EXCLUSIVE: Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres majority owner and president Jordan Roth talk about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: Two serious plays are moving to Broadway this season. Hoorah, say I. And hoorah for the producers moving them: Scott Rudin, in the case of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of The Humans, by the remarkable Stephen Karam; and Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey in the case of the Public Theater’s Eclipsed, by the gifted writer and actress Danai Gurira. Eclipsed comes with the benefit of a celebrated performance by an Oscar-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, and it also has a theater, the Shuberts’ very desirable Golden. Still, I fear even those factors won’t necessarily produce long lines at the box office for a play that portrays brutality, rape and the hopelessness of war with little pandering relief thrown to the audience.
So I want to make an off-the-wall suggestion. Put both plays in the Golden and present them on a rotating schedule. A variation on the theme of the recent alternating productions of Waiting For Godot and No Man’s Land, and Twelfth Night and Richard III. If there’s demand, increase the number of performances, which would address the landlords’ complaint that they aren’t able to exploit their properties to the max. Give the companies a shot at a longer life through scarcity marketing that would actually work in favor of the artists.
ROTH: I’m excited about both shows and think they will attract a lot of attention and have strong runs. But apart from the specifics of these plays, you’re getting at something important: The minimum demand required for a play to exist on Broadway is very high. Most play houses are around 1,000 seats, times eight performances per week at a capacity of say 70 percent is 5,600 people per week. So even if a non-profit run completely sold out off Broadway, its entire audience is only 2 weeks’ worth of audience on Broadway. The risk that producers have to take is whether, given the platform and marketing budget of Broadway, their show will generate that kind of increased demand.
It’s a big risk, which is why we celebrate these producers’ vision and why you’re rightly asking if it always has to be that big. The sharing economy has transformed many industries by optimizing resources –sharing cars (Uber, Lyft), rooms (Airbnb), offices (WeWork, Neuehouse), so why not theaters? Like many transforming ideas, it would require all of the stake holders to look quite differently at what they do, how they do it and how they are paid for it. Creative teams would have to embrace using common light and sound plots and collaborate on a set that would serve both shows with minimal change-over. Everyone would have to agree to be paid per performance rather than per 8-performance week. As not every performance in the week is created equally, the producers would have to agree on who gets to play Saturday nights and who has to play Wednesdays.
None of this is impossible, but moving from multiple shows with the same producers, cast, crew, creative teams, marketing plans — as with the Godot/No Man’s Land and the Twelfth Night/Richard — to multiple shows with separate everything, the entire industry would have to have the will to rewrite the rules to do it.
GERARD: Well, these aren’t Shakespeare, or Shakespeare length. On Saturday night, why not run both, one at 7 and the other at 9? See? Not so hard, really. Next topic: Rick Miramontez, one of the most reliably entertaining, not to mention successful hawkers of product on the street where we live has just moved himself and his brain trust to a national agency, DKC Public Relations. He’ll be working for Joe Quenqua, whom DKC recruited from Walt Disney Studios, and Rick’s company O&M Co. P.R. will bring Broadway clients including Kinky Boots and Fun Home along for the ride. Competitors like Chris Boneau and Adrian Bryan-Brown already work a national and international client base, so I’m wondering what Rick’s move really means. Is Broadway finally being recognized as a major cog in the entertainment-industrial complex — or did Rick just buy himself a great insurance policy? What does it all mean, Jordan?
ROTH: On both sides, the deal signals an arrival. On the one side, recognizing Broadway’s prominence in the broader culture conversation and the potential for it to spark new collaborations and contributions across disciplines. On the other, DKC’s instant position in the Broadway landscape through O+M’s many shows and clients as well as its strong team of ATPAM union publicists, a requirement to represent Broadway shows. I expect to see O+M’s experience on Broadway informing the firm’s many other practices in unique ways, and I expect to see those other worlds — politics, technology, business, more — interacting with Broadway. I’ve worked with Rick and Andy Snyder and the O+M team for many years and I know that their great creativity, strategy and style will get even better, bigger and bolder with this expanded canvas. Putting together smart people, interesting companies and different industries makes for great potential. Add some old school showmanship and who knows what can happen?
GERARD: OK, last item: Keira Knightley made her Broadway debut last night in Thèrése Raquin, and I can’t remember such wildly opposing reviews. If you read Deadline, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, you’ll think both the star and the show are weak beer. But the Associated Press says Knightley is “wonderful as she goes from odd duck to lip-quivering lust” and New York magazine likes the “banked fire quality that seems to illuminate such material from within. My Variety colleague says Knightley and co-star Matt Ryan are “ravishing” and Newsday called it “a suspenseful, beautifully staged adultery-and-murder thriller…with the emotionally translucent Keira Knightley.” Similar disparities can be found in the assessments of the script, set, directions and other performances. These are all smart people but could we all have seen the same show? I know where I’d turn if I were putting together the ad quotes, but who do you believe?
ROTH: The question is who’s right, right? Is the show good or bad? That’s what we all want to know definitively when we read a review, but that’s where we get ourselves into trouble. As confounding as it is, these moments of stark disagreement among critics remind us that reviews are individuals’ opinions and reflections on what the show means for them and for the form. Experienced and informed opinions, opinions that inform many other people’s opinions, but always opinions, never objective fact. I wish we could all read reviews asking ourselves “is this show for me?” rather than “is this show good?” And when I read reviews as passionately split as these, they make me want to see for myself and form my own opinion. I’ll let you know what I believe.
GERARD: Deft, Jordan. Pretty, pretty deft.