Would I have produced Rent if I had seen a reading?

Demos of Rent were famously circling the biz for years before the show was eventually picked up for a tryout at the New York Theatre Workshop, and then eventually revolutionized musical theater as we know it.

Lots of people heard the tunes, read the script, saw readings . . . and they all passed.

Why?

Well, many of them probably just didn’t like it.  And so they should have passed.  First rule of producing?  Do what you love, and only what you love.  Because there is nothing worse than when something doesn’t work . . . and you never liked it in the first place.

But I have this funny feeling that many people passed because it wasn’t perfect.  They saw too many flaws, too many imperfections, and just wrote it off.

One of the greatest tools a Producer needs is imagination.  Producers need to be able to look beyond what something is . . . and see what it can become.  It ain’t easy.  Going to readings and workshops is like looking at a kid and saying, “Yep, with the right education, the right guidance, this one can be President.”

But what Producers also need is the ability to accept that nothing is perfect, especially early in the process.  Shoot, Rent still isn’t perfect. Les Miz?  Nope.  And while I hear Hamilton is the most incredible thing to bust onto a Broadway stage in a long time, I’d bet an actual Hamilton that it isn’t perfect either.  But these shows’ imperfections didn’t stand in their way of being successful.

I talk to a lot of want-to-be first time Producers, Writers, Investors, etc. and many are sitting back, waiting to get into the game, because they want the “perfect” opportunity.  They wait to write anything because they haven’t come across the perfect idea.  They wait to invest because they are waiting for the perfect cast and show combo.  They wait, wait, wait . . .

And what happens more often than not is that they sit by the edge of the pool, watching the other kids play in the water . . . as time ticks on.

I get it.  We all want to be “perfect,” even though we know it doesn’t exist.  I was the same way.

In fact, I remember pitching Hal Prince about a hundred ideas for shows once . . . and in the middle of it he stopped me and said, “Ken, do you remember what was the first show I ever produced?  It was The Pajama Game.  West Side Story was my third show.  Don’t come out of the box trying to produce West Side Story.  Be happy if you get The Pajama Game.  Do something.  Anything.  But start.”

If you look for perfect as a Producer . . . or in your life . . . all sorts of amazing imperfect things will pass you by.

Don’t let them.

 

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Comments
  • Ted says:

    “They wait to write anything because they haven’t come across the perfect idea.”

    Perfect ideas, or even great ideas, or even “original” ideas don’t happen very often in a writer’s lifetime. Some writers are skillful enough to weave a bland idea into a story, but “good” ideas are hard to come by and I have abandoned many ideas that didn’t hold my interest because I didn’t love the idea. So – I continue to wait…

  • Daniel says:

    So Hal Prince thought The Pajama Game was no West Side Story? That’s a bit harsh.

    But the talk of “waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity” puts me in mind of the story that’s been circulating in the wake of EL Doctorow’s death recently about how he came to start writing Ragtime. He couldn’t come up with an idea, so he just started writing about the wall he was staring at. Nothing’s perfect from the get-go; that’s why one polishes and shapes and edits and reworks. And sometimes why one has to just start. Start something. Start anything. Worry about what it will become later; there’ll be more than enough time for that.

  • Vynnie Meli says:

    It doesn’t have to be perfect? Whew! (I’ve got that.)

  • Susan Corso says:

    What great advice for life as well!

  • I’ve heard this essential sentiment before, but it is always good to hear it again, especially from a new voice. And it was the perfect 😉 time for me to hear it. Thank you.

  • David Merrick Jr says:

    Great Hal Prince story. I’m impressed!!

  • As embarrassing as it is to admit, I too, didn’t love RENT, at first…mostly bc I just wasn’t ready for it yet… it was ahead of its time. But, if you’re looking for what just might possibly be the next RENT, check out goodflightmusical.com

  • Matthew says:

    And so the long arm of George Abbott continues. Abbott > Prince > Davenport. It is a shame that, 20 years after his passing at 107, there’s still no biography. Perhaps before Hal has left us at Abbott’s tender 107, plus 1 day, someone will attempt a dual biography, spanning more than 100 years of Broadway history. That would be epic.

  • Adryan says:

    Thanks. I needed that.

  • Michael L. says:

    Wonderful, moving advice (literally and figuratively). Thank you.

  • Kate Fuglei says:

    One of the best pieces of advice you’ve shared, Ken. And that is saying something. ALL of the successful people I know just started, went ahead, took and are taking the “leap into the dark” as Martha Graham put it. I used to think that being a perfectionist was something to be desired. As I have gotten older and had more experience, I actually think it is a real killer, a real “stopper” of creativity and moving forward. Thanks for reminding us to be messy, to just get started.

  • Jill Melanie Wirth says:

    Thank you.

    • J.K. Charles says:

      Synopsis – LOOKING FOR PARADISE, is a two act, 87 page comedy set in a two bedroom condo in Florida. Jan and Craig Harding have moved from Boston to Green Park, Florida. Craig sees Florida as an opportunity to start over. He’s an optimist. Jan is allergic to Florida. She’s marooned in the middle of a swamp with a husband who identifies with Harry Potter. She’s a pessimist.

      At Rise: Craig and Kelso are working up stage manipulating oversized furniture through undersized doorways. The play’s dialogue and down stage comic development override and take precedence as Jan attempts to contend with eccentric neighbors. Anything that can go wrong goes wrong. A tropical down poor leads to a leaking roof, lightning crashing, lights going out, no a/c, and giant cockroaches roaming free.

      Jan’s alone in her condo with no electricity and no a/c. It’s raining in her living room. She is holding an umbrella. The chirping, screeching, croaking sounds of the swamp come through the open window. Jan can’t take it anymore. She finally surrenders, and accepts the plight of the Floridian.

      Log Line – Jan and Craig Harding have lost their jobs and made their escape from a freezing over priced Boston to the promise of a tropical paradise in Florida. They discover what it takes to become Floridians and realize they are now outcasts from the refined civilization they once knew and are stranded in the middle of a glorified swamp.

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