Production: “Side Show” (Working In The Theatre #267)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the
American Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars. These come to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. As founders of the American Theatre Wing’s
Antoinette Perry “Tony” Award and President of the Wing, I am so happy to be able to bring
you these seminars. They offer a unique opportunity to hear performers,
producers, playwrights, directors, designers, and a host of theatre professionals discuss
the realities of working in the theatre. Since we introduced them, in 1973, more than
900 of Broadway’s and Off-Broadway’s best have participated. The Wing, however, is more than the Tony Awards,
which are proudly given in recognition of distinguished achievement in the theatre every
year. We are, besides that, a continually expanding
organization, with year-round programs dedicated to serving the theatre and the community. The Wing began as a volunteer organization,
and today, most of the work we are able to do is because of the volunteers, who give
so willingly of their time. We are a source that helps develop new audiences. And because of that, we initiated “Introduction
to Broadway” in 1991, and since then have enabled over 70,000 New York City high school
students to attend a Broadway show, many for the first time. We continue to reach out with our newest program,
“Theatre in Schools,” through which professionals, like those that you will meet today, volunteer
to go into classrooms to discuss working in the theatre. This in-classroom targets every facet of the
business of theatre, from playwrights and directors to press agents and poster artists. And not only do we want young people to become
theatregoers, but we want them to know the wide range of other job opportunities that
exist in our business. We are a means of bringing the magic of theatre
to thousands who cannot get to the theatre itself. The Wing hospital program dates back to World
War Two and the Stage Door Canteen. It continues with performers from Broadway,
Off-Broadway and the cabaret world, volunteering their time to do nearly 100 shows each year,
in nursing homes, veterans’ hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers in the New York area. We are proud to be of service and happy to
have a wonderful working relationship with the theatrical community, and so grateful
to everyone who makes what the American Theatre Wing does possible. We hope that you will enjoy and learn from
today’s panel, which is on SIDE SHOW, the production, the people that made it all possible. And now, I would like to introduce Manny Azenberg,
producer. Joseph Nederlander, producer, who should be
here shortly. Abbie Strassler, general manager. Bill Evans, press agent. And our loyal and distinguished moderator,
George White, President of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, an esteemed director, both
here and abroad. Enjoy, and learn from today’s panel. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Isabelle. I would like to, first of all, we are obviously
focusing on the marvelous production of SIDE SHOW. But there is an aspect to this, which has
been before on this particular aspect of the seminar, which could be called, but we’d
have to steal the title, “From Option to Opening.” But then, also, I think beyond that, “Is
There Life After Opening?” And that certainly is one of the things we
should talk about today. The show, as this is being taped, has been
open exactly two weeks today, with wonderful reviews. So I would like to, first of all, start the
first question to Manny Azenberg and say, how’s it going? (LAUGHTER) Broad question, George. Purposely. But artistically, I think it’s magnificent. I, in modesty, say that I’ve done a few
shows on Broadway, and I feel that this is the best one. And I know that might offend some other friends
of mine, but I’m very proud of this. And the audience that comes stands up and
screams and yells, and I hope is touched by it for the reasons that we intended to do
the show. Financially, we struggled in the preview period,
because SIDE SHOW is perceived to be about Siamese twins. It isn’t. It’s about all of you. And that’s being discovered by the audiences,
so that the word of mouth and the good notices and the advertising campaign which Bill is
running has doubled the amount of money we’ve been taking in. And I think this week, and if not this week
certainly next week, the show will move into profit. So from an artistic point of view, we’re
very happy. From an economic point of view, we are, thank
God. And if it were not to make it, I would be
equally proud of it. How many are in the cast? Twenty-two plus eight. Twenty-two on the stage, eight covers and
understudies. So you’ve got a thirty [member] cast. Bill, how do you, since Manny brought it up,
about selling the show and Siamese twins, what did you have to deal with and how did
you structure that, from Day One? I guess it was five and a half years in evolution,
right? Something like that. It’s a genuine consumer issue. It’s a consumer sort of preconception about
[it], and I had the same one. And Manny said, “Well, we’re going to
be doing a musical.” “What’s it about?” “Siamese twins.” I went, “Oh …” You know, you have that
reaction. And it turns out that this particular show,
once you get in the door, it just opens your heart and your head through the whole thing,
and it’s a really terrific journey. But what we did, if you can see these posters,
the SIDE SHOW posters, that we wanted to create an impression of the era of the time of a
side show tent, of a crowd looking inside a tent. We now, in the post-opening ads, are opening
the curtain. So behind the curtain, inside the tent, which
we’ve been saying, “Come inside the tent,” you’re now going to see these two beautiful
young women who are playing Daisy and Violet Hilton. Why? Why did you decide that? Well, because there was a certain mystery
we wanted to maintain, coming up to the opening, so it wouldn’t be the only issue. Because if you announce that, then every single
thing is going to be only about that. So we wanted to create an aura, as it were,
and I think it was effective for many people. And the idea that something’s going on inside
there, that you want to see. And so, that’s where we are now. And I think we’ll just keep opening the
curtain. But these new ads I think are really terrific,
because you look at these two beautiful women and you think, “Oh!” You know, “I’d like to see them.” As opposed to what you think in your head
is maybe some kind of grisly visual, and it’s anything but. Now, who makes those decisions? I mean, obviously you’re the lead decider
on this. But how do you interact with this? Who plans this? Well, I will say, Robert Longbottom is the
director and choreographer, and he conceived this project five and a half years ago. He was watching late night television and
watched the movie called CHAINED FOR LIFE, which is a horrible B movie which starred
the real life Hilton sisters. And so, his head started going then, and he
put it together with Henry Kreiger and Bill Russell. So he has been a major element every step
of the presentation of it, of the advertising, and obviously of what you see on the stage. So his sensibility was very crucial in this
case. It’s not always the case. I was going to say, it’s not unusual for
him to be in advertising? A little bit, yeah. Because he is so careful and wants everything
to reflect exactly what he’s doing. And Manny and he have a relationship that
I think is also very healthy, because they share a lot of what they’re after. And then we go into an ad agency and we look
at these things on the floor. And you never know. It’s anybody’s guess, but. Can I go all the way back? How did you establish this relationship? Had you worked on shows? Or as I understand it, not. How did you find the project? I was invited to a presentation about three
years ago. And it was then titled SONG OF THE SIAMESE
TWINS. They didn’t tell me that before I got there. If they would have told me that, I wouldn’t
have gone, so I understand what that preconception is. I said, “Siamese twins?” And I almost killed the guy who took me there. (MIMES A PUNCH; LAUGHTER) And then I heard
it. It was a little bit more Dickensian in those
days, and I thought it was interesting. They said, “Would you like to produce it?”
and I said, “No.” But we did have a meeting. And we spent two and a half hours discussing
it in detail. And I said, “I won’t produce it, but I’ll
be your friend.” It’s a little arrogant, but (ABBIE LAUGHS)
it was not arrogantly intended. And the piece evolved. We did pay for two major presentations. And after the second presentation, which was
two years later, it took a shape that we really liked. So we said, “We’ll have a workshop.” What’s the difference between a presentation
and a workshop? The presentation costs about fifteen thousand
dollars. We did kind of a concert. The performers rehearse for a couple of hours
and the director just has them sit there and sing and talk. The workshop is full, a five week rehearsal
period, with minimal scenery and lighting and costumes. And in this case, we did it at a legitimate
theatre. We had cooperation of the community, actually,
stagehands and everybody. Where was that? At the Richard Rodgers, where we’re playing. Right on the stage? And then we saw Bobby Longbottom’s work,
which was stunning. I think that, every once in a while, every
two generations or so, somebody comes by that is really talented. Many people who are talented, but some people
are really talented. Like Robbins and Fosse and Michael Kidd and
Michael Bennett. And this is the next one. Irrespective of anything I say, I really believe
that the musical theatre, the baton is being passed, and this young man will receive it. So we did the workshop and fell in love with
it, literally, all of us. And I suppose that’s an ingredient that’s
necessary, even in this jaded, extraordinarily exorbitant period, that you have to really
like it. So we really did. And a year later, we got the theatre. It took a year, literally, to get a theatre
that we wanted. There were only two or three that we thought
were appropriate. And this was the first choice. And then there we were a year later. So it’s been a three year conversation,
as it were. And the inclusion of everybody in artistic
and financial decisions is very helpful in a production, because you get real input and
you have no secrets. Much of what one reads about in the paper
sometimes of who did what and how much everything cost is not totally true. It’s done for the self-serving, posing as
various interests. In this case, this is like Bunk Twelve in
camp. (LAUGHTER) Everybody genuinely trusts each
other and likes each other, because it’s been a long trip. And nobody got out of the boat early. So it’s kind of thrilling to do that. It’s what it was supposed to be like. Did you come in on the workshops or afterwards,
as a general manager? After the workshop. I was working at the League with Harry Slaughter
at the time, when Manny and I started to talk. So I didn’t get to see the workshop, but
I was pretty excited by the buzz that I had heard on the show. And when Isabelle said “come in,” what
did you do and what do you do? Well, I handle all of the day-to-day business
decisions. Is that what the general manager means? Uh-huh. And I monitor all the sales, and I monitor
the payroll and the box office. I call it like being a glorified camp counselor,
to continue that metaphor. But she also cries when she’s supposed to
(ABBIE LAUGHS) and laughs when she’s supposed to. (LAUGHTER) There is a sensibility involved
there. No, exactly, yeah. I mean, so in a sense, you also oversee Bill’s
work, too. Umm-hmm. It’s not just the cast and it’s not just
the box office. No, it’s overall, all of it. And the buzz that Abbie was referring to,
this workshop in the Richard Rodgers Theatre, there were, I believe, five performances? Four and a dress rehearsal. A dress rehearsal and four performances, where
we invited friends and other people who were interested. And there were up to, I don’t know, how
many? Nine hundred people. A lot of people. I think that was about it. Right. So a lot of people in the theatre saw this
and responded as we did, that this choreographer/director guy and these writers, they’re up to something. They’re really up to something! And it caused, for me, what became an out-of-town
tryout, so to speak. They used to go out of town, to New Haven
or wherever they went, and you’d have a time period before you came into New York. And it could change, and there’d be a buzz
from Washington or wherever it was. We didn’t. Well, Manny will tell you that we can’t
afford those out-of-town things with big musicals any more. But this was like a magic sort of mini-version
of that, because it just went right through the industry and everybody knew. When was that? I remember there was the buzz. It was a year ago. A year ago. September. A year ago September. And those who didn’t see it were, you know,
immediately like upset they didn’t see it. So it was the right kind of buzz. And I think the spirit of those workshops
just infused everybody. And for this past year that was our, you know,
taking off [point]. Would you still do that again, rather than
go out-of-town, Manny? Oh, yes. Well, now, you also had the same theatre. It came up with another seminar. Which was quite exciting, that you workshopped
it in the very theatre that you’re in. There is that intangible thing that happens. If you do a workshop in a rehearsal hall,
not on a stage, there is something that doesn’t happen. You always know you’re in a room. If you go into a Broadway theatre, sit down
in a chair and there’s a stage, the actors also respond differently. They think, “Hey, this is Broadway! This is wonderful!” And that drives the requirement up. The expectation from the audience is equally
high. And the advantage was that even the stagehands
fell in love with the show. So we went back to the same place, and there
they were, our friends. At the end of the fourth workshop, the cast
turned around and applauded the stagehands, for their cooperation. So this has been a love affair. What about unions? Is there a special coverage for that? Yes, there are all sorts of strange rules
that Abbie understands. (ABBIE LAUGHS) Abbie, do you want to explain some of it to
us? I used to understand it, but now you have
to speak five languages. Well, for the workshop, I wasn’t there. But we sat down with the Local One. It was just Local One, there was no other
union. And what is Local One? The stagehands. Okay. And we sat down and explained what we wanted
to do, and came up with a minimal crew that a workshop could afford, at rates that we
could afford. And you know, in this particular instance,
they put their little blue book aside and became part of our family. Wait a minute, what is the little blue book? The little blue book is the rules. Wait, she’s going to be in jail, when you
get back there. (LAUGHTER) I know! Well, you know, we were able to bend some
of the rules. Was that because of the reputation of this
producer? I think it was the reputation of both Manny
and Herschel Waxman. Right. So when you sit down, there’s a sort of
a finite, overall, “Well, this is how many in the crew you’re going to have.” Or that’s prescribed how? And then you work from there? The numbers in the crew, in terms of when
we came in with the Broadway production was, you have to sit down with your stage manager
and your department heads and say, “This is the biggest move we have to make. How many men or women does it take to make
this move?” And that determines the maximum number of
people you have, from that one big move. And each department has one of those things. You actually work on the designs to satisfy
some lunatic requirements. It’s the tail wags the dog a little bit
here. But sometimes it’s cheaper to automate a
piece that flies in and out rather than put a man. Umm-hmm. You know, a man is a hundred thousand dollars
a year. To automate one piece can be five hundred
dollars a week. It’s a lot less. You don’t pay them a hundred thousand dollars
a year. Right. Pension and welfare, vacation, annuity, payroll
taxes. (LAUGHTER) How do you know that? How do you get that knowledge? How do I get that knowledge? Where did you start, to learn this? Did you start as an actress? It’s one of the reasons why we do these. I don’t mean to put you on [the spot], but
we want to know as much as possible. Okay. Well, I started in Washington, D.C., and I
took a part-time job for Ticketron. Doing? Selling. They had a main branch in Washington, D.C.,
that spent four hours selling tickets, and then they serviced the rest of their Montgomery
Wards and all their outlets. And I took a job there selling tickets. You weren’t a theatre major somewhere? No, I was a psych major. (LAUGHTER) Just the same. That’s it. Which is very, very necessary. And from there, I started working in box offices. And I worked at the Warner Theatre, with Samuel
Homadu, which was an old road house. And they turned it into a rock and roll house,
and he wanted to make it a touring house. And Mitch Lee and Manny Kleditis came through
with THE KING AND I, and the next thing I know, I was hired as the general manager’s
assistant. And I sold my car, sold everything, and moved
to New York. And within a year, I was touring on the road
as the company manager. What about union? Was their union any good? I was not in the union at that time. I’m now in ATPAM. And I went on the road as the company manager
of THE KING AND I with Yul Brynner, traveling with seventy-five people, twenty-four years
old, twenty-five years old. All by myself, no computers, no assistants. (LAUGHS) It was crazy! A wonderful background. And from there, I started learning. And you just absorb it, you know. So that when, let’s say, Manny says, “Okay,
this is where we’re going,” you sharpen the pencil and start doing the calculations
of the budgets from there. And that’s your job, as I understand it. Yes, to do the budgets. And then, you obviously negotiate as to how
much you have to raise and go from that. But it starts, doesn’t it, with you? Obviously, with the producers’ oversight. Yeah. You start with the producers and, you know,
you give them a budget. And they say, “Oh, we can’t raise that
kind of money. We need to pare it down.” And you know, you work from there. And you work together with it. There’s another thing, and this is actually
for you, Manny. You went by something that I think is really
less a business question and more of a sort of an aesthetic question, when you said, “It
took us a while — what, three years? — to get the right theatre.” I don’t think a lot of people realize the
importance of the right theatre. And why don’t you talk about that a little
bit, because it’s critical, and a lot of people forget that it’s not just a house. It took us one year. Three years was the whole process of developing
the show, of what was good, what was not, what was removed. We thought the ambiance of a theatre is important. So there were only three in the city that
we would approve. I think if you take this musical, SIDE SHOW,
and put it into a huge theatre, it will be less effective. If you put it into a small theatre, it might
very well be effective, but the economics won’t work. So there’s a balance and an equilibrium
to discover, and neither hurt the economics nor that artistic necessity. I mean, I’m sure all of you have been to
theatres that are too big. And that’s done, in order to generate the
economics. So we waited for one of the three, and we
would have taken the first one that came up. And if this one didn’t come up, we would
still be waiting. So I was not going to be forced into a decision
that I thought was not valid for this particular piece. How many seats? Fourteen hundred. But it’s the configuration of the theatre
that I like. The floor goes like this (DEMONSTRATES A STEEP
RAKE), so there’s an intimacy. And the intimacy, that I think is required
in this musical, is crucial. I want you involved. I don’t want you that far away. And you didn’t want a modern building, either. You wanted an old house, an old theatre. Right. No, this orchestra is very reminiscent of
our bleachers. It’s very much of that bleacher, in the
way it goes up. Right. Our sets are bleachers. Also, the staging brings you into that, too,
as well. It’s very well done. There’s a sparseness to it that enables
you to be part of what’s going on. It doesn’t get in the way. Right. Well, that’s philosophic, also. I think that there is a statement to be made
in contemporary musical theatre that goes back to fundamentals. Tell me a story, move me, sing, dance. Do you remember those? We used to have those things here. Rather than, with all due respect, helicopter,
chandeliers, and airplanes. Houses. And other things that we’ll call scenery. When did you start casting for the Broadway
production? Three years ago. What did they do in the meantime? (LAUGHTER) No, there were people selected for the first
workshop, our first presentation. They were fine, some were not, and we kept
replacing. The last four or five people, other than the
understudies and the swing people, were cast subsequent to the workshop itself. And even in rehearsal, the cruel producers
and directors fired a few people that we thought were not appropriate. Not that they’re terrible. It’s just that you have to fit a slot. That’s a tough thing. It’s an old-fashioned requirement of arrogance,
again. Excellence. You want to play in the big leagues, you have
to be good. You have to come on time, you have to work
hard, and it’s diligence. And that’s a tough thing to do, still. And Bobby Longbottom is a young man, but he’s
got that old-fashioned toughness that I admire. Yeah. Great. Wonderful performers. And hence, the empty chair here today. (LAUGHS) That person was fired. (LAUGHTER) All right, a joke. Okay, since you brought that up, Bill, I’d
like to add, because again it’s going back, reeling us back now, you’re here with SIDE
SHOW, where did you start in the theatre as a press person? I actually started as a gofer for a costume
company named Barbara Matera, who is still thriving and did these costumes for SIDE SHOW. Now, wait a minute. Were you trained, though, in drama? Oh, no, no. No. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think that many people, especially today,
have a better idea of what they’re going to do when they get out of college. And I didn’t, really. You know, “I’m coming to New York,”
and that was about it. And, through a friend at college related to
the Materas, they got me a job. And in the morning, I went to the Winter Garden
Theatre, went backstage and got the mirror costumes from FOLLIES, which was a huge, huge
production. And I’d take ‘em to the shop and these
little old ladies would sew mirrors on all day. And then I’d take ‘em, and I’d take
‘em back there. And I thought I had arrived. You know, this was Broadway and I was a part
of it! (LAUGHTER) And then, I got hired as an assistant
to a press agent. Why? That’s a switch, yeah. Yeah. From costumes to publicity. Well, I was looking to get connected with
a show. And I didn’t have an interest really in
being a press agent. They needed someone who could write a paragraph
or write a release, and that was this particular need in this office. And so, I could do that. And so, because of the need and because you
show up, sometimes it happens. You said you could do that. Why could you do that? I was an English major at Colgate University. (LAUGHTER) I got it, okay. All right. And they taught me. It’s true, yes, that was some preparation. But a lot of it’s luck, and also, a lot
of it’s communication. We all work so closely together that you have
to get along every day in the trenches, though the good, the bad and everything else. And there’s a lot of fast-breaking action,
and you just have to be ready to adapt. And you know, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with wonderful people. And through Manny, I’ve worked with Neil
Simon for twenty years, and it’s been terrific. The thing that makes this one different is
that Manny, who’s been threatening to retire for as long as I’ve been with him — (LAUGHTER) After this program. Right. I’m going off the stage and right into the
sun. But there’s a generation of great master
theatre people, of writers and directors. But it’s an older generation. And they are, you know, thinking they’ve
done enough. And so, to see a Longbottom come along, who
is so oriented to the theatre, and you come into the theatre as a member of an audience. And all of a sudden, I was all charged up,
like “I remember this.” You know, when I started, I thought everything
was gonna be like this and it’s not. And so this, I think all of us are so stimulated
by what we’re participating in and supporting, that it’s a real thrill that you can only
get in the theatre. It also shows that there is talent there,
you just have to support it. That’s right. Everybody says, you know, “Where are the
American playwrights?” Well, they are there if you take the time
and the confidence. That’s right. Which is important to have. Have you been with Manny all the time, through
all of his shows? Starting from when? Slaves. Twenty-one years, for me. I know I don’t look it, incidentally. (LAUGHTER) No, no, not at all. Thank you. Manny doesn’t look it! And he gets paroled in a few years. I get paroled, right. But you know, also, we talk a little bit,
and I’d like to get more into this later, about how — I just want to say one thing, if I may, I’m
sorry. This is unique now, too, right? New talent coming on and supporting, but also
to have an organization in producing, where you find the same teams that have been going
on for twenty-one years. True. And that’s something that we have not seen
a great deal of. No. No, it’s rare. Yes. It’s very important. Well, Neil Simon is to be thanked, in a way,
for that, too. Well, you talk about that. It used to be the norm. Because, you know, we grew up in that era,
where there were production companies. There’s a continuity in the organization. It’s interesting that Bill, Abbie, myself,
everybody went to school, everyone went to college, and their ambition was not to be
what they are. I think that’s true in the — What was yours? From baseball? I wanted to really be a baseball player. (LAUGHTER) Right. Yes, you know about that. And in fact, my ticket into part of my career
had to do with Robert Redford and I played baseball on the same team. And when Neil Simon did BAREFOOT IN THE PARK,
Mildred Natwick was not a good shortstop. (LAUGHTER) Rotten, yes. The Broadway Show League. Good field, no hits. So Redford called up and said, “Come on,
you have to play on this team.” And that’s how I met Neil Simon, who played
second base. So it has nothing to do with my education,
it has nothing to do with what I’m interested in. (LAUGHTER) If you can pick up a ground ball,
you have a career. (LAUGHTER) Right! But he didn’t start out with that intention,
nor did Abbie, nor did I. You were attracted to the theatre and you
tried to find your place. You didn’t quite know you were doing that. I’ve been asked about ambition, did I have
an ambition to do this? I didn’t know what a producer did till I
was in my thirties and I didn’t care. What were you doing? I came out of the army. I made more money, actually, as a lieutenant
in the army than I did till I was thirty-two years old. And I did sweep the floor, in front of the
Renata Theatre on Bleecker Street, and worked Off-Broadway. And then the government passed a law that
said that the closed shop is not permitted. You can have a union shop. So I was hired by Alex Cohen and David Merrick,
and it doesn’t sound strange to me, but [it does] to other people. I actually did plays with, you know, Tennessee
Williams and those people. It impresses me now, but it didn’t impress
me then. (LAUGHTER) And there was a company manager,
and I thought, “Oh, I could do that.” And one thing kind of led to another. And then, that softball game. And the learning process at the same time. Yes, we were all trained. I remember an actual moment, kind of epiphany
kind of moment. I was thirty-five by that time, walking down
Forty-Fifth Street, and actually realizing that they can’t fool me any more. It’s a strange idea. That you really understood it now, and you
also knew who told the truth and who didn’t. And those who exaggerated, you’d just nod
your head and know, put him in a certain category. And there’s a great comfort in having some
quiet expertise. It’s not genius. It’s just knowledge. But you don’t get that training — Anyplace but working. There’s no place to get the training except
there. And you have to give up that delusion of security. I grew up in a time when you became a doctor. And if you didn’t become a doctor, you became
a doctor. (LAUGHTER) And if you were a failure, you
were a dentist. (LAUGHTER) Let’s go back to SIDE SHOW. Well, I do want to ask one quick question,
though. Okay. Abbie, do you want to be a producer when I
grow up? (LAUGHTER) If I knew what I wanted to be when I grew
up, that would be — But general manager, it’s a way, the way
stage managers want to be — I want to be a doctor. (LAUGHTER) Not a dentist, okay. All right. Let’s go to casting. You’ve got the theatre. Does that come before we have the cast? We’ve talked a little bit before. You said you had them for lo, those many years. Well, we had the cast before the theatre. What about auditions? You can quite possibly lose people, because
you don’t have a theatre. And we auditioned constantly. Did you use a casting agent? Yes. That’s yet another job. Is that standard procedure now? Yeah. And that’s a relatively new phenomenon,
isn’t it? The casting director. No. Way back in the Merrick days, in the sixties,
there was an in-house casting person. And you always need a casting person for principals. The chorus was dealt with differently. There would be a call and three thousand people
would show up — the cattle calls, they were called — and the choreographer would select. But there is a difference today than in the
old days, no good chorus kid was in a show more than twelve to sixteen weeks. They went on to the next one. Now, you’ve, I’m sure, recently read people
have been in for eleven years. Who pays the casting agent? I do. Personally! So that comes out of the producer’s budget? Yes. Right. They get a fee, and then they get a weekly
retainer. A weekly retainer? While the show is running? It’s ongoing work. It’s ongoing work, because you never know
when somebody, especially in the chorus, as Manny says, a lot of them do [move]. After three or four months, they move on to
the next show, so you have to [recast]. Or get hurt. Or somebody gets injured. So it is more economical to continue paying
them than to rehire them for that, if somebody does leave the show? Yeah, I think so. I mean, that’s the way it’s evolved, in
terms of that’s the norm. I don’t know, you know, if they charged
you a fee every time you needed to call them, it probably wouldn’t be feasible for them. It’s a crucial job. The performers, that’s who the public sees. And the difference, I mean, we’ve all seen
HAMLET. Sometimes, with a bad Hamlet, it’s the single
most boring play ever written. And with a good one, it’s a masterpiece. You make the wrong selection … They’re wonderful voices, that you have. Marvelous voices. And then, that’s another audition, for the
musical director. You have to really be able to sing in this
show. Not because there’s a microphone, but you
have to genuinely be able to sing. Now, that’s another old-fashioned value! But the casting for Siamese twins adds a whole
lot of other things to it, in terms of how they relate to each other, visually and singing-wise
and everything else. And so this was [hard], particularly for this
show, and they found two great ones. And their body formation must be similar. I mean, their waists must be connected. You can’t have it like this. How many auditions? How many people did you see, in order to choose
those two that would fulfill those requirements? Well, it was over an extended period of time. We always had one. Emily Skinner was there from the beginning,
and so therefore, the match had to be with Emily. Twins came in from Chicago, and they were
wonderful, and they cried through the whole audition. Oh, they were great. Because the similarity in life’s sensibility,
they understood instantly. And on the road company, which we actually
started planning yesterday, we’ll go back to them, and they’ll audition again. They don’t look like the two girls, they’re
two dark-haired girls, but the thought of having actual twins who can sing is intriguing. And that’s a particularly, I imagine, critical
thing. You say you had one person coming along. Then obviously, you were trying to get a match. Right. We had to find a match to Emily. And the nice thing, and this goes back, I
guess, with you, Bill, when you’re not dealing with big names here, because you can’t. Right. I mean, you really have to find people who
can do it. And that makes your job even a little bit
more difficult. It makes it more difficult, and also makes
it much more fun, because both of these women are so excited about what they’re doing
and so excited to be on Broadway. And they say, “Thank you,” and you know,
sometimes I’m like, “Am I in the star dressing room?” (LAUGHTER) And so that really is a joyful
part of this production, that they really are excited and want to do everything. Where did they come from? Alice Ripley was in SUNSET BOULEVARD, played
the Betty Shaeffer, young screenwriter — it’s not a huge part — on Broadway. And Emily was just in JEKYLL AND HYDE, prior
to that. Alice, prior to SUNSET, was in TOMMY. That’s right. She was the understudy to the mother. Did Longbottom sit in on the first casting,
on the first auditions? I don’t think so, no. There’s a selection process. Many people show up. Some are inappropriate for us at this moment. Who made the decision, inappropriate or come
back? It was a joint decision. I mean, Johnson-Liff is the casting agent. You and Manny? No, once Johnson-Liff filtered it down to
a group that he wanted to present to Bobby and David Chase and Henry Kreiger and Bill,
they all sat and listened to them and went through all that audition process. And it was joint. We were there. Everyone has a veto. And it’s mostly unnecessary to exercise
it. You have to satisfy five people. And also, I imagine, when you find the right
one — It’s magic. — ‘cause it’s there and everybody sort
of says, “Wow. That’s the one.” Norm Lewis, who plays Jake, who’s an African-American
actor. They auditioned him, and he was really wonderful. So they called me up and they said, “We
think we found him.” And I went down, and he was ready. And he sang, and I leaned over to Bobby and
I said, “Offer him the job!” Nobody does that. You wait, you call the agent, you make a mystique
out of all of it. And Bobby said, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah, tell him.” So he said, “Norm, would you like to play
the part?” (LAUGHTER) And he started to cry. (LAUGHTER) He said, “Nobody ever did that
before.” And I said, “Well, why torture you for five
hours? You want to do it?” And he has tears coming down and I said, “You
just blew your whole negotiating position.” (LAUGHTER) Of course. It’s great. Let’s get into the negotiating, let’s
open it. Abbie? Do you negotiate on salaries or does the agent
say, “Now, this is what he gets,” and that’s it? Oh, no, you negotiate with the agent. Yeah, never with the principal, sure. It’s a negotiation, because you have a budget,
and you have to fit these actors into the budget. Or else you have to, you know, move on. Well this, I would think, would be, in the
sense of SIDE SHOW, because one, it’s evolved, people have been with it, it’s an ensemble. These are not going back to the big name thing. You’re not overweighting the budget with
some, you know, nine hundred pound gorilla star. Yeah, true. Which I would think would make it a little
easier to do that. Can we see a breakdown of budget, like $100,
on what’s the percentage of it? Cast and crew to, you know, music. That’s complicated. That’s a variable. If you have a star, it’s one thing. It’s broken down into principals and chorus. How many are considered chorus? Well, six principals. Six out of the twenty-two, so sixteen. Sixteen. But we don’t make that differentiation. No. It’s a union differentiation. And I have a real objection to it. I think it kind of makes first class and second
class situations that are unnecessary. But there is an old history of having a chorus. And many years ago, the chorus kids were abused,
so they formed a group. It was called Chorus Equity, which ultimately
merged with Equity. And they want to maintain a certain identity,
so it’s called the “pink” contract. I always jokingly say, “Can’t we change
the color, at least?” (LAUGHTER) But so there’s a pink contract,
then a white contract. I mean, it’s the bureaucracy of an industry. What are the Broadway minimums, say, for chorus? I mean, you’re not going to let him just
say there’s a pink contract and white contract, and not go further! A blue contract? (LAUGHTER) Yeah, that’s where I’m going. The pink contract is a chorus contract, and
a white contract is a principal. Principals can be paid anywhere from minimum,
which is about eleven hundred dollars to a trillion dollars, fifty thousand dollars a
week. Right. Madness. And the pink contract? And the pink contract invariably stays, if
you’re a generous, wonderful, expansive, charitable producer, as we are (LAUGHTER),
you can get paid anywhere up to seventeen hundred fifty dollars a week. Seventeen hundred? Seventeen fifty dollars a week. For a pink contract. For a pink contract. Also, do you have to be able to sing or dance
more than the minimum. I’m using seventeen hundred and fifty dollars,
because that what we paid a first-rate pink contract dancer in JEROME ROBBINS’ BROADWAY,
which is another show that we did. Right. And he won the Tony in the pink contract,
as the Best Supporting Actor. And he was the best. I thought he was sensational. Scott Wise, he’s a wonderful dancer. So he went from seventeen hundred and fifty
dollars, on a pink contract, to three thousand dollars, on a pink contract. But that was a producer’s choice to do,
right? Well, he has a position as well. I mean, he’s that good, and he walked into
the office and said, “Give me more money.” And I said, “Sure,” and that was that. (LAUGHTER) See how easy it is? Yes, it’s a piece of cake. (LAUGHTER) There are some people that are just replaceable,
by a long list of others, and they don’t have that kind of leverage. But I think it’s a mistake to — I hate
the hierarchy. I hate the idea that one person is less important
than another. And in shows that we do, we try to create
an atmosphere of community, and I think it serves the show very well. I want to pick up on that, because absolutely,
I sense it as being true. You have a team. You have people who have been with you for
twenty-plus years. I think that is a major producer job, again,
it’s like choosing the theatre, which people forget about. A producer, wouldn’t you say, the creation
of a community within a production is a vital ideal. When there is chaos, too, and if there is
chaos, a show tends not to work. Or is that [wrong]? Listen, I agree with you. One, I don’t really want to walk into backstage,
into an antagonistic situation. Also, I think I am old enough to be idealistic
now, and I think that the truth is a lot easier. So there’s no illusion, no “the producer
is something that people have to be afraid of” or the general manager. We walk backstage, we keep everybody in the
company abreast of all the economics, so that there are no rumors. This industry is rife with rumors, and you
hear stories on a daily basis. And it’s better to — old military expression
— “keep the troops informed.” So we keep the troops informed, and also,
we are accessible, so if they have a complaint or something they come up and they articulate
it. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to agree. It just means that they’re not afraid to
ask. What about producers, when there is more than
one producer, as we’re getting more and more producers into a production. How does that work out? How do you deal? Who makes the decisions? Is there a senior producer? I know the difference — For lack of a better term, yes. The reason there are so many producers listed
above the title these days is because of the economics. When I worked for Merrick, HELLO, DOLLY! was
the most expensive musical ever done up till that point. That was 1964. Someone in the audience who knows here, actually. And the cost was four hundred and fifty thousand. I was working on another one at the time,
110 IN THE SHADE, it was three hundred and fifty thousand. Now, four hundred and fifty thousand dollars
won’t get you through lunch. (LAUGHTER) And musicals are ranging from five
million to sixteen million dollars. And the discussions that are taking place
among the corporations are, “Well, we can spend twenty million dollars.” Well, that’s another kind of [show]. What’s bringing that cost up so high? Greed, mostly. (LAUGHTER) In every area. Yeah. All along. It’s compartmentalized profit. Everybody makes the big speech about the need
for the theatre in the big picture, culturally, for the country. And they’re all self-righteous, and it’s
wonderful, and the intentions are good. And then they say, “Yeah, but I gotta get
mine.” So the unions get theirs, the producers get
theirs, the managers get theirs, and the actors get theirs, and the New York Times gets theirs
and the Post gets theirs. And they all make good speeches again, and
they still take it. But many careers, though, in the theatre,
are a wonderful patch and a horrible patch. And sometimes the horrible patches can go
on for a long time. So I think part of it, when you’re on a
winner, you’re thinking, “All right, when I’m hungry at the other end.” Saving for a rainy day? Yeah. And I think many careers are that way. Except that the ticket price goes up, right
alongside it. And when we were kids, we went to the theatre,
and that wasn’t such a long time ago. When we were kids, we went for a dollar twenty,
ninety cents, a dollar eighty. Some of you might remember. And even a heavy date on a Saturday night,
to see Harry Belafonte and Almanac was three dollars and sixty cents at the Music Box ‘cause
I (SNAPS HIS FINGERS) remember the girl I went with! (LAUGHTER) And now, it’s a seventy-five
dollar ticket. So we’re precluding an audience. There are generations that don’t go unless
they get it discounted, or they go through the Wing or they go through some [program]. What about your balconies? Why is the cost of the mezzanine, which is
really your first balcony, in many theatres, the same price as orchestra? And why isn’t there [a scale]? In a musical, the mezzanine is very often
the better seat. Forget the chicness of sitting in the fifth
row. Fifth row for the musical seems to me foolish. You have no perspective at all. The farther back in the orchestra, the better
off you are. And the front of the mezzanine is a glorious
seat. Of course, you’re not sitting next to Nicole
Kidman or something. (LAUGHTER) But is that cheaper, in your ticket price? Is there a decrease in your ticket price? In the front of the mezzanine, no. There’s a midsection, that’s a little
less, and then the rear of the mezzanine is less. And then, do you have a second balcony? No, it’s a rear mezzanine. Rear mezzanine counts then. But Isabelle, there’s a ticket price, we’re
in such a small area, Broadway. And you can buy a ticket anywhere from seven
dollars to two hundred dollars within that area. How do you buy the seven dollar ticket? Through TDF. Yeah, the Theatre Development Fund. The Development Fund. You can get into that theatre on a Theatre
Development Fund seven dollar ticket. Maybe it’s twelve dollars now. Yeah, it’s more than that. Seventeen. Seventeen, seventeen, right. Well, is there any provision made at the theatre
itself, for rush tickets or senior citizens or youth I.D. tickets? You do that in an organized way. There has to be a better system than the one
we’re using. The one we’re using is somewhere in the
fourth century, but maybe we’ll grow up. What do the stagehands get? What is, like, the pink and white contracts? What is the average? I know there’s no minimum, I mean, that’s
a negotiation. But let’s say, for the different kinds of
stagehands, what is the minimum on that? Somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred
dollars a week is what the average stagehand would get. And that’s a parameter, so they would still
get slightly less than the actors, but not by much. Some don’t, obviously. No, but as shows become more complicated,
the technicality — as management, you have a tendency of putting down the stagehand. I don’t have that feeling. I think the rules governing the behavior of
all of our union members, Equity, stagehands, press agents, managers — I’m a manager,
we have a union. Managers’ union seems to be somewhat of
a contradiction. (LAUGHTER) But it’s the rules that have
evolved that are preclusive of efficiency. A good technician is worth the money. The man that runs our sound at SIDE SHOW — I
hope he doesn’t hear this program (LAUGHTER) — is worth more than we’re paying him! There goes his negotiation! Yeah, right! My negotiation! (LAUGHTER) Bill, I wanted to ask you, too, and this is
maybe asking you to reveal professional secrets. But part of the thing, apart from writing
a release and overseeing the entire advertising and all of that, you have to, am I right,
develop some kind of easy rapport with the critics, right? And the writers. And how do you do that? Well, when the critics start coming, like
four days before every opening now, they’re given a choice and it’s spread out, and
all the reviews come out on the designated day, usually Fridays. I usually say, as I said to Mr. Longbottom
or some of the actors, you know, I said, “This is a great show and you people are doing wonderful
acting jobs. But if you want to see a real acting job,
watch me on the sidewalk greeting the critics!” (LAUGHTER) And I think most press agents do. I stand out there on the sidewalk, and I hand
them to them. And many of the people, I would say the majority
of the people, have been there as long as I’ve been here, which is twenty-seven years. That’s interesting. I thought it had changed so much, especially
the New York Times. The turnover there was so much. But the other thing is, what you’re leading
to, I think, is the relationships. And it’s my relationships with the editors
and the people who book shows. And over the years, so they know how to read
me, and they know that my trust, you know, or believability level is so much and somebody
else’s might not be. And if you deal, you know, above board, you
have access to these people. And I have been so enthused by SIDE SHOW that
there are some of my oldest people who have said, “Bill, are you putting me on?” And I go, “No.” (LAUGHS) So you know, you sort of almost need
to — Believe me, trust me! Yeah. But usually, it’s the practical level of
they’ve got a job to do, they’ve got to fill up their papers, they’ve got a deadline,
they want to go home and see the kids. You know, it’s just there’s a routine
and everybody has their job. And if you can do what you’re supposed to
do and enable them to do their job easily, I think that’s basically it. There’s one other. It has to do with that extended period of
time that we’ve all worked together. He’s also a confidant of Neil Simon, on
the Simon plays. And Bobby Longbottom trusts them. So that your job goes way beyond the designation
of press agent. There’s a need to have an opinion. He has an opinion. Sometimes you have to create an opinion. And in the case of people who trust each other,
it’s unnecessary. You actually have one, you tell the truth
or you say, “I don’t know,” as opposed to this artificial opinion created by most
people. “What did you think?” “Well, it was wonderful. The second act needs a little work.” (ABBIE LAUGHS) And also, you talk about the critics, but
it’s also the arts writers, because you know, the review is the review is the review. Right. Those are the most important ones. And there is a pecking order, which I hope
nobody’s watching this either! But there are certain things you want from
a newspaper or a certain newspaper, and you want that before you want the other thing,
but you have to navigate through all of that, so that you don’t alienate the one you don’t
want, because if you don’t get the one you want, you want the one you don’t want. (LAUGHTER) So it’s tough. And the morning television shows are very
competitive. And you book one and forget it, you’re not
in the other. How important is that morning television show? I think morning shows are very important,
especially when you have someone who they know, they recognize. To put them on that national audience, and
Gene Shalit says, “It’s great to have you back on Broadway,” all of a sudden things
click, and it’s much easier to locate this person in this show and the idea of going
there. But even on the unknown ones, and hopefully
you’ll see our twins soon, it’s a forum that is just terrific. Does that offset a bad review in the media? Well, I think so, in some ways. But what I really think is that the people
who leave any show, and it’s the word of mouth. The press agent can not create a hit or ruin
it, I don’t think. But you can enhance what you have and do the
best job you can. But it’s what they say when they go home
and see their friends. How much time do you have for word of mouth
to take hold? That’s right. That’s tricky. It’s a difficult question. The answer is, how much money do you have
to wait? And also, you have to be very objective about
that judgment, about “Is the word of mouth good?” Everybody says the word of mouth is good,
but it’s a delusion. Sometimes the audience just doesn’t want
you. And it’s the public that ultimately makes
the judgment. The critic can be helpful, and the New York
Times can be extraordinarily helpful. In the long run, even the New York Times can
not keep a show that the public doesn’t want running. And do you have a reserve? Yes. We didn’t have a reserve. We did. Or we had a reserve, and it wasn’t sufficient. So we mortgaged Abbie’s house. (LAUGHTER) Bill’s house and my house, and
we generated more money to promote the show. It’s a joke, but it’s a dedication. And it’s not quite as bad as I said, but
it’s pretty close. It’s not as tough as I thought it was going
to be, and I think it’s just wonderful having you here. We’ve been talking to the producers and
the workers in the vineyard, in the theatre of SIDE SHOW. And it’s the American Theatre Wing seminar
on “Working in the Theatre.” We’re going to take a break right now, breath
a bit, and then come right back with all the questions that I know are going to be asked
and that I want to hear as well. I want to hear the answers. I want to also ask some of the questions. (APPLAUSE)
(BREAK) (APPLAUSE) We’re continuing the American
Theatre Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre,” coming to you from CUNY, the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. And this seminar is on the Production, and
it is the team of SIDE SHOW. Manny Azenberg, who is going to tell us how
simple it is to put on a hit show, and a really very good one. Manny, would you take this up? Do you know how to do it? How do you do it? My first recommendation is that you find something
you care about and you feel that expresses something of yourself. I know that’s not chic for producers, but
I think it’s certainly crucial and certainly part of the way I was trained. Subsequent to that, you have to option the
piece, or you have to own it, in a sense. Your obligation is to be very helpful artistically,
to the extent that you can be, and to the extent that your peripheral position, which
is what a producer is, in the creation of a piece, allows you. You’re fully responsible for the economics. And you have to go out and raise a lot of
money, which is sometimes difficult, but sometimes more embarrassing, because it’s not really
an investment. It’s a crapshoot. And it’s a cultural crapshoot, which in
my mind justifies it for myself, that we’re trying to do something that might nudge the
world. That’s a Stoppard line, it’s not mine. And that heartfelt commitment justifies your
behavior. If you raise the money and the project develops,
then you have to find a theatre for it. To my mind, it should be a theatre that is
very suitable, for the feel of the play or the musical. When it opens, praying is a big help. Good reviews is equal to praying. A combination of good reviews and a little
prayer, and you have a success. And then the work starts all over again. Maintaining the success, maintaining the quality
of the show, additional companies. These days, a musical is international. So there’ll be a company on the road in
the United States. There might be two. One in Toronto, one in London, Germany, the
rim of Asia, Australia. And it takes a great deal of energy and commitment
to try and maintain that quality. The money no longer becomes a problem, but
the quality always is a problem. Is it something I would recommend? I would recommend that you become very well
trained, so that it’s not a mystery. And that you understand the risks, not only
financially, but the pain of failure. Because if you do commit emotionally, it’s
a love affair gone awry. And it’s worth the trip, because there’s
passion involved, and wherever there’s passion there’s potential pain. I’ve done a few of these, and I no longer
can become a doctor or a Senator or other ambitions. And although it was not an ambition of my
youth, since I had no idea what a producer was, it’s been a blessing. I’ve had a good life. And the theatre is a — Nicely said. I’m not dead yet, though. (LAUGHTER) Would you do it again? Would I do it again? Yes. I don’t think without hesitation. There might be a few things I would do differently. There would be one or two shows that I would
not have done, but only one or two, because those were shows that I listened to other
people’s opinions as opposed to mine. You get in a room and everybody says, “This
is a smash! This is good. You’ll make forty-two million dollars.” And then it comes around to you and you say,
“Uh … oh yeah, I’m in.” (LAUGHTER) And then you find out that nobody
made the money, the movie rights were never sold, and you didn’t care. What speaks to you about SIDE SHOW? We talked about the chaplain coming from Ringling
Brothers, too. But what speaks to you about the show? I’m glad you asked that. (LAUGHTER) There’s a song at the end of
the first act that breaks my heart every night. And the song is a glorious ballad that the
two girls sing, called “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” And that’s not about Siamese twins. It’s about everybody. At four o’clock in the morning, I don’t
believe there is a human being when he wakes up wonders, “Do the people who love me really
know who I am? And am I so complicated that no one will ever
know?” And it’s a heartfelt, passionate, wonderful
song. And I think that this musical is much more
about “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” than Siamese twins or freaks or anything else. The obsession with the grotesque is nonsense. The passion of the evening is exactly that,
that are we tolerant enough to recognize the sensibilities of people who are a little different? And are we willing to acknowledge those sensibilities
and be a decent human being? And that’s what this evening is about. And accept yourself, too. And a lot of people’s definition — Yes. I’m sorry, you’re right. And the recognition is, recognize who you
are. Maybe try to improve it. That really is a deep definition of integrity,
i.e., integration into what you are. Sure. Yeah. To get back to the dollars and cents, marketing
has become another important word, and also an important item in the budget. Who decides on that, Bill? Are you in on that? Is that part? Well, I’m in on it, sure. And then, do you have someone separately do
the marketing? Yeah. There’s an advertising agency that each
show goes with. And the one we’re with, happily at the moment,
is as crazy about the show as we are. So they’re as driven to find different ways. But we live in a television world, you know,
and that, for a big musical, sooner or later, that’s it, you know. Well, you’ve got to. I know we’ve got to probably move on to
other things, but I would love to at some point figure out how you go to a television
morning show and sell ‘em on the idea of SIDE SHOW. Because it’s not like you’re selling some
gigantic star. But that’s publicity, isn’t it? That’s public relations. That’s not marketing. Right. That’s bribery. (LAUGHTER) Never! Do you reach out to groups and organizations
outside of New York? For example, women’s groups or church groups
or whatever? Yes. And that usually comes after you’re up and
running. Right now, the buildup to the opening and
the take-off, we’re in the nuts and bolts as it were of all of that kind of stuff. And as we’re here longer, it absolutely
branches out to different special interest groups or people who can identify or are interested. And we have letters from people who danced
with the Hilton Sisters in real life. And you know, there’s just a wealth of response
to this. But at the moment, it’s about getting the
immediate, hard-core, theatre-buying audience in there, and then building out from there. Did you have a large group sale before you
opened? No. The resistance is the preconception. We got one letter, though, to answer your
question and to add to what Bill said, it was a lovely note, from someone who said he
performed with the Hilton Sisters at the Palace. And he said he hopes that we are not going
to treat them like freaks, because they were two delightful women who were compassionate,
warm. And you read it and you realized that you
were dealing with the reality of two individual human beings who deserve some consideration. Well, that’s okay with you and the show. No, we didn’t have a lot of groups, because
if you have a choice between THE LION KING and RAGTIME and SIDE SHOW, you’re going
to choose the safe one. And the chairman for various committees, the
decision to buy groups is done by the chairman of an organization. So you have to satisfy the wishes of what
you think will be the majority of those people in the organization. And the other shows are much more acceptable. What do you mean, the organization? Charity or — If the chairman of an organization decides
to have a theatre party, you make a choice of the show you’re going to see. You have to answer to your constituency. I mean, we’ve all been in the theatre when,
in the Neil Simon history, there’s always a woman that gets up and yells at the end
of the show, if Neil had written a funny play, “Shirley, you picked a winner this time!” (LAUGHTER) Absolutely. As if she wrote it. Neil sits there looking, “What about me? What about me?” I’m going to turn to questions now, and
would you please step up? Hi, my name’s Breelan Brooks. I’m an actress. I had a question about press and the media. How do you generate interest, you kind of
touched on this briefly, with like a talk show or the newspapers to write a specific
story about SIDE SHOW? It starts, especially when you know something
is coming. The longer time you have the better. But it starts with me talking to the people
that I know and saying, “In a year from now, we’re going to do this show.” And also, if you’re working on multiple
shows, when you’re booking them to see a show that you’re working on right now, and
if you know what’s coming, it’s an opportunity to speak without grinding the ax. And these people are interested. And as I said before, not only because they
like the theatre, but also because their job is to fill the page in an interesting way. So I think it’s the relationships, and I
just keep in touch with them. Well, I would think doing your research, too. Like the fact, I found out just yesterday
that one of them married at half-time of the Cotton Bowl? That’s right. And you know, those details you do have to
know. So you do a quick study, whatever the subject
is. And we’ve worked on a wide range of subjects
with Mr. Azenberg, so (LAUGHTER) you have to learn a little bit. Hi, my name is Norma Goldberg and I have another
question for you, Bill. Many reviewers, or at least some of them,
make references to historical or literary influences on the play. Especially, I think, the review of the Times
of SIDE SHOW did that. How much do you give the reviewers, as far
as background? Again, that can change. If it’s a real history sort of show, sometimes
you give more. But I think the difference with the system
of them coming four days earlier, three days earlier, too, it gives them time to really
work on something. In the old days, when they left the theatre
at nine thirty and had to type the review in an hour, I think you got much more of their
immediate feelings, and how did they feel and how did the play hit them? And in some cases, you feel like the reviewers
just went to the encyclopedia and va-voom! down, and make sure you know that they know
all about this subject. From review to review, you know, you can’t
[tell]. I was interested in the book he was talking
about, but on the other hand, you know, I’m always interested in how did they feel, how
did they react? Yes? Hello, I’m Howard Goldberg. I have a question for Mr. Azenberg. Since economics is such an important factor
in the theatre, how do you strike a balance between artistry and popularity? My first response is I don’t think, except
for those genuine failures that I’ve had, and those are the ones that you choose because
you don’t really care about it, the first response is, do I like it? Does it talk to me? And then I’ll deal with the economics. I suppose that there have been occasionally
things that I was really passionate about and didn’t do because of the economics. But the passion and the commitment comes first. And then I’ll make the economics work as
best I can. I don’t know, there’s some arrogance to
that. And then you have to, yes indeed, strike a
balance. It must fit into a theatre. The economics must make some sense. I don’t think we’ve ever done a show that
if it were a hit the investor would be hurt. The goal is that if it is a hit, the investor
will make a killing. All right. My name is Sylvia Katz. Mr. Azenberg, I’d like to know what Mr.
Longbottom’s previous theatrical background was. And also, I was curious about who selects
the production’s creative staff, such as the musical directors, choreographers, arrangers,
and so forth? It’s a two part question. The first answer is Bobby Longbottom was a
dancer in one of the companies of CHORUS LINE. FORTY-SECOND STREET. FORTY-SECOND STREET, and the other one. ME AND MY GIRL. So his background is with some choreographers
that have had some experience. He also does the show at Radio City Music
Hall. He does the show? The Christmas show. PAGEANT, also. And his commitment is wonderful. The selection of everybody else falls into
departments. Normally, the composer will choose who the
conductor is. Everybody has an approval. You try not to exercise it. Who is the “everybody”? How many? I can override, and the director can override
somebody’s choice. If I have a particular antipathy to a designer,
I’m going to say, “I don’t like him.” But the musical director and the arranger
and the copyists in the music department fall under the jurisdiction, as it were, of the
composer. And as long as he selects people that have
a history of competence and ability, you try not to interfere. There’s a balance of trying to pretend to
be in authority. Sometimes you don’t have to be. Sometimes people actually select good people
without your help. (LAUGHTER) Hi. My name is Alrector Bogart. And I’d like to ask Mr. Azenberg, what kind
of specific marketing campaign are you using for this show? You’d have to ask them. (ABBIE LAUGHS) Okay, then. When marketing came up, it’s a word that
almost backs me up. I think it’s a euphemism for selling, isn’t
it? There used to be people who sold, they were
salesmen. Now they’re “marketing,” (LAUGHTER)
which sounds better. But it’s an area that I would dump over
on them, because I don’t know anything about it, and I’m never quite sure whether hanging
posters in a supermarket sells tickets, and giving away two for one if you buy a grapefruit
and all of those things are [effective]. It’s not from my time, it’s now. And they’re so much younger than I am, so
it’s their jurisdiction. What about you, Bill? Well, he is deeply suspicious, in other words,
of marketing, because a lot of it, it does sound ridiculous. What I think the marketing is is, again, what
I said about the core audience. That your first audience, to me, is the people
who keep up with it, are interested in it, and have a habit of buying tickets. And those are the inside people. So they get their information through the
Times and the magazines and all those normal places. When you go out from there, in something like
CATS, for instance, this is fifteen years later, there are enormously successful supermarket
and face-painting and all kinds of things that really, really reach out and get to people
that might not otherwise come to Broadway. And that may well happen with SIDE SHOW. But I always think, you get the inside group
and then you build out. Abbie, what do you think? Yes? Hi, my name is Annette Salzgard and I came
here from Sweden to pursue theatre. And I’m just really curious, how do one
really go about getting financing and backers? Oh! (LAUGHTER) You mean, initially? Initially, it’s not so simple. After you’ve done it for a while, you have
this backlog of people. It’s a grind and it’s a discipline. One, I suggest, whatever it is that you’re
going to do, you’d better believe in, because you’re not asking them to invest, you’re
asking them to kind of give you their money, because theatre is not an investment. And then, you ask everybody that you know. Does anybody here know a rich person who is
foolish enough to invest in the theatre? Or sometimes, on occasion, is smart enough? Because whoever put their money in RENT ain’t
losing anything. And you use RENT or the successes as a frame
of reference. But I suggest that you be as honest as you
possibly can, because people read the con jobs, and if you’re first starting out,
you’re not going to have a track record and your integrity will be crucial. And then, you’d better hire a few people
around you who will confirm that your economic presentation makes some sense. Does that come about because of your reputation
as a producer? Do you have a core that will come into whatever
you do now? I would like to think so. Because ten years ago, you were recognized. Well, we have a relatively unique situation,
Isabelle, because Neil Simon is an investment, not a crapshoot. So there have been people over the years that
have seen our statements and have gotten checks, shockingly enough. And so we have that. But when you do a musical, you have to go
way past that. Why do people invest in shows? Why? I think that it ranges from a genuine cultural
interest, support, personal relationships, delusions of glamour, the need to participate,
“What am I going to do with all this money I made on the stock market?” I suppose somewhere in there is everybody. I don’t think anybody puts the money in
as if it were AT&T. I think there are other agenda, and not all
evil. I think it’s a great place to be, if you’ve
got all that money, too. (LAUGHTER) Hi, I’m Kwanda Johnson and am a performing
artist, who was on tour earlier this year, Manny, with Carol Channing in HELLO, DOLLY! My question is for you, Manny, and it’s
being a veteran producer, what is your vision for the future of musical theatre on Broadway,
especially in lieu of the successes of RENT and THE LIFE and now SIDE SHOW? It’s two-fold. One would be the hopeful and affirmative one,
which is hopefully that there is a world out there of music, not of my generation. RENT, we have something to do with RENT, and
when I first went to see it, I had to take my oldest daughter. And when it was over, I said, “Karen, is
this good?” She said, “Yeah, it’s great.” “It’s good!” (LAUGHTER) Because it’s a sound that is
very valid for a number of generations of people and not for my generation, and that’s
the evolution of the theatre. There was a time, prior to Rodgers and Hammerstein,
called operetta, and then the operettas went away. And then, there was the book musical, and
then they went away. And then there was the, what? COMPANY began that. Concept. The concept musical. So there will be an evolution of what the
musical is, based on the music of the day. And the musical theatre will be strengthened
when you use contemporary music on the stage. So if you had hit records that came out of
RENT, or Whitney Houston records two songs from SIDE SHOW, that will be a plus. The economics, on the other hand, are debilitating. And I think that unless something happens
to change it, there are going to be musicals produced by Disney and Time Warner and by
major corporations, because musicals are becoming international. And somebody got a look at the CATS’ total
gross over fifteen million dollars, and it’s in the billions or something like that. And merchandising is also connected to it. And I think that’s dangerous. Then you have theme park kind of potential. Is there a cast album of SIDE SHOW? We’re recording it a week from — Monday. When? A week from Monday. Everybody please buy it, it’s wonderful. If you don’t like it, call me up. I won’t give you my number, but– (LAUGHTER) You know, I’ll just interject, there was
a time which I hope is going to come back, when the top ten musical hits on the radio
were from Broadway. And now they’re, God knows, from anywhere. And one would hope that they would get back,
that you’d hear the top [Broadway songs]. Absolutely. If the major media is television, to a certain
extent, even radio these days, if Broadway were producing musicals whose music were put
on television and on the radio in some consistent way, we would have a broader spectrum audience
across the country. Hi, my name is Lisa de Souza, and I had a
one part question, but it’s now become a two part question. First of all, I was wondering, how much approximately
does it take to run a show like SIDE SHOW a week? Our weekly operating is around 330. That’s our break-even. Okay. And then my second question was something
that you said, Mr. Azenberg, what you were just talking about. I mean, are there plans now to get Whitney
Houston to record a song and put it out there, to really, you know, expand SIDE SHOW? There have been certainly a number of reviews
that have referred to Whitney Houston, that Whitney Houston should look to SIDE SHOW for
some recordings, and Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. Yes, the arranger, Harold Wheeler is a friend
of Whitney Houston’s. But all of this gets very complicated, because
you can only get them to record when they’re recording an album. No one will make a single on their own any
more. So if Celine Dion has got one slot left, you
hope that she will pick it up from here. Mariah Carey just finished an album, so she’s
done. You’re moving into another world, the music
world, which I absolutely have no knowledge of. But the little that I have is that it’s
not as simple as I would like it to be, so that “Hey, I have a great show. Why don’t you come and record it?” They don’t do that. They used to do that, when Broadway was exactly
what George said. If you had a hit, “What Kind of Fool Am
I?” from STOP THE WORLD, bang! There were four recordings in five minutes. And FAIR LADY had three hit songs on the Hit
Parade. The Hit Parade, remember that? (LAUGHTER) One quick working question. Who keeps the show fresh? Who gives notes when the show has a long run? Well, Bobby Longbottom is so dedicated that
he hasn’t missed but one performance. It’s like I think he has an addiction. He can’t stay away. If he stays away for a day, he’s back the
next day. But there is the stage manager. There are dance captains, these other jobs. What’s each one’s role, quickly? Stage manager is what we call the production
manager who will run the show, call the show, call the cues. And also, get somebody ultimately to call
the cues, so he watches and makes an evaluation of performances, so you keep the show up. We have an assistant director, Tom Cosis,
who is working at the Music Hall at the moment, but he’ll come back. And he will come in and watch the show and
call Bobby if he thinks it’s slipping, and give notes that night as well. Sometimes there’s a note just because something
happened. It’s not a criticism, it’s just a reminder. And also, this is hard work, and those kids
go out there and sing their eyes out. So maybe somebody has to get a break. And what happens when one twin is out? Can we go on with this afterwards? I’m going to have to say thank you so much
for being here. And we’ve been at the American Theatre Wing
seminars on “Working in the Theatre” at CUNY, and this has been an extraordinary panel
that we’ve had here. It’s the producing show of SIDE SHOW, the
wonderful show that is now on Broadway. So thank you very much for being here. Thank you, , for being our esteemed moderator. Bye-bye. (APPLAUSE)

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