cost is for your show, you pay a hundred percent of. Then they also will
get a rent factor, out of which they pay their real estate taxes and all of their overhead.
They’ll also charge you specific figures for things like insurance, garbage collection,
the security people that take your money back and forth from the box office. And then they’ll
want some kind of a percentage that goes from dollar one, or a certain dollar figure to
be negotiated, as their profit. We were able to negotiate a very wonderful
deal on the Marquis, because they were in a bind. They had a show that canceled and
they needed to fill their real estate. And we just happened to be there at the right
time, so it was fortunate for both of us. How is that as a stage, in terms of the width
of the stage and everything? I think it’s a beautiful theatre. Excellent. It’s a beautiful theatre, and it actually
shows off our show very well, because the theatre is very modern and our show is very
kitsch in a fifties kind of way. So the show looks beautiful in the theatre, even though
it wasn’t really designed for a modern theatre. And the design team was nervous about the
fact that it was a modern theatre, and in their mind, a large theatre as opposed to
a small, intimate theatre. Plus, the scenery designer had done NICK AND NORA in that theatre,
so he was psychologically not geared to go back. (LAUGHTER) Didn’t want to go back. But he ended up loving it. Can you tell us the budget, starting with
your theatre package? Can you give us some kind of a breakdown of how you allocate budget? Weekly, or the production budget? Well, let’s do weekly, too. What does it cost
a week and how do it goes, bringing it in? I mean, both. So that we finally get to the ticket price. Do you want to speak to that? It costs between 360 and 380 a week, depending
on how much we spend on advertising and marketing in any given week. Add thousands to that. Yeah, right. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, right, $380,000. Well, how does that
break down, let’s say in terms of artistic salaries, crew, and advertising? Boy, I have so many shows in my head. Can
I actually remember the specifics of each one? You remember. The salaries from DAMN YANKEES are about $104,000
a week, depending on what we gross, because the star percentages escalate that. The theatre
rent package, with all the things that Charlotte has talked about, comes down to around $125,000
a week. Correct. We’ve spent as much as $80,000 a week in advertising
and as little as $25,000. Then there are royalties, which the minimum royalties to all of the
creative people are $24,750. And those increase, depending on the grosses. And then there are
rentals of sound and lights and so forth and so on, which are about $40,000. And in the
number that we pay the theatre are the crew costs, the people that take care of the costumes
and so forth. And then, there’s miscellaneous expenses,
of cleaning the costumes and maintaining them and putting new people into the show. When
somebody leaves, we have to rehearse new people. Rebuilding costumes. And then, there’s about
a dollar and a half a week for the producers. (LAUGHTER) I can see the tears. But, Victoria, did you,
’cause I can see when you were talking about the Rawlings Baseball Company, do you do a
lot of this negotiating? Well, I did on this show. I think that doing
musicals on Broadway in today’s times, there’s such competition for the entertainment dollar
that you have to try to get your show out there in as many different mediums as possible.
And in places where you wouldn’t expect to read about it. Like the Tops Baseball Cards
was a perfect example, because it brought the show to the attention of people who might
not normally read the Broadway show pages. So we– I’m sorry, I have to stop you right now, because
we’ve got the show out there. And we have to just take a break, and then we’re coming
right back, to talk about what happens now that the show is out there and what you’ve
done. So stand up, stretch, move around, whatever you do, and come right back again and we’ll
get to all the questions that we want to ask. You have really been most informative. This
is the seminar on DAMN YANKEES that we’re talking about. (APPLAUSE) This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75.
(APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American Theatre Wing
seminar on “Working in the Theatre,” which is coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. And we’ve been talking about the production of DAMN
YANKEES, that wonderful show that’s playing on Broadway now. We have the team, the whole
producing team, and we’ve been picking their brains as to what it is and how it is to produce
a hit play. We’re going to continue right now with George White and Brendan Gill. And
I think we’ve come almost up to the cost of the ticket. (LAUGHTER) Shall we go on with
that or do we still have something to go before? Okay. Well, I wondered, there was one thing,
Isabelle, that we did at the break, that I thought was sort of fascinating, because it
relates to the legal changes of something. It has to do with promotion. It’s something
Victoria told me about at the break, which I think would be fun to share, about the novel.
And then we’ll get on to the price of the tickets, because I think this is fun to see.
It’s a brilliant idea to promote it, and how these things can keep a show going. Well, it’s just another example of cross-promotion
that we did on the show. But the musical DAMN YANKEES is based on a book that I think was
written in 1953, called “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.” And the book had been out
of print for the longest time. And about three weeks before the show opened, we got a call
from the original publishers, W. W. Norton. And they said that in light of the fact that
the musical was re-opening on Broadway and there was all this attention focused on it,
that they wanted to re-issue the novel, but they wanted to re-issue it under the title,
“Damn Yankees,” with the famous baseball/lip-print artwork. So we had to go to the estate and request
their permission, Mr. Adler and Mr. Abbott and the estates for Douglas Wallop (PH) to
get their permission to re-title the book. And then of course, we had to get permission
from Rick Elice to use the artwork on the cover of the book. Did I give it? Yes, you did! (LAUGHTER) But it was great,
because once the book was re-issued, with this new artwork, the publishing company had
it in the window of every book store, because it was a big deal for them. And they gave
us 2,000 copies of the book to use for various cross-promotions. So it was just another way
for us to get our artwork and the name of the show out there, in a different medium. And in addition to that, we were able to negotiate
with the publisher, where we mentioned that the book is in print in our ads. They actually
paid for some of our advertising. So we were able to, you know, when you see “Records available
on such-and-such,” at the bottom of ads, they were kind enough to pay for some of our advertising
as long we mentioned that the book was re-published in our ads in small print. So we got additional
advertising that the production didn’t actually pay for. From a legal point of view, when you were
looking up the genealogy of the original, somebody at the Yankees’ ball club had to
give permission for the use of the name “Yankees.” Why? Wouldn’t they have to? Are they in the public
domain? Well, it’s not in the public domain. But you’re
talking about them as to what they are, and you can actually use it. You can’t use their
logo without their permission, and we don’t. Yeah. I think we would have gotten permission if
we had wanted to. It wasn’t a choice. Isn’t it on some of the T-shirts? Isn’t the
“NY” on it, or is that a variation on it? Not that I’m aware of. It’s a “DY.” It’s a “DY,” for DAMN YANKEES. Oh, right, of course. Okay. See? In other words, just the way the author
was able to write the book, okay, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” he was using
what’s called “fair use” under the copyright laws. He was referring to them as a baseball
team. He’s not trying to capitalize on them and he’s not trying to advertise off of them.
And that’s, in effect, what we’re doing here. Creative work is allowed that, in lots of
different ways in the copyright law. But you’d think, in the fifties, to say “Damn”
Yankees would have had a pejorative effect. I’m sure that George now is very happy to
be referred to in that way, to tell the truth. (LAUGHS) But I don’t know the fifties very
well, because I just was cheering the Dodgers, so I couldn’t know. Is there a different financial arrangement
with an estate than to an author, in royalties? Well, you end up having different problems,
in terms of dealing with the negotiations. And one of the great things, and Mitchell
really went over it, the ability to allow people to make changes is very hard to get.
And strangely enough, estates are less likely to allow you to make changes than a live author.
Here we did have Mr. Abbott alive, and he was very aware and saw a lot of shows and
what happens? But are the royalties any different in payment? No, except that you sometimes have different
groups to get paid. We actually refer to our authors in this place by two different names.
The authors are the people who wrote it, and the owners are the people who get paid. Some
of the authors are no longer with us, some are. And the owners may be their estates,
may be beneficiaries that now get paid. In terms of negotiating the numbers, however,
the numbers are pretty much the same, though they’re distributed differently. Let’s talk about ticket prices a minute, because
I do think it’s on everybody’s mind, as we go into even a new season, where I think there’s
been an escalation. A new musical just opened, I think the top ticket is now $75. What’s
your top ticket and how does that all go together? Our top ticket’s $67.50 on weekends and $65
on weekdays. And we recently raised the prices to $67.50, and the answer to the question
that you would ask is because we could. Because what? Because we could. And because the expenses
on the show are so enormous that on a Saturday night with a hot ticket, it’s supply and demand. Supply and demand. And I would rather that we didn’t have to,
but we did. What is your low ticket? Fifteen dollars. How do you get that? Well, we have a large theatre. So when we
scaled the house, when we talked about it, we wanted to make sure that there were a certain
number of tickets available at a very low price. And fifteen dollars is about as low
as you can go. So if you want to see DAMN YANKEES, you can buy a ticket for fifteen
dollars. It was just really an arbitrary choice. The financial– Between the 15 and the 67, what is there? There’s– Charlotte, what? Twenty-five? Thirty-five, forty-five, depending on whether
it’s the weekend. You have that sliding scale? There is a definite progression. How big is the house? 1596 seats. So is it the third or fourth largest in New
York? It’s one of the top five. That’s one of the good things about the theatre. Do you have a student price? Fifteen dollars. That’s the student price. And then we have special student rates for
groups, and we have special student programs. So those sort of prices are flexible for students.
And we do have a very good student policy for any seats over twenty. What forces you to make that $65 or $67.50
price? What forced us to do that? Well, I don’t think
that it was a question of forcing us. Well, I mean, what comes into it? To tell you the truth, because they could,
they did. No, but before that. Before you come to $65,
how do you arrive at $65? Why not $35? Why not $45? In other words, I think what you’re saying
is starting out– The musicals that cost– I don’t think any producer today opening a
show on Broadway even considers a price less than 65 for a musical. That’s the price that
musicals are getting. There is a perception in the marketplace that if musicals are getting
$65 and you charge $45, that there’s something wrong with your show. So as silly as that
may sound, it’s the truth. So you really– If you could charge $45, and you could overcome
that with your advertising, could you do that? You couldn’t make money. No, you could not. I think you start out, it’s a simple calculation.
We have X number of seats, 1596– But I asked– — eight performances, we’re going to multiply
that out. We’re going to see how much it costs us. Based on what capacity? Ninety percent or
a hundred? Well, start at gross. Okay, maximum gross
potential, measure that against what it’s going to cost us a week, which we talked about,
$380,000. And then I have to go to an investor and say, “Investor, this is how long it’s
going to take you to get your investment back at 100 percent of capacity, 90 percent of
capacity, and 80 percent of capacity.” How do I sell that? That’s what a ticket price
comes from. It’s interesting, Charlotte brings up this
point that if you charged $45, the public’s perception is that there’s something wrong
with you. We talk about that a lot in the advertising medium, that it’s very, very discouraging
because there are times where you could charge $45, or have an inclination to do in on specific
performances or certain times of the year. And it always come out that, in these discussions– I think that’s a misconception. All the people
that I know, I’ve talked to, whether in the bus or in my living room, say, “If only the
price was less, I could go to the theatre more often. I used to go.” If everybody’s price was less. We know that there are many more people who
would like to go to the theatre than can afford to go. And including some of us up here. (LAUGHS)
It’s expensive, even for us, to go to the theatre. And it should be more democratic,
you’re absolutely right. The awful Catch-22 is that, in order to be responsible to your
investors, you can’t expect to pay back in five years or six years. You have to be more
responsible than that. And if the costs of putting on a production are so exorbitantly
high, you have to be able to reliably and responsibly make an appeal to someone that
you’re asking for money from, to say, “You’re still be alive at the time we can pay you
back.” Isabelle, and one of the sessions you should
have is to invite the people from the League dealing with the Alliance, which is a way
of hopefully bringing inexpensive productions of straight plays to Broadway, with low ticket
prices. And what Charlotte has just described as the perception is a real problem. But you know what’s happening with that, Robert?
Okay, there’s an example, there’s a cap. That’s right. There’s a 650, just went up to $700,000 production
cap on the Alliance. And there was a 35, just went up to 37.50– For advertising? No, ticket price, top price $37.50 on weekends,
$35 on weekdays. Now, that same production can be done for $500,000 Off-Broadway, and
you can charge Off-Broadway whatever you want. So that’s what’s happening now. There’s a
trend begun, recently publicized by Neil Simon taking an Off-Broadway theatre for the first
time for one of his plays, it’s going to happen because Off-Broadway you can charge $45 or
$50. The same thing that’s happened on Broadway will now start to happen Off-Broadway, because
that’s where the exodus is going. Why is that? Why is it that you can charge
that Off-Broadway, and they don’t think, “Oh, because it’s cheaper I’m getting–” Because you’ve got a 500 seat theatre, and
you can use the best copy line, the best advertising slogan that’s ever been invented, “Sold out,
you can’t get a ticket.” (LAUGHTER) And it’s easier to be able to say that more often in
a 500 seat house than in a 1596 seat house. Well, can I ask– Would you go Off-Broadway, Mitchell? I own three Off-Broadway theatres, and I’ve
produced extensively Off-Broadway. When you made your decision for DAMN YANKEES,
it was definitely for a Broadway house because of the largeness of the whole thing? Oh, absolutely. And also because of what we
were trying to accomplish. Right. There are certain shows that really shouldn’t
be produced on Broadway, because the expectations are too high, and the ticket prices, no matter
what you do, are going to be at a certain level that you have to deliver a certain event.
And Off-Broadway, the perception of what you are expecting is sort of less, and you can
deliver what you’re expected to deliver in an Off-Broadway house at a lesser price. Also,
I mean, this is a very long discussion, but the union situations Off-Broadway– You can only give eight performances a week.
You can only have a thousand seats in your theatre. Let’s talk about unions. That’s where I’m going, yeah. You’re right,
it’s a finite trick. I mean, we have curtain times at 8:00, for
some arbitrary reason. They used to be at 8:30, they used to be at 7:30. We have matinees
at 2:00 because long ago, women tended not to work, and so they were available to go
to the theatre at two o’clock in the afternoon. We picked a Wednesday. Now, that’s no longer
the case. Everybody dies at their two o’clock matinees on Wednesday. You want to be able
to put on a PETER PAN at a different time than a Tom Stoppard play, you can’t do it,
because there has to be a certain number of hours between performances, a certain number
of hours between matinee and evening, a certain number of hours that actors need to rest. Can you not negotiate with the unions, such
as General Motors did? It’s their industry. If they’re going to continue this way, and
if the theatre is going to continue, there will only be “events” and spectacles. I think we’ll come to that. Well, Charlotte, I want to ask you that. Can
you give us a sort of, here in 1994, what is the union minimum for IATSE, the stagehands
and 802? There are minimums for Broadway. There are minimums. What are those? Just so we know, and things
like beaters (PH), or all those. A stagehand gets a union minimum. You have
two kinds of stagehands. You have ones that work for the theatre and ones that work for
the show. Right. The ones that work for the show, I think their
minimum is, officially on paper, about $500 a week. You won’t get one of them to work
for you for that kind of money. What’s the difference between working for
the theatre and working for the show? I don’t understand. The only difference is who their employer
is and who pays them. It started because of touring shows, and when you go into a different
town every week, you have to have a stagehand who knows when the fly cues are pulled and
he tells the locals, “Pull that one. Pull this one. Pull that one.” It’s held over,
and you do it in New York, even though it is a slightly different situation. So that’s a $500 minimum, and they don’t work
for that. Right. But none of them work for that, they
earn between 12 and $1400 a week, as opposed to their minimum. Per man. And then they can tell you how many
must work that show, they can basically– When you set the show up, there are rules
that are really not written down clearly, as to how many people you need to do how many
jobs. It has to do with how many different things are happening at once, on the fly floor,
say. True. If you have eight things moving at once, you
need eight men. You can manipulate that to a certain extent. And when you get down to
a crunch, you have to really negotiate each separate situation with the union head and
bargain it out. Well, let’s talk about musicians, too, the
802 local. What is their minimum? I would say theirs is approximately $800 a
week, and then they get certain increments if they play doubles. Like, if they play two
different kinds of clarinets, you add on to it, etc. So that most musicians are making
probably between eight and $1200 a week. There’s also a different number regarding
musicians, and that’s the number of musicians you have to have, which is based on the house,
not based on your artistic need. That’s right. And that’s where we have the
famous walkers. Yes. And if we talk about ticket prices and what
one can do about them, Rick’s addressed the fact that as society has changed, performance
times should change without productions being penalized by old, stale union requirements.
Also, we’ve had a situation in DAMN YANKEES in which we have actually laid off IA men,
because as the show evolved, we realized we could have cued the show differently. And
we didn’t have to keep somebody to do one cue. And you could do that? How were you able to [do that]? It was not easy. It was very, very– I was going to say, that must have been quite
traumatic. Yeah, well, that was an accommodation that
you were able to make. Can’t you go further with it? We could, actually, go further in terms of
what physically is capable. The union won’t allow us to go any further, because they feel
we should have made these changes before we opened and not now. We feel that we should
be able to learn from experience. And what’s the reluctance to the change in
time, with scheduled timing with the matinees? What about dropping the matinee altogether? Well, if you drop the matinee, then you have
no day off. Because the actors have to have a day off. So you have eight performances. So if you dropped the Wednesday matinee and
you made it Monday night, they’d play seven shows seven nights a week. I think matinees, it looks to me, it seems
so important, I always get so excited when I go down on 45th or 44th Street on a matinee
day and see the crowds of people that are running, you know, coming from Broadway, from
the Marquis all the way down, on matinee day. My favorite show is a matinee. My favorite
time to see DAMN YANKEES is a Wednesday matinee, particularly in the summer when it was so
full of kids. Well, I think what Rick was saying, it’s not
necessarily the women who can now go. I think a lot of different people go. And I’m not talking about the summertime either,
because everything changes in the summer. No, exactly. Yeah, sure. But what I meant to say was, just the notion
that every show across the board, with minor variations, must play the same schedule, is
absurd, because PETER PAN should be able to play five shows on Saturday and Sunday, because
that’s when they can sell the most tickets. And not play on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
because they’re school nights and no parents are going to take their kids to the theatre. Or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Well, I’m trying not to mention shows that
are on right now. But you know, a serious play which is inappropriate for children should
not have to play five shows on a weekend. Or should be on at three o’clock. I remember, years and years and years ago,
a show from long ago called STARLIGHT EXPRESS was playing. They couldn’t sell tickets on
Tuesday night. And we went for about eight weeks to every Tuesday night performance and
interviewed the people who were there, giving them a choice of alternate times. And 65 to
one, the people in the audience picked Saturday morning at 11:00 for that show. Now, you can’t
do a show Saturday morning at 11:00, because you’d have to hire a completely different
cast of actors, because of the actors’ unions. And this is just an example. The real point is freedom of choice. We don’t
have much freedom of choice. Everything is sui generis, it’s specific, people acting,
times. If you want to do something for the theatre, there’s a little piece that nobody
understands. Many people get their times from the ABC ads, in the New York Times. It’s surprising
to people that we have to pay for those ads. The motion picture companies– I was just talking about that during the break.
The “Movie Clock” for film studios that have advertising budgets of, combined, a billion
dollars a year at least, is a free service in every newspaper in this city. The theatrical
directory is not. A little pishky Off-Broadway show that has to scrape together ten dollars
a week to be able to promote itself, nine dollars of that money has to go to get itself
into a directory which is perceived by the public as a free service. How did that come about? The New York Times runs it. The Times dictates it. Well, that’s different. That’s another seminar,
and we go back to what Mitchell said, they could. We have a lot of questions that our audience
is going to ask, and so talk among yourselves now until they get started. I have a question for the marketing people
about the advertisers and the press rep. First of all, I have to say that I’m a former Washingtonian,
and I was a fan of the Senators. (LAUGHTER) The Griffiths (PH) moved them out of town.
And I wondered, I know that this is not something that you’ve had a problem with with DAMN YANKEES,
but we all know that bad reviews do happen. And they are said to be the cause of closing
shows early sometimes. What strategies do you have that you’ve used successfully to
either overcome those reviews when they do happen or to indemnify yourself against them
beforehand? Are there things you can do to keep a show running in spite of that? You mean, with a mixed review? Mixed reviews, poor reviews, rather than the
rave reviews you all got. Peter, why don’t you start? I think what we have to do, with almost every
show, if the show gets good notices or bad notices or mixed notices, you just have to
explore different elements of the production to further highlight. If it’s, you know, the
costume designs, the sets. I mean, on the publicity angle, we try to explore all those
elements. For reviews, and getting people into the theatre right away, is really much
more of a Rick question in that the advertising has much more of an immediate impact on getting,
if it’s going to take some attention at the box office. I can say it quickly, in this way. We try
to anticipate every show to be as huge a success as it possibly can be, but plan for a show
to get unanimous pan reviews. That way, we’re never surprised. We’re never left with our
pants down by reviews that we haven’t been expecting. It’s gravy if we get great reviews,
and DAMN YANKEES happened to get great reviews. But you can’t go into promoting a project
thinking, “Gee, well, you know, we really should hold everything back until after and
we’ll see what happens.” Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The first impression that a show has to make is that your life will somehow be improved
for seeing it, and you’d be crazy to miss it. And that’s how we try to approach everything
that we do. Thank you. My question is probably for the Maxwells and
Ms. Wilcox. Mr. Elice talked about how audiences are going to shows nowadays, more for the
spectacle oftentimes than for the content of the actual show. By contrast, several shows
have just announced that they’ll be cutting stagehands, and also cutting certain scenic
elements and simplifying them, to cut costs. How do you reconcile an audience’s desire
to see something impressive with the need to cut costs on your set and on your various
production budgets? Well, first of all I should say, just for
the record, that DAMN YANKEES delivers all of the excitement of a big Broadway musical.
It just delivers it in a more human way. When I talked about letting off a stagehand, I
talked about it because what we discovered, after the intensity of opening a show, with
the technical aspects being resolved at tech rehearsals and dress rehearsals and previews,
with the clock running and hemorrhaging money every day, when you have some time and space
to look at that, you could say, “I could have done that better. I could have cued it differently.
It doesn’t look any different to the audience, but I can save manpower. I can save some money.” We did DAMN YANKEES really as a show to go
against the huge special effects. We think DAMN YANKEES is and was and will be a show
about heart, which is the theme song, and it’s about the redemptive power of love. And
it’s about how, in the heat of passion, one can make a mistake and make a deal with the
Devil, rather literally, or euphemistically, and how one, through the redemptive power
of love, can overcome that. And those are universal themes. Those are universal stories
that have been told, you know, for two thousand years. So if you deliver the humanity of something,
I think that the audience can be touched, can be moved, and doesn’t miss all that scenery.
So I just think it’s in the delivery of the product. And also, from an economic point of view,
we started with a number that we said, “This is what we can spend on the show, and as a
fiduciary, have some realistic hope of returning this money and then have the ability to do
another show.” So we didn’t start with an eight billion dollar number and say, “Okay,
let’s hope that we get the greatest reviews since, you know, whatever, and we’ll be fine.”
We took a different approach. Thank you. This question is for Charlotte Wilcox and
Victoria Maxwell, and this billing has nothing to do with your respective ability and importance.
What are the numbers? Are there many women producers and general managers? Well, I think, Charlotte, you’re the biggest
female general manager around here, aren’t you? Well, this decade. (LAUGHTER) You’re the most prominent. There have never been that many female general
managers. You get two or three, you know, every generation. And I suppose, with every
generation, you’ll get more and more. But it’s not a large number. And producers, the
same thing. I think there’s more and more female producers
now. But I know that Mitchell and I are the only brother-sister producing team in New
York right now. (LAUGHTER) I have to say here that Antoinette Perry was
a woman and she was a producer and a director. I don’t think she was a general manager. But
that’s how the whole Tony awards started. So she was a woman before her time, and I
have to bring that in. Yes? Well, this is a question for the producers.
Have you ever, or would you ever, contemplate being active in putting together a creative
team? In other words, if somebody came to you with a great idea for a musical, would
you then go ahead and find the composer, find the lyricist, if you’ve got a good book writer? Oh, absolutely. That’s what we do. I mean, in essence, the
only difference between DAMN YANKEES and a new show is that it was written. But we had
to start with the underlying material, and then we brought the creative team together,
the designers, director, the choreographer and so on. Other than DAMN YANKEES, have you done that
before? Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Often, often. We’ve done it on stage
and on film many times. But producers are always looking for a good
idea. Thank you. You mentioned that you got a special right
to change the book, which you don’t always get. And my question is, what were your concerns
as you updated it to the nineties? And then, what was the team you put together? Who actually
made those decisions creatively? Well, our concerns were simply that the was
written in the fifties initially, and there were two major concerns. One was that musicals
were written in the fifties in a different way than they are written today. The theatre
didn’t have the technology in the fifties to move scenery out of the floor and out of
the wings in front of the audience. So fifties musicals, and they were considered “George
Abbott musicals,” because he created it, were performed in front of a traveler, where they
changed scenery behind a traveler. So we had a lot of “in ones.” We were concerned about
the old-fashioned quality of that technical approach. On a book level, we were concerned that the
attitudes toward women, particularly, when the book was written, were no longer going
to fly in the nineties. Specifically, just by one example, the wife in DAMN YANKEES is
abandoned by her husband, who goes off to be a baseball player. She’s never angry. She
never asks why or where he went. She was never angry. (LAUGHTER) She was never angry. And when he comes back
at the end of the play, he says, “Don’t ask where I’ve been,” and she says, “Fine.” That’s certainly not today. Now, we thought that in the nineties, that
wasn’t going to happen. So we changed that kind of thing, and the work was done with
Mr. Abbott, and with our director, Jack O’Brien, who actually adapted the book. Mitchell, thank you very much. And thank you
so much for being here. This has been one of the most informative seminars I’ve ever
had on this panel here. And these people have been telling us all about DAMN YANKEES, they’re
the production team. And it’s been a marvelous lesson on how to produce from every angle.
I’m most grateful to them, and I think you’ve all learned a great deal, as I know I have. This is the American Theatre Wing seminar
on “Working in the Theatre.” And this seminar was on the production and the production team
of the show DAMN YANKEES. It’s coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University
of New York. Thank you very much for being here.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *