10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: The keeper of the books.

I first met Sarah Galbraith when I was Company Managing Thoroughly Modern Millie.  She was the Bookkeeper on the show, and we hit it off instantly.  (Bookkeepers are the go-between with shows and accountants, auditing weekly figures and bills and prepping the “books” for financial statements, audits, taxes, etc.)  She taught me a lot about accounting for shows, so when I was looking for someone to help me with The Awesome 80s Prom (my first show), she was the first person I called.  She helped get that show off the ground, and I’ve taken her with me to all my shows since.

What’s great about Sarah is that (as you’ll read below), she doesn’t just crunch numbers.  She was a CM herself, so her knowledge of the industry goes beyond taxes and benefits and such.  She could literally remind you which unions got which holiday pay and which didn’t.  So, when the industry desperately needed a new payroll service designed solely for our unique needs, Sarah was the perfect person to head up the business.

Here for your reading pleasure, are 10 Qs with Sarah Galbraith!

 1. What is your title?

Owner and President of Galbraith & Company Inc., and Checks and Balances Payroll, Inc.

2. What shows are you currently working on?

Galbraith & Company provides bookkeeping services for commercial productions and other theater-related entities. At the moment, we are represented on Broadway by Evita, Godspell, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Clybourne Park, Rock of Ages, Ghost, and Venus in Fur; Off-Broadway by Avenue Q, Rent, Cock, and The Fantasticks; and on the road by West Side Story, American Idiot, Memphis and Fela. We work on about 20 shows at any time.

Checks and Balances provides payroll services to about 30 shows and companies at the moment, including Wicked, Peter and the Starcatcher, Evita, Godspell, Bring It On, Stomp, and Traces, to name a few.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I have two jobs; do I get two sentences? I and my staff act as part of a show’s management team, keeping the books and providing financial reporting to managers and producers. For the payroll service, I work with and supervise the staff that processes the weekly payrolls for our clients, and I handle all of the quarterly and annual payroll tax filings.

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

You have to be good with numbers. After that, attention to detail, and a good memory. There are no manuals for what I do; it’s all about experience and knowing the tax laws for the various states and countries where our shows perform.

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

I have an MFA from Columbia University in Theater Management, which was a great start. I went through the ATPAM apprentice program and survived the dreaded test to get my ATPAM card. Most of my practical training has been on the job working for producers, general managers and a public accounting firm. I’ve had my own company for 6 years and I still learn something new every week.

6. What was your first job in theatre?

My first paid job was as an electrician and follow spot operator for the Goodspeed Opera House. We got housing and a stipend, and dinner on two-show days. When you’re 16, that’s pretty good.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theater is a primal human activity. One of the first things our ancient ancestors did was gather together to sit in the dark and hear a story. It’s how we know who we are, as a society and as individuals.

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

More and more tax rules. Every year there are new taxes, more states that require filings, more rules governing compliance. Nothing ever gets less complicated, and our job is to make sure the production is meeting its obligations and no one is going to get a fine or a nasty letter from the IRS.

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

I love the history and tradition of the Broadway theater, but I think Broadway is at its best when it embraces new things and looks forward. Whether in artistic choices, marketing, business, or technology, it is exciting to me to see fresh ideas in the theater, and I wish I saw more of them.

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

Learn everything you can about every part of the business. Knowing accounting and taxes is crucial, but it’s not the only thing. You have to know the union contracts, understand the budgeting process, know royalty structures, and be familiar with the key contracts that govern the finances of a show. To be able to be a valuable part of the team, and truly support the process, you have to see and understand the whole life of the production.

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: This guy cleans up on Broadway.

Bruce Barish and his wife Sarah could be the busiest couple on Broadway.  What do they do?  Well, you know how most theater folk are night owls?  Well, these two can’t be . . . because if they slept in, 80% of Broadway would be naked.

The Barishes are Ernest Winzer Cleaners . . . THE Broadway dry cleaners.  I know, you’ve probably never even thought about who dry cleans Broadway costumes before, have you?  Well, someone has to, believe me, because after a few Fosse-like dance numbers, these outfits can be so soaked with sweat, they could practically do pirouettes on their own.

Why does Winzer control such a large part of the market?  Well, they do a great job, duh, but more importantly, they care.  Period.  And Bruce, Sarah and the entire staff at EW care about every costume they work on like they designed it themselves and they have to wear it themselves.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Bruce Barish, this week’s Broadway Pro!

1. What is your title?

Owner/Operator of Ernest Winzer Dry Cleaner.

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

We normally dry clean 75-80% of the costumes for all Broadway productions, as well as Radio City, television, movies, concerts and mascots.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I am the Captain of the Ship that makes sure my entire staff of 17 employees not only dry clean the costumes properly but makes sure they are delivered back to the theaters in time for the daily productions.

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

Time management would be number one on the list that would also include multi-tasking skills as well as organizational know how.  I also understand the science and chemistry behind the dry cleaning process and stain removal process and the delicate fabrics that we see on a daily basis.  Lastly, I possess the knowledge behind the mechanics of the equipment in my dry cleaning facility.

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

I have worked here my entire life learning every aspect of the business from the front office to picking up the shows to cleaning and spotting the assortment of costumes we see every day.

6. What was your first job in theater?

Ernest Winzer Cleaners has been dry cleaning Broadway costumes since 1908.  We are the longest running production on Broadway.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

It is an important part of the fabric of New York City history.  I can relate to “The city that never sleeps.”  Just this past year, we delivered in the Christmas Blizzard of 2010 and the Hurricane of 2011, both of which shut down NYC but not Ernest
Winzer Cleaners.

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

Continuously trying to find the best ways to get costumes cleaned in a green environmentally conscious way.  If it’s Green, but does not clean properly or safely then it is not for me and my customers.

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

This does not apply to the industry as much as to the city that we work in, but it would be nice if when I was delivering an entire production of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular that a New York City police officer would not write my trucks parking tickets.

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

Be prepared to be fully committed to the industry 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Our job is to take the worry of caring for the costumes away from the wardrobe department. You have to love what you are doing and who you are performing for because “The Show Must Go On”!

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: Lincoln Center’s Ira Weitzman

Ira Weitzman is a musical midwife.

He has helped some of our industry’s most celebrated authors give birth to musicals like Falsettos, Sunday in the Park with You Know Who, Once on This Island, Parade and many, many more over his 30-year career.

If you’re an author, and you had a chance to choose between winning the lottery and having Ira guide the development of your show . . . I’d tell you to go with Ira.  You could always win the lottery some other time.

Take it away, Ira!

1. What is your title?

Musical Theater Associate Producer at Lincoln Center Theater. 

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

I just finished a long cycle of development and production that began in 2005 with The Light in the Piazza in the Vivian Beaumont Theater and just ended with A Minister’s Wife in the Mitzi Newhouse Theater.   In between those shows were six other musicals including our Tony Award winning production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific in the Beaumont and Clay which opened our new theater, LCT3.  Now it all begins again with a new cycle.  I am too superstitious to talk about shows at such an early stage.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

As an artistic producer of (mostly) new musicals, I am involved in almost every aspect of bringing them to fruition in collaboration with Artistic Director, Andre Bishop.

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

Taste and an eye for talent, working knowledge of musical theater both historical and current, good communication skills, good judgment and a desire to collaborate.   Though it isn’t really a skill, I would also add that having a real passion for this work helps, particularly when the going gets tough.

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

I didn’t go to college so everything I learned was from experience.  I created my job, so in a sense my whole life is training for my work.

6. What was your first job in the theater?

I was Bob Moss’ assistant at Playwrights Horizons in 1977 during his last season as Artistic Director there.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

I believe in the communal power of live performance. Musicals are especially powerful.
When everything comes together, a musical can be entertaining, provocative, enlightening and enriching for both the audience and the performers.

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

The challenge of finding a musical that we can be excited about working on.  It has not changed or gotten easier through the years.   On the more practical side there are always financial challenges since musicals are not cheap to produce.

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

I would make theater affordable for those who want to produce it and those who want to see it.

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

To love what you are doing and to not be afraid of taking risks.

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: A few “notes” from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

 

To call Lin-Manuel Miranda just a writer is like saying Da Vinci was just a painter.

Like the ancient Italian, Mr. Miranda does a whole lot of things, and, unlike most, he does a whole lot of them unbelievably well.  He’s a composer, lyricist, actor, musician, poet, and one of the most beloved guys on the Broadway scene.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he invented a flying machine too.

And to say he gives back to the community is an understatement.  In fact, here’s a perfect example of how much he cares about the movers and shakers and the writers to be . . . when I ask people to answer my “10 Questions,” the most common answer I get as a reply (when I get a reply) is . . . “How long do my answers have to be?”  Sounds like a 12-year-old getting an essay assignment, right?

You know what Lin said?

“My answers are turning out CRAZY long. Is that okay?”

‘Nuff said.  Without further ado, here are Tony Award Winner Lin-Manuel Miranda’s awesome answers to our 10 Questions.

1. What is your title?

I write music and lyrics.

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

I’m working on Bring It On: The Musical (get the Bring It On Recording here) with another composing team, Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, which opens in November at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

I’m also working on a concept album about the life of Alexander Hamilton.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I write the parts of the show that end up on the cast album.

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

Musicianship. You don’t need to be a piano or guitar virtuoso, but if you’re getting into this because you have music in your head that you are burning to express, you must have a means by which to express it clearly. It’s not enough to be able to hum a tune: You can’t hum a chord. (I mean, some Tibetan monks can, but I can’t.)

Reading and writing music is not necessary, but it certainly helps. Music is like any other language: you can make yourself understood if you’re not fluent, but why not endeavor to make yourself understood as clearly as possible?

You have to ENJOY collaborating, and being part of a team. Musical Theater is many different art forms smashing together: music, storytelling, dance. You may have to change a lyric because your choreographer is planning an amazing routine, and they can’t hold that long legato note you wrote. Your book writer may come up with an amazing scene that renders a particular lyric redundant. If you’ve chosen great collaborators, you talk, you debate, and the best idea in the room wins. Other artists give you perspective and make you a better writer, if you’re running with the right crew. Finding the right crew is the hardest part.

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

Musically, I took piano lessons at a very young age. I had a solid grounding of music theory in high school, at least enough to be able to fake play something by reading the guitar chords.

But the most formative training I had was a childhood spent with all different kinds of music. My parents and friends had eclectic tastes, and when I began seriously writing music of my own (as opposed to song parodies to amuse my friends), a lot of different influences began to seep out.

I went to Hunter College High School. We had an entirely student-run extracurricular theater program, and an amazing faculty adviser named Gina Dooley. I began acting in 8th grade and never stopped, though I soon began writing one-act plays and musicals, and directing as well. I cannot overstate how much I learned during these years. When you are directing your fellow high school students, and you have no authority to pay, fire or punish them, no motivating force at all other than to make them believe in your vision of how the show should be, you learn to project confidence very quickly.

I majored in theater at Wesleyan University. As a theater major, you need to log a certain number of hours doing BTP, ITP or ATP (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Technical Practice). BTP is applying makeup, painting a set, knitting a costume. ITP is a design position: you can stage manage or create costumes: I did most of mine by doing sound design or writing incidental music for other people’s plays. ATP is acting or directing. So you learn to do a little of everything before you graduate. I learned to sew, I applied makeup, I built and struck sets, I learned to work within a tight budget. I’ll never light a show, but I can tell a Source-4 from a Fresnel. The take away here is enormous: Understand what everyone is bringing to the table, in every discipline. Be around people who want to do what you want to do. You don’t need to go to college for either of those lessons, though I did.

6. What was your first job in theater?

I had a summer job as an unpaid intern at Repertorio Español, an amazing Off-Broadway theater in New York. They have a repertory company that does productions in both English and Spanish. They do several shows simultaneously, so they’re striking sets and putting others up every day. I mostly cleaned floors and struck sets, but I got to see amazing theater for free.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

I can only tell you why it’s important to me: I don’t ever feel more alive than when I’m in a theater full of strangers, and the magic that’s happening on stage makes us all scream, or laugh, or cry together. And those moments are rare because they’re hard to get right, getting all those different elements to coalesce. But when they do? In Phantom, during Masquerade, when it keeps building, and building, and then the Phantom shows up, and the horns BLARE his theme? Or the end of Act One of Sunday In The Park With George, when the painting begins to take shape? I can’t describe the feeling of when everything comes together just right, other than to tell you it’s overwhelming, and powerful, and it has NEVER happened to me staring at my computer at home. It is a uniquely communal experience.

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

Most immediately: rising costs, rising prices. If we don’t find ways around it, then the only theater that gets produced is custom-built for the people who can afford it. And that club gets smaller every year.

In a macro-sense: funding and supplementing arts education if our schools cannot afford it. I was very lucky to go to a specialized public school where music was a class, right next to science and math and history. No, BEYOND lucky: I won the LOTTERY by getting into that school. It saved my life.

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

Comfy seats for everyone. Not just Broadway. My magic wand wave will give every regional, community theater and every school auditorium and gymnasium on Earth comfy seats!

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

Learn marketable skills with which you can make a living while you pursue this passion. Listen to anything and everything critically. That doesn’t mean criticize what you like and what you don’t like. It means, if a piece of music moves you, start to break it down. What is the part that gives you chills? Is it the way the horns start playing in unison right at the climax of the song? What is the rhythm section doing: is it playing with those horns, or providing a counterpoint? Let’s say you’re at a show, and you just don’t like what you’re seeing. If you want to do this for a living, DON’T TUNE OUT, and DON’T DON’T DON’T CHECK YOUR PHONE. Look closer: what about this show isn’t working? Did that rhyme pull you out of the story? Is this actor working too hard, and making you see the work instead of the story? Is it the sound system? There is no theater experience from which you cannot learn. In doing this, you begin to learn your own tastes, which will inform the kind of writer you will be. I wish you luck.

 

 

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: A Broadway Stage Manager speaks.

The first job I ever had on the ol’ Broadway was as a Production Assistant on the revival of My Fair Lady starring Richard Chamberlain.

As a PA I worked very closely with the Stage Managers and learned a ton about how shows are put together, how people are managed, and so on.  If you are coming up in the biz, and get a chance to PA, take it.

I was lucky enough to get to PA a few shows, and eventually got promoted and ended up SMing myself, including a stint with Grease on Broadway with everyone from Rosie O’Donnell to Brooke Shields.

I learned a lot.

But you know what the biggest lesson was?

Stage Managing is one of the hardest jobs in the biz.

In fact, I hung up my headset, and decided to leave Stage Managing to the pros . . . like Pat Sosnow, who is this week’s star of our 10 Questions for a Broadway Pro!  Pat has worked on a bunch of big-time Broadway shows including A Steady Rain with those two unknowns Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, Promises, Promises . . . and the about-to-preview, How to Succeed with another unknown . . . Daniel Radcliffe.

Here’s Pat!

1. What is your title?

Stage Manager

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

How to Succeed in Business

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I help run/manage the show on a day-to-day basis.

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

Organizational skills. Ability to multi-task. Patience. Tenacity. Extreme sense of humor.

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

I have been stage managing since high school. I did not however, major in Theater at Barnard. I did study Psychology which has on occasion come in handy. I worked at any job I could get in any backstage (electrician, props, carpenter) until I started as a PA at the NY Shakespeare Festival. Worked my way through Off-Off-Broadway to Off-Broadway into Broadway.

6. What was your first job in theater?

My first big PA job was on Measure for Measure in the Park in 1985, directed by Joseph Papp.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

It is a form of entertainment that cannot exist without live participation from performers, an audience, and the people/crew who run the show. No show can ever be the same or be duplicated. In an age of Film, TV and computer generated entertainment, it forces live, visceral responses that are of the moment. Spontaneous laughter. Unexpected Heartbreak. Profound ennui. Live theater is a wonderful, real, living thing.

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

Maintaining a neutral position between Producers, Managers, Talent and the Unions

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

I’d remove the caste system that has become so pervasive in recent years.

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

Don’t even consider working in the theater unless you are absolutely sure you cannot live without it.

 

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