Production: “Moon Over Buffalo” (Working In The Theatre #237)

(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” These are coming to you from the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York. This is one of the nice stories about the
theatre and New York. We have been doing these seminars for 22 years,
and this is the 50th anniversary of the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards. And so, it shows very clearly the continuity
of theatre. It also shows the enormous amount of work
that goes into the theatre. Our seminars are on the producers, the performers,
the playwrights, the directors, the press agents, the unions and guilds, the people
that work for and with the people that work in the theatre. We are known for our Tony Awards and we are
justly proud of them, because this award was established in honor of Antoinette Perry,
a woman who believed in quality and training for the theatre. And all of the programs that we do year-round
reflect that. We also bring theatre to hospitals and nursing
homes and AIDS centers, where those that are in these establishments can not come out and
go to the theatre. But we bring that magic that only live theatre
can provide to them. We also help develop audiences. We have a program called “Introduction to
Broadway,” and it is exactly that. We bring high school students from the five
boroughs of New York to the theatre, to Broadway, for the first time many of these students
have come out of their neighborhoods. This is done in cooperation with the Board
of Education and with the producers, who have been most generous in making available to
the American Theatre Wing tickets at a ridiculously low price, and we in turn them over to the
schools. The unique part of this program is that each
student pays for their ticket themselves. So they establish the habit of buying a ticket
and going to the theatre, which is very important. And the excitement in their eyes when a teacher
offers tickets to a Broadway show is just wonderful to see. They might never have seen a Broadway show,
but there is that magic in the words “Broadway show,” and so the hands shoot up and they
come. And many times, we’re able to have interviews
with the people that work in the show, and there, too, it’s an important part of developing
an audience, because they learn what it is to work in the theatre from every angle. The stage manager, the house manager as well. And these seminars have become a very important
part of our work, because I think that in no other place do we have the kind of talent
and the kind of knowledge that come to you in every one of our panels. I’m justly proud of them, and I’m justly
proud of the people that work in the theatre. I hope that you will enjoy them, and I hope
that you’ll also learn from them. I’m going to turn the seminar over right
now to George White, who is a director and is head of the O’Neill Center in Waterford,
Connecticut. He’s an international director, has come
back from Russia and China, and is vastly knowledgeable in what it is to put on a show
and how to direct it. And Brendan Gill, who is a member of the Board
of the American Theatre Wing and is a critic, a lover of the theatre, and a writer in residence
at New Yorker magazine. They will, in turn, introduce you to today’s
panel, which is on the production, the people that make it all come alive, the producing
team of MOON OVER BUFFALO. Thank you very much for being here. (APPLAUSE) I will begin by introducing a member of a
team, one half of whom is on the other side of me, and therefore remains a mystery guest
until she is identified by George White. We have here on my right Jeff Wilson of 101
Productions, who has worked on, among other things, THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER,
currently handling the Broadway Tony Award-winning musical, CRAZY FOR YOU. Other recent assignments include BUTTONS ON
BROADWAY, the national tour of CRAZY FOR YOU, and the upcoming national tour of CAROUSEL. And next to Jeff is Ruth Rosenberg of Serino
Coyne Advertising Agency, currently handling MOON OVER BUFFALO. Other shows the agency handles include CATS,
CRAZY FOR YOU, GREASE, and HAVING OUR SAY. And right next to me is Elizabeth Williams,
Tony and Olivier Awards winner with CRAZY FOR YOU, represented by CRAZY FOR YOU on Broadway,
in London’s West End, Toronto and Japan. Also, she produced THE SECRET GARDEN, INTO
THE WOODS and THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS, and co-produced LOVE LETTERS and RUTHLESS in L.A. Thank you, Brendan. I’m going to now go to my far left and introduce
Adrian Bryan-Brown, who’s one half of press representatives, Boneau/Bryan-Brown– as I’ve
said, it’s the first time that I’ve realized that “Bryan-Brown” is one person instead
of two (LAUGHTER)– who’s currently handling MOON OVER BUFFALO and is also currently representing
few. And the mystery guest, on his right in the
middle here, is Wendy Orshan of 101 Productions, who met Jeff Wilson while they were working
on THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER, and currently handles the Broadway Tony Award-winning musical,
CRAZY FOR YOU. And recent assignments include BUTTONS ON
BROADWAY and the national tour of CRAZY FOR YOU and the upcoming national tour of CAROUSEL. And on my immediate left is the Tony and Drama
Desk and Outer Critics award-winning designer of THE SECRET GARDEN and BIG RIVER, Heidi
Landesman. She is also the co-producer of SECRET GARDEN,
BIG RIVER and INTO THE WOODS, and is currently represented on Broadway by SMOKEY JOE’S
CAFE and developing a new musical with Margo Lion and also designed MOON OVER BUFFALO,
too. So there we are, and let’s go. In our first couple of seminars this fall,
again and again the question has come up of when a particular production begins, how long
it takes, and the anguish concerned over many years. So my first question would always be in respect
to the actual production, what was the very beginning of MOON OVER BUFFALO? How many years ago did somebody have the first
thought? Who knows best about that? Well, Elizabeth does. Ken Ludwig was writing MOON OVER BUFFALO in
1993, and he sent it to me in the late fall, early spring of ‘93, ‘94. And we had our first reading of this hilariously
funny play in June of ‘94. So it’s had quite a journey. Yeah. But in
the course of the reading, is that with somebody else? We had a discussion also in the past and always
do, about the question of readings. So when you had your first reading, was that
in order for all of you to judge together, in terms of what you were putting together,
or was it mainly for backers? No, this first reading, I believe we already
had our producing team together. Yes. It was Heidi and Rocco Landesman, at least
the lead producers were already in place. And we felt fairly certain at the first reading. My story goes like this, that I was sitting
in our home and my child came over to me and was very concerned because I was crying, but
I was crying with laughter, and he had never seen me just weep, weep, weep. And I was reading Ken’s play for the first
time. It was in the early spring, I guess, of ‘94. Now, did you call Heidi and Rocco, or what
was your first step? Uh-huh, uh-huh. Wiping your eyes . . . (LAUGHTER) Right! Picking up the phone immediately and calling
Ken and telling him what a gloriously funny farce he had concocted and with the same attention
to structure and detail that is so typical of Ken. He’s a great, great craftsman, and I think
a brilliant playwright, really at the beginning of his career. He came to the theatre late, after a very
successful career in law, and the first production that probably most of you know is LEND ME
A TENOR. And subsequently, he wrote the book for CRAZY
FOR YOU, with which I was involved, so we became close friends on that production. And he has been sending me the things he’s
done subsequently. But this one, at the time, I think, Heidi,
didn’t we feel that it was pretty well cooked? Yes, it felt very well cooked. (LAUGHTER) It did, uh-huh. And so I went into Rocco, in whose offices
I’m fortunate to have a cubbyhole and gave Rocco the book. He loved it. Heidi was right there at the same time, because
we had collaborated on Heidi’s SECRET GARDEN and other projects previously. And we set up this reading. Truly, we felt at the time that it was to
show us, it was with people who had performed before in some of Ken’s productions and
our productions, really a top level of actors. In fact, Philip Bosco was in that very first
reading. And Jane Connell. And Janie, that’s right! And Jane Connell, absolutely. What year was that? That was June of 1994. Well, that’s exceptionally smooth sailing,
according to other tales that I’ve heard in my day. And also, open and friendly and easy in that
respect. Yes. It was kind of a family beginning. It was, it was. But Heidi, you were going to say something? Well, we all, you know, compared to doing
a musical, which really can take a decade, this is extremely fast. But Elizabeth and I both thought, “Oh, it’s
a straight play. This will be a piece of cake.” And in fact, it turned out to be (PANEL LAUGHS),
you know, a fairly lengthy, elaborate, difficult process. Yes. But we, you know, immediately began putting
our team together. We put our great general managers here in
place, Wendy and Jeff, and went to Serino Coyne and went to Adrian, and put our dream
management team together. And then began thinking about who would be
our dream team for the casting. So it did go quickly. But these were all friends and associates,
colleagues that you trusted? Yes, yes. So it’s a big team already. You just start that way. Absolutely. And the family thing. I mean, obviously Ken Ludwig and CRAZY FOR
YOU. Did you have anything to do with LEND ME A
TENOR, too? No. But it was because of LEND ME A TENOR that
I went to Ken. Roger and I went to Ken specifically because
of what he’d done with LEND ME A TENOR, to rewrite the book of CRAZY FOR YOU. I had an interesting thought, because it does
seem like we are talking about a family here, which is often very rare, in the sort of team
that has evolved over the years. And I was saying, actually before the show,
how much I adored Wendy’s set. And I realize that that seminar is later. Heidi’s set. Heidi’s set. I know her sister, Wendy, too, that’s why. (LAUGHS) It’s confusing. I’ve always wanted to be a set designer,
so it’s okay, just for now. But you know, Heidi, the set was marvelous. How do you balance, you know I’ve heard
of actor-managers and all of this, but you know, who ever heard of a designer-producer? And don’t you bump into yourself, like a
director does, when you say, “Wait a minute, I can’t afford to do that”? Or do you ever say that? Well, I do, I do. I have to rely on my general managers and
fellow producers to beat me down when I become extravagant (PANEL LAUGHS) and out of control. But in reality, though, I am much more cognizant
of the producer spending money when I’m one of them than if I’m a designer on my
own. Designers on their own tend to try to get
whatever they can get away with and spend as much money as they possibly can. (LAUGHS) Somebody must give you the budget even before
you begin to design, surely. Yes, yes. I mean, we also do that. Now who does that? Is that what you do? Well, Wendy and Jeff, really. After Elizabeth, then who goes into budget? Well, Wendy and Jeff, they put that budget
together based on the producorial decisions about where we’re going. You know, had we only come directly into Broadway,
it would have been a different kind of budget. It moves out from there. But it’s these two who put that together. And where do you come into that? Early on. From the beginning. Well, we were involved pretty early in this
one. And it’s tough when you have a play like
this, which seems like a very simple, eight character play. You know, it’s hard to kind of budget when
you suddenly realize that it is a simple play, but it’s not a simple set. It’s a wonderful, two level set that starts
out on stage and Jane Connell actually walks down through the set into this wonderful green
room that’s on a wagon. And you know, suddenly it’s expanding into
something much bigger than sometimes you budget for. Likewise, with the costumes. Bob Mackie designed these incredibly wonderful
1950’s costumes that when you first sit down and read the play, it’s hard to envision
it as a general manager. So we have to work really closely with the
designers to determine, you know, just what that budget’s going to be. And of course, then, the first time you get
the budget, all the producers look at it and have their heart attacks (LAUGHTER) and say,
you know, “We can’t possibly do this.” And we do it again. But this was a really wonderful process in
that respect. Actually, Heidi was very helpful for us in
this process, because wearing both hats, so to speak, she set the tone for a lot of the
departments. Because you were able to go to Heidi and say,
“You’re the set designer right now, let’s have this conversation,” and talk about
“If you feel this drop is important, if we pay for that drop, where do we make up
that difference?” Then you go to her as the producer and say,
“I had that conversation with you. (LAUGHTER) Could you go speak to the sound
designer for a moment?” And so, it was a great collaboration, in that
sense. And she had incredible insight and experience. So normally, the set designer might not be
involved as early in the budgeting process as we were. I mean, we did eight or nine budgets before
we really had the budget that we were then going to go out and give to the producers
to raise money. But Heidi was a part of that process all along,
which really made it far easier for us and enabled us to still come in on budget and
really realize everyone’s vision and everybody’s dream, including an out-of-town tryout, which
is, you know, often a very rare thing nowadays. Well, you know, when you’re budgeting, now
for instance, and this relates both to budgeting and the role of the producer, who had the
marvelous idea to go after Carol Burnett? And of course, that does affect the budget. And how early or how late did she commit to
this? Well, Elizabeth, it was your idea. Yes, I’m sure it was. I had worked with Carol previously in LOVE
LETTERS in Los Angeles. I had co-produced LOVE LETTERS in Los Angeles
with Joan Stein at the Cannon (PH) Theatre, and it had run there for two years. And we were fortunate enough to have Carol
read. I think she did it at least three times, maybe
four, there at the Cannon Theatre. So I had met her, gotten to know her, and
I was aware that she was very interested in coming back to Broadway. However, she became our dream team with Philip,
but initially, obviously to think of Carol Burnett and to think that the play that you
love might be the vehicle that she would choose to come back to Broadway seemed a great act
of hubris (LAUGHS). It truly was more of a dream. And certainly, this play was fully formed
and was not written for her. So you know, we did send it to her in the
fall of ‘94. And Philip Bosco, of course, had been very
interested in the role, after having done the reading. And he’d done LEND ME A TENOR, too. And he had won a Tony for LEND ME A TENOR. Now, what did Ken think when you first said,
“We’re going to try to get Carol Burnett”? Because he had written a character whom he
must have described in the manuscript as being such-and-such and such-and-such. Uh-huh, uh-huh. So, was he surprised? Startled? Dismayed? Happy? Intrigued. Yeah. Good word, good word! (LAUGHTER) And very diplomatic, too. Intrigued, intrigued. But that’s part of the adjustment that goes
on all the time, of course, in respect to a cast. And then Carol herself, when she read the
play, she was eager to come back and she saw herself as being able to deal with that character
as it was, and so it was a joint thing, probably, yeah. She recounts having had a similar reaction
to it to what I had. She, you know, just was weeping with laughter. And we very quickly got a call back from her
manager, Bill Robinson, lovely man. And he said, “We really want to try to make
this work.” Oh, that’s great. And we did! You did, you obviously did, yes. I’m interested also in the process, because
talking about Serino Coyne, which is a wonderful theatre advertising firm, tell me about, I
also particularly delight in the artwork. And I realize there’s more to advertising
and all of the planning and I’d like to get into that. But who decided? Did you come to them with a concept? How does that work? Give us that process. Yeah, we met prior to presenting artwork with
the producers. We went away. We talked to our art department. Can I just interrupt once? Sure. Does the agency have to audition, in a sense? Or do you use the same people? It’s Serino Coyne, that’s the agency we’re
going to use. It depends. Do you submit budgets to the producer? In a way. I mean, we submit our ideal media plan, “This
is how we see you advertising this show. This is what we would like to do.” I mean, it’s always the dream list that
always has to be cut back, just because that’s the nature of Broadway. But it depends on the producers, it depends
on the project. Sometimes we do presentations for new accounts,
sometimes we don’t. In this case– They did do a presentation. Yeah, it was a presentation. It was a presentation, and we were very impressed. Right off the bat. But of course, you’ve worked before, that’s
part of the family again. Oh, sure. Everyone knows, I mean, it’s a small little
world. Now, what was the first decision you made,
from your point of view, reading the work itself and you had to come to a decision about
what your angle of attack was going to be. So what was it? Comedy. I mean, it was fun. Yeah. And the rarity of comedy. Yeah, the rarity of comedy on Broadway, and
something this knockabout funny. You know, it wasn’t a serious, serious high-minded
drama. It’s just fun, pure fun. And the logo that we came up with, you know,
we always try to train the public to associate, like, the mask with PHANTOM, Cosette with
LES MIZ. Well, we were able to kind of bypass that
year of training that it takes by illustrating the title. It was just so perfect with this show. That’s right. You don’t have to speak English or anything,
just look at it. There’s a moon over a buffalo. No, right. Moon over buffalo. There was a man who thought it was banana
over bison. (LAUGHTER) Yeah. So you know, once you’ve established that,
the first time people see it and figure out that it’s MOON OVER BUFFALO, that’s done
for you. Then you get other messages out. Who’s in it? When does it open? You know, what is it about? And so, it becomes a little easier. Now, you began in the fall of ‘94, too,
I assume. A little later. Yeah, a little bit later. A little later? And then when was the first time that you
were able to do something vis-à-vis the public? You know, it had to be before. It must have been the fall of ‘94 that we
met with her. The initial meeting. The decision had been made. Because we didn’t have the casting. Right. Yeah, I mean, our first ad was in April, for
the mail orders. Right. But we thought we were going to go earlier
than we ended up in going. So in fact, we started this process quite
early. Yes, it’s true. We had hoped it would be earlier. And then we ended up having to delay. There was a lot of juggling of schedules. Yes, endlessly. Adrian, I know you go through the pre-opening. And now, fortunately, it’s running and it’s
a lot easier to sell. What is the mental process as well as the
physical process of representing a work? We’ve sort of jumped ahead a little, but
I think certainly at this point, my job is to keep it as the consumer’s number one
choice. To keep an awareness out there and a visibility
of it out there. And obviously, you interact with Serino? Oh, absolutely. And I think the whole marketing campaign is
to just keep an awareness. Because what happens with a Broadway opening
is there an absolute deluge of information sent out to the public around the opening,
and the real challenge then becomes how do you keep that pressure on, so that you don’t
become a second choice, third choice, and so that consumers keep thinking, “I must
see that”? And how do you do that? By a steady pace of setting up interviews,
coming up with ingenious stories about other members in the cast. I mean, obviously in this one, Carol Burnett
is a very easy sell. The media wants to talk to Carol Burnett. You know, she’s back after thirty years
on Broadway. But you know, there’s so much Carol can
do, and also, we don’t want to make it totally about Carol. We want people to come to see a good show,
which has the bonus of Carol, if you like. So really, it’s just keeping the pressure
on of hounding journalists to keep talking about it, to keep writing about it. So you keep the flood going. And what was the first trickle? When did the first information come out to
the public in the press that there was going to be a show? Right. What I think, I mean, going way back, as soon
as the producing team finally had it together, knowing dates, knowing stars. It’s a moment that never happens, but you
hope that at one point all this information comes together so that you can just widely
disseminate it. We decided to have a press conference, which
is pretty unusual. I mean, Broadway shows don’t tend to do
that any more. Journalists like to receive information by
fax. They don’t need to come out to get information. But we figured that someone’s of Carol’s
caliber would warrant that attention. What did you want to achieve with a press
conference? Really, just telling everybody that Carol’s
coming back. But also, by doing a press conference, you
can have the whole team surrounding her, so that you’re selling the show as well as
Carol. And I think that’s been our constant mission,
is to make sure that the show is sold as well as Carol. Now, where did you hold the press conference? We got a deal in a hotel. (LAUGHTER) The Sheraton ballroom. How did you start on out-of-town? What do you do there? This production was very unusual, in that
it’s a commercial show which had an out-of-town tryout. I mean, the not-for-profit theatre has done
this a lot, but I can’t think of any shows that have had, you know, one out-of-town date
and come in, especially a comedy. I mean, it’s pretty unusual. This is great for the press agents, because
we are thinking down the road to Broadway and we have this sort of finite extended period
when we can get materials ready, where we can do advance interviews. So the show went to Boston, and for us, as
well as trying to sell tickets in Boston, that was a great opportunity to do work for
New York. So we started very early. I mean, how far out was Boston? When you looked at your budget, did you think
Boston as well? Was that included, out-of-town? We had always known that we were going to
go out-of-town. I was fortunate, having worked on CRAZY FOR
YOU from the beginning with Elizabeth and Roger, we had had a Washington out-of-town
tryout. So early on, we knew that it was a process
that Elizabeth whole-heartedly believed in, to allow the playwright and the company and
really everyone the privacy away from the public glare to work on the piece and to protect
the piece and to have the focus that we’re all there at the same time as a company and
as a family, as a group working on it. So really, from the first draft of the budget,
we didn’t know at that moment it would be Boston, but we knew we would go somewhere. We worked very closely with Heidi, deciding
what the city was, what the theatre would be, so that Heidi was really focusing just
on one design and one parameter. So we had always included that in our projections
of what we needed to do. And then everyone else came along, the other
producers, and agreed that that was the choice. Then we found Boston and the theatre worked
for Heidi and it was a market that Adrian felt was far enough away but close enough
so that we could create an image and we could sell tickets. And we found John Platt (PH). Now, what percentage of the budget, or how
much greater is the cost of going out-of-town? Amateurs would think, “Well, of course,
go out-of-town! Everybody ought to be out-of-town. They used to be out-of-town in the old days.” Does this represent a cost ten percent greater
than it would have been without going out of town or less than ten? What is the decision? Well, we were fortunate. You go out-of-town, really, in two different
forms. You either present yourself, as we did with
CRAZY FOR YOU, at the National Theatre. In that case I think we were there like five
weeks. In Boston, we were very lucky that we had
a very savvy local presenter, who helped us with our expenses with a guarantee and we
went there for a month. So in our cases, for us, with our budget,
we said, you know, this would be a half a million dollars, roughly. It actually was a little bit more than that,
for us to have this out-of-town experience, with the help of the market. And not really knowing what ticket sales would
be. I mean, Adrian had done a lot of research
for us in the summer. We were there in August. It’s always difficult. And at that point, when we were booked there,
there had just been TRANSLATIONS, and we thought we were going there at the same time as BIG,
so there was going to be competition in the market. So it was an expense that we had budgeted,
along with the support of the local presenter, but we always knew that we were looking at
close to a half a million dollar investment. But we were very lucky that the artistic was
very supported by our producing team. And that was a cost that they decided, in
a play budget, had to happen. And we’re very lucky. I mean, we went through– wouldn’t you say?–
I mean, massive changes, during that time period. If you don’t mind revealing this, how did
you make out against the half a million dollar cost? Did you recoup some of that in Boston? How did you do, vis-à-vis that expense? No, we haven’t recouped anything so far
(LAUGHS) at all. We were very on target. We’ve been very fortunate with our budget
overall, that we’ve been very on target with it. So ticket sales were somewhat different than
we had anticipated. We all knew what it was and we all knew that
it was funny and it was wonderful and the company was brilliant, but I think the task
of educating the public was slightly harder than we had anticipated in that short period
of time. So, we utilized all of the funds that we had
put aside, and then some, actually, for our out-of-town tryout. But it was an absolutely well-worth-it investment. I was thinking, Adrian, you’re used to working
in New York. You’re suddenly faced with a Boston promoting
of this, which I imagine would be different, although those contacts don’t go away. But I would think, nowadays– all of the old
days, it was Bone (PH), Variety, and Elliot Norton in Boston. Right, right. That’s all gone. So how did you have to deal with that? I mean, the reason for going out-of-town,
again, with the goal of Broadway, is to polish and develop the show as best you can. And I think that’s what Wendy was alluding
to, that the cost is a very worthwhile investment. Rather than having an extended preview period
in New York, where you’re very visible in the fishbowl, it’s a chance to really develop
stuff. But with the communications these days, daily
reports were coming in from Boston, and it was being reported in the New York press. I mean, there is nowhere you can go anymore
that that doesn’t happen. But I still think physically not being in
New York does give you the chance to develop stuff. Who made that decision? Heidi, did you make that decision, or Elizabeth? Or did you do it jointly? Was that what it was? I think we were together. I mean, part of the decision is not only the
physical space that I know the set is going to inhabit, but it’s also what the experience
is going to be like in each theatre, vis-à-vis their house crews, if they’re cooperative,
if they’re going to make the production period pleasant. And it’s very possible to research that
pretty thoroughly. And some towns have a reputation of being
really pretty terrible to work in, and other towns don’t. And the Colonial was one of those towns where
you knew that you were going to go in and have a very calm, efficient, reasonable production
period. And that’s what it proved to be. In the old days, the cast always used to stay
at the Ritz. Is that still possible? (LAUGHTER) I don’t think so. Well, they can’t stay at the Taft in New
Haven. No, that’s right. The Taft in New Haven, the Ritz in Boston. Is it typical of general managers that they
prepare the budget? And then, do they also deal with the union? What’s the role of general managers? Well, when you go to a place out of town,
like in Boston, we had a local presenter who already had contracts in place with all of
the different unions. So it’s really relatively painless. You know what you’re looking at up front. You know what it costs, you know, to do your
load-in, because you can figure out how many hours it’s going to take, and you always
hope it doesn’t take more. Can you negotiate with the unions? If they know it wasn’t that many hours,
it was less? And how many, crew and all that? Well, it’s not so much a negotiation. You mean, in terms of hourly rates? The cost, yes. Just in general. In general, it’s not in your best interest
to try to negotiate, because the local presenter has already gotten the best deal he can get. He’s the person who has to live there. Now, what happens in New York? It’s the same thing, too? In New York, the League of American Theatres
and Producers really is our negotiating arm. And so, you know, again those rates are pretty
well set. Yes, you always have something you want to
argue about. Can you individually do that for the show? What you can actually do is you can just really
plan it extremely well, so you never go into overtime. You avoid all of those costs. You, as the designer, don’t design something
that you know is going to take forever to load in and be a technical nightmare. You just don’t do it in the first place. It’s more about pre-planning. I also have a wonderful production manager,
Peter Fullbright (PH), that I’ve worked with for years. And he’s marvelously efficient and he’s
able to really plan out every day and every hour of a load-in and load-out. So you never get into waste, overtime, panic,
all-nighters, any of those costs, which really can be crucial. I think it would be one of the most important
things that you do. And it’s decision making along the way,
too. If you’re in a situation where you may have
to work a few more hours, you weigh that out against, you know, “What if we stop now
and we come back tomorrow?” And that involves, you know, Peter Fullbright
and the designers and us and the local crew. And we all work together. When it works, it’s a really wonderful process. I meant to ask you, Heidi, earlier, because
again, one of the first decisions in terms of your design is which theatre are you designing
for? All the prosceniums are a different width
and everything. Now, how early did you choose the theatre
that it was coming to in New York? Well, really early. And I had to, because the design itself is
based on the Martin Beck proscenium, it’s an echo of it. And so, it made some sense in Boston, but
it sort of didn’t make entire sense in Boston. It makes more sense here. It made a lot more sense here. But you designed it to work perfectly at the
Martin Beck– Absolutely. — and to work well in Boston. Yes. I mean, the Martin Beck, we did a lot of research
and we took photographs and dimensions of the actual existing Martin Beck proscenium. At what point did you do that, Heidi? Very early in the process. I think we knew we were going to the Beck,
when, Elizabeth? Early in the game. It was conceptualized, really, from the very
beginning, it was going to be the Beck. From the very beginning, we knew we were going
to go in there. Of course, you and Tom Moore, the director,
and Heidi, this would be maybe of interest, sat down together with Ken’s play and part
of the design element that Heidi came up with was inspired by Tom Moore and Ken and Heidi
working together, that whole notion of beginning on the stage above the green room, where the
play takes place. Oh, that wasn’t in the script to begin with? No. No, no. But also, that meant, yes, you play what must
have been fairly expensive tricks with your designs– Yes. — which is great fun for the audience to
see these transformations. But then, you also had to know that these
mechanical tricks were going to work in Boston, as well. I would think that would be terrifying. No, because I work with, you know, a wonderful
team. And we just did a lot of research. We went down to Boston, we did all our dimensionings,
we knew we would fit. It was tight, certainly (LAUGHS), but we got
it all in. And we were able to experiment in the shop. So we really came in knowing that all of this
stuff would eventually shake itself down. And we were able to stay pretty much on time
and on schedule. Audiences love that kind of thing. Those transformations are totally unexpected. How is that possible that it’s going to
happen? It gets applause every night at the Martin
Beck! (LAUGHS) Well, one of the reasons, actually, we made
that choice is that I always said to Tom, “Most of the show does take place in the
green room, and I know, as an audience member–” It’s most theatrical, the whole thing. It’s very theatrical. It’s really sheer, wonderful theatre. But I found, certainly, sitting as an audience
member, if I sit in the seat and the curtain goes up, and there is a box set sitting there,
and I know I will be there all evening, my heart sinks. (LAUGHTER) I go, “Oh, God!” And it’s very depressing. So I thought it was essential to sort of build
in a kind of exciting theatricality at the beginning of the evening, so the audience
would really be captured and intrigued from the top. The opposite of that would be THE HEIRESS,
where in point of fact, you see that great Washington Square parlor and you want to be
a part of it. It becomes a living room in your own mind,
where any change in that set would have been quite distressing, I think. It’s like you want to be asked to tea. Yeah, it’s the opposite kind of play. Right, right, it is. And you’re not going to do much knockabout
comedy in Washington Square. (LAUGHS) No, not there. What about the doors? Was that scene at the beginning–? Oh, yes. You know, with any farce, the ground plan
becomes absolutely critical. The number of doors. The number of doors and where they are, the
door jambs. I think we probably went through about fifteen
different ground plans with Tom, just over and over again, to get the real precision
layout of how exactly each door was located and how long it took to get from one to another,
because it’s all about split second timing. Hotel Paradiso. (LAUGHTER) Exactly. That’s exactly what it is. Blake Edwards depended on that last night
at his play, too. In that play, yeah. Didn’t have anything to do with the play,
but it was wonderful to watch the doors. (LAUGHTER) How much did your author change as you went
along? And how did that work into your script on
that? A great deal was changed in Boston, which
is exactly– And the playwright did the changes? Absolutely. The playwright was there, as were we, for
that entire month. And great change was made to the first act
of the play, you know, much to all of our great pleasure. But it was a very rigorous process, and one
that we could not have done in any way in New York. No. I was going to say, any other venue, I mean,
like a regional theatre, probably wouldn’t have worked because you needed, I guess, the
intensity of literally an out-of-town tryout, as opposed to maybe in the regionals. Also, you know, the other thing is that, especially
for a farce like this, you need the right cast. It’s precision casting. And I think to do it out of town at a regional
theatre, with a regional theatre cast, would not give you really that much information
about the play. It’s absolutely crucial to get the real
top level, top-notch farceurs doing it. And I imagine, if you were in, let’s say,
a preview situation in New York, you can’t take it off and just leave it and then go
back and re-do it, if you’re stuck in a theatre in New York. You’d have to open after you previewed,
I assume. Oh, right, right. I would imagine it would bring a great sense
of panic to have to do what we did under the heavy glare of New York theatre audiences
and the press. That would be another farce altogether. (LAUGHTER) What were you going to say? I was just going to say Ken did a really wonderful
thing one night in Boston where he just picked a night at random and we invited the audience
to stay afterwards and talk to him. And rather than have the audience just asking
questions of the playwright, you know, kind of question-and-answer thing, Ken stood up
on stage and asked questions to the audience. Wonderful! Such as? Well, such as, you know, “Were you confused
when So-and-so came into the room?” And it was the most wonderful thing, because
somebody on one side of the theatre would stand up and say, “Yeah, that really confused
me.” And somebody on the other side of the audience
would stand up and say, “Are you crazy? That was the best part of the whole play!” (LAUGHTER) And through that, one of the things, I think,
that came out was that the audience really wanted to know more about the family relationship
of Carol’s character and Phil’s character and Roz, who’s played by Randy Graaf. And Ken took that away and came back a couple
of days later with some marvelous scenes that really developed and established that relationship. That’s very important. I’ve got to ask this. Was the General Patton suit in there from
the very beginning? That was in the initial one. Because when I knew that was set up, and I
know Ludwig’s work, I said, “Where is he going to go with that?” (LAUGHTER) I had no idea, but I knew it was
going to come out and bite her somewhere, but I couldn’t figure out where it was going
to come out! You knew it was going to come again! No, no, it’s like clockwork. You know, he sets it up. That’s, I think, his lawyer background,
maybe. Yeah. He’s a precisionist. Farce depends upon that, of course, in planting
as many clues with the audience knowing and then having them all go, whoo, whoo! (LAUGHTER) From that initial budget, how often did you
change it and adjust it? Daily. (LAUGHTER) And at each point, did it come back into your
hands, for your decision and Heidi’s, as producers, of whether that could be accepted
or that could be cut out? The one thing that those of us in the theatre
learn as we go along is that you have an ideal figure that you posit, a learned figure that
you posit, for the amount of money you want to spend. And then you allocate that to the different
departments. And you know that, say, a quarter of your
budget will go for advertising. You can break it down into chunks. That’s very important. I’d love to hear how you break down that
hundred percent. Yes, could you do that? You would like to go through that? Can we do that? Sure. Well, we came up with a total– Physical production. We came up with a total figure of what the
producers felt comfortable with capitalizing a show at, which was two million four. And then, interestingly enough, the one finite
thing we knew in the beginning was we were going to go out-of-town. And we had done research, and out-of-town
not only meant per diems and transportation and extra hauling of things going back and
forth, so we came up with that figure, the half a million dollars. How much is it to go out of town, per diem
and things like that? Well, everybody’s per diem is different. Oh, it is? But the actors get their Actors’ Equity,
six hundred and thirty dollars a week. And the stagehands got their money. And then you negotiate with the creative team
and they get theirs. So each person is different, in a sense. We then knew that we were going to be advertising
in two different places, so we worked very closely with Serino Coyne on figuring out,
“Okay, we want like $350,000 for a New York presence,” which was the figure that really
never– well, it was never the figure that Serino had thought about in the beginning! (LAUGHS) No. But we thought about it! So they sort of fine-tuned that. And then, interestingly enough, the physical
production was the thing that fluctuated the most on this show. The wonderful intensity of going out-of-town,
where the play is everyone’s primary concern. You’re not distracted in New York with your
own personal home life or going to the theatre or running errands. You go from the hotel, which our director
absolutely loved, from the hotel to the theatre, from the theatre to the hotel. Every once in a while a food stop was, you
know, in between. But otherwise, that was the focus. So really, the physical production evolved
to a great degree while we were out-of-town. And that really changed. And what we ended up doing, we had a very
healthy reserve always, a reserve for out-of-town and a reserve for New York. How much was that? About $400,000. $400,000 for both places. And what we ended up doing, because we had
five years of a relationship with Elizabeth already on CRAZY FOR YOU, there wasn’t the
daily checking in of “We spent ten dollars extra here. We spent fifteen dollars here.” We just really kept her abreast. And the way ticket sales were going, we knew
we could dip into the reserve a little bit more to compensate for a new costume or extra
sound effects or changing lighting. Never scenery, it was always exactly what
it was supposed to be from the beginning. (LAUGHTER) So that’s really how we kept
on moving things around. We didn’t go over budget, we never went
over the two four, which is what we raised. But we dipped into the reserve for those extraordinary
things. You know, your fear is you walk in in the
morning and they go, “There’s a new scene.” And a new scene means different scenery, different
props, different costumes, different sound effects. And we had that quite a bit, but luckily,
you know, I had spent seven years working for Tyler Gatchel (PH) and so had Jeff, so
we were well prepared to know that those were the unexpected things that were going to happen
and we were lucky enough to have a good, healthy reserve that brought us through that time
period. Well now, you have budgeted at two point four
million and everybody decides to do that. Then, the producers are there with two point
four million to raise. Now, how do you do that? Do you have a cadre of people that have always
been with you? If you’d take us again through that, because
you also have partnership, I guess, with theatre owners. The lead producers were myself and Heidi and
Rocco Landesman. And then, our other partners in the production
were DLT Entertainment and Hal Luftig. Those were all what are called “the above-title
producers.” And we three were the general partners, Heidi
and Rocco and I. And we divvied up the money, it wasn’t really
dividing it down the middle, but you do it according to your ability to raise that money,
to put that money forward. And you get a share of the profit points accordingly. And you have your friends, presumably? Umm-hmm. I have my cadre of investors to whom I’ve
always gone and to whom I went with this project, as does Heidi. And Rocco, as the theatre owner, as well as
one of the producers, has his own investors. Does your record enter into this when you
go to this cadre of producers that you have on tap? What you’ve produced before and how you’ve
handled the monies of that before, how successful it was, does that enter into going back and
asking, “Well, now, come into this production?” How you raise it? Absolutely. You don’t have to reach out each time? Not bad to say CRAZY FOR YOU happens to be
a little success along the way. (LAUGHTER) This was also what’s called a “private
placement,” which means that we did it with 35 and under investors. That’s wonderful. And in fact, we didn’t come anywhere near
that number, we were well under. Well, 35, the reason that’s “private placement,”
as I understand it, I thought it used to be 23, wasn’t it? Where after 35, you have to file with the
SEC (PH) and all kinds of complicated legal machinations. You have to do a full-blown regulation D or
whatever kind of a registration with the SEC and with the Attorney General. And in this instance, we had a small number
of investors who took large increments of that capitalization. These investors, did you workshop it for them? No. No, we did not. In fact, I know that Hal Luftig came to the
reading, and I don’t believe that anyone else who was an investor did anything other
than read it and hear our cast and our producing team and decide on the merits of their own
ability to read and understand who was involved with the production. But you yourself, at some level, do you attempt
to gauge when, if everything goes well and you have your maximum return weekly and all
that, because it’s a hit, that you can tell the investors, “It may well be there’s
100 percent, we’ll be returned by the following June,” or don’t you try to make [a guess]? We do. We do, absolutely. So you have a target in your own minds about
when this investment is going to be recaptured and all that? I need to know the percentage of the advertising
and the merchandising, the marketing of it, and publicity. How does that come in? What percentage of the budget goes to ADM
(PH)? What percentage goes to you? Ninety percent. (LAUGHTER) Just roughly, to get the picture. It’s very much fixed rates, that the general
managers can pretty much determine. You know, once the advertising strategy has
been mapped out, as Liz can tell you, you know there is a certain amount of weekly budget,
and there is for every show. And the press agency is similar. There’s, you know, salary and expenses. So, I don’t know what percentage was marketing,
advertising. Any way of, in your budget? Of the two million four, let’s say, how
much is put aside? A rule of thumb for me and for the productions
I’m involved in is that usually a quarter to a third is for the physical production,
that means all elements of it. Another quarter is for fees, all the management
fees and all the other administrative costs. Another quarter is for the advertising and
marketing, and then another quarter for the reserve. That’s a very clear picture. To go back to our beginning question, the
one person we’ve left out is how early on did you decide on Tom Moore for a director? And habitually, or in practice, ordinarily,
isn’t a director one of the first people that you have to consider? Yes. Yes, indeed. In this case, what happened? Brendan, I’m sorry, I have to interrupt
you once more. And we’re going to just stand up for a minute
and stretch and come right back again and answer more questions. I think we’ve arrived at a very important
part of this. This is now decision making on the creative
end of it. And so, if you will please just stand up,
everybody, come back to your seats just as quickly as you can, and we’ll continue this
MALE VOICE This is CUNY-TV, Channel 75. (APPLAUSE) We’re continuing our discussion
on what it is to work in the theatre. And this has been a most wonderful and enlightening
and important one, because it’s the production team of MOON OVER BUFFALO. And we talked with the performers, the playwrights,
the directors and the choreographers. And now, we are into the nitty-gritty of how
they all came together to be part of the production that you see when you go to the theatre. So without any ado, we’re going to go back
to the American Theatre Wing seminar on the production of MOON OVER BUFFALO. Would you start, Brendan? We were just about to find out when it was
that you decided on the director, which we assume is also one of the very earliest things
you have to do, since he’s going to help you shape not only the cast, but the nature
of everything in the production. When did you choose Tom Moore to be your director? And who did it? (LAUGHTER) It was a joint decision, I would say. I’ve worked with Tom as a designer. I’ve done Chekhov with him, and we did a
production of NIGHT, MOTHER that won the Pulitzer Prize, Marsha Norman’s play. So my experience with him had not been as
a director of comedy or farce at all. (LAUGHTER) I would say! It’s some heavy stuff. But I’ve known him forever, and I know that
he has a background in farce and, in fact, is quite a student of classical farces and
had done an enormous amount of Feydeau. And he’s an enormously skilled director. And having worked with him before on a new
play, I also knew that he was a very effective dramaturg, in terms of his ability to work
with a playwright. So I think we sort of jointly arrived– We were looking at a very short list of people
that have any kind of track record or can direct farce. (LAUGHS) It’s very, very short. Very short. Does he live on the West Coast? Yes, he does. And had been away from the theatre for a long
time. I did not know Tom, and Ken did not know Tom. And Heidi and Rocco very strongly recommended
him and we were very impressed with his credentials. And Ken met with him and they had a wonderful
dinner together, discussing the structure of ONCE IN A LIFETIME and THE FRONT PAGE and
Feydeau. And you know, they shared a great love of
just how all those characters and the plot worked together. And that was the beginning. So in a sense, you’re both playing marriage
brokers a little bit in terms of that. Yes. Who’s going to dance with whom and so forth. Yes, yes. I wanted to get into, Elizabeth, your background,
how you came to be a producer. Because I know your original training was
in archeology. And then did you start digging up scripts? (LAUGHTER, GROANS) I’m sorry. Oh, come on! Some people say CRAZY FOR YOU was a revival,
but I think it wasn’t. (LAUGHTER) No, but tell us about your– Background? How to do this in a nutshell. I was teaching at, I guess, Berkeley, when
an old acquaintance of mine from undergraduate school came to me and asked me to sit on the
board of some art investment fund that a big insurance company was forming at the time. This was in the early eighties, and that was
a period in (LAUGHS) our economic history, as you may remember, in which all of these
big companies were going into all kinds of what would now be considered– I shouldn’t
say this. Go ahead. (LAUGHTER) Very risky, risky investments that they thought
were, shall we say, plums to lure different investors into their– Like what? Art funds, theatre funds, movie funds. They did better with art than anything else,
I think, don’t you? They did. And actually, there were some terribly successful
movie funds, but that was because of their ability to form blind pools, which is only
something recently that we’re able to exploit in the theatre, as you know. I don’t know what it is. I wouldn’t jump into a blind pool. (LAUGHTER) It’s a pool in which you don’t have to
designate the properties. Oh, I see. You can raise money based on the credentials
of the people who are involved and then later, let your investors know what the properties
are. Silver Screen Partners was a blind pool that
then, you know, has hooked up with Disney. I see. But you were very young, you were just beginning
to be in the teaching world, the professional world, and suddenly you were involved with
the opportunity– Were you teaching archeology? I was teaching Egyptian and Mesopotamian archeology
and art history. What a way to begin on Broadway! (LAUGHTER) I blame it on mythology. We’re creating different kinds of myth on
Broadway. So at any rate, they came to me about art
investment funds and were thinking of forming theatre funds. And once they began meeting with independent
producers and saying, “We have corporate funds for you with no strings attached,”
obviously many influential independent producers began to send them projects. And because, I suppose, I was an academic
and they assumed I had some sense of judgment (LAUGHS), they began to send me projects to
vet while I was teaching in California. And among those early projects was the French
version, the Robert Hosan (PH) version, of LES MISERABLES that Cameron MacIntosh had
gotten the rights to, to do at the RSC with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. And I became very excited about this project,
being an academic and being a French major in undergraduate school, for many reasons. And at any rate, the company ended up doing
this project. I ended up working in the summertime for this
company and ending up becoming involved in fundraising and finance. And went ahead to work with them in financing. LES MIZ and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and MISS
SAIGON and many of Cameron MacIntosh’s shows. Oh, that’s such a heartbreaking story! (LAUGHTER) What a thing to be able to do. Very, very unfortunate. Now, did any Eastern insurance companies go
into the theatre here? Any of our big names in New York, have they
ever invested in the theatre? Or Hartford? Well, this was Mutual Benefit Life Insurance
Company. So it is here and everywhere? Umm-hmm. I didn’t realize that they had ever gone
into that. And Mutual Benefit, their financial service
company became involved with these limited partnerships in each of these different areas. But not any more? No. In fact, that company no longer exists. It’s not your fault. (LAUGHTER) But these were very, very, very profitable. Very profitable, obviously. Yeah. Oh, it’s a sensational list of things to
have been involved with. And then when did you start to go on your
own? Well, actually, Heidi had a lot to do with
that. I was working, you know, in this office where
we were doing finance, but coming from the academic world, my interests were obviously
less in the business area, although I benefited greatly from that, than in the creative. So I was very interested in becoming involved
in the creative. And this company for whom I worked at the
time, Mutual Benefit Productions, Fifth Avenue Productions, became involved with INTO THE
WOODS with Rocco and Heidi. And Heidi, in the course of that, involved
me in the process of, you know, going to ad meetings and other things. And she mentored me. (LAUGHTER) And then, subsequently, we did
SECRET GARDEN together, and worked with The Dodgers on THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS. Now, did you come to New York from Berkeley
at the very beginning? Actually, I had gone from Berkeley to UCLA
and then back to New York. How about being a general manager? How do you start doing that? Wow. (LAUGHTER) Where did you come from? That’s the first step. Well, we came from very different backgrounds. My theatrical career started in Florida, where
I worked for Zev Bufman (PH) as a local presenter. I managed the Broadway series in Tampa. And I kind of fell into it from there. I mean, the company was bought out by Pace
Theatrical Group and I ended up going on the road. I toured for a number of years. I was on the road with SOUTH PACIFIC with
Robert Goulet, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with Topol. That brought me into New York, and then I
went out on the road with THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER, which was a wonderful two and
a half years of, you know, every city in America and several countries. Doing what? What does a general manager do in a particular
show? I was on the road as a company manager. What’s the difference between a company
manager and a general manager? Well, the company manager reports directly
to the general manager and is really responsible for the day-to-day operations, especially
when you’re on tour, of getting the cast from city to city, making sure they all have
hotel rooms, making sure they all get paid. Making sure that the show gets paid by the
local presenter and, you know, keeping an eye on the advertising and all of those kind
of things. Wendy, at the time, was working in New York
for Gatchel and Neufeld (PH). You want to tell your side of the story? But how did you get the job with Tyler and
Peter (PH)? Well, basically, I had been at the Weissler
office for five years, I had been Alicia Parker’s assistant. And saw Tyler, interestingly enough, normally
right around midnight. We’d leave the building at the same time. (LAUGHTER) And I’d see this man with all
these file folders always in the elevator. And we started chatting and developed a relationship
and a friendship. And when there was an opening at Gatchel and
Neufeld, I got an interview with Peter and Tyler and ended up as Tyler’s assistant
for seven years, and worked very closely on putting together THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD
WEBBER with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford. We did the whole amphitheatre tour with Jeff. And then, worked from the beginning on CRAZY
FOR YOU with Elizabeth and Roger, as Tyler’s assistant. And when Tyler tragically passed away in July,
after Peter made the decision to, you know, do other wonderful things with his life, don’t
even know how (LAUGHS), but somehow I said to Jeff and Jeff said to me, “Well, hey,
let’s go put on a show together!” And I was Judy Garland and he was Mickey Rooney,
and you know, with Elizabeth and Roger’s incredible support of asking me to general
manage CRAZY FOR YOU and their support in opening up an office, we were fortunate enough,
Jeff and I, we opened our own company, 101 Productions, Ltd. And we were blessed that Rocco and Paul Libin
(PH) gave us a fabulous cubbyhole on that great floor. And we opened up our office, and we were very,
very lucky that we could open our office with a fabulous show like CRAZY FOR YOU and could
set up an independent general manager’s office. And we’ve worked at the Shakespeare Festival,
we did a tour down in Florida for Pace Theatrical of GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, and Red Buttons’
one man show. So we were very fortunate. We’ve had our company about a year and a
half, to work as partners in this way. I don’t think either of us, and probably
nobody I know, sort of goes into this business thinking, “I’m going to be a general manager.” But it just happened for us. And it’s been a wonderful ride. It doesn’t have to be step by step, in order
to have the knowledge of the theatre and the production to be a general manager. There’s no school or course for general
manager. No, you can’t do it without a background
in every aspect. I mean, we’ve both worked in all different
areas. Well, what “every aspect”? I mean, you need a background in– Well, back stage– How about law? Well, I certainly don’t have a law background. You work very closely with the experts that
a team gets put together. I mean, working for someone like Tyler, Tyler
was the best in the business and always will be, because he knew everything. He could have a conversation with a designer,
with a director, with a playwright. There were times that Ken would, you know,
ask me, “Doesn’t that remind you of duh-duh-duh?” and I’d sort of sit there and go, “Duh-duh-duh? I should know what that is, and I don’t.” But someone like Tyler was able to. So I was so fortunate, having been his assistant
and working so closely with him, that I knew the pieces of what needed to necessarily happen. I had not necessarily gone through them on
my own. And working in the relationship that Jeff
and I do, we are very unique in the fact that we are partners and we work on each show together. And we were just fortunate enough that Elizabeth,
when MOON OVER BUFFALO came along, and Ken had the faith and the insight to feel that
we could meet this challenge and we could take this on. Do you work with one production at a time
or more than just one production at a time? We do. We have a wonderful office staff that enables
us and gives us the support to be able to juggle two or three shows at a time. And the economics of the industry that we
work in, unfortunately, you need to just to survive. And the more people you work with and the
more shows you work on, the better equipped you are each time. I was able to know certain things about MOON
OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER. The more experiences you have, the better
prepared you are to know and to be able to trouble-shoot, which really is your job as
the general manager. You’re the support for everyone on that
show, and you need to trouble-shoot for them, so they can go off and create and they don’t
have to worry. You need to have budgeting expertise, so that
Elizabeth’s never put in a precarious position of calling up and saying, you know, “Well,
we ran out of money yesterday.” You know, you have to protect everyone. That’s what your job is. So the more often you have those experiences
and the different people you work with, the better prepared you are. Well then, the choice of a general manager
is very important to the producer, is that so? Are the fees the same for all general managers,
then? Is there a standard fee or do you also negotiate? I think there’s a union, isn’t there? Or is there a standard fee for general managers,
whether it’s a straight play or a musical? Press agents and company managers, but that’s
it. There’s nothing standard about it. Because there are very few general managers
working in this industry. Now, do you also keep a lawyer, like counsel? Yes. Sidney Feinberg (PH) of Laver, Rosensweig
and Hyman (PH). How about getting into press? How do you do that? Well, you get a degree in biology. Or archeology. (LAUGHTER) We’re always joking, we say you’re dealing
with animals. (LAUGHTER) That’s not what you say! Well, buffaloes. Buffaloes, right. And amphibians, whatever. Again, I think, like general managers, there’s
no calling to be a press agent. And I think a lot of press agents have been
actors, a lot have been writers, a lot have been directors. I fell into it with a complete fascination
with the media. I mean, as a kid I was always told to stop
reading magazines and stop watching TV. And I finally can now justify that. But no, I totally fell into it. I was very lucky in having early experiences
of just looking for a job in New York and wanting to work somehow in the theater, of
working with Susan Bloch (PH), who is a wonderful lady, who in the sixties did the press at
Lincoln Center, the first time with Jules Irving (PH) when it was first set up. And so, I had a great introduction. And I just kept at it and just enjoyed it
more and more. But I think, like the manager’s role, we
act as a clearing house for the production. A lot of information flows through us, and
I think that’s what we have to keep up and keep doing. We just have to keep the information flowing,
to the media, to the company, and that is really our primary role. I know, obviously, if you have a Carol Burnett
or something, I think you can make an entree to the press. But how do you develop, let’s say you have
no stars, you have an unknown playwright and you were starting as a press agent, how do
you make that approach to, let’s say, the major newspapers, let alone, you know, the
“Today” show or something like that? Right. You know, obviously, it’s much harder with
an unknown play by an unknown playwright. But there also has to be a reason for producing
it. I mean, most things don’t get produced. I know that sounds like chicken and eggs,
but you know, it’s very rare that you get something like that. There’s a reason for producing something. A producer believes there’ll be an audience
for it. The playwright believes there’ll be an audience. So it’s our job to find the sellable points. You know, is there some aspect of the play
that is intriguing? Is it very topical? Is it very controversial? So you may not have the easy celebrity, but
it’s our job to find those selling points that are buried in there. And it’s hard to be specific. I mean, if you name a show, you can say what
it is. But I think things that have no intrinsic
interest by definition don’t get produced, so it sort of solves itself. Does the Times have more coverage now of television
and movies by far than the legitimate theatre, or not? I think there’s been a softening of all
coverage in the Times. There certainly has been in terms of news
in the Times. Yes, but across the board, and I think that’s
affected the cultural section. The movie advertising must be so advantageous,
these enormous full page ads. Now, the theatre could never try to do that,
can you? Right. But I think they have cut back on editorial. You notice that they run smaller reviews now,
they combine the reviews. I still think the Times does do a lot of coverage. I mean, they’re still maintaining a Sunday
critic. They still run features every Sunday. There is much less daily coverage. I mean, there used to be features almost daily
on the theatre and now it’s less. Yes. So I think it’s purely a reaction to the
amount of advertising being carried. There is less. Is there any way of establishing critics coming
in opening night and coming back to that routine of reviewing a show on opening night? Or if they review it a day or two before,
to have them hold their reviews so that word of mouth has time to get established? Everything that you do is to sell tickets
and then it all depends on that one review the following morning. Right. Well, if we’ve done our job with the whole
marketing team, the reviews shouldn’t matter. I mean, if they’re good, they should be
gravy and help the production. If they’re bad, we should have such momentum
from public interest and word of mouth that they don’t affect the sales. I think now we’ve all learned how to strategize
on openings. We know that the critics have to come a couple
of days early, so we’ve decided which night is the best night to open. And I think actors actually like the idea
of not having all the critics coming on one night. That used to put extraordinary pressure on
that one performance, and now they’re spread out, it takes a little bit of the pressure
off. It also makes things– Some of the people yesterday felt the opposite. That’s right. They said that they would rather get keyed
up for that. You get up for that, yeah. Get the adrenaline going for that one thing. As long as it’s a good performance. (LAUGHTER) But the advance, I was wondering about that. The stories in the press were to the effect
that, for example, VICTOR/VICTORIA has an advance of $15 million. Now, largely, it’s going to get bad reviews,
probably. I suspect it will, at least a couple that
I’ve seen are bad reviews. So, is that $15 million, to the extent that
it’s real, can that melt away all by itself? The reviews aren’t going to affect that? Well, it can. But as long as the show maintains its word
of mouth, which is ultimately what matters, and critics, I think, are just big word of
mouth. And their effect diminishes. A week later, they’re chip paper, you know? (LAUGHTER) I mean, you wrap them– Fish, whatever. We’re going to go to questions now. And I’m sure there’s a lot more that we’re
going to get from you, but right now, we have some questions here. What would you like? YVONNE ROMER
My name is Yvonne Romer (PH) and I’m an administrative intern at the Juilliard School
in the Drama Division. And I’m interested in theatre management
and administration right now. And I was wondering, the production, it seems
to me from listening to you, has run very smoothly. And I was wondering what if, say for example,
Carol Burnett was hurt and she wasn’t able to perform, what is your backup plan for situations
like that? Or if she had said no to the production in
the first place, would you have gone ahead with the project, or how would you have proceeded
with that? There’s a lot there. Who wants to take that on? Second question, first. Yeah, second question. Well, second question, of course we would
have continued on with the show. I mean, she’s marvelous and we’re ecstatic
to have her, but there are other comic actresses in the world and I’m sure we could have
found another one. I mean, the play really stands on its own
two feet, I think, admirably. If she’s injured? I mean, it actually happened– well, she just
had a leg brace on, that’s true. She did play? Yeah, she played. We have a wonderful understudy, a cadre of
understudies. We’re very blessed to have an understudy
who has major credentials in her own right, Janie Phelps (PH). Yes, wonderful. So we’re covered. JOSEPH COREY
Hello, my name is Joseph Corey (PH) and I’m a Sound Engineer intern at the Juilliard School. We’ve spoken about Heidi has been involved
in the production process as a set designer. How involved is a sound designer in the process,
particularly in a farce such as MOON OVER BUFFALO, rather than a musical? Well, certainly less so in MOON than a musical,
because you’re not dealing with the orchestra problem. But Tony Niola (PH) did our sound, and I’ve
worked with him on a lot of shows and he’s extraordinarily good. And he was involved from the very beginning,
in terms of what sort of sound reinforcement we needed and what were the sound effects
and music. There’s a lot of music in the show, in fact,
incidental music. And he was a critical and early part of the
collaboration. That’s part of the definition. When you said he was “very good,” what
does that mean? I mean, what does a sound person do? To me, it’s you don’t know there’s any
sound reinforcement at all. That’s my definition of “good.” And I think he really accomplishes that. You have no idea that anything is ever turned
on. It sounds like natural sound. We have time for just one more question. DIANE SNYDER
Hi. I’m Diane Snyder (PH) with Back Stage newspaper. And I just wanted to know, in the press there
had been a lot of word about how the Carol Burnett role was beefed up after she had been
signed to do the show. How do you, as producers, convince a playwright
to rewrite the show now that you have this star signed? And is there ever any bad feeling there? I think I’d almost ask you where that question
comes from, because certainly, in a way, you’re putting the buggy before the horse or whatever
that expression is. Because Carol came on board with a play that
we all loved, that we felt was very strong. Now, when we got to Boston and it began to
play, we began to realize that the first act needed work, Ken primary among us. Now, the question is, was that first act always
going to have needed work or did it become more apparent because we had someone in that
role of the star power of Carol? I think it was a combination of both. I think that she has so many skills and so
many talents as a comedienne and as an actress that the playwright and the rest of the creative
team wanted to provide her with a broad platform for that. I think, as well, it became apparent to the
creative team, as it played in Boston, that in fact that the first act did need work,
that the Charlotte character and the inter-relationships in the family that we discussed earlier needed
a bit more setting up. So Ken attacked that with alacrity, you know,
with great zest. And it became very different on that level. One quick question to everyone: ticket prices. Are you offering any packages? Do you have any student rush (PH)? Is there any way of bringing down the ticket
price or making tickets more available to more people? Could you answer that quickly? Jeff or Wendy? We did a direct mail early on. We opened at a unique time, in September,
you know, with many holidays and people coming back from school. We also, when we have ticket availability,
we go to the TKTS booth. And we were fortunate to have TDF subsidize
us, so we had TDF tickets available in the beginning also. Thank you very much, and there is much, much
more to be asked, much more to be said on this wonderful production team that’s here
today on MOON OVER BUFFALO. This is coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York, and it just one more of the American Theatre Wing’s
programs on “Working in the Theatre.” Thank you very much for being here, and thank
you, production team, for coming and sharing all this wonderful knowledge with us. (APPLAUSE)

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