Stephen Sondheim helps answer the Q “Why we do what we do.”

Writing theater, producing theater, acting in the theater, making costumes for the theater, ushering for the theater . . . none of it is easy.  But this note from The Great Mr. S. and the accompanying letter he received that appeared in a recent edition of The Dramatist, (A publication of The Dramatist Guild), is a great reminder of exactly why we all got into this business, or why I did anyway.

– – – – –

For those who wonder why we do what we do, I offer in evidence the following letter, written to the Cincinnati Playhouse by a man who won a promotional contest for John Doyle’s production of Merrily We Roll Along.

Paste it on your bathroom mirror to read whenever you lose heart.

Who says art is a luxury?

Stephen Sondheim

To just say thank you for the tickets to last night’s play could not convey my gratitude for the evening we had. I am not good with words or expressing myself but feel I need to let you know what your generosity in donating the tickets meant to my wife and me. When I received your email saying I had won them I had mixed emotions. I was happy to be able to give my wife a well-deserved night out, but never have attended a musical, I did not know if I really wanted to go. I knew my wife would probably enjoy it though so I agreed to come. We have been married for 27 years now and this was the second night we had out in the past twenty years. We just literally cannot afford nights like this. We do not dine out, go to movies, or do anything that requires extra money. We both work hard and have been at our jobs for years. It is just the past twenty years have brought such heartache and expense we have no disposable income. I have seen my wife lose three children through miscarriages and the pain and hurt caused, then we lost our home and all we own in a fire. We started over and in ’97 the flood came and the same month our youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. So with the expenses of rebuilding, over and over, the expenses of his medications and hospital bills we just have nothing extra for ourselves. I tell you this to just let you know that an evening like last night was something I have been unable to give my wife but was one that now I know I have to no matter what.

As a working man, I did not know if I would fit in, but was made to feel welcome by all involved. I always had thought why see a play just watch it on TV or see the movie. Well what I experienced last night changed my life. I want to experience it again and again. But more importantly for me was the impact it had on my wife. From the smile and the glow she had as she watched the play, to joy she had expressed in discussing the play, I saw something I had not seen my wife have in years…pure joy. No thoughts of our son’s pain at the moment, no hurtful memories of the things we have lost but just pure joy at the evening we had experienced. Our drive home and the hours talking through the night were the most enjoyable we have had in years.

So to just say thank you for an evening like this is not enough. To some it is just a few free tickets. To us, it will change our lives forever because as my wife say and asked, “Could we ever do this again?” then answered, “Well of course we could never afford it.” Not as quickly as she asked. I realized that no matter what, Playhouse in The Park will be a part of live for years to come. I will sacrifice my lunch every day until we can attend again. We need these moments of joy.

I know I rambled. I know this probably does not make much sense to you but I somehow wanted you to know that the tickets for us were much more than just another of many nights out on the town. It gave us an experience we will never forget. You allowed me to give my wife a night I could not have done without your generosity. I can never repay you for what you have given me. I wish I had the funds to donate but do not. But I am a hardworking man. If you can ever use someone to sweep floors, pick up trash, clean toilets, etc. I would gladly volunteer to give back to show my gratitude for what you have given me. Thank you.

– – – – –

Pretty amazing stuff, right?  To read some more amazing stuff from the genius brain of Mr. S. himself, check out the incredible Finishing The Hat (a must for any theater writer) or his bio.  Both are some of my favorite reads.

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)


– Come to my Producer’s Perspective social on 12/20!  Click here to RSVP!

– Win 2 Tickets to see Elf on Broadway.  Click here!

– Vote for Producer of the Year 2012!  Who will it be?!?  Click here to cast your vote today!

  • That was beautiful. I’m glad I was home when I read it, and not at Starbucks. Too many tears. Some of your posts need to come with a warning: Reading in public may result in embarrassing levels of tears or laughter.

  • p.s. says:

    Nobody warned me, so (unlike Mahesh) I actually AM at Starbucks, reading this beautiful report and crying of joy and laughing and loving. After an afternoon of rehearsing a song from Merrily We Roll Along here’s yet another occasion to fall in love with my profession. Thank you!_

  • alex says:

    I love this, thank you for posting it.

  • Nancy Paris says:

    Makes me proud to be a part of a profession that can evoke such life changing experiences. Thanks for passing it on!

  • This is exactly why I’m forming SWIFTLY TILTING THEATRE PROJECT in Queens!

  • Solange De Santis says:

    This is why I love the art form of theater over the art form of film. Sure, I like movies and some great ones have moved me deeply. But there is nothing that catches my heart, brain and gut as that live theater experience. What that man wrote was equal to little seven-year-old me at the Mark Hellinger Theater at the original production of My Fair Lady, my first Broadway show. The lights dimmed, the orchestra swept into that thrilling overture and I was transfixed, enchanted … hooked, totally hooked. For life. Fast forward to 2005. I’m at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, a production of The Winter’s Tale. At intermission, the man next to me asks me a question, says it is his first Shakespeare play. “What do you think?” I ask. “It’s very powerful,” he replies, with that same sense of wonder. Yes, theater matters.

  • eva says:

    I felt the same way when I was at Drood and Restoration Comedy at The Flea. For a few hours one gets a respite from the horrors of living sometimes which is why I love comedies and musical theater so much. Dead baby plays I could do without. Thanks for sharing that lovely letter.

  • janis says:

    That is why I spend so much time writing shows, knowing some may never even reach the stage. But when they do and there’s people in the audience like the guy who wrote that letter, it’s all worth it.

    Where I live so little money in theatre, but there’s lots of people just like that guy who sit in the audience. They laugh and cry and they sing along. And a few write letters, not as eloquent, but wonderful still. And there’s not enough money in the world to buy the joy of doing that for someone.

    Thank you for posting it.

  • Good job Ken! It reads even better online than in DG.

  • Leonie Webb says:

    Thanks for sharing! Great motivation! 🙂

  • Ruth says:

    Beautiful comments. This couple should not be deprived such pleasure and joy because of financial woes. We need to make the arts as accessible to lower income individuals as possible. If you can get us more details, I would like to try to raise the funds to get them a season’s subscription to Cincinnati Playhouse or other local theatres.

  • Sue says:

    Thank you for today’s blog. “We need these moments of joy.” I will remember that.

  • I needed this today.

  • J. Garrett says:

    If these folks could ever make it out to Baltimore (I’d pay for it myself if I could) there will be free tickets and 2 cold beers waiting for them at Single Carrot. A great read.

  • As a young, up-and-coming non-profit theater company in NYC, it means so much to me to be able to read a story like this. Producing is hard work, but knowing about the power of theater makes it all worth it.

    Thank you for sharing,

    Erin Cronican
    Managing Director, The Seeing Place

  • Shannon D. says:

    Oh my! What a beautiful letter! Brings tears to my eyes!

    These are the people who deserve to see shows, and enjoy themselves and have “pure joy” – but EXTREME Premium Ticket prices keep the “average, hard-working people” from experiencing that “luxury” 🙁

    • Shannon D. says:

      Sorry, I guess that’s not what a Producer wants to hear.

      • Tobi says:

        Shannon, a truly smart producer will recognize that the cost of giving away two tickets will be returned tenfold as this couple who would have never seen a show on their own have now converted to customers for life.

        Before I go further, let me just say that no, I do not agree with the super-duper premium $400 a seat that Broadway thinks they can get away with charging. But I do believe that theatre is a life-changing experience that provides true value, and that it probably warrants a ticket price higher than the average movie.

        This couple has learned that value. Just like they prioritize the necessities of life and have sacrificed their nights out to pay for the day to day, now they will find other ways to sacrifice because they recognize that theatre is also something they literally can’t live without. That is, if the definition of life includes things like finding moments of joy after decades of heartache, and finding new ways to connect with your partner of almost three decades.

        For the smart producer, this should be exactly what he or she wants to hear. And maybe those smart producers will start to recognize that they need to do more of this – whether “this” is giving away a certain amount of tickets to each show, or offering a reduced price for a certain amount of tickets, or whatever. Something to get those people in who don’t realize that they TRULY NEED theatre in their lives.

  • Daniel says:

    yes, and, to take ourselves back to the basic impulse of making and experiencing theater, before we divide off into playwrights, producers and audiences, see this weeks’s equally moving New Yorker article…

  • I do not happen to know anyone at that theater, but if I got an email like this at my theater, I think I could find a way to arrange for a pair of season tickets for this couple. With all they have endured, surely we can share with them the magic of live theater. Ken, do you know the Artistic Staff there? Would you ask on our behalf?
    “At this festive season of the year, it is more than generally desireable that we should make some provision…”
    Let me know if there is anything I might do to help,

    • Duane Poole says:

      I, too, would be happy to contribute toward season tickets for this couple. Heck, I’ll fund the whole thing if someone can reach the theatre and arrange it.

  • Lee says:

    Sheer eloquence… Very moving.

  • Alicia says:

    I too would like to donate money toward season tickets, or pay for an entire season myself. Can we get some details?

  • Linda says:

    Anyway that we cd buy this couple tickets in the future?

Leave a Reply to p.s. Cancel reply

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