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: I doubt there’s any place hotter on Planet Theater today than 425 Lafayette Street, in the East Village. The Public hasn’t just been sending one show after another to Broadway (though with Fun Home, Hamilton and, soon, Eclipsed — dayenu, it would have been enough). It’s also holding fast to its identity as a haven for work that may or may not stand outside the measure of the Broadway box office — I’m thinking of Richard Nelson’s Apple family plays, the always exciting Under The Radar Festival coming up at the turn of the year, and this
week’s opening of Michael John LaChiusa’s wonderful First Daughter Suite. The Public is alone among the city’s most prolific nonprofit theaters in not staking out its own Broadway house. I think that’s a good thing: The Public benefits when a show transfers (hugely, in the case of Hamilton) while keeping focused on its mission. But I wonder how long Oskar Eustis can keep the house that Joe Papp built out of the Broadway arena. Even Papp ran a Broadway theater — the Vivian Beaumont — for a while, until he got fed up with the headaches that entailed. But the vig alone on Hamilton‘s $40 million advance would underwrite a lot of workshops and artists-in-residence.
ROTH: “We should be making that money” is never a good reason for any company — nonprofit or commercial — to expand into a new area. “We can do this better…This is an essential part of fulfilling our mission”…these are reasons to take on a new function. The problem with the “we should be making that money” thinking is it assumes there’s this pot of money just sitting there for anyone to take and ignores others’ operational expertise and risk essential to making the pot, not to mention the possibility of core functions suffering while focus and resources are diverted to the new.
A more insidious threat to any nonprofit theater that’s had a successful commercial transfer is when it becomes an excuse to chase that success for the sake of success — programming shows not because they speak to mission and aesthetic, but because they seem like they could become hits. As you point out, the Public has happily been able to avoid that trap so far, and so too did New York Theatre Workshop following its one-two transfer punch of Once and Peter And The Starcatcher a few years ago.
Actually this isn’t just a threat to nonprofit companies. Commercial producers also falter when they initiate a project simply because they think it’ll sell and not because they have passion for it.
GERARD: Sounds to me like you’re getting in a not-so-subtle dig there at the nonprofits who do “chase success” by operating on Broadway — and compete with you and your commercial-arena colleagues. And how could they not, when they have added the expense and headaches of running Broadway houses with all that entails? How can that not affect their missions?
ROTH: No, I wasn’t digging there. Chasing success to the detriment of mission can happen on Broadway, off Broadway, regionally, anywhere. It’s about why you do the work you do, not about where you do it. And it’s a threat to all mission-driven organizations, both commercial and non-profit.
The threat you are talking about comes from taking on a lot of overhead and needing success to pay for it. The threat I was talking about comes from having a taste of commercial success and wanting more.
Next subject: I’m interested in the newly-formed Kenneth Branagh Company that joins The Michael Grandage Company in continuing a UK tradition of theater companies built around a galvanizing artist. These groups seem to me to be less about building an organizational and physical infrastructure to last generations, and more about exploring and supporting an individual creative perspective now. So maybe instead of the Public getting a Broadway house, what we should be keeping our eye out for is The Lin-Manuel Miranda Company. I’m also excited for The Laura Benanti Company, The Sherie Rene Scott Company, the Anna Deavere Smith Company and The Michael Arden Company.
GERARD: I like that idea but you, young man, are rather youth-struck. With all due respect to your choices, I think I’d first like to see the Kline/Streep Company, the James Earl Jones Company, The David Henry Hwang Company, The Stacy Keach Company and, since he just had a theater named for him, the John Cullum Company in residence at the John Cullum Theater…I must add, however, that those kinds of theaters are the foundation of the resident nonprofit theater movement — Zelda Fichandler at the Arena Stage in Washington, Nina Vance at the Alley in Houston, Margo Jones’s Theater 47 in Dallas — but have never succeeded in New York, where the lure of, yes Broadway, inevitably makes the dream of a repertory company a non-starter. Lincoln Center tried it. BAM tried it, Tony Randall tried it. Even an impressive triumvirate of commercial producers — Roger Berlind, Emanuel Azenberg and the late Robert Whitehead — with the offer of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre rent-free as the Shubert Organization’s contribution, couldn’t make it work. The plan, announced on Page 1 of the New York Times on October 5, 1987, promised “a subscription series of five plays that would run at the Barrymore for nine weeks each, at a ticket cost to subscribers about 25 percent below current Broadway prices. The group intends to present its first production in January 1989.” They’re 25 years and 11 months behind schedule.