Podcast Episode 69 Transcript – Meredith Blair
Ken: Hello, everyone. This is The Producer’s Perspective Podcast. So a little story before we get started – I was in Florida on a golf course recently and I asked the person I was playing with if they had ever seen a Broadway show, I had never met them before this day, and they said “Oh, sure I saw a Broadway show. I saw Wicked at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale just a few weeks ago.” So I came close to correcting him, about to say “Oh, it’s not Broadway because it was at the Broward Center and not New York,” and then of course I didn’t, because the truth is Broadway isn’t just in Times Square anymore, it’s all over America, and today’s guest is responsible for booking those Broadway shows at places like the Broward Center or the Wang Center or that big performing arts center near you. Welcome to the podcast the president of the Booking Group, Meredith Blair. Welcome, Meredith.
Ken: So the Booking Group is one of the big three, maybe four, most powerful booking groups in our industry. Currently they’re booking the national tours of The Book of Mormon, An American in Paris, Fun Home, Bridges of Madison County, Motown, The Bodyguard, Something Rotten and, yes, Hamilton, never heard of it, as well as a bunch more shows. Previously they’ve booked, oh, well let’s start with this question, Meredith – how many national tours, in your career, have you booked?
Meredith: Oh my God, I wish you’d asked me this before we started, I could have counted. I have no idea. The Booking Group has been here since 1996 so we’re 20 years old, so I figure 20 shows a year for 20 years.
Ken: Wow, 400 shows.
Meredith: Oh my God, now I’m going to faint. But yeah, probably, give or take
Ken: Okay, the next question is I want you to imagine you’re in a bar.
Meredith: No one who’s listening to this could ever imagine me in a bar. Okay, that’s a lie.
Ken: What’s the smallest city in the country that you’ve booked a show in?
Meredith: Are you talking about the Equity tours?
Ken: Any city; just give me one of the small ones, like Harlingen, Texas.
Meredith: Harlingen, Texas, there’s one. Personally or my office?
Ken: Your office.
Meredith: I’m guessing, there you go, that sounds like a good one.
Ken: Harlingen, Texas. I played there with the national tour of A Grand Night for Singing myself. So imagine you’re at a bar in Harlingen, Texas, obviously they don’t get a lot of theatre there, and some guy saddles up next to you and says “Hey, darlin’. What do you do for a living?” How would you answer that question to someone who doesn’t know the theatre?
Meredith: I would say I book the national tours of Broadway shows, and oftentimes when I say that to people who aren’t in the business they think that that means that I book tickets. People who come across our website sometimes think we book tickets. So there’s a little bit of “What does that mean, you book the national tour?” so I have to explain that we take shows that have opened in New York and we program them across the country. Oftentimes they’ll think that we literally take the show out of Broadway and put it on the road and we have to explain that no, we actually replicate other companies. So, yes, we kind of map out its course and we decide which cities we’re going to play in when and which theatres we’re going to play in for how long and we negotiate the deals with the local presenter for how much they’re going to pay for the show or what the deal might be and that’s what we do, we kind of chart the course for any number of shows and where they’re going to play across North America.
Ken: I never thought about that “booking” potential word problem there, but in England “book tickets”, that’s what they say right?
Ken: Interesting. So how did you get started booking? What was your career path?
Meredith: Well I actually started – I was an actress many moons ago – but I started with a little company called the Pace Theatrical Group with Miles Wilkin, back when it was just getting started, and I started out as the receptionist for the Pace Theatrical Group and, as Brian Becker will tell you, I was a terrible receptionist so they had to find something else for me to do. At the time, we were in Houston and Sugar Babies was coming to town. At the time, the big shows were The King and I with Yul Brynner, Annie, A Chorus Line and Sugar Babies with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller. Anyway, they had just started a Broadway series in Houston, the Pace Theatrical Group, they were just starting out, and Sugar Babies was coming to town and somebody had to advance the show. I had a background in theatre, Mile’s threw the rider on my desk and said “Figure it out”. Well, since I wasn’t very good at being a receptionist, I somehow figured out how to advance the show and he said “You know what? You have no more business answering the phones, however you do possibly have a career in working with these tours as they’re coming to town and facilitating them,” which I did, so I worked with Mile’s for five years, moved to New York and helped him open a New York office for Pace Theatrical and then I left for eight years and went to work for Frank Sinatra and I booked Frank Sinatra and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé and Liza Minnelli, I booked the Rat Pack tour, so I was gone for eight years and then Sinatra was getting ready to retired and I missed Broadway and I came back to New York. Long story short, the Booking Group is an amalgamation, is that the word I’m looking for? It’s a merger, that’s what it is. There was a company called The Touring Artists Group that was run by Michel Vega and there was The Booking Office which was run by Kevin McCollum and Jeffery Seller and I came back to New York just about the time that Rent was opening and Jeffrey called me – I had made a deal with Michel Vega and I was going to go in and work at the Touring Artists Group, at the same time Rent hit and Jeffrey Seller called me and said “We’ve got this big show opening, we don’t want to be booking agents anymore, can you come over and run our agency?” and I said “I can’t, I’m working with Michel.” So then I got this bright idea – how about if we all merged and how about if we brought Pace Theatrical, which I can’t remember what they were called by then, it may have been Live Nation.
Ken: Clear Channel?
Meredith: Clear Channel, yeah, one of the names that they were between now and then, and said “How about we all join forces?” and Miles, who is really good at that sort of thing, figured out a way for us to do exactly that and then, just like the Brady Bunch, we became the Booking Group and that’s sort of how we got there. That was twenty years ago.
Ken: Twenty years. So you’ve seen a lot of things in the past twenty years.
Meredith: I have.
Ken: How has the touring industry changed in the last couple decades? What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
Meredith: I think it’s almost more amazing how much it hasn’t, to tell you the truth. It’s changed in that the road has gotten bigger – in twenty years more performing arts centers have opened, more markets that used to be tertiary markets have become primary markets or become multiple week markets, so the road has really expanded. A tour is longer than it used to be simply because there’s more markets to take it to, more viable markets to take it to. And I suppose, I guess, the other change is that it’s become more liberal in terms of what the road wants to see. When Rent first became the hit that it was there was huge trepidation – it was a big hit, it was on the cover of Time Magazine, it won the Pulitzer, but I’m not sure you can put that on a Broadway series subscription. Maybe you bring it into town as a special or something, as a phenomenon, but there was some apprehension about giving that show to subscribers, especially in the day when the big shows on the Broadway series were The Sound of Music and the R&H catalogue, which were hugely successful, The King and I or whatever, that’s what people were used to seeing so bringing in something edgy was a roll of the dice and I think what we all learned was that everybody underestimated the interest in the public out there, outside of New York, their knowledge about what was happening in New York and why wouldn’t they want to see something edgy or something new or something provocative? They wanted to see it just as much as the people in New York did and it was, needless to say, a huge hit. So that was a big turning point, I think, people either underestimating what the road, the rest of America, was willing to and wanted to see.
Ken: You mentioned that a lot of it hasn’t changed – what’s something that really has stayed the same over the past twenty years?
Meredith: Oh, the dynamic between the producer and the presented. Every year we do the Spring Road Conference and there’s always talk about some panel that’s just a variation on the panel that we’ve done every year which is “Why can’t they just see eye to eye?” and one side is always convinced that the other side is screwing them, and here we sit, as the agents, in the middle, trying to make sure that neither one of them is screwing the other and that it’s an equitable deal for all but there’s this inherent mistrust between the producers and the presenters that I wish didn’t exist because we’re all sort of one big happy family and one can’t exist without the other but there’s a mistrust that’s gone on for years. Maybe that’s just the nature of the beast.
Ken: Do you have any ideas on how we fix that? Is there any way to fix it? You do sit in an interesting position – technically you work for the producer, right?
Meredith: Absolutely, our fiduciary is to the producer, that’s who we work for.
Ken: However, you do sit in the middle as this mediator between the two.
Ken: If you had all of the producers on one side of the room and all of the presenters on the other side of the room, how would you get the farmer and the cow to be friends?
Meredith: I don’t know, I guess I’d get them to tap dance.
Ken: Or what’s the biggest challenge that they both face?
Meredith: I think that neither one of them has a true understanding – and there are some, by the way, who ride the fence and do both, there are some presenters who are also producers who actually do see it from both sides – but I think that those who don’t, which is the majority, who don’t play on both sides, don’t have a true understanding of what the other one’s numbers really are and how real they are, or aren’t, or where the hidden money is or whatever. That’s where the inherent mistrust comes – “I’m sure they’re charging us too much for the guarantee, they’re gouging us, it couldn’t possibly cost that much. I’m sure that the local expenses really aren’t that much. Why do they need that much for facility fees? It’s all going in their pockets, the royalty participants are getting screwed.” There’s just this feeling that somehow the other side is getting one over on them and that’s, you know, it hasn’t changed and it’s sort of the nature of the beast and that’s our job as the agent, is to kind of quell that feeling and to make sure that everybody feels like they’re coming away with a fair deal.
Ken: What makes a good tour? I mean part of your job, of course, is to sniff out what you think is going to work on the road, both for the presenters and also to advise the producers and say “Listen, there’s something here,” or “There may not be something here.” When you go and see a show, what’s on your checklist of “This will tour well. This won’t tour well”? Is there a formula for what makes a great tour?
Meredith: I don’t think there’s a formula for it but one thing I will say is – we’ve addressed this at Spring Road conferences before – the notion that “Oh, this will be a great tour for the road,” which drives me crazy because it’s so condescending. A show that may not get critical acclaim in New York or do well at the box office, “No worries, it’s a great show for the road,” like they’re all stupid on the road or something, or they have no taste or whatever. So that’s a little bit disturbing and I’ve almost never seen that argument hold – if it’s a flop in New York, generally speaking it’s a flop on the road. There have been a few exceptions. I should maybe retract the road flop, but it’s not as successful as the producers might have hoped in New York. Legally Blonde is the poster child for that – it didn’t get great reviews in New York, it didn’t run as long as it might have in New York, although look what happened in London, I think it won the Olivier, huge business, great reviews in London, but they had chance to reconfigure it too, but that had a 92 week tour which is exceptionally long for a non-blockbuster show. I mean we played literally every place in North America that a full week tour could play and it did great business, it was a hugely successful title. Which brings me to something else that you didn’t ask but many times, more often than not, when a tour goes out of something that was not critically well received in New York, the producers have a second bite at the apple, they have a chance to retool their show, and I can assure you that the tour that went out of Legally Blonde, I bet they wish they had brought that show to New York. The same thing was true of Shrek, the same thing was true of The Addams Family. A lot of these shows that were really big titles, they got a second chance to really revisit, figure out what didn’t go right in New York and fix it for the road. More often than not, the road productions were far superior to what was in New York. It’s not always about the production values.
Ken: And what about shows that don’t play Broadway? Is it possible to tour a show that doesn’t play Broadway? I know you have The Bodyguard out now.
Meredith: Going out, yeah.
Ken: Or going out now. What are the odds? I come to you and I’m like “I’ve got a title, I really think it will be great for the road,” he says condescendingly, “but I don’t think I want to bring it into New York.” Is it possible?
Meredith: I’ve had a lot of people ask me that recently. Generally speaking, I would say the answer is no. I mean these are Broadway series, by definition they’re booking Broadway shows. There are titles, let’s see, so there’s The Bodyguard, there’s Dirty Dancing and then there’s Flashdance, so titles like that, where there’s a familiarity, there’s no learning curve on what the show is, those tend to do pretty well if it’s a big enough title. Those titles have performed fairly well because, again, there’s no learning curve, you say Flashdance, you say Dirty Dancing, people know exactly what that is – they haven’t seen it in a musical form but they know what that is. Those can often do better than the new show that came to New York, that even won a Tony award, but nobody knows what the title means – In the Heights, great show, beautifully received, beatifically produced, and a little guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote it and he seemed to know what he was doing, but it didn’t do as well as some of the other titles might have done because there was no name recognition. Memphis struggled a little bit in the same way and we’ll see what happens with Fun Home. These are titles that require education of the audience so presenters have to work a little harder on those.
Ken: I know I am super thankful that you got a tour of Bridges of Madison County out this year.
Meredith: Me too. I’ll go back to your question – how can I tell what’s going to make it on the road – sometimes I actually lose my aim, it isn’t an objective at all, it’s just about something that I’ve fallen in love with and I just feel like it needs to be seen or it didn’t get as full a life as it might have gotten here or maybe this time it will be true that it’s a great show for the road and it just wasn’t for New York. So Bridges is certainly one that fell into that category for me. It won Best Score and it was actually pretty well received in New York, it just, for whatever reason, didn’t find its home here, but it’s out there, it’s a beautiful production right now, it’s a little tour, it’s 29 weeks, and I’m thankful that Networks was able to figure out a way – because they had the same passion that I did – to make it work and it’s beautiful and it’s out there and I’m truly proud of it.
Ken: Well as a producer on the Broadway company I am so thankful because everybody I talk to about it says “Meredith got that thing out.”
Meredith: Sheer force of will!
Ken: So thank you. What about plays? Is there a market on the road for plays anymore?
Meredith: There hasn’t been for a while, which has been distressing to me. There was a while there that I tried to get a play out every year. The pinnacle, I think, of touring plays, at least in my tenure, taking War Horse out of the equation because that is a play, of course it is, but it’s sort of a phenomenon in and of itself, but prior to that 12 Angry Men was the most successful play that I had seen and it was out for two seasons and it did really good business, it was with Richard Thomas, and it was kind of the perfect storm – people were familiar with the title, they liked the star, it was a brilliant production and reasonable priced and everybody did well with it, so that was kind of the heyday of touring plays, and then, in subsequent years, other plays went out and people lost money on them or they, correctly or incorrectly, perceived that Broadway series audiences didn’t want to see them, that they only wanted to see musicals, which I’m not sure how true that was, maybe there wasn’t necessarily as much money to be made out of plays, but you’ve done a podcast with Jeff Chelesvig who makes a mission to do a play and I know that his subscribers come up to him and say to him “Thank God you still do this. Thank you for bringing that in. I never would have seen this if you hadn’t.” August: Osage County, which is another one that had a pretty good tour and was also a bit of a phenomenon for its time, that had a 35 or a 36 week tour, that did fairly well. Maybe without naming names, there have been plays since then that didn’t do as well, people did lose money on and I think people just lost their nerve to do it. Now, the good news is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is going out, it will open in October, which probably has, next to War Horse, the second longest tour booked for a play – it’s 52 weeks already and, from what I understand, the reactions to the season announcements, when they announced Curious Incident is coming, it’s got a huge response, which is great, really, really encouraging that the public is ready for that again.
Ken: Do you credit that knowledge of the book or is the audience just…
Meredith: More accepting of what’s happening in New York?
Ken: Yeah, is it because of the internet? Are we finding that they’re just more in touch with what’s happening here?
Meredith: Maybe so. It might have to do with social media. It’s the experience of seeing that show, you just can’t stop talking about it, so I think the word of mouth, the reviews it got, the Tony award, the book, certainly people are familiar with the book, it’s just an amazing, once in a lifetime theatrical experience and I think that word has gotten out.
Ken: So this is a very big country with lots of different cultures and different accents and all sorts of different types of people and you have to sit in the middle of the producers and presenters – I know, when I’ve produced tours, I always get the presenters coming to me and they’re like “Ken, we want to talk about this marketing because this isn’t going to work in our market, our people are different.” Do you find that marketing should change, has to change, when it reaches certain areas of the country?
Meredith: Yes, sometimes. I think that producers certainly need to be open to that. Oftentimes a producer will become very entrenched and very precious about their artwork or their marketing campaigns – and some shows, by the way, have to be that way. I wouldn’t mess with the formula of The Book of Mormon, why would you? It’s not broken, don’t fix it. It works, it’s always worked and it continues to work, but there are other campaigns where you have to listen to the local presenter, you really do. Sometimes they’re not necessarily always right but if there is some perception that their audience is not going to receive or get or appreciate what you’re putting out there, marketing wise, why not be flexible and work with them on it? They’re, most of the times, at risk so, yeah, I think that there can be some marketing campaigns that stick more in some markets than others.
Ken: You mentioned earlier that you have a non-union division. What is the place for non-union tours in the market? Has it grown, has it decreased? There’s been lots of this controversy, certainly on the union front, about it, but how necessary are non-union tours to the health of the road? How big of market is it? Many of us may not even know how large it is.
Meredith: It’s pretty big, I mean I have a staff of five people that work just in the non-Equity department alone, mostly because it’s much more time and labor intensive and takes much more time. Instead of doing one city a week or every two weeks you’re doing four to five cities a week – that’s a lot of bookings. It’s much more intricate and, frankly, much harder than what I do. I look at it as sort of the natural evolution of things – if you’re looking at the full life of a title, a show will go out and, take Cinderella for instance, which has had a hugely successful Equity tour, it’s played almost all of the Equity markets, done phenomenally well in all of them and that’s a two year tour, and then the natural evolution is, after that, it will go to non-Equity where it can play the tertiary markets and it’s physically lighter on its feet and able to load in more quickly than the current Equity tour so it’s able to play the little Harlingen, Texas and more markets than the other tour physically could have done. Whereas if we just stayed Equity with that tour, maybe we would have gotten another half a year or something but it wouldn’t have given us time, even though it was very successful, for a successful return. If we’d only been out there two years, if we come back two years later, it’s too soon for a repeat. However, you’ve got the non-Equity tour going out and suddenly you’ve got two or three more years of touring, five years later it is time to go back to Hartford or Milwaukee or wherever it had a successful date on the Equity tour, so it kind of gives you that chance to extend the life of it and to come back to places and not come back too soon but it also allows us to play the smaller markets that, physically and financially, can’t handle the bigger tours.
Ken: I never actually thought about it as a way to loop back. I’ve always thought, yeah, it’s this natural evolution you described perfectly, how shows trickle down successfully, but then to get a chance to go back as well, that can be very lucrative for all the parties, including those New York investors, which is what our Broadway producers are always concerned about. What’s the timeline for booking a show these days, in terms of a show opens on Broadway this spring, 2016, and is successful – we won’t call it a massive hit, it’s successful – when does that tour go out?
Meredith: If a tour opens in the fall of ’16?
Ken: Spring of ’16. Right now.
Meredith: Spring of ’16. Well, normally I would have said 2017-18 but we’re in a very odd cycle right now, it’s a big topic of conversation because it’s, what, the end of March? The 2017-18 season – and, by the way, the current season hasn’t finished opening yet – the 2017-18 touring season is almost put to bed, which is crazy early and I’m not sure that it’s necessarily going to set the standard for the way things go, going forward, it’s just an odd set of circumstances that led us here, which is that we’ve had two enormously successful seasons in New York – knock on wood for all of us – it’s a great thing, so there are lots of shows that are going into their second year, which would be the 2017-18 season, An American in Paris, Something Rotten, Fun Home, there’s all of these shows that still have to complete their two to three year run so they have to play out the rest of their bookings in 2017-18 so they should, in theory, get booked first. Then you have this new slate of shows that opened this fall – and mostly shows don’t open in the fall, they open in the spring – this is an unusual season as well, where so many shows open in the fall, maybe it’s a reaction to Hamilton, I don’t know, but that many shows opened in the fall, and that many shows opened to great reviews, so to have two seasons where so many shows were so successful and they’ve opened to such critical acclaim, it’s almost like the presenters didn’t have to wait and see what happened in the spring, which is a good thing and a bad thing, it puts the shows that are opening this spring, in particular, at a disadvantage because now they’re late to the ball through no fault of their own, it’s just the way things happened to be, so many of those slots are already taken by those shows that opened this season before or by the shows that have already opened in the fall that people already know they want, whether it wins a Tony award or not, that’s not what they’re waiting for this season, they’re not waiting to see if On Your Feet wins a Tony award – they’ve seen it, they know their audiences like it, “Give me a date!”, and who am I to say no?
Ken: They’ll get two, whether they like it or not. So we’ve all heard about how well Broadway is doing lately – grosses are way up, attendance is very good, sometimes it slips a little bit but it’s overall good. Is there a correlation between the business in New York and the business on the road? Is the business on the road at its best?
Meredith: I think it is. Yeah, business on the road is pretty spectacular right now. Shows haven’t gotten any cheaper, by the way. Neither have global expenses, going back to that, but I remember four or five years ago, it was, I would say, on the average show, not the blockbusters, maybe 20-25% of the time a show would go into overages. I’m looking at Cabaret which just opened, maybe seven weeks ago, I think, and six weeks out of seven we’ve gone into overages. It’s Cabaret! It’s a beautiful production of Cabaret, by the way, but I’m not sure that would have happened five years ago, so more often than not shows are hitting those overages and that, I think, has to do with dynamic pricing because grosses are going up. Somebody should really – I’m sure somebody already has – do the analysis of whether the attendance has or not, but the grosses are certainly higher. I think the attendance is up as well, I know the subscription bases are up substantially from where they were five years ago, so the road is very healthy right now.
Ken: We talked a bit about things that have changed and things that haven’t changed – generally speaking, have the deals changed? Are we still seeing the traditional guarantee model of a piece of overage or a four wall? What are you seeing? Are people going “Let’s try something different and unique,” or generally are you see the same?
Meredith: There’s really three structures – there’s the guarantee; the majority of shows go out on a guarantee. A guarantee with a quote-unquote “royalty” – it’s really a variable guarantee. Reimbursement for local musicians if you’re a musical and a split is determined by, frankly, how hot the show is, the back end split. Then there’s the terms deal, which is a shared risk deal. The Book of Mormon and Wicked and most of the blockbusters go out, generally speaking, on that sort of a deal. Then there’s the four wall which I think Disney tends to favor with things like The Lion King where the presenter has no risk but the producer takes the lion’s share of the profit. So those are the three standard deal scenarios but there are variations on those themes – the guarantees can be higher or lower, the backend split is higher or lower. Terms deals is probably where there’s the most variance because a terms deal can mean any number of things, it’s either just advertising off the top or it’s advertising and musicians off the top or it’s advertising and labor off the top and then the split can be a staggered split off the back end, so that’s probably where the biggest variance is in terms of the deals structure, and then a four wall is basically the show goes in and rents the building and cuts the presenter in in some way for letting them into their building and putting them on their subscription or helping them present their date.
Ken: Average guarantee for a big Broadway show these days?
Meredith: These days?
Meredith: That’s another big topic of discussion because it hasn’t gone up exponentially. If you look back, or if I look back – and I have – to ten years ago, the guarantees now are just creeping back up to where they were ten years ago, which is kind of remarkable because I guarantee the expenses have gone up a lot more than that. There was a time – again, going back about five or six years ago – where there wasn’t a lot of great profit coming out of New York, the economy was off and presenters were getting hurt pretty badly and they were becoming more and more risk adverse and there was just kind of a battle cry about how much they were willing to pay for shows and that season and maybe the season before and after $275,000 was the benchmark, like “We can’t pay any more for that, no matter what the title is,” and so producers just had to back into that number which necessitated, sometimes, shows having to go non-Equity because the presenters just couldn’t afford it and weren’t going to pay it, so you had to figure out a way to get the shows out for that number. The road’s gotten healthier since then and guarantees have gone up and now we’re, I think, more often than not, above the $300,000 mark, or probably a lot of them are in the $325,000 range right now, but again, interestingly enough, if you look back ten years ago, that’s about what they were back then too.
Ken: If you had a crystal ball and looked into it to see what the road will look like twenty years from now, would it look the same, different?
Meredith: It would just be bigger. I think it would just be bigger again – the same as the change that’s happened over the last twenty years.
Ken: So you see an expansion – more markets, more theatres.
Meredith: I do, yeah, more theatres I’m seeing now. The theatres that used to be backend split markets are going into becoming full week markets. Cleveland just went from being a two week subscription market to a three week subscription market – hugely successful. There are new theatres being built – there’s one going up in Greensboro that I think is coming online in 2018-19 so that will be another market that will be a four week market that wasn’t previously. So, yeah, I don’t see it shrinking, I see it expanding.
Ken: So obviously, as the mediator between producers and presenters, you do a lot of negotiating throughout your days. Do you have a style of negotiating? Any tips you could give for negotiating to the people listening?
Meredith: We all have secrets! I think, going back to what you were talking about, about fiduciaries. My fiduciary is, again, to the producer because they’re the ones that hired us and they’re the ones that pay us. However, it’s also our responsibility to be blunt with producers and, given the fact that we are oftentimes more familiar with the road and with the presenters than they may be, if a presenter has brought forward an argument that’s valid and needs to be heard, it’s our job to bring it back to the producers and, even though the argument may not necessarily be what the producer wants but ultimately it’s in the tour or the show’s best interest, it’s our job to facilitate that and kind of take the presenter’s point of view back to the producer. You can’t just blindly say whatever the producer says because then you’re not serving them very well. You have to facilitate that relationship, you have to make sure the relationship between them continues because the producers don’t have a tour if there’s no presenter and vice versa so it’s our job, even though there is that inherent mistrust that we talked about. It’s also a really small community, we all know each other, and while there is that little bit of mistrust about each other, I think most of us genuinely like each other. You go to these conferences and people are glad to see each other and they are, generally speaking, respectful and I think we’re all feeling pretty privileged to be part of this whole community. You tell people that don’t do what we do – you’re sitting on an airplane or you’re sitting in a neighbor’s backyard and you tell them what you do and they go “Wow, that must be fascinating!” and you have to go “You know what? I’m lucky to be doing this.” It’s not always that fascinating, sometimes it really is drudgery, but for the most part it is fascinating and we are lucky and, you know what? No two days are alike. I never know, coming into my office in the morning, what’s going to hit me and that’s the part I love the most. Kind of like living on the edge.
Ken: If a producer came to you before their show opened in New York and said “Meredith, I really want this thing to tour. Is there anything I can do right now, before my show has even finished rehearsing, before it’s up, something you can tell me to do to make sure it has a long life on the road?”
Meredith: Yeah, make sure you get the presenters involved and interested early on. Invite them into the process, invite them to the readings, get them to invest, give them a vested interest in wanting to see the show succeed as well.
Ken: As I was looking over the shows that you’re booking and have booked, you’ve worked with, obviously, some of the biggest powerhouse producers in the business – who also couldn’t be more different from one another. From Scott Rudin, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin and Jeffrey and all these folks. How do you work with these different styles and is there a type of producer you like to work with? Who’s your favorite? No, no, just kidding! But what type of characteristics do you look for when working with a producer?
Meredith: I don’t know that I have the luxury of looking for a characteristic – sometimes people are attached to a certain show, I have no say in that. Who do I enjoy working with? The people who have a real curiosity about the road and aren’t just interested in their show in New York and aren’t just interested in the road as another source of income. The people who are genuinely interested in that other life because, honestly, that’s where most of the money is, is on the road, so people who are interested in the health and the wellbeing of the road and have a genuine curiosity and want to get to know the presenters, rather than just having that be somebody out there in Des Moines who writes them a check, who wants to know who they are. I find that to be something that makes my job easier and more pleasurable.
Ken: Alright, last question. This is my Genie Question. I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin knocks on your office door and says “Meredith, I want to thank you for delivering high quality Broadway entertainment to all of these audiences all over the country and grant you one wish.” What’s the one thing that drives you so crazy about Broadway, that gets you mad, that keeps you up at night, that can have you slamming the phone down? The one thing that drives you so nuts you’d ask this genie to change with the rub of his lamp.
Meredith: Wow, I’d have to give that one a whole lot more thought to be able to come up with it because I’m not sure. I’ll tell you what a pet peeve is, though. People not doing what they said they were going to do. People not honoring a commitment. People who aren’t true to their word. That I have very little tolerance for.
Ken: Does it happen a lot in the booking business?
Meredith: Honestly not as much as one would think. We are a pretty honorable lot. Sometimes there’s selective memory, which is why I document everything – I have every email everyone’s ever written me, I know exactly where to find it. A lot of it is just covering my own ass, quite frankly – I document every conversation, every call I make is immediately followed up with an email so there’s no “We never held that date” later on. Also you have to be respectful of the fact, especially as we’re this far out in the process, than when you put a date on hold for 2017-18 and the rest of the season hasn’t opened yet, you have to know that some of those holds are tentative because something could open in the next month that could change their mind about something that they’ve booked from the fall – suddenly they want that one more – and I know that, going in. I know that, even though I’ve got all of these routes laid out for 2017-18, they’re all going to change – and that’s my problem, that means I have to do my job multiple times, but that’s okay, it’s the nature of the beast. So when I say people not honoring their word I’m not saying that somebody that’s holding a date for the spring of 2018, for a show that hasn’t expend yet, that they absolutely have to do it. We’re talking about things that already exist.
Ken: Well I want to thank you so much for spending time with us and for delivering these shows all over the country – and the world, actually. It is true, Broadway is the longest street in America and a lot of money for investors in Broadway shows is on the road, so without you those guys and girls wouldn’t see a lot of money back, so thank you for that. Thank all of you for listening. We will see you next time!