10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 1: A Broadway Mad Man.

Today on The Producer’s Perspective we’re introducing a brand new feature, which is a spin-off on my Advice From An Expert articles.

In “10 Questions for a Broadway Pro,” I ask . . . yep . . . a Broadway Industry Professional 10 Questions!

We’ll talk to all sorts of people involved in the modern theater and get their perspective on their job, their role in the biz and what they’d like to see change.  We’re gonna hear from Casting Directors, Marketing Directors, Press Agents, and more (let me know if there is a position you’d like to hear from).

The inspiration for this feature came from my first gig on a Broadway show.  I was the Production Assistant on the Barry and Fran Weissler revival of My Fair Lady, starring Richard Chamberlain and a 23-year-old Melissa Errico.  My duties included everything from getting Richard his fresh-off-the-bone turkey sandwiches to typing up the rehearsal schedule on a Mac Classic.

And it was one of the greatest times of my life.

The best part about the gig was that I was exposed to a whole bunch of people and positions that I never knew existed before.  The job gave me a chance to see who was pulling the curtain strings of Broadway . . . and made me realize that I was even more excited about being behind-the-scenes rather than in them (I was on the actor-track).

I used to ask everyone involved in the show questions about what they did. Thanks to their answers, I learned so much about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do.

So, I thought I’d give you a virtual experience of what I went through back then, and introduce you to not only the biggest players on Broadway whose names aren’t on the marquees, but also help us all understand what exactly they do on a day-to-day basis.

First up is one of Broadway’s own Mad Men, Drew Hodges, the founder and CEO of SpotCo, one of the two Broadway heavyweight ad agencies.  (Drew also happens to be #21 on BroadwaySpace.com’s 50 Most Powerful People.)

Having sat in many an ad meeting with Drew, I can tell you that he’s one of a very rare hybrid that combines incredible business acumen with unbridled creativity.

Without further ado, here are 10 Questions with Drew!

1.    What is your title?

Founder, SpotCo Advertising

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

Next Fall, Million Dollar Quartet, La Cage, Memphis, A Behanding in Spokane, Chicago, The Pee Wee Herman Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Hair, A View From the Bridge, Billy Elliot, Fences, Time Stands Still, Red, In The Heights,  The 39 Steps, Avenue Q, West Side Story, Come Fly Away, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Present Laughter, The Miracle Worker, Blue Man Group, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Love Never Dies.  In no particular order.

3.    In one sentence, describe your job.

We create identities and sell tickets for live theatrical events.

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

Creativity, marketing, problem solving, humility, humor, and fast thinking.

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

I owned my own design studio doing advertising and design for entertainment – film, cable, and the recording industry – for 12 years. Before that, I got a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts.

6.    What was your first job in theater?

I did the poster for The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart for Tom Viola and Roger McFarland.  It’s a portrait of my right hand.

7.    Why do you think theater is important?

It creates joy and outrage, both often when we need it most.

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

Conservatism, and too many cooks.

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

That every challenge be met with humor and poise, rather than blame.  The team is always better when unified and caring.

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

If you wanted to work in advertising for theater, there are several paths to take.  If you are a graphic designer, video editor, web designer, etc., we just look for a great portfolio that has vibrancy, a sense of humor as a person, and the ability to move fast.  A love of theater is not essential, and often times, I like that people bring a more diverse palette to our Broadway materials.  If you wanted to be an account person, a writer, etc., a passion for theater is a great help.  A sense of marketing, or marketing courses as a background are nice.  We have several people from the BMI workshop, and the producing program at Columbia.  We also have people who have worked at other more traditional ad agencies, and that knowledge can be a huge help, when combined with the joy (or the heartbreak) of theater.

Because Drew is the kind of guy that always goes a little further in everything he does, he also answered a bonus question.  When asked what kind of advice he would give to someone that wanted to be a Producer, he answered as follows:

Surround yourself with the best people, and be willing to understand that every friend you have will tell you your project is perfect.  You need to listen to real people, and if your advance is falling, people don’t like it as much as you think.  The opposite is also true- if your advance is climbing, no matter how slowly, people are genuinely loving your show and you should keep going.

Want to hear more expert advice from Drew but don’t have a show that he can advertise yet?  Listen to some of his American Theatre Wing panels here.

It worked once. It’ll work again, right?

Lightning in a bottle is hard to capture once.

So, when people try to use the same bottle to catch another bolt, I always get nervous (this is one of the reasons I won’t be coming out with another interactive show anytime soon).

The popular fiction biz depends on trying to catch secondary bolts.  John Grisham writes a best selling legal thriller like The Firm and immediately his publishers put  him on a schedule of producing a novel a year to earn his paycheck, praying that his readers “subscribe” to his novels.  And all of the novels have similar settings, and similar structure.

But were any of his later books ever as good as The Firm?

That’s what made me nervous when I stepped into the Mark Taper Forum this past Sunday to see the Deaf West production of Pippin (a show that I’ve never been a huge fan of).

This production has the unique distinction of using “deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors as voice and American Sign Language are interwoven with music, dance, and joyous storytelling.”  (i.e. there were two Pippins).

Unique, right?  Absolutely . . . except that there was a revival of Big River on Broadway a few years ago brought to us by Deaf West and The Roundabout.  So, I walked in with an expectation of what I was about to see and hear . . . something I knew was special . . . but something that, well, I had already seen and heard.

Get this.  They exceeded my decent-sized expectations.

Maybe it’s because Pippin lends itself to a more theatrical treatment like this than Big River.

Maybe it’s because the newly redesigned Mark Taper Forum provided one of the most comfortable theatrical experiences I’ve ever had (the lobby, the seats, the restrooms, and even the ticketing-system were extraordinary).

Maybe it’s because I had been disappointed by the actors-as-musicians Company after seeing Sweeney Todd.

Or maybe it’s because the creative team led by Jeff Calhoun knew that they couldn’t just serve up what we’ve seen before, and they worked their asses off to prove that they weren’t trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

They were trying to create the lightning.

So if you want to do something similar to what you’ve done before, or what someone else has done before (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got the next Blue Man Group!”  Or “I’ve got the next Mamma Mia!”), go for it.

But go for it twice as hard as you went after it the first time.

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