I was watching West Side Story the other day and was reminded that, as a kid, I thought it would be cool to be in a gang like the Jets and the Sharks. Of course, I grew up and realized that street gangs are scary and more to the point, they don’t go around singing and dancing between well choreographed knife fights.
But then I discovered that there actually are cool singing and dancing “gangs”, like high school drama club. Unfortunately for me, by the time I graduated I realized that unless I became an actor, backstage crew, or musician I didn’t get to be part of the day to day drama “gang” that comes with being part of a cast. Producers and writers get to visit but we don’t get fully initiated. We never quite learn the secret handshake.
So that means we need to start our own…
As important as it is for all of us to be networking with others in our community who focus on a different aspect of the business, don’t underestimate the benefits of getting to know your peers and colleagues who are in the trenches doing what you do.
Yes, this is a competitive business but we can all help each other.
Goodspeed is going into another year of hosting groups of writers who not only have space to work at Goodspeed’s beautiful facility but are encouraged to share their work and critique each other.
At a recent National Alliance of Musical Theater showcase, rather than selecting writing teams to invite to the presentation, instead the organization asked several Broadway writing teams to pick their favorite up-and-coming writing team to show off to the industry.
The brand new New York Songspace has a group of resident writers who go into a “writing office” every day so that, while they are working on individual projects, they can also meet, collaborate, and vent.
We’re called a musical theater COMMUNITY for a reason but it’s up to us to make that community as strong as possible. And by that I mean, we have to support each other. Writers support writers. Musicians support musicians. Producers need to support producers.
Reach out to colleagues who you respect and with whom you share similar goals and ambitions and suggest a weekly, monthly or quarterly get together. Maybe it’s a salon structure where you share your work with each other. Or maybe you just meet for drinks or coffee to chat and compare notes. Whatever it is, I not only guarantee you that your peers will be happy to have the opportunity to get together, but you’ll see that, as a group, you’ll all be more successful.
I learned long ago to take heed of the life’s lessons taught by musicals. The Jets supply this one.
When you’re a Jet
Let them do what they can
You got brother’s around
You’re a family man
Now go get your gang on!
As November comes to a close, I can no longer claim that I “took the summer off” from blogging. The truth is, I just got busy. In case you’re curious what’s kept me from writing, here is what I have been up to these past few months.
I hosted six wonderful writing teams at Running Deer Musical Theater Lab (full list HERE); I am co-producing two Broadway shows this fall, A Night With Janis Joplin and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; and LIZZIE, the rock concept album I co-produced had its release last month.
However, perhaps the biggest project I have been devoting my time to this month is my theater themed publishing company, Dress Circle Publishing (DCP). Founded by Roberta Pereira and me just over a year ago, DCP has already had some exciting titles come out like Amazon theater bestsellers SHOWBIZ and STAGED.
Now, I’m proud to announce that our most recent title hit shelves last week! It’s called THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY by theater-historian-extraordinaire Jennifer Ashley Tepper.
To create The Untold Stories of Broadway, Jennifer interviewed over 200 Broadway professionals – actors, directors, producers, stagehands, designers, ushers, and others — to elicit their funniest or most compelling backstage experiences on The Great White Way.
When Jennifer first approached us about her idea for this series of books about Broadway, we were excited about the prospect since there has never been a Broadway oral history project of this scope. But we could not have fathomed the extent of the dedication, generosity and love for the theater that everyone involved in this book brought to the project. It’s been incredible and a testament to the huge hearts in this theater community. I think you’ll see what I mean when you read it.
I could not be more proud to be producing this amazing collection of never before heard Broadway stories from the likes of Hal Prince, Ahrens & Flaherty, Jason Alexander, Charles Strouse, Lin Manuel Miranda, Hunter Bell, and many, many more.
And stories about everything from:
- Producer/director Hal Prince’s recollection of having to talk the eccentric star of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum off the rooftop of the Neil Simon theater
- How far actor Jonathan Groff was willing to go in order to score tickets to Thoroughly Modern Millie
- Why Jason Alexander was naked when he first met Elizabeth Taylor… and what he said to her that still bothers him to this day!
Should you wish to buy a copy for yourself (or perhaps as a holiday gift for your favorite theater fan?), you can do so HERE.
I do promise to get back to blogging about the art and business of new musicals. Meanwhile, enjoy Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s, The Untold Stories of Broadway.
A common adage in showbiz (or anything really) is, “It’s all about who you know.”
But I’m sorry to tell you, this statement won’t get you very far.
It’s relatively easy to cross paths with Broadway stars, toast with a big name producer at a party, shake hands with a top casting director at a networking event, or even be Facebook friends with key contacts.
However, the better adage for real success in showbiz, is, “It’s all about who knows you.”
Simply having crossed paths with the people you’d like to know is a good start to building a relationship, but until that person will return your calls or emails or recognize you on the street, you don’t know them and they don’t know you.
I frequently make introductions for the wonderful people in my network to the other wonderful people in my network and they do the same for me. In fact, when I was new to NYC and knew hardly anyone, I sat down with a few industry people who I had met over the years. I sought their wisdom and advice about the business and at the end of each conversation I’d ask, “who else should I be talking to?”
Inevitably they’d make an introduction which would lead to another meeting and another introduction and in time (and many cups of coffee and glasses of wine) I had built – and continue to be building – a huge network of incredible contacts, colleagues and friends.
Our theater industry is made up of a relatively small community and odds are someone you know knows someone you want to know and may be willing to make an introduction for you. These days, with LinkedIn and Facebook, figuring out connections has never been easier. Take the time to put in the legwork to get a real introduction.
Becoming “known” in the theater business takes time, diligence, and putting yourself out there to as many people as you can whether they be interns or icons. It’s about showing up, following up, helping people, asking for help, and being part of the community.
It’s a lifetime endeavor, but the rewards are limitless. Because dropping names can only take you so far. Creating meaningful contacts can make your career.
As a theater producer, a lot of contracts come across my desk. Option agreements, employment deals, production contracts. These are epic documents that lay out the deal and then proceed to outline every imaginable way that things could go wrong and try to protect each party’s interests should any of the worst case scenarios come to pass.
But we all know, you can’t predict every imaginable outcome in anything in life, much less the nebulous world of musical theater. Inevitably, every contract I see these days is peppered with the words “in good faith.” You generally see it after you’ve nailed down all the expected outcomes in any given section and then you’ll see something like,
“In addition to everything we’ve just outlined, here are all the things we can’t predict but when they come up, both parties will negotiate them IN GOOD FAITH.”
But my question is? What the hell does that mean? It’s ambiguous, arbitrary, and in my experience, doesn’t hold the contracting parties to any binding moral obligation. In fact, I asked a lawyer and he confirmed that the “in good faith” clause is extremely difficult to enforce since it’s so amorphous.
In reality, I’ve seen far too many people who, when finding themselves in contractual gray areas, find it awfully convenient to ignore this clause. Instead, they hide behind their lawyers and use their contracts as an excuse to get away with self-serving behavior that tramples on their collaborators. I’ve heard things like, “My lawyer says I don’t have to do xyz for my lyricist/producer/star/co-conceiver/etc.” And that lawyer is probably correct. Often in these cases, your contract doesn’t force you to do something, but let’s be crystal clear – that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still do the right thing.
Your lawyer’s job is to tell you your legal obligation in any given situation. YOUR job to determine your moral obligation. Any time you’re faced with a scenario where a contractual loophole lets you off easy, gives you a bigger piece of the pie, or as I often see, allows you to leave a key player in the dust, I entreat you to take a step back and remember that no contract can mandate morality and humanity.
In fact, I wish we could replace the phrase “to be negotiated in good faith” in every contract with the phrase, “to be negotiated in the manner of caring humans.” Or if that’s too much to ask, at least replace the phrase with something like, “to be negotiated in a manner whereby both parties, while keeping their best interests in mind, will not act entirely selfishly.”
Until that happens, when you find yourself in a contractual gray area, which happens frequently in any given deal, you have to ask yourself, what’s the right thing to do? Or if you have a faulty moral compass, instead ask yourself, if the roles were reversed, what would you like the outcome to be?
And if a moral obligation isn’t enough to convince you to do the right thing, remember this: At the end of the day, only you, your collaborators and your lawyer know the letter of the law. You may be well within your rights every step of the way. But the only thing the rest of us can see is your behavior. And if you treat people badly, we’re not going to blame your lawyer, we’re going to blame you.