10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: Sewing it all together.

jim hallI often tell young folks looking for a career in showbiz anything that choosing the right path in your field is like taking the SATs.  Sometimes it’s easier to cross off the wrong answers until you find the right one.

For me, one of the jobs I crossed off early was working in a costume shop.  I was horrible.  Couldn’t sew, couldn’t hem, couldn’t deal with the actors who thought they looked fat (and that was my friend Joe, by the way).

I’ve always had great respect for folks who worked in wardrobe . . . and that respect grew 100 times when I met Jim Hall on my very first Broadway gig.  I was the Associate Company Manager on Show Boat, and he was the Associate Wardrobe Supervisor.  He even costumed the very first thing I produced in NYC – this horrible revue based on TV theme songs called . . . ahem . . . Prime Time!  He’s since moved up the ladder and so have I (I was lucky enough to get him as my supervisor on Godspell).

And now he’s here to answer our 10 Questions for a Broadway Pro!  Take it away, Jim-bo! 

1. What is your title?

Wardrobe Supervisor

2. What shows are you currently working on?

Kinky Boots

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I oversee all aspects of the wardrobe and the wardrobe department from the initial set up of the show during pre-production all the way through the pack out at closing.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Most obviously, you need to be great at organization, able to manage groups of people, make and balance budgets, be knowledgeable of fabrics, sewing, shoes, painting, dying, laundering, etc…but the greatest skill you need to be really successful, is the ability to relate to and understand people, individuals and group dynamics.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I attended the North Carolina School of the Arts for costume design & technology, but the best training I have had was to be an assistant to Debbie Cheretun for over 10 years. That’s where you learn, by watching and learning from someone else who has a wealth of knowledge.

6. What was your first job in theater?

I grew up doing children’s theater and quickly became involved with the behind the scenes elements, specifically costumes. My first “job” was when I was 16 years old and was working/apprenticing at a summer stock theater. I designed their children’s show called Pandas From Outer Space. It was ridiculous. They had a lot of faith in me. I might have had a $200 budget and the use of their stock costumes. It was a great experience to make something out of nothing. I still enjoy doing that now when it’s needed.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

There’s a power in the exchange of energy that takes place during live theater that you can’t get while watching a movie or TV. That power has the ability to transform people, even if for just that brief moment of time while sitting in the theater. I love standing at the back of the house and watching patrons be absorbed into the moment. And then there are those shows/performances that shift your life permanently. You never forget them. You have a new perspective or you open up to something hidden within that needs to be released. It’s a special experience which stems from that exchange between audience and actor. Theater is transformative and builds relationships, with ourselves and with others.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

The greatest challenge for wardrobe supervisors is to maintain a joyful, positive attitude throughout the whole entire process. The wardrobe department never really gets to settle in to a run. We are constantly being thrown curve balls that need to be dealt with at a moment’s notice. It is very easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed, but the best choice you can make in that moment is the decision to handle it with grace & kindness.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

Easy. I would make the work week be five days instead of six.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

1) Take your time and learn as much as you can. 2) You don’t have to know or pretend to know everything. 3) Admit it when you make a mistake and forgive others for theirs. 4) Choose wisely who you hire & surround yourself with. 5) And for God’s sake, have fun!!

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: The General Prepares for Battle

photo (5)I’ve been looking to do a “10 Qs” post by a Broadway General Manager for a long time.  But it’s taken a looooong a$$ time, because they are all so dang busy.  Why?  Well, because a General Manager oversees just about everything on a Broadway show.  Nothing is out of their jurisdiction.

I often use a political or military analogy when describing the producing hierarchy on a show.  The Producer is like the President, or the Commander in Chief.  And when he goes to war, he gets the best General (Manager) he can to ensure victory aka recoupment.

I met Broadway GM Devin Keudell more than a decade ago, when I was just beginning my Company Management career . . . and since then I’ve worked with him a ton of times, most recently when his company General Managed by production of Macbeth.

Devin has a whole bunch of great skills that are perfect for his chosen career.  But one of his greatest assets is his ability to say no to a request, and have the requestor still love him afterwards.  It’s a tough thing to learn, but something that all of us should get better at.

And with that, I introduce you to General Manager, Devin Keudell!

1. What is your title?

General Manager and Partner at Bespoke Theatricals

2. What shows are you currently working on?

MAMMA MIA! and ROCKY for this season; our office is also managing MOTOWN, A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, AFTER MIDNIGHT, and TWELFTH NIGHT/RICHARD III repertory plays.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

From the beginning of production through the life of a show, I oversee every aspect of the day-to-day business operations, including marketing/advertising, sales, accounting/budgeting, contracting and more.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Excellent interpersonal communication skills are important as well as a background in accounting and marketing.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I earned an advertising management BS (after three years in pre-med), became a theatre press agent and ultimately chose company management on the road which led to the same in NY and ultimately general management.

6. What was your first job in theatre?

My first job in theatre was working for a promoter in Portland OR who brought theatre and concerts to the city. I sold tickets at their office and did backstage catering for the stars that came through town.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theatre brings people together, into one space, to share an experience and witness theatre that is funny, emotional, beautiful, stimulating and more. Each of us sees a particular piece of theatre differently despite the collective viewing of it, something that feels important to me when most of us live in front of a computer screen for so much of our lives.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

On Broadway, it is keeping costs of the productions under control without sacrificing the art of it.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

It would have to be about controlling costs again – gaining flexibility in all the work rules that we currently live by on Broadway.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

Meet and observe as many people in different aspects of this industry when you are young and exploring theatre as a career so that you see what best fits. I also believe that traveling as a company manager on the road is an excellent place to begin a career in theatre management.

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: Treasures from a Box Office Treasurer.

397895_2920590970324_1010154530_nI remember when I was just starting out in the biz and thought I knew everything about sales.

And then I met a box office treasurer and realized I didn’t know nuthin’.

Why sure, I had studied sales funnels and The 4 Ps of Marketing, I was like an Army Colonel who knew every tactic known to the modern warrior . . . but had never been to the front lines.

And that’s where the real education is.

This edition of Broadway Pro features one of the very first Treasurers I ever worked with . . . Mr. Spencer Taustine.  Spence and I worked on several shows together, including the original company of Ragtime.  Yep, we worked for Livent pre and post bankruptcy.  (Oh, we also went a few rounds on the  Broadway bowling team together – he’s got quite a toss, by the way.)

Now he’s in charge of the box office over at the little show that no one has ever heard of called Spider-Man.  Yep, all those electronic millions pass through his hands.

I learned a lot from Spence, and I hope you do too.

Take it away, Mr. Taustine!

1. What is your title?

Treasurer

2. What shows are you currently working on?

Spider-Man- Turn Off The Dark

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

My job, in this day and age, is to be ready for anything. I am responsible for all functions of the Foxwoods Theater Box Office.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Excellent customer service skills, ability to supervise a large staff effectively, ability to interact with management on all levels, handle stress easily, among a myriad of things.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

3 years apprenticeship in Local 751, and working with some of the best in the business.

6. What was your first job in theatre?

Answered phones at the long-gone Princess Theater during the original run of Pump Boys and Dinettes, The Dodgers and I made our Broadway debut.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theater is important in so many ways. Economically for the city, intellectually for us that enjoy it, professionally for those engaged in it, and inspiring for those that dream of performing on The Great White Way.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Technological advances are infiltrating the business in all areas. Making them both functional and beneficial simultaneously can be challenging indeed.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

The internet’s intrusion on the creative process. It is nearly impossible to try things out and see if they work without the entire world knowing about it immediately.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

You need to be all things to all people. Be patient, modest, intelligent, possess the strength of character to know what is important and what isnt, and most of all, surround yourself with the best possible people. I have done that, and I am much better off for it.

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: The Master of the House.

Austin Nathaniel Broadway House ManagerThere are two types of Managers that fall under the auspices of ATPAM, The Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers.

There are Company Managers, who work for the Producers and act, as I often describe, as the foot soldiers of the General Manager.  (I started my career as a member of the CM infantry).

Then there are the House Managers, who work for the Theatre Owners, and make sure everything in that theater operates efficiently.  Seem like an easy gig?  These guys have to deal with the Public, with Producers and with Performers.  I’ll let you decide who is more demanding.

Today’s Broadway Pro is Austin Nathaniel, answering my 10Qs on what it’s like be the Master of the House at a Broadway theater.

Take it Austin!

1. What is your title?

I am the Palace Theatre Manager.

2. What shows are you currently working on?

We just opened the beautiful revival of Annie in November.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I view my job as a caretaker of the audience, the cast and creative team, the producers of the show, the staff of the building, and of course the theater itself.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

A theatre manager must be calm and collected at all times, and able to manage a large number of tasks at once.  It’s very important to have a working knowledge of all aspects of the industry, both the creative side and the business side.  You must be able to manage a large and diverse staff of employees.  Good accounting skills are important.  Solid knowledge of the Broadway union contracts is essential.  You also need to have a certain measure of compassion and understanding in order to manage your employees and serve the public.  And you have to be able to laugh at yourself and others – people are going to be mean. You have to just shrug it off.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I have a B.A. in Theatre Studies from Emerson College in Boston.  Emerson had very experienced, working management professionals running the program, so I received a solid education in the business of theater through course work and by working on productions at school.  After college I worked for the Huntington Theatre Company as a House Manager and found an incredible mentor and friend in Sondra Katz, the Theater Manager.  We were opening the Calderwood Pavilion, the first new theater built in Boston in 75 years.  Developing the theater’s operational structure from the ground up alongside someone as knowledgeable as Sondra was a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. When I came to New York, I was again lucky to do my union apprenticeship as the Associate Theater Manager to David Calhoun, one of the most experienced Theatre/Company Managers on Broadway. There’s no substitute for learning from the best in the business.

6. What was your first job in theatre?

I got a job as a part-time usher at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut when I was still in high school.  At the time I just wanted to get away from the job on a farm I’d had the summer before.  Who knew it would turn into a career?

7. Why do you think theater is important?

A very wise professor once told me “Art prepares us for the big moments in our lives.”  I think theater is the most collaborative art form we have.  The communal experience of an audience sharing the emotional heights and depths of a storyteller on stage, live and in the moment, is the purest and most intense artistic format out there.  For me, no other medium has the raw emotional power of theater.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Broadway has become about so much more than the shows.  All of the talk-backs, meet & greets, backstage tours, pre-show receptions, post-show receptions, press-events, fundraisers, special events, and other satellite activities that now surround our productions take a huge amount of time and planning to make happen and keep cost effective.  Theater and Company Managers have an incredible number of balls to juggle managing all of these events while also ensuring that they don’t interfere with the main business of the show.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

I would wish for greater mutual respect between Broadway labor and management.  Theatrical employees are extremely dedicated to their jobs, work long hours, deal with very difficult patrons, give up weekends and holidays, and take excellent care of the large and frequently very old buildings we work in.  Producers take big risks in producing these shows, and are doing everything in their power to keep them up and running, which ultimately keeps us all employed.  It’s easy to forget on both sides that we all love this business and are in it together.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

Experience as many aspects of the business as you can.  Act, sing, dance, direct, design, usher, be on a stage crew, stage manage.  Crunch numbers, build a budget, work in a management office, box office, or marketing office.  Get some experience managing a staff.  The more experience you have actually doing these jobs, the better you’ll be able to understand the needs of the people you work with as a Theater Manager.  Nothing is more helpful in doing your job than understanding those around you.

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: The voice teacher to the stars.

If you have a Ferrari, and there were suddenly some sputtering sounds coming from the inside of that V8, would you take it to the local mechanic down the block?

Heck no, you wouldn’t.

You’d take it to the best mechanic in town.  It’s a Ferrari for chimney’s sake!

The same is true for the voice, which is a lot more valuable than a Ferrari, when you think about it.  A great Broadway singer can earn well over the cost of a Ferrari in just a few short months.

And for singers, there’s no better mechanic in town than Liz Caplan.

I can’t tell you how many times during a tech of a show, or during a star’s illness, I’ve heard, “We need Liz Caplan,” or “Get me Liz!”  Tricky music?  Star new to singing?  A dancer that has to learn to sing super fast?

Liz has all the tools and the tricks to make it happen.  And to make it sound beautiful.  You’ve heard her work all over town.  Just look at some of the shows and stars she’s tuned up:

American Idiot, Wicked, Once, Book of Mormon, 13, James Blunt, The Goo Goo Dolls, Amanda Seyfriend (for the Les Miz movie), NPH (yes, that NPH) and even Stephen Colbert.

And today, Liz is answering our 10 Questions for a Broadway Pro.  Take it away, Liz!

 

 1. What is your title?

Vocal Supervisor/Vocal Coach

2. What shows are you currently working on?

As Vocal Supervisor: Once, The Book of Mormon ;  As Consultant:  Wicked, Chaplin, Bring it On.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I offer vocal training, support and maintenance to the companies of Broadway shows on which I’m on staff or a member of the creative team.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Knowledge of vocal pedagogy is necessary. Awareness of emotional, physiological, psychological, and  muscular skeletal functions adds to the palette of knowledge. Playing piano proficiently and being an excellent listener is also paramount.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I was a Voice major in college and  studied Theater simultaneously. Over the years I have apprenticed with homeopaths, dance  and movement therapists,  and with many alternative practitioners. I have been working with Broadway and music industry professionals for three decades. Being fully present and doing solid work one person at a time was what made my position possible.

6. What was your first job in theatre?

Performing children’s theater during summers between college years.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Not everyone gets to be emotional and expressive 24/7( and be paid for it).  I think  theater allows audiences  a portal  into the possibility of deeper expression and communication. Simply by being exposed to a  moving theatrical experience makes the conversation  possible.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Helping actors achieve a sense of balance is a challenge.   My private studios’  motto is ‘Balancing the State of the Artist’.   That balance includes giving the actors tools to keep their energies( physical and vocal) always moving fluidly and steadily.  Most actors fatigue due to the 8-show a week schedule.  The adrenals(responsible for releasing hormones in response to stress) take a beating if nutrition, hydration and sleep are overlooked.  Singers must stay obsessively on top of their individual needs based on energy output.  Broadway Companies benefit from hands on vocal work and vocal hygiene suggestions on a regular basis. Brush up sessions with the full company include healing, strengthening and preservation exercises for maintenance.  They also offer group support and connection.  Convincing Producers to include  a Vocal Supervisor as part of the Creative Team is its own challenge.  Templates based on shows vocal demands  would keep everyone safe and strong.  It’s an insurance policy from the beginning

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

Going back to old school by letting the matinees of especially difficult shows( most of them at this time) be performed by an alternate.  Vocal preservation, mostly due to adrenal fatigue, has become quite a challenge.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

Immerse yourself in many different areas : music, theater, body work, nutrition, psychotherapy, movement, and most importantly, excellent  people skills.

 

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