10 Qs for a Broadway Pro: Driving Miss Daisy Director David Esbjornson

The first play of the Fall to announce that it recouped wasn’t Merchant of Venice.  It was the much sweeter and smaller Driving Miss Daisy, which was helmed by David Esbjornson.  David has directed just about everywhere, from London, to Broadway, to just about every major regional theater across the country.

And just yesterday, The Public tapped him for Measure for Measure in the Park this summer.

On top of his talent, David just happens to be one of the nicest guys in the business, which is why stars like Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones want to work with him.

But today he’s working with us, answering our 10 Qs.  Take it away, David!

1.  What is your title?

Stage Director and Producer

2.  What shows are you currently working on?

I’ve just opened Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines on Broadway and I’m preparing for Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure with the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park

3.  In one sentence, describe your job.

I interpret, develop and present plays.

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

A love of theatre, practical intelligence, intuition, a perception of human motivation and behavior, an ability to stay focused and organized, empathy, a real interest in collaboration, a need to break rules and a “thick” skin.

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

I worked as an exterior painter, a carpet cleaner, telemarketing interviewer, furnace cleaner, farm worker, retail clerk, Christmas tree decorator, building handyman assistant, apartment renovator, waiter, bartender, silk-screen printer, teacher for “problem teenagers”, floor sander and as a display artist. Plus, an undergraduate degree in Theatre and English Literature from Gustavus Adolphus College and an MFA in Directing from New York University.

6.  What was your first job in theatre?

My first truly professional job was actually part of a program entitled “The New Director’s Project,” produced by New York Theatre Workshop. The fee was only seven hundred dollars but it allowed me to work on a level I had not yet experienced.  It also provided me the great luxury of being completely supported for the first time. The play, translated from German, was called Farmyard, written by Franz X. Kroetz. The text prescribed a very spare, harsh and unforgiving world. As a director, the play required a super sensitive attention to detail. For my production, I personally provided the “live” kittens, the “farm dog” and the disgusting toilet for the “masturbation scene.”

7.  Why do you think theatre is important?

The majority of our culture might argue that it isn’t.  I guess I believe that theatre can provide important insights about our own lives and the lives of others. It’s a public connection to one another that lets us celebrate what it means to be human. It can also be a cultural tool for learning that when done well, can occasionally transform a receptive individual’s thinking and personal growth.

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

The greatest challenge, in my opinion, is the enormous financial barrier of ticket cost that prevent an average individual from having an important, and perhaps meaningful, experience in the theatre.

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

Taking away the financial pressures on producers that limit the kind of work that can be presented–that hampers opportunity for new talent and limits the demographics of the theatre audiences.

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

Ask yourself if  “deep down” you have the talent to succeed and if the answer is “yes” then decide how much you are willing to personally sacrifice while working tirelessly to achieve those ambitions.

I also believe you should embrace interesting work whenever it presents itself and refrain from judging where that work might originate. Some of the most meaningful artistic experiences come out of the least likely circumstances.

You must also acknowledge and be sensitive to the shifting needs within your life. You aren’t much good as an artist if you ignore yourself and those around you. At the same time, you might have to balance this with openness to unique opportunities that may present themselves to you at the most inconvenient times.

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Enter to win this Sunday’s Giveaway: 2 Tickets to Catch Me If You Can!  Click here.



10 Questions for a Broadway Pro: A Local 1 Stagehand talks Props.

My office is right next to the Eugene O’Neill theater, home to the recently departed Fela!, home to the soon-to-arrive Book of Mormon, and the permanent home of Chris Beck, the Property Master or “Head of Props”.

Props men and women have to do it all.  Whenever there is ever a question about what department should handle a tricky technical situation, it’s always seems to end up on the Prop guy’s desk.

Chris Beck is no exception.  But his renaissance-like skills extend past the properties department.  In addition to his full time gig at the theater, Chris is also the Managing Director of Lights Up & Cue Sound, a lighting and sound rental company that services Broadway, Off-Broadway, touring and installation markets.  Oh, and they also do parties too – if you came to my social (the only social in the city with moving lights), you saw their equipment in action.

On top of all this, Chris is a heck of a nice guy who just plain loves the theater, which is why he was the first guy I thought of when I wanted to do a 10 Qs with a stagehand.

Take it away, Chris.

1. What is your title?  

Property Master, Eugene O’ Neill Theatre

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

Fela! (which we are loading out right now) and the upcoming Book of Mormon (which will start loading in as soon as we finish with Fela!)

3. In one sentence, describe your job.  

I load in, assemble, fabricate and handle all props necessary for an attraction at the O’Neill, in addition to maintaining all seats, curtains and furniture owned by the theatre.

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

Basic carpentry and electric with specializations in seat repair and maintenance.  One winds up with a rather large scope of highly specialized and unusual skills.  From building a radio controlled and dimmable lantern to arranging flowers “just so”.

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

On the job. In theatre, you must learn from the best people you can find, failing that, jump in and make it work (safely).

6. What was your first job in theater?  

Load in crew on the Great Lawn in Central Park for the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration

7. Why do you think theater is important?  

The ability to take someone from depths of depression to the heights of exhilaration in the span of about 2 hours broadens horizons and changes perceptions.

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

The same as it’s been since Shakespeare’s time, finding the new idea.

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

The schedule.  All shows would play during the week during the day. The theatre gives so much, but cannot replace time missed with family and friends.

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

Get your degree and take as many classes on as many things you think you may need as a Prop Master.  It will never be enough!  A wise Prop Man I know said he was going to write two books on the subject: one entitled Absolutely Everything You’ll Need to Know About Props and the sequel, Throw Away the Book, Baby, This Is How It Really Is!.

If you want to read more 10Q articles, click here.

Upcoming Get Your Show Off The Ground Seminars

NYC – This Saturday, January 8th.  SOLD OUT!  (Email me for waiting list)

CHICAGO – Saturday, January 15th.  Register today..  VERY FEW SPOTS LEFT.

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10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 9: An Agent for Writers

“If only I could get an agent,” are the words I hear so many playwrights and screenwriters say.

That’s when I correct them.  First, no one can promote your work as well as you can.  Second, you don’t just need any agent.  You need a good agent.

You need an agent like Sarah Douglas.

Sarah took some time out of her schedule of searching for the next Tony Kushner to answer our ’10 Questions for a Broadway Pro.’  Here we go!

1. What is your title?

Title?  I have never understood titles.  That said, Co-Director, Literary Division, Abrams Artists Agency.

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

Too superstitious to name anything until it has opened.  Suffice to say that musicals seem to take forever but I’m honored to be working with some of the greatest talents working in professional theatre today.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

Present, promote and protect.

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

Eye for talent, ability to communicate, reconcile two seemingly opposite concepts, prioritize.

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

I’m fortunate to have been mentored by two amazing agents with very different styles and approaches to the business: Helen Harvey and Flora Roberts.

6. What was your first job in theater?

Answering the phones and taking care of house seats in a two person (3 counting me working part-time) literary agency.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Live storytelling serves society in so many significant ways – as a catalyst for the gathering of community, a way to create and share common experiences, expression of thoughts and ideas and entertainment, to name a few.

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

Besides the general decline in civility and honesty cultivating an educated audience.

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

Just one thing?

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

You have to really love theatre, relish confrontation and have a HIGH threshold for annoyance.

If you are a Broadway Pro that would like to shed a little light on what makes your position tick, drop me an email and maybe we can feature you in an upcoming post.

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 8: Rina Saltzman, Company Manager

Before I was a Producer, I spent about 10 years as a Company Manager for Broadway shows both in NYC and on the road.  And I loved every moment of it (except that time when a blizzard snowed my company in at the Best Western Westward Ho in Grand Forks, North Dakota).

Today you’re going to read the answers to our 10 Questions from one of the industry’s favorite CMs, Rina Saltzman.  I’ve worked closely with Rina on several occasions, and let me tell you something, the woman knows how to take care of a company. Count yourself lucky if you find yourself in her cast or crew.

Take it away, Rina!

1. What is your title?

Company Manager

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

Billy Elliot National Tour, which is in a lovely long sit-down in Chicago.

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I would describe my position as the day-to-day business manager, in-house marketing manager, HR department, Housing and Transportation Secretary, and Camp mom.

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

Some of these are not skills but qualities:  patience, a sense of humor, appreciation for the artist, some business acumen, a knowledge of union rules, patience, the ability to juggle 5 or 6 things at once, to react calmly in a crisis and to be able to talk others off the ledge (this is especially helpful in production), an understanding – if not practical knowledge – of marketing, promotions and box office procedures.  Oh, and did I say patience?

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

I have a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Douglass College and a M.A. in Performing Arts Management from NYU, neither of which really helped me to get to this position.  I worked in a variety of jobs, ranging from Studio Supervisor on As The World Turns to Telemarketing Director for the Met Opera’s Centennial before I became a Company Manager, all of which prepared me to work with a wide range of artists, stagehands, marketing gurus and managers.  The best training came when I got my first company management position at American Ballet Theatre – 150 dancers, staff, crew, management, travelling around the world – and I found a mentor in my General Manager – that is the most anyone could want in this career, someone who cares enough to teach you.

6. What was your first job in theater?

On the day I graduated college, a friend told me that there was a job open as Box Office Treasurer at the George Street Playhouse – as I was leaving town, I stopped in, interviewed, and by the time I reached my parents’ house in Jersey City, I had the job and moved back to my college town.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

It changes lives.  Period.  Trite as that sounds, when I was managing the Bus and Truck of CATS, we played towns that had theatrical performances once or twice a year, if that.  I watched young children literally changed by the experience, in the same way I was when my parents took me to my first Broadway show when I was 5.

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

Company Management has evolved so much over the past 24 years.  When I started, the Company Manager basically did payroll, signed the box office statement, did a settlement and arranged travel and housing on tour, now we do that and so, so much more — we negotiate contracts, we work incessantly with our marketing teams and box offices to make sure we are optimizing sales, we deal with many more complex issues within our companies, and we watch the bottom line constantly.

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

For my fellow Company, House Managers and Press Agents to be given their due within the industry.  (Full Disclosure – I am a member of the Board of Governors of ATPAM – the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers).

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

Work anywhere you can get a job – intern, answer phones at a General Management office, run for coffee in production – you will learn an amazing amount about the business just by being around the business.  Don’t scoff at the small jobs – make yourself indispensable.  One of our NLA interns worked for me as an Assistant on Billy in Chicago and for his first job out of college, he is going to be the Asst. Company Manager of Mamma Mia on Broadway.

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 7: Arbender Robinson, Dance Captain/Swing

played its last performance on June 27th.  And while I’m sure everyone in the cast/crew was very disappointed to see this love-and-flowers-filled production close, I’d bet that it took the show closing to finally allow Arbender Robinson, the Dance Captain and Swing, to catch his breath!

Dance Captains/Swings are some of the hardest working people on Broadway.  They have to memorize a bunch of different tracks and be ready to go on for any of them at a moment’s notice (sometimes during the show).  They are constantly in rehearsal, and they have to keep the show in shape by giving notes to their fellow cast members/friends (which ain’t easy).  

It’s no wonder that so many Dance Captains and Swings go on to choreograph, since they have to possess great creative skills and great leadership skills simultaneously.

But enough from me about what these gutsy guys and dolls do for a living, because God knows I’ve never done a pirouette on Broadway (ok, there was that one time at 3 AM on Broadway and 51st St., but that was after an opening night party, and . . . well, never mind).

Here’s Arbender!

1. What is your title?

Dance Captain/Swing

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

Hair.  Love Out Loud!!! (I love that phrase)

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

That’s impossible!
Actually I maintain all of the blocking and choreography for the show,
assist in training all understudies, swings and replacements, and I am also
responsible for knowing what every ensemble role does in the show, and I must be
able to go on for any of those tracks (male or female).

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

Attention to detail is most important. In my show I am
looking at over 20 people onstage at a time and if things are wrong, or unsafe, or not what the choreographer intended, then I need to see it, note it, and
devise a quick plan to fix it for the next show.

Self motivation is great, too.  Not only do I need to know the show, but I
need to be sure that I am ready to perform any of these roles at any time…this requires a ton of homework to remember different vocal parts, blocking,
choreography, and acting intentions for each character.  This includes everything they do
offstage, too: costume changes, prop shifts, entrances and exits etc.

Time management as well.
Sometimes you may have a list of things to tweak or adjust and you have
limited time to get the notes out and fixed before the show.

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

Well I do have a degree in Theatre and Music.  I do think it’s more of my people skills that
helped me land this job.  Everyone learns and takes notes differently.  You need
people skills to be able to communicate effectively with each individual.

6. What was your first job in theater?

A Play called Magic In the Toyshop.  I was in 3rd grade and I played a robot name
Marv-L.  I even remember the lines.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theatre has been around forever.  It’s a constant link between the past, present
and future.  It is a medium that can
teach [and] allow self expression and creativity.
It, like music, can touch anyone [regardless of] race, age,
religion, or sex.  For me, I truly think
theatre and the arts saved my life.
Honestly, but that’s a much longer conversation.

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

There is a lull in amazing creativity.  I’m not being mean by this but it seems that
commercial success is more important
than creating new creative and innovative pieces of art.  I’m not a writer or a designer, but where are
the new creators?  What innovation in the
arts will a history book say about today?

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

I wish everyone could recall that the work is what
counts.  If it’s a show at school, or
community theatre, Broadway or Regional; it is all about the work, the passion,
the precision.  We always have our eyes
set on the dream of Broadway but the dream should be to create great work.  It does not matter where.  We would have no Steppenwolf, no Groundlings,
no 2nd City if someone did not realize…I JUST WANNA DO THE WORK and CREATE

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

This is simple…. JUST DO IT!!!   You will get a ton of “no’s” and
discouragement, you will kick yourself all the time…  Just dont give up.  Once you doubt it…. then it’s over.  You have to be your biggest motivator and JUST DO IT!   Accept nothing less…

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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