HLS in the Arts | Conversations: Broadway and Theater

HLS in the Arts | Conversations: Broadway and Theater


JEANNIE SUK GERSEN:
Welcome, welcome, everyone, to our event on HLS on Broadway. We have here a
very exciting panel of very distinguished,
very accomplished producers of the Broadway stage. I am the host for this
panel and Roy Furman is the moderator for this panel. And I will start by
introducing Roy Furman and then Roy will introduce
the rest of the panel. And then we will go to remarks
that each of the panelists may want to start us off with. And we’ll do some
Q&A and discussion, I will also ask some
questions, and so it’ll be a little bit
freewheeling after a while. So Roy Furman, to my
left, is the class of 1963 from Harvard Law School. He is one of the
country’s top producers for the Broadway stage. He is the real deal. He is an investment banker,
that is his day job, but in the meantime he
has won 13 Tony Awards, including for shows
such as Book of Mormon, which is still running. Last year alone he won two Tony
Awards, one for Hello Dolly and Dear Evan Hansen. They are both still on Broadway
if you want to see them. He also– ROY FURMAN: Selling
tickets right after. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN:
Cats is another one, Cats is another one of
his shows still running. I’m very, very excited
that he is here with us. He is our moderator
for this panel and I will turn things
over to him for the moment. And then he will introduce
you to the rest of the panel and then we will
do a discussion. [APPLAUSE] ROY FURMAN: Thank you. I’m sitting next to a
professor of law who is also a great pianist and
is performing as well as moderating. So that’s really
juggling some stuff. By the way if this was a boat
we’d be totally tipped over. We need people to come
in through the side door. Anyway I’m pleased,
I’ll introduce you, Dale, over here, Cendali is
the only practicing lawyer on the panel, who
practices in this business. But she’s with
Kirkland and Ellis, and a major figure in the legal
side of the theater business. And we should just go on and
introduce everyone, right? I think. And then we have Nell
Benjamin to my left, and Laurence O’Keefe, who
are husband and wife– [LAUGHTER] –happily. NELL BENJAMIN: Dangerously
sharing a microphone. ROY FURMAN: And I worked
with them many years ago when we did Legally Blonde,
which they wrote for Broadway. A terrific show, it was a great
show, and one of the shows that didn’t last as
long as it should have. We’ll get to that maybe later,
but the economics didn’t work. The show was too expensive for
the number of people who came. It had very big audiences,
but once those big audiences begin to decline a bit, if
the cost structure underlying the show was too
high, and too high for the project, which it was– bad producing–
but it would still be running now in my opinion,
it was that good a show. And Nell is now writing Mean
Girls, Tina Fey’s show, which is coming next
season, which I’ll be involved with in a passive
way but nicely involved. And you’re doing Heathers. And anyway, very talented
people and lovely people and lovely people here. And over to you, Jeannie. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: Thanks. So why don’t we
start with you, Dale. Would you like to
say a few words of further introduction for the
remarks to set things up a bit? DALE CENDALI: OK. I’d be happy to do that. I’m also lucky enough
to be a lecturer here for the past eight
years teaching copyright and trademark litigation. And one of the great
things about Broadway is that there are a lot
of legal issues tied up with the creative
aspects of the show. I litigated the
Spider-Man musical case where a lot of that involves,
does a director really have anything separate
that they copyright? Or is it really
owned by the people who actually wrote the show? So those are cool issues. And I’m litigating now
the Anastasia musical case by somebody who said it’s
based on a French play that they had written. And that gets to
issues of, well, gee, if both people are drawing
from the same source, which is the fact that there
were real live people who thought that they, or
pretended to be Anastasia and claimed to be
Anastasia, can everybody have that similarity in a show? So there’s a lot of legal
issues that are a lot of fun. But for me, having been a
member of the law school drama society here, and a former
president of the Yale Dramat, what I like is that I had been
able to combine my interests. Roy is a real lead
producer, and he’ll talk about the different
kinds of producers. I have produced with a p,
listed in the program It Shoulda Been You, but I’m
much more of an investor. I get to passively give money
to a lot of different shows that gets you to be
involved in some way. And I’m also a Tony
voter because I’m on the board of the
American Theater Wing, and I do a lot of pro
bono work for them, stemming out of a
history thesis I did when I was at Yale on
the history of the Stage Door Canteen. So what I’m trying to say is if
you’re interested in theater, and you have friends who
are interested in theater, there’s lots of different
ways of getting involved even if you’re not ready to
be a lead producer of a show. And if you have people who are
interested in legal issues, they’re still being
sorted out and there’s ways of getting
involved in that, too. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: Roy,
before I turn things over to you for a bit, I
wanted to also acknowledge that we have with
us Larry Lessig, who is the Roy Furman Professor
of Law at Harvard Law School. [APPLAUSE] So Dale started us talking
about the different kinds of producing. What can you tell us about that? And we also, in addition
maybe even before, we’d love to hear about how
you got to this career of being a producer after having been
at Harvard Law School, and then an investment banker. How did this come about? ROY FURMAN: I’ll take
the last one first. Good to see you, Larry. And David Zippel is here also. We should honor a great– [APPLAUSE] –a Tony-winning great
talent, and friend of the law school and graduate
of the school. I got involved in it because
I’ve always loved theater. And I practiced for a few years,
then went into Wall Street and was invited to
give, to put money into a show, what Dale
was talking about, just being a what was
called then an angel. And I started contributing to
certain shows that I liked, with not even a
care or a thought. I had my opening night tickets
and I went and that was it. And gradually, incrementally, I
ended up getting more involved and began to realize that I
could actually have a voice. I could understand the balance
sheet and financial side, and then got to
learn that I actually could make a contribution
on the creative side. Moderately, but I could. And the combination
led me to it end up sort of asking for
a seat at the table and then getting more
and more involved, until it’s now
reached a stage where I’m actively producing,
even as I continue to work on Wall Street. The comment I’d make
regarding producing is it’s a terrible term
misused by everybody. Most people don’t produce. They write a check and
come to opening nights and call themselves producers. And the only admonition I
give is if people approach you as the producer of x, y,
and z, try to find out what they really did on x, y, and z. The odds are almost
95% that they’ve done almost nothing
except say that they’re the producer of x, y, and z. But I codify it into three
categories of producing. The first is lead producer. And the lead producer is
the CEO of the company. And it is a big business. And the legal considerations,
which Dale is reveling in– DALE CENDALI: We are
at Harvard Law School. ROY FURMAN: No, no,
it’s a great business to be in because the legal
involvements are endless. They are daily in every
phase, whether it’s union contracts, employee
contracts, creative people contracts, lawsuits
coming left and right. The more successful you are, the
more you attract in lawsuits. But in any event,
I’ll just give you one idea of the sense of
scale of this business– and as my wife pointed out,
it’s an aberration but worth mentioning. Hamilton has three companies
going now, one in New York, one in Chicago, a sit down
in Chicago and a sit down on the west coast. It’s grossing $10
million a week. Unheard of for theater,
but $10 million per week to half a billion dollar
a year enterprise. And there’ll soon be one
in London in the fall, and another one on the west
coast, national touring company, that will be going
out in February of next year. So this is again an
aberrational show. But to give you a
sense, there aren’t that many startups that become
half-billion-dollar companies. The lead producer is involved
in every decision made, from conception through
realization, and then beyond. It’s a very challenging role. Very few would do it. Very few do it well. The next level are the
producers who are actively involved in the production,
even when they’re not a lead producer. That is producers who are
looked to by the lead producer for assistance in the
myriad number of things. Choosing a theater,
gaining access to a theater sponsorship,
getting somebody on the cast, making casting
decisions, et cetera. That’s the second. The third are the passive ones
that Dale was referring to. The people who are involved
and they’re producers by name because they give or get
a certain amount of money that puts them on the marquee. Now I’ve played
each of those roles, and there’s a very
big difference. So that’s that. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: Great. How does one go from being
a producer who gives or gets money to actually becoming
a real creative force in a production? ROY FURMAN: Me? How you get there
is one of two ways. You can either be invited
into the pantheon of people who lead produce by
other lead producers who invite you to join them, which
is how it happened to me. I don’t have the time to
create something de novo. But the creation of something
is extraordinary and usually takes, I’d say,
five to six years. LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
If you’re lucky. NELL BENJAMIN: If you’re lucky. Yeah. ROY FURMAN: Seven
to eight years. We’ll adjust on the fly. But those I really give my
greatest hand to, the people who create them from start. Very, very challenging. I’m thinking of
a Book of Mormon, which I am involved
with, fortunately, but that one took seven years. And that was with the guys
from South Park, who really were smart and knew
what they were doing, and always wanted to write
a musical, seven years. American in Paris, with
music already written by the Gershwins,
took five years. It’s a real challenge
to create them, and if you’re creating
new music, new lyrics, you’ll talk about
your shows, but that’s one that is very challenging. It’s easier to come in,
frankly as I’ve done, two years into the process, or
three years in to be invited in to be a lead producer
with the person who was the original lead producer
and then move on from there. That’s what I tend to
do when I lead produce. You answer. NELL BENJAMIN: No,
just to add to that, but there will be
people like us begging you to come in that third way. Because we will have projects
that don’t have a movie to be based on or backing,
they’re just original ideas, and sometimes some of the more
exalted producers don’t need to or don’t want to take
the risk at that stage. So we are often
looking for someone who has done stuff before,
has some knowledge of it, and would like to sort of
shepherd a project through. And again that
becomes complicated, because sometimes you do
get people who, as Roy said, say, oh, well, I produced
x when they wrote a check, and you sort of go back
and forth with that. But there are a lot
of people looking for folks who want to
be involved creatively and want to shepherd
something crazy. So that’s very exciting
for us when someone wants to come in that way. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN:
So Nell and Larry, why don’t you tell us a little
bit about some of your projects and some of the
creative challenges and how that interacts with
the producing challenges. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Oh sure, hi. Well you may know
some of the projects that we have worked on. Obviously, Legally Blonde. It’s based in a law school,
you may have heard of it. But Heathers, a very dark,
black, almost nihilistic comedy that was sort of
like a dark antidote to the lies of the Reagan
years, and Mean Girls, which is actually almost
related by blood, also about cruelty,
and misbehavior, and injustice in a high school. We do tend to get
attracted to projects that deal with ethics
rather explicitly, or deal with morals explicitly. And that seems to
be sort of the meat and potatoes of
musicals in general. Other art forms don’t seem to
be as prescriptive or preachy. But if you go to a musical
and you don’t actually have some new bit of moral
instruction by the time you leave, you feel like you’ve
missed out on an opportunity. So, we are attracted
to those things and it can often make for
button-pushing or shows that don’t necessarily match the
narrow window of what Broadway loves, but we keep trying. And Mean Girls is going to be
the frickin’ best thing ever, you’re going to love it. But the producing
element is inextricably tied to that, because a show
that is unthreatening, and very optimistic, and full of all the
values that Broadway expects is an easier sell from
the very beginning. Meanwhile, we do Heathers,
which has kids in the meanest high school in the world. The short version, for those
of you who don’t know it, is it is about the
meanest high school. It’s in Ohio. And it is so cruel. And it’s run by
three girls named Heather, Heather, and Heather. And two misfit kids,
played by Winona Ryder and Christian
Slater, accidentally kill the head Heather. And the girl, played by Winona
Ryder, says, this is terrible. We should turn ourselves in. And the boy, played by Christian
Slater, is a psychopath and says, this is great. Let’s kill all the
other assholes. So, Broadway. So from the very beginning,
the originating team was three producers
with that title, and two authors, Kevin
Murphy and myself, and a director, Andy Fickman. And all six of us had
the title producer. And we said, we have
the power to do this. We’re going to launch
it, we’re going to fund it from
the very beginning, and then we will sell it. We will give away the power
to some rich, visionary, brave producer in New York City
who’ll take it to Broadway. And we got to opening
night off-Broadway, and no one had done that. No producer on Broadway
had taken a swing at it because it contained
certain things I think that were a little
too scary for Broadway. Broadway sometimes has murder,
sometimes has sex and swearing, but it didn’t necessarily
have teenagers doing all these things. So, we wound up being among the
lead producers to the very end. We didn’t want to. We got Scott Prisand,
the lovely guy who did We Will Rock You
on Broadway, a good guy and he helped bring
it to off-Broadway. It did fairly well off-Broadway. Now hopefully we’re going
to London next year. These shows take a long time. We took seven years of
believing it ourselves, funding it ourselves, and
the journey still continues. I think we’ll make it to
Broadway with the feedback we’ve learned. We may make further
emendations, changes to the text based on what we’ve
learned by beta testing it in front of various audiences. And we will hopefully
have a version that enough people believe
in, and as our cult has grown, and YouTube has spread
the bootlegs far and wide, eventually popular
demand will hopefully move the Overton
window of what Broadway accepts, so that Heathers
will be dead center. And if we’re wrong, we’re wrong,
and we’re doing great already. But yeah, there’s so much
more I could babble about, about how producing is
part of the calculation from the very beginning. Any author who doesn’t realize
that is certainly missing out. ROY FURMAN: I’d add to that
that quite a few years ago, a female producer named
Stacy Mindich, who’s a wonderful woman who I had
worked with on some shows, came to me and said she’s
going to do a show on Broadway about an autistic person,
a young high school kid who was autistic, or on
the autism scale, and he can barely communicate. And he gets caught
up in a situation where the other sort of loser
in the school kills himself, and that happens early in
the show and it’s a musical. And the only reason
I got involved with that pitch, that
powerhouse pitch, was because the
people behind it were brilliant, Pasek and Paul, two
young, very talented writers. But the odds on that
succeeding were one in 50, commercially in my
opinion, but it made sense to support young talent. And it was worth a shot. The theme was crazy, it
is crazier than Heathers, and that’s Dear Evan Hanson,
for those of you who know it. Now you can’t steal
a ticket, and it’s such an outrageous
commercial success, and we did not know
that at all, really. We knew it would be
artistically beautiful but we thought it would
appeal to a very small group. But you don’t know anymore. You think you know. And those happy,
sunny, optimistic shows that can get money
easily often turn out to be the ones that go right
down the drain, while the Dear Evan Hansons of
the world attract a global audience of young
people and their parents. Parents are taking
their children to see it so they can communicate. A lot of parents have told me
they had better conversations with their children
after seeing that show than they had had for decades. That somehow that show opened
up that gap between parent and child because that show
was about the mothers, fathers, and the children
caught up in this. So [? go ?] [? no. ?] It’s
sometimes the most far fetched ideas. So Heathers, we welcome
you to Broadway. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Thank you. NELL BENJAMIN: Heathers
too, like Evan Hansen, like it is kids driving
these ticket sales. I think Heathers’ cast album is
number five on the cast album charts. And it’s the one
that didn’t ever have a Broadway production. So people are loving the dark
side where we like to be, because that’s what you see. And bringing inspiration
as Evan Hansen does, as Heathers
does, out of that, if you can do that on
Broadway then you’re winning. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: I not
only have a producer sort of experience in this. My main concern as a writer
was not the producing. There were other people
there to do the job and to make and to
build the house that we could fill with our story. But before either of
those artistic concerns, or structural, or
business matters, there is the ethical
or the moral question. And I kind of want to
push that even harder, because if you’re asked
to invest in a show, you might as well ask,
what is it recommending. What is it advocating? Not what does it say,
because that’s vague. Not what is the theme of it,
because that’s even vaguer. But what is it
recommending or advocating? And if you can get a
coherent argument out of the person asking for your
money, that’s a very good sign. NELL BENJAMIN: In
general, if you can get a coherent argument out
of the person asking for money, that’s a good sign. LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
But what Evan Hansen is recommending and
advocating is very clear, too. It is recommending
and advocating greater communication
and forgiveness between parents and kids. That’s one of the most
remarkable things. And so in other
words, Broadway is very much like any
other business, it’s looking for a
better mousetrap. It is looking for something
that has not been said before. Stephen Sondheim once
said that audiences are trained and
conditioned to pay money for a truth they already
know, or a lie they’d like to believe. You know, love conquers all. Hmm, doesn’t always. Racism is bad. Yes, we knew that as early
as 1949 with South Pacific. That was revolutionary
then, but Broadway has known for a long time. So if you can deliver
something new that we have not thought of to say out loud and
in exactly that way, like Evan Hansen does, or Mean Girls does,
or if you can remind audiences of some moral truth, or some
ethical thing that they’ve forgotten, you are well
on your way to building a better mousetrap,
if that makes sense. And from all that will
spring the loyalty that will keep you with
the quirky, weird show for seven, eight, 10, 13 years. So that’s the horse
I would bet on. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: Well,
this is really fascinating that you’re talking
about Broadway musicals in terms of advocacy and
normative recommendations. That’s just a framework that
I certainly hadn’t really thought about when I’m
watching a Broadway show, but it’s actually a very
convincing argument. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: It makes
for better songs, too. NELL BENJAMIN: So much. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN:
Especially in a school where much of what the
students are learning is how to make arguments,
and how to make them sound coherent, and how to advocate
for things that they think should happen as an attorney or
in other venues in public life. I wanted to come back to this
idea of morals and ethics, and how that is really
central to your vision of what makes a successful show. Not just artistically
successful but also commercially successful because
that’s just really interesting. What are the moral and ethical
expectations of an audience? Are they always changing? Is it something that you
think that, you said a better mousetrap, is it a
better mousetrap to fit the expectations of that
particular generation? Is it something that’s universal
that coheres through time, and it’s just a matter
of finding a better way to capture what
it is audiences are hungry for, always? I suppose that part of what
producers are doing, or trying to, and writers, are
trying to capture what it is that the moral and
ethical questions that really preoccupied the
generation, or that are in the unconscious
of a generation that they don’t even
know yet, they don’t even know that is the
question that they’re really going to want to ponder. And it’s part of
your job as people who are creating these
works for the stage to argue that this is what
people are going to want to be thinking about,
and then also to make the case once the show is up. So I just wanted to ask
about how do you arrive upon? Is it a prediction exercise? Is it a looking back at the
past of what’s been successful? NELL BENJAMIN: To talk
in a song framework for lyrics, before anyone took a
risk on us with Legally Blonde, we started writing
children’s musicals. Well, actually, no. First we did the mice, which was
part of a musical called Three, which we got through a friend. And then we were called by
Theater Works USA, which is a company that sends
children’s musicals throughout the country. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: To some towns
where that’s the only theater they’ll get all year. NELL BENJAMIN: Right. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: It’s
a wonderful company. NELL BENJAMIN: They go
to the school auditorium and a tour bus rolls
up with four actors who build their own set, put on a
show, put it back in the van, and take it to the next school. And the chairman, the artistic
director, called us and said, do you want to do
a children’s show? And I said he just
did Bat Boy, which is about suicide and
bestiality, and we did a show about an adulteristic
[? serminator ?] in a suicide pact. Do you know our work? How are we going to
write a kids’ show? And Barbara said,
you write a show and let me worry about the kids. And we said OK. So we wrote a show called
Sarah, Plain and Tall, based on the book
Sarah, Plain and Tall. And the reason I mention it is
because we would watch the kids watch our show. We would sit up in the balcony
and sort of watch the children. And the kids are not as
well socialized as adults. So adults will watch your
show, and if a song’s not working they will sit
very quietly and then they’ll tell you afterwards
how great your show is. And then they’ll go have
a drink and rip it apart with someone else. Sometimes on your opening night
they will drink your champagne and tell each other
how bad your show is. But kids, if a song or
a moment isn’t working, they will start
hitting each other. And they will be very
physical about their boredom and displeasure. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: It’s like
a waving field of wheat. NELL BENJAMIN: It’s amazing. Like, you can just watch them. And it was a great
lesson in, oh, that lovely ballad that
restates the feelings of the lead character
that we already know because we’ve been
here for the last 20 minutes is not working. It’s lovely, but it’s
not holding them. And what we found,
over and over again, is that if there was a moral
question in the song for one of the characters, a
question of something they were going to do that could
go really well or really badly, the kids were riveted,
no matter what it was. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: A conflict,
an argument, a dilemma, a crossroads– NELL BENJAMIN: A situation
where I could do this but it might be very dangerous. And over and over again
those moral dilemmas make for really good songs. Particularly if you’ve
got a solo song, rather than have a person
just stand up and sing, I’m feeling a feeling. You know, it’s like, uh great. We all feel feelings. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Backing up
even farther macro, to be fair, all of the stuff that we admire,
you don’t need it in your show if you have Hugh Jackman. [LAUGHTER] If you have Anna Kendrick
you can just write, you know, Phone Book, The
Musical, and you’ll be fine. In other words, Broadway
is no more exempt from the rules of
Aristotle’s rhetoric than any other art form
or any other behavior. I read our styles
rhetoric way too late, but I’m obsessed with it now. And just as a recap, it’s
actually the very best guide for a writer. The poetics are
great, but if you’re going to write or perform
it’s wonderful to have that because, of course, ethos
is the very first thing that an audience sees. Your virtues, your background,
your star, your Hugh Jackman, or your poster, or the
narrative about your show. Wow, this is Spring
Awakening, it’s based on the Franz
Wedekind expressionist novel about teen suicide and
sexual repression in Germany. Wow, I wonder what
they’re going to do? Whoa, it’s Duncan Sheik, the
rock star, the folk pop dude. I wonder what he’s going to
do with Spring Awakening. That’s the ethos. Before the show even begins
it’s part of the narrative. So you go there and you
start with the ethos, then you get the
pathos, the emotions, and only after you’ve
dwelled on that and wallowed in
that for a while do you even listen to the words. Sadly, sorry for a lyricist,
but the logos comes third. NELL BENJAMIN: The
logo comes third. But look how, if
you’ve seen Hamilton or if you’re familiar
with the soundtrack, it works beautifully
in Hamilton. There’s this whole opening
number about this amazing kid who wrote this amazing
stuff, and we’re waiting for him, and just
you wait, and where is he, and there he is and
it’s Lin-Manuel. He is also the amazing
kid who wrote this thing. And likewise there’s a fabulous
lyric where they’re like, here comes the general, the
moment you’ve been waiting for. We didn’t know we were
waiting until they told us. We’re waiting, where’s
George Washington? You know, it’s genius. LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
So in other words, Broadway is very, very
explicitly and very blatantly using the exercise
of rhetoric in order to get enthusiasm, to
get people into a room, and then we ask ourselves
these basic societal questions. Almost all musicals I
can think of that I enjoy are blatantly asking, are we OK? Are we as a culture OK? And if the answer is no
fucking way, we’re doomed, then it’s probably
a Sondheim show. And that’s OK, that’s OK. NELL BENJAMIN: Because
he has an ethos. LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
There’s a place for that. But a lot of Sondheim
shows become classics after they’ve had runs that
do not make a ton of money. So I do talk about an
Overton window for Broadway and that’s not the same
as an Overton window for theater, in general. You can do a great show
that’s a lot of button-pushing and will not go to
Broadway but will do fine. What was the question? Sorry. ROY FURMAN: I would
take some issue, although not with
the latter part, but in fact Broadway
itself, using the generic term of
Broadway, Broadway is now two-thirds tourists and
it’s a different kind of thing. Our title is Theater
and Broadway. They’re somewhat different. And clearly this
issue of ethics, morality, principle,
a driving force is the playwright’s
responsibility in the play, usually. Musicals are a different
animal because they cost much more money to put on, they
need a much bigger audience and bigger theaters,
and you have to have some selling
points, as you mentioned, but also great artistry. Genius and brilliance help. And if you look at
Lion King, I still don’t know what it’s about
other than the circle of life, but it is one hell of
an evening in theater. It’s magnificently done,
it’s beautifully staged, and it will run for our
lifetime and your lifetimes. But I don’t think it has
much of a point of view other than it’s just gorgeous,
and it’s brilliant. NELL BENJAMIN: Well,
wait, but it’s Hamlet with a happy ending, right? If you’re going to go
somewhere, go to Hamlet and then give it a happy ending. Done, boom. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: And
also by the way by showing up, at Lion King,
we’re asking questions about monarchy, about
the natural world, are we going to be OK. And the answer to
Lion King is yes, if we do certain things, if
we accept certain things, if we change certain things. And a show with the
name Disney on it is not necessarily going to– NELL BENJAMIN: It
has some ethos. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Yeah, it
has an ethos, certainly. But it’s also not necessarily
going to push our buttons and criticize our society as
deeply as a show by Sondheim will. And I do love Broadway. And I love that there
is room for both, that both a Sondheim
show that is despairing and a Disney show
can both be valid and get respect on Broadway. ROY FURMAN: Yeah, I
would just add to all that it does dismay
some of us that shows that try, that aspire,
that are wonderful works can’t make it, and down at the
Majestic Theater on 45th street there is Phantom of the Opera. And every day they pour in,
these people come to New York, and they pour in to see,
now in its 29th year, I think, and it’s like
Mousetrap in London. I mean, they come
because it’s there, and it’s stunning
of a kind I guess, and nothing against Andrew
Lloyd Webber or Phantom. But while you are aspiring
to greatness and work, there are many,
many people who come to see theater who come to
see the shows they know. We’ve learned, interestingly,
when Chicago made the movie, there was great consternation
about whether it could work. Would the show keep running
once there was a movie out with big stars in it? Would they go to see
the Broadway show? And it turned out, of course,
that it gave the show 10 more years of life, if not more. And that repetition matters. You see it with
your own children. They’ll see something
like 10 times. People take comfort, these
tourists, bless them, but they get off the boats,
they get off the buses, they get off the
trains, and they come to see the same
darn shows every season. And Phantom is doing a
million dollars a week, while other shows that have done
all that you’ve talked about, can’t make a dime. So a lot of it is marketing,
a lot of it is repetition, a lot of it is success, early
success, and a lot of it is simply having the
right combination of elements that make
people want to go to see it. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN:
David had a question. DAVID ZIPPEL: Roy,
you had talked a little bit about
Legally Blonde and the financial
structure of it. And Phantom and Chicago are
kind of the complete opposite, in the sense that Chicago was
the most minimal production you could imagine on Broadway,
so the cost to run it are as low as you can
get for a big musical. Of course, it’s a
very good big musical. And Phantom is not– I don’t think it’s that
great a musical, there’s some pretty melodies in
it, but the cost structure must be incredibly
expensive to run that show because most
of what it’s about is about the physical
beauty of this. And of course Hal Prince’s
seamless and beautiful direction, which
is rather dazzling. I think I’ve been
in the same position that Larry and
Nell have been in, where the cost
structure of a show has either prevented
it from happening or shortened the
run considerably. It’s the producer and that side
of the show where you really have to have somebody who knows
what they’re doing to general manage it. Do you want to talk
about that, a little bit? ROY FURMAN: You know, it’s
an incredible balancing act. Chicago is the easy one. They took a show that appeared
at the Encores in City Center and didn’t change,
literally, a drop of it. Took it as it was. Minimal costumes, minimal sets. It’s very inexpensive. Brilliant ad campaign by
SpotCo, that black and white with the ladies and the legs. And it can run for a long time. Most shows are expensive. Legally Blonde is one. I’ll give you so many
that closed earlier than they should have. American in Paris, which I
was directly lead producer of. Also the same phenomenon–
too many dancers. It’s a gorgeous show. Too expensive. Billy Elliot, a great success. Too big a show, too many kids. Those darn kids were running
around the stage all the time, and you have to pay them. And you have to pay
them and two others because you need
replacements in the cast. Very expensive. Motown, same reason, closed. And it’s a great challenge. It’s not easy to do. But hopefully the longer the
show runs, the less expensive it gets because the
cast gets cheaper, and frankly, the sets diminish. Phantom was going to
close a few years ago. They were ready to close it
because it wasn’t doing enough. And then they managed to
bring back another wind and it got five more years
in probably our lifetime. But that one is probably much
cheaper than when they started, comparatively. And then there’s one
other thing which I was going to get to later
but I will get to it now, which is the revolution in
theater, which is premium pricing and dynamic pricing. That has changed
the whole equation. And if you don’t mind, I’ll jump
to it because I’m raising it, so hey, I’ll go to it. But that is the whole
difference in the world. It’s the difference
in raising money. Everything is now different
from what it used to be. The business when
Phantom started, and even as recently
as when Producers came, a show had a fixed
price structure. When you went to the
window the tickets were $90 in the orchestra,
and $50 in the balcony or at mezzanine, and
$30 in the balcony, then, whatever the number was. That was it. If the show was in demand,
all of that excess money that people would be willing
to pay to buy a seat for a show went to the scalpers,
or the brokers. And the theater which took all
the risk got nothing out of it. It was woefully unbalanced. A speculator or
scalper could buy a, let’s take a $100 round
number, could buy a $100 ticket and sell it to anybody from
all over the world who wanted to see the show for $500. Make five times the money
with literally no risk at all. While the show, which
was some five or seven years in delivery, could
charge $100, and it would cost $85 a week to run
effectively on that ticket, and make 15% margin. And the scalper was
making five times. That has changed
now irrevocably. And now you charge whatever
the market will bear. And while the scalpers
and speculators still make some money,
it’s the theater, the show that gets the money. And that is why Hamilton can
be doing $10 million a week. Because in the old
days they would have been doing, on the
original price structure, about $3.5 or $4 million a week. $4.5 million a week. That five extra
million dollars a week is coming right
into the theater. So that now is the major
change in what’s going on. It means you can now
approach investors with a very different
prospect for what happens if you succeed. All they have to do now
is buy into the fact that you may have a success
in Mean Girls, or Heathers, or whatever the
show is, and they can see much more of a
return against the risk that they used to face. So that has changed
everything dramatically. And enable shows
that have big prices, big underlying costs to be
able to get produced today. DALE CENDALI: But there
is also a lot of concern that not everybody can afford
$800 a ticket kinds of things. So there’s a concern
that, while this is great for these
shows, long term what is it going to mean for
the theater audience and for a lot of the
people who want to go, and who want to be
involved, who are still at the bussing tables
part of their career, that kind of thing. So it seems like at the
same time that’s going on, there’s a lot of effort
to either with auctions, or lotteries, or the other kinds
of Theater Development Fund kinds of things to try to get
rush tickets or cheaper tickets to certain people and the like. But there is a concern that
the audience is going to lose. But I guess I had a question for
our creators in the sense that Broadway– maybe I’m thinking
this as much as an IP lawyer– is so much a
collaborative art form. Right? You can create your
own show and be in it. But most people
in the theater are working with lots
of other people, and you choose
who you work with, and you choose the
property, and you work with the
producers and the like. And then there’s the
hope that the show runs. But how much are
you thinking about, gosh, if I cut this
number, people would maybe like the show better,
you’re not going to have people
rustling in the seats, but artistically I really
want this number to be in. So I’m just trying to
get a feel from people who are in the weeds
with really great shows, how much you’re thinking of
the commercial aspect of how to make the show run longer
as you’re writing it. NELL BENJAMIN: I’m
just going to say I’m always thinking
of the audience because I am the audience
for my own shows. So I don’t think
of it as like, oh, this will be commercially
more successful because they’ll be tap
dancing and everybody loves tap dancing. I think, would I want to watch
this at this moment, right now? LAURENCE O’KEEFE: There’s
a very famous, again another Sondheim quote,
which is that when you’re writing a song, the
wrong way to look at it is, wouldn’t it be great if. That’s what leads to
vaudeville, that’s what leads to gimmicks,
that’s what leads to turns. Oh wouldn’t it be
great if there were rollerskating in this number. That’s the trappings and
the bells and whistles. Instead you should be
thinking won’t it be right if. Won’t this be the logical
yet surprising moment that that character has. Won’t that be the logical
yet surprising action that that character takes. And you can get
pyrotechnics just as pretty, just as wonderful
bells and whistles if you go about it that way. In other words, if you
are true to the story you’re trying to
tell, and if the story is surprising yet
inevitable, then you’re going to be doing OK. But you brought up
something very funny. There is a song in Heathers
which was the moment where people would walk out. It was called Blue
and the first lyric was sung by two horny
football players drunk at 1:00 in the morning where
they are both sort of leering at Veronica
the lead and it’s like this fun Motown
sort of Let’s Get It On Marvin Gaye sort of thing. And the first line is,
you make my balls so blue. All the kids love that number. They just laugh their heads off. And anyone over
the age of like 30 would be like, oh,
that’s not what I want to be hearing right now. In other words, we were trying
to be true to what teenagers do and how they talk, but it
was not the right execution, it did not serve
the story right. It did not actually keep the
story moving, because these two guys are entitled
football assholes and they are
capable of violence. And so we wanted
to see what will Veronica do to
keep herself safe. And instead we gave them
sort of a vaudeville turn, of cute guys doing
a bunch of jokes. It was a one-joke song. And the audience proved that. We thought, oh,
won’t it be great if. We refused to admit that we
were thinking vaudeville, and instead the audience
reminded us of that. So for the London
production we are hopefully using a great new song
which we actually wrote for the high school edition. We have adapted the show
for the high school edition. Samuel French came
to us and said, we’re getting too
many high schools, you need to come up with
a version with no swears. And so we had to
rewrite it anyway. So in other words, the
interaction with the audience, it’s to me and to us, it
is an integral part of it. The audience is part of the
creative team, in a way. They’re not the paper you’re
writing the show on, here. It’s not a passive recipient,
it is an active collaborator in an event that
hopefully profits everybody on so many levels. NELL BENJAMIN: I
was going to say, I do think, though,
that the collaboration with your director
and your producers is also both essential and
fraught for that same reason. Because I never
think, oh, what’s the audience going to
like, or what’s commercial, but I am often told or thinking,
what can we do at this moment? And if you have a great
director, they’ll say, we can do it. You know, whatever
it is, we can do it. Or does this make sense? I’m working on something now
where we have three big songs. And I was the first one to raise
the question of these three songs, and I wrote the
lyrics for these three songs, that they are three
different groups. Three different mob scenes. So like as an example, like one
is the group of older people, one is the group of
teenagers, and one is the group of cabinet members. So that’s three
very distinct crowds that your ensemble has to play. And the question
is, are we going to cast a whole bunch of people
who can play all these things? Can we take our five
ensemble members and make them all
these different people? Is there a director who
can do this creatively? And if not, shouldn’t
we rethink this? If you get good people, if
you trust your director, and if you trust your producers,
you won’t think oh, they’re being cheap about my song,
you’ll think, oh, OK, how do we work
together to come up with the most creative
and interesting version? Because sometimes
those restrictions make for a better song. If I could write songs
for the cast of thousands, that’s great, but it might be
a very sloppy show in addition to being an expensive show. There’s a video that Larry plays
all the time about Chuck Jones. Does everyone know
the Looney Tunes animator, producer Chuck Jones? I recommend you look it up. It’s called Every Frame
a Painting, Chuck Jones. And he basically defined
animation in comedy. And he did it with disciplines. He said, there’s rules. He would set rules for himself,
like Bugs Bunny will never start a fight, or
Daffy Duck will never back down from a slight to
his honor, or to his ego. And if you never
break that rule, you can do almost anything. And I think, creatively,
we look for those rules. You know, what’s the rule we
can’t break with this number? What’s the internal
logic for our character? And if you are suffused in
that, and if you add discipline, it makes it better. I mean, as a lyricist,
that’s what I believe. I could, as you can
see, talk for hours and with rambling things. But when I write lyrics
I am forced to be brief, and to follow a structure. And that makes it so
much better than having to listen to me, right now. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: I think the
show you’re talking about– Dave was the musical? NELL BENJAMIN: Dave
was the musical. LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
So you remember the Kevin Kline movie Dave? Which is a lovely movie and
it’s going to be a fantastic musical, again written by her. But I remember the day
you came home and said, it looks like we won’t need
those six or seven child actors, because we’re
cutting the child actors because we don’t need
the scenes set in the school. And that was the happiest
day in the producer’s life. NELL BENJAMIN: In my
life as well, too. Because I’m doing
another show that involves children and dogs. And literally it is a
producer’s nightmare. And that makes it an
author’s challenge. Because, as you said,
there’s three casts of kids. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: It’s
an amazing realization that producers
will start with you at the beginning of
a journey and you’re talking about mostly morals,
ethics, story, character, plot, the value to the
world of your show. And then when you
get to opening night you’re running a restaurant. You have to put butts in seats. You have to make
your nut every week. But both concerns
are valid and it’s good to think about
both of them all the way through the process. DALE CENDALI: Well that’s
sort of what I was getting at. It’s a tremendously
personal art form and it’s less ephemeral
than it used to be, right? LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Very true. DALE CENDALI:
Because, as you say, Heathers hasn’t gone
to Broadway yet, but– LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
The internet has transformed things immensely. And this is my other
favorite thing. The most macro of all. Theater will survive when
everything else dissolves. Think about the
recording industry. It started out with
expensive vinyl. And your record label
could say, sorry I have to take 99% of your
money to pay for plastic and pay for vinyl. The inefficiency was the
excuse for money making. And then cassettes, and CDs. And now that’s dissolving. ITunes and then Spotify,
it’s almost impossible to make money off of the
inefficiencies of the delivery system for your song. But you show up in concert,
and you sell t-shirts, and you sell your tickets,
and you make your money. Theater will survive
when every other art form dissolves into unprofitability. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: We
have a question right here. AUDIENCE: I have a question. I guess I think of Broadway
and I didn’t know we’re talking about it this way, as sort
of an august location, much like Harvard Law School. Actually, these
days, we seem to have an incredible collaboration
with regional theaters and their brilliant
creative people all around the country, given
our strong regional theater network. And a lot of that
fosters the creation that we’ve been talking about. So I was curious about that. And then also this afterlife. This touring. I mean when I was a kid– I’m class of ’67– I was a kid, the touring
circuit was gone. And all these small
towns, it was like, oh, they have
shuttered theaters. And so many places,
small towns, have revived their old movie
theaters, formerly vaudeville theaters. Concord, New Hampshire. Small towns in Vermont. Maine. We see tours and you see a
lot of this afterlife now. They can be at various
levels of professionalism. Some are equity, some not. And you’ve got your
regional theaters doing these shows in their afterlife. So it seems to me it’s much
more of a spectrum, almost. So I was wondering if some
of what you’re talking about, you would talk about this larger
picture and how it’s relevant or playing or influencing what
you’ve been talking about. ROY FURMAN: I’ll just start off. I think it’s all economics. Both your answers are economic. The first one is, I’ll take the
last one, which is the circuit. What happened in America,
as I see it anyway, was all of these towns. The big towns
wanted sports arenas and they threw bond deals up
to raise zillions of dollars and tax the people
to put up an arena so that you could get a major
league franchise in some sport. But the artistic side of
it was the art center. That all these towns decided
that if they had an arts center they could become
culturally refined, they could enhance
their town, and it would be much less
expensive, and they could do things all year round. And so what you see around the
country is a plethora of big, you know the whatever it may be. You pick the town, they got it. They have an arts center
that has a theater, and a place for this
and that, a black box. And a lot of these are huge. They’re 2,700-seat theaters,
2,500-seat theaters. And they need to fill them. And it’s almost
that the reciprocity between the big Broadway
musicals, especially that tour, and there’s a big
touring circuit now, they need this blood every
year of the shows coming out that play in these arenas. So that’s part of it. I mean, that’s the
second part of it. And the other part is
also economic to me. The question of how
we work with all these regional theaters which
are doing magnificent work. And part of it is that
Broadway is so expensive. It’s getting increasingly
difficult to open out of town. Mean Girls is going to Chicago. NELL BENJAMIN: Yeah. Uh, no. Mean Girls is going
to Washington. ROY FURMAN:
Washington, D.C. I have another one going to Chicago. But it’s very hard. The producer has to, and
the creatives have to, make a judgment. How do we open the show? Do we go out of town? And so what’s
starting to happen now is that the regional
theaters are becoming the home of pre-Broadway
shows that are playing there as if, that is
using the auspices, or enhancement of the
arena, or the alliance, or you name it
across the country, they’re beginning
now to open there. Evan Hansen did that. It went to Washington
without having to put up the
money it would have had to do if it went to Chicago,
or Seattle, or San Diego. And the Globe in San
Diego was doing that. So more and more
there’s a coalescence. Plus the fact the
regional theaters are doing fabulous,
fabulous work. And their plays are
coming to New York– DALE CENDALI: But
they need Broadway. Because if they just stayed,
like if Evan Hansen just stayed and never
went to Broadway, it would run out of an
audience because you don’t have the
trillions of tourists coming in to see the show. They make more money if
they can move the show. NELL BENJAMIN: Well, they
also have that reputation of being a house that
transfers to Broadway, which leads to more subscribers,
because they think, oh, well, Evan Hansen was here
and then went to Broadway. I don’t have to pay
$300 Broadway tickets for the next one
because it’ll be here. It’ll be In my
very own community. ROY FURMAN: Second
Stage in New York is advertising that
it was the launching pad for Dear Evan Hansen. Which of course it was not,
but nothing is truthful news anymore. But in fact, it happened we
used that, we played Arena in Washington and we couldn’t
open on Broadway in time, so we were able to hook up a
deal with Second Stage to give us a place to
hang out before we could open right away on Broadway. But that’s part of it,
they’re taking the credit and helps them get subscribers. That’s their big
banner for next year. We were the show that
launched Dear Evan Hansen. If you were a subscriber
you could have gotten a ticket through us. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Again,
we’re talking about ethos. There are only 41 theaters
in the entire world that are allowed to call
themselves Broadway theaters. It used to be 40 and now
they just added the Hudson. If I’m right. So in other words,
there’s a big difference in how much money your
show can generate, or how much bragging
rights you can claim. If you’ve had a
show on Broadway, you’re a Broadway producer,
or you’re a Broadway composer. And if you haven’t,
you can’t say that. In London, there’s 80 theaters
that can be called West End. And it’s much less
expensive to produce there. And there’s 80 theaters,
which means more adventurous works can get a theater sooner. So there is this
perception that Broadway is major leagues and anything
else short of it is not. Eh, who knows? But the internet
again is providing amazing opportunities. There’s a show called
Be More Chill, which was written by Joe Iconis,
who I think who has never had a show on Broadway, yet. But he’s a beloved guy who’s
got an internet following. He’s a songwriter and a dude
who does concerts of his own. And the show is now,
again, it’s number nine on the iTunes charts. A show that made it to
off-Broadway, had a short run, and maybe hasn’t even
been off-Broadway. It had a regional run,
I know, in New Jersey. But because the
album is beloved, and because the guy is beloved,
the internet now provides. It bypasses inefficiency. It provides a greater efficiency
of delivering the product. So Broadway will
always be with us and it will always be a badge,
but it’s really wonderful to see shows that are able
to get legs and get a valid Long tale. NELL BENJAMIN: And I think it’s
sort of fair to say there’s a couple of tiers, right? There’s Broadway. There’s the tours that
come out of Broadway, both equity and non-equity. There’s regional
productions, some of which are being developed
for Broadway. And then there’s
this other level of just the licensed
productions that your school or your community theater
are doing as well, which for authors is hugely
important because that may be the only point you
see any money for your show. A friend of mine who’s
a composer did a show, and his tale is that it ran
on Broadway for a short period of time and he ended up making
less money off the show he wrote for seven years
than the trumpet player made for playing it
for something like 12 months. So what he looked forward
to was the sub rights, was the licensing, was
the fact that people would be doing
this show, he would get a little money from that. But more importantly, the
show would be out there, and people would be able to
come back and say we love it. And maybe from then it would
happen again somewhere. So, you know, you don’t
want to forget the fact that after Broadway and
after all this sort of stuff, there are people all over the
world who want to do theater and who might be
inspired by your show. And that is that it’s
both financially, but also soulfully a great advantage
when you write these things. AUDIENCE: I have a
question on the internet and also IP [INAUDIBLE]
going off of something Larry said, maybe throwing
at Professor Cendali. [INAUDIBLE] at Lincoln Center,
I worked with Falsettos, and a huge part of what we did
was quash bootlegged copies, because of the fact that we
were releasing in theaters and then releasing to PBS. And a large part of the work
that you did for Falsettos every morning is
from 9:00 to 10:00, you looked online for
people selling bootlegs or that have uploaded bootlegs
and then get in huge fights with reddit. [INAUDIBLE] And from what
you’ve said about Heathers, and from what I
know of Heathers, it’s been the opposite
dynamic– that the bootlegs have made the show something
to think it’s the album gets sold online. You’ve created this
cult following, such that you might end
up at Broadway. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: We’ve
made our peace with that. NELL BENJAMIN: As you
said with Blonde 2, we did the MTV
production, and there were things all over online AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] NELL BENJAMIN: Right, exactly. And everybody was
saying, well, this is going to pull people
out of our theater seats. And we didn’t find that at all. We found that actually
MTV, and that silly reality show and the stuff
like that, brought people who discovered it when
they were not New York-based or could not come to
New York to see it, and gave us a tiny boost. LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
We made the decision when bootlegs started cropping
up while Heathers was still running off-Broadway
that we were not going to take extraordinary efforts. We were doing so much already
with our small mom and pop shop to keep the show
going anyway, we said we don’t actually
have enough manpower or man hours to quash
bootlegs of the show and sure enough it actually
magnified our visibility for an off-Broadway show. Now, if Heathers
does great in London and then somehow maybe
comes to Broadway, we might have a different
attitude about it, because we don’t
necessarily want the canonical version
starring Hugh Jackman to get bootlegged too much. But the world is the way
it is and we don’t mind it. But funny thing is just
this morning, Kevin and I decided to demand that a
particular YouTube production pull their production down. It’s some regional,
and they don’t have the right to
broadcast a bootleg of their regional production. And not because we’re
in theory opposed to it, but just because this production
was really abject and crappy. We’ve seen wonderful
regional productions of it, we’ve seen wonderful
school productions of it. This one just was not. So it’s rather
arbitrary, but, you know, this is the world we’re in. AUDIENCE: And so from
a finance perspective, just let me say, I
think our motivation was because it was
doing its theater run. And once it stops being
shown in movie theaters, then I think the urgency of
saying this is diverting people away from seeing it on
a different screen– maybe a larger one but
a different screen– would be diminished. But I’m interested
in your reaction from an IP point of view,
of saying we own the rights, like especially for a
show like Falsettos, you don’t have that
many actors on stage, but there’s so much that goes
into the hair and the makeup and the minding of the
kid, and all of that, that you had to at least
feel like you were doing a service to in some ways. In your case, and
especially with Heathers, it seems like at least
good bootlegs are doing a service to your show. But from a kind of IP and
a collaboration standpoint, I don’t know if– DALE CENDALI: Well, there’s
a lot of cost benefit analysis that goes on. There’s no doubt anybody who
takes any one of their shows and puts it out there is
infringing their copyrights and probably their trademarks
in the name of the show. But the question is,
do you enforce it? From a trademark point of
view, if you don’t enforce it, you could whittle away and
lose your trademark rights. So that’s important. But from a copyright
point of view, you’re allowed to
make choices as to what you choose to go after. And there many people when shows
are starting you want to build, and you kind of let
the fans do that. There are people like
one of my famous clients, J.K. Rowling, who likes the
internet to go and do things. You know, that’s a fun thing,
let people go and do things. You start selling, though,
a competitive product to the official products, that
becomes a different analysis. And that’s what you probably
saw with the recent Star Trek enforcement action
against a fan film, which was crowdsourced too. They raised a
million dollars, they got a lot of professional
crew to come in, and people who had
worked on Star Trek, were going to make this
new fan film, which was the story of Star Trek. And they said, when
is this fan film going to be different in how people
look than the actual films that we spend $100 million on? That’s a problem. We’re going to stop it. So there’s dynamic
issues every day as you decide where
are you choosing to draw the line for
this particular property, at this particular time. And there are hard questions. And sometimes they
are not legally based, as you were saying. I didn’t like it. Back when I was in
law school there was a lot of Star
Wars fandom, right? And I was part of
that, I tend to be a geek and fans of comics,
and science fiction, and Star Trek, Star Wars. And we were all being annoyed
because George Lucas seemed to be letting a
lot of fan stories go out about a lot
of stuff but he seemed to be cracking down
on those romantic stories between Luke and Leia
getting together. Well, as time went
on, you can see why he might have been annoyed
about stories about Luke and Leia getting together. That would have been icky
if you were the creator and had a point
of view about it. But that’s the thing. The creators under IP law
get to make those decisions. And I think that’s a
beautiful thing about IP law LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
I’m wondering, have you’ve been dealing with the
off-Broadway show called Puffs yet? Sorry, is that a– DALE CENDALI: Well, let
me just ask you guys. Have you seen it? LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
I’ve not seen it. I don’t know if you
know what it is. I believe it’s
off-Broadway at New World Stages, the same theater
complex where Heathers ran. And it’s sort of
like a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are
dead, only applied to the Harry Potter world. If I am correct, it’s
about the Hufflepuffs, and as they’re watching most
of the Harry Potter events from the sidelines, basically. NELL BENJAMIN: And I
will say we haven’t seen it due to time, due to
work, and having a daughter. It is definitely as a huge
Harry Potter fan something that I would have
gone to see, or will go to see at some point. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Unless
you think we shouldn’t. NELL BENJAMIN: Unless you think
J.K. Rowling would be mad. DALE CENDALI: Roy, let’s pretend
that you’re the lead producer for Cursed Child. That’s coming to
Broadway next spring, and rumor has it will
sell a few tickets. And let’s say there’s this Puffs
that they’re calling it parody, but as I teach my
class, calling it something doesn’t
necessarily mean that it is. There are also other versions
of Harry Potter parodies. There’s, I think, other
parodies of other things that are going to be
opening about other shows. NELL BENJAMIN: There’s
Spamilton, which David Zippel was involved in. ROY FURMAN: David Zippel
is one of the producers. DALE CENDALI: That’s right. So, what do you think
about whether it’s Spamilton, whether
it’s Puffs, what do you think about those
kinds of shows as a producer? ROY FURMAN: Well, each
one is a separate case. It’s like law school,
everything is differentiable, everything is distinguishable. By the way, this J.K. Rowling,
has that worked out for you? A good client. DALE CENDALI: If only I
had a piece of the equity. ROY FURMAN: And you will never
get a piece of the equity from her, that I can assure you. It really is case to case. I do know in the Hamilton
case, the Hamilton producers made a judgment at
the start that this was a small, 72nd Street
at The Triad theater– which was not a theater. It’s a bar, or a restaurant– and that we would allow it. But now that it’s becoming
bigger, more important, my guess is that something
will happen legally. And that’s part of this
equation we’re talking about. When it’s de minimis, when
it really doesn’t matter, when it’s at the fringe, you
can close your eyes to it. When it becomes really
important and can distort what the product
is, I think then you want to take some action. DALE CENDALI: I mean, the
legal principle that comes up, and it came up in a
Broadway show case that I wasn’t
involved with, sadly, but it was a really cool
case, involved Hand to God, which was a very successful
Tony-nominated funny drama about a young man who had
an obsessed evil puppet. And whether it was a
puppet or whether it was him being the– who knows. But there was this crazy puppet. And they did the Who’s on
First routine In the midst of that show. That they did a two-minute
routine, him and the puppet, doing that. And the people who thought they
owned the Who’s on First rights sued, saying hey, this is a
really funny comedic highlight in the middle of this show, but
you’re infringing our rights. They said it’s fair use
under copyright law. And the district court
agreed, and the Second Circuit said it was not fair use. Why wasn’t it fair use? Because while the show
was super creative and wonderful and
great, there wasn’t anything that was commenting
on or transforming, using the routine. They just did the routine. They weren’t doing
the routine in a way that was different
from anybody else who would be doing the routine. And the court said, because they
were just using the routine, using the entertainment
aspect of it, it wasn’t the same thing. Like somebody taking a
number from Legally Blonde and just inserting
it into something– NELL BENJAMIN:
Which has happened. There is, what was it a
Japanese theater company. No, a Korean theater company
who wrote a whole new show called, I believe, Legally
Blind, which was a mash-up. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: It was
a Helen Keller musical. NELL BENJAMIN: It was
a Helen Keller musical, using all of our songs. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Using songs
from Legally Blonde and Bat Boy, with brand-new lyrics, to
tell the story of Helen Keller. ROY FURMAN: She’s obviously
no Keith Benjamin fan. NELL BENJAMIN: Our
lawyer was speaking to us, saying, well,
they’re basically just using your stuff. They’re not parodying,
they’re not commenting on– LAURENCE O’KEEFE: It is
unfairest use he’s ever seen. NELL BENJAMIN: Right. But we have absolutely no hope
of shutting this down, anyway. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: You’ll
never get a cent out of it. DALE CENDALI: Because
it was in Japan. NELL BENJAMIN: And apparently– LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Uh, Korea. NELL BENJAMIN: They’re
like not just a theater, but also a religious
cult. So it was a very exciting time for us. As an author– LAURENCE O’KEEFE: So flattered. NELL BENJAMIN:
–you’re delighted if you have something
so big and in that people want to parody it. I think that’s probably
the point where authors stray from
producers and say, Spamilton sounds great to me. ROY FURMAN: I’m going to tell
the audience the true story. You’re not telling
them the truth. And the truth is
that because this was a Korean production
they threatened, and that’s why we
have the problems we’re having with
Korea, of course. NELL BENJAMIN: I
didn’t want it known, but it was going to
be leaked anyway. ROY FURMAN: It all began
with these two people. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: You know the
demilitarized zone repertory theater is really
not very popular. NELL BENJAMIN:
Tensions were rising and we just, we were the
flame, we lit the fuse. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: Yes, please. AUDIENCE 2: I asked a
question of Hamilton. It is the most 180-degree thing. If I were approached
to contribute some money towards this thing,
I would have laughed at it. Where did they get
the money to do this? Did Ron Chernow
know a few people? I don’t know ROY FURMAN: Ron
didn’t know them. The money from Hamilton
was raised on the back of Lin-Manuel’s brilliance. That’s really what it was. That the people who were
involved in In the Heights who had done well, won a
Tony, were approached and the money was funded. It’s not an expensive show. It’s a single set. No real moving parts, other
than the stage itself, but it was not expensive. And again, there was
that belief in him. Sondheim raised
money that way, too. On the back of Sondheim,
you could raise money. But I’ll tell you
two moments on that. Evan Hansen we talked about
before, autism and suicide as a musical, and try
to raise money for that. While I was the lead
producer of Color Purple, I remember going out
to people saying, this is going to be a great
show, which it turned out to be, but who could believe? It was she’s raped twice,
when she’s 12 years old and 14 years old and it’s
misery in the south, and who’s going to do it? And I remember
responding to people saying, if you don’t
want to do Color Purple, I have a show for you. It takes place in Russia, and
it involves a group that’s totally subjugated by the czar. And the first act
ends in a pogrom. And the second act ends in
having to leave their town. So the eviction from Anatevka
is the end of the show, and the first act ends in a
pogrom, and it’s a musical, and it’s a musical comedy. You want to invest in that one? That returned 2,700
times, Fiddler. But the point is you don’t know. You just don’t know. Hamilton breaks every rule. It just breaks every rule. Everything about it is wrong,
and yet it’s a work of genius. And that’s why I
said earlier, when you were talking about without
denigrating, but the idea of morals, principles, this. Genius. Genius in anything works. Genius in law, genius in
creativity, that’s the answer. Lin-Manuel could write the
next show about the phone book. As you said, about anything. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: I’d go. NELL BENJAMIN: I would go, too. I will temper that
with saying there is one rule it doesn’t break,
which is the heart, the belief, of Lin-Manuel. His genius, yes, is clear. You can’t bottle it. But he believed in that show. And other people
believed in his belief. Lin-Manuel has been involved in
a show that didn’t run as long, like Bring It On
didn’t become Hamilton, even though he was involved. Which is not to say he didn’t
believe in what he was doing, but Hamilton was his baby. And I want to make that
point, because you always feel as a creative
artist if it’s your baby, and you have belief in it, and
someone shares that with you, I feel like that is
a great indicator. An artist might call
themselves a genius, but that’s probably not the
person you want to work with. But rather than saying, I’m a
genius, you must do my show, say I believe in it
and what it has to say. That to me is that’s the
rule of the [INAUDIBLE] LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
I have to say, I think my point is still
being proven for me. ROY FURMAN: I’m not denigrating. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Oh absolutely. But because Lin-Manuel’s
genius is not just in his execution, or his grasp,
or his chops in writing things, or his ability to come up with
a great, funny line or a lyric or a melody, it’s also in
grasping the uses of theater and the reason why we
all get into a room. I think that a show like
Hamilton says, brilliantly, are we OK? Well, if we fix this
or if we fix that. And he’s daring and
he pushes buttons and he’s also very
forgiving at the same time. He believes in the
promise of America. He believes in the
potential of immigrants to make America better. And in the ability of immigrants
and Americans born here to reconcile and get along. It spoke to our time
in a wonderful way that it involves healing. And I don’t know where
I was going with this. But he he’s got his
finger on a pulse. And therefore, many
things about the show were wrong about some of the
ways shows are ordinarily done, or some of the sounds you
ordinarily hear on Broadway, but he had some wonderful
things to say that had not been thought of before. NELL BENJAMIN: That were
deeply personal, too, LAURENCE O’KEEFE:
Yeah, absolutely. DALE CENDALI: But it is hard. I get asked all the time
to invest in things, and it’s great. I love to be invited
to do it, it’s an exciting thing to get to do. But then you can’t
do everything. And so what is it? Sometimes it’s because this
is a really great person and I think they’re
wonderful and talented and I’d like to be involved. Sometimes it’s a
more commercial bet. Oh, that’s a really
classic, great show with that person in it. That sounds like something
that could make money. And sometimes it’s boy, this
person, this is a needy show. I can help the
arts, I can actually help foster the arts by
giving a little bit of money to something. And so you think of
all those things. And sometimes you’re right, and
sometimes you’re totally wrong. Like I was a tiny, I’m
not talking about Roy, but I was a teeny
investor in a show called Bright Star last
season that Steve Martin did. It was a bluegrass musical. And I love Steve
Martin and I’ve liked some of his other
plays, Picasso, and I thought it would be
great, and I like the show. But there’s a part
at the end of act one where the adorable, sweet
couple you fall in love with, some evil, I hope this is
not a terrible spoiler, throws the baby off the train. It all ends well, by the way. But nonetheless. ROY FURMAN: For those who
stayed for the second act. DALE CENDALI: That’s the point. There you are, like,
you know, thank god. NELL BENJAMIN: He doesn’t just
throw, like slow motion watch the suitcase like throw. DALE CENDALI: It was
like, we’re emphasizing this baby being killed. And for some reason it
wasn’t a crowd-pleaser. And there I am just sitting
kind of in the audience, hoping. And it’s like oh, everybody
says, what a terrible– and just like you
said, they left. But yet Steve felt– Mr. Martin to me, but anyway– Steve felt that he was
achieving his artistic vision, they were happy with the show,
that was their artistic choice. It ended up having a not so
good commercial impact from it. So what I’m saying is you
make all these decisions and sometimes you’re right
and sometimes you’re wrong. And maybe you’re
right every time, it’s just other
people are voting too, and that’s the audience. AUDIENCE 3: I’m very moved by
all of your little engine that could underpinnings. Asking a question that takes
advantage of having all of you together, could you talk
about your own equanimity during the seven years? Larry, is there a
Heathers character you’d like to explode, I’d be
curious how you ride it out. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Well,
the great Craig Carnelia, who is a wonderful Broadway
composer and lyricist, gave us great advice once. He said, if we knew
how fucking long it would take us to get
a show from initial idea and enthusiasm to opening
night, we would never start. But the time’s going
to pass anyway. So do it. If that’s what you
love to do, do it. Now, a lot of us, we’re working
on three, four, five, six, seven, projects at once because
you’ll get a little money up front for this show and
this show and this show, and you cannot do a career on
one show at a time linearly. NELL BENJAMIN: Not as
a writer, at any rate. I don’t know in
terms of producing, but I know as a writer. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: But
also we get into this because of people like Roy. We get into this
because of people– investors, and
angels, and people– because we want to be
in a room with them, we want to have
drinks with them, we want to get pizza with them,
we want to learn from them, and hear about theater. We want to learn how
to be better people, we want to learn about
the history of theater, we want to steal
ideas from disciplines we know nothing about. I still don’t call
myself a producer even though I had the credit
as a producer of Heathers. I will never be a good producer. You are looking at a
brilliant producer. So we do this not just
to finish the show but because this is the life
we love, if that makes sense. NELL BENJAMIN: Yeah. I’m working on seven
different projects right now. Actually, a big
issue for me was when you’re a writer and someone
will pay you to write something and you’re starting
out, you take that job because there’s a lot of people
who’ll pay you to write stuff. So I took everything. Everything writing. And that is still what
I tell people to do. It’s like, just take the job. But now I find myself in a
somewhat luxurious position of saying, OK, is
there something in this idea which may
not be mine that speaks to me, that I want to say? Because if there
isn’t, then that’s seven, eight, years minding
someone else’s baby. But I do find that I tend to be
offered by people that I like and respect ideas that do
have an exciting bent to them. And if you can get excited
about your project, that’s how you get
through seven years. But I think the hardest
part now is scheduling so we’re all in the room
together because every project that I’m on, everybody else
is doing seven other projects and we can’t even get
a meeting with all the writers and the director
in one room at the same time. And that adds months
to the project, which I’m sure is
infuriating for producers. ROY FURMAN: For corporate
people in this room, that’s the way the world works. Corporate meetings take seven
different people working to book to get a meeting. It’s the same thing. But it’s not seven years. NELL BENJAMIN: But you might
be on salary, which we are not. ROY FURMAN: Last question. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN: So this will
be your last question, please. AUDIENCE 4: For
those of you all who came from the law
school, Dale, obviously your legal training applies
every day on Broadway. [INAUDIBLE] you can actually
look at the number [INAUDIBLE] lawyers don’t understand at all. But has your legal
training here helped you all in y’all’s Broadway career? ROY FURMAN: Well,
Dale is obvious. And these are not
law school graduates, even though they pretend to be. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: We
went to the college. ROY FURMAN: They
went to the college. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: And
Harvard Law School keeps thinking we went
here and they invite us. We always say, please,
you know we didn’t. And they’re like, that’s OK. And then we wind up over
there with Nell Benjamin ’93 and so we’re in the literature. ROY FURMAN: They’re pro forma. AUDIENCE 4: You also
get solicitations, come to the reunion and
give a large donation? LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Yeah. We wrote a show about
a Harvard Law School, it took us four
and a half years. You can get a Harvard
Law degree in that time. And she didn’t. ROY FURMAN: I would
answer you this way as the one middle person. I have found my Harvard
degree invaluable from the day I graduated through today. It has never stopped
being meaningful, the education and
the degree, both. What I learned here was
how to approach problems and how to anticipate problems. And life is a problem and
theater was a problem. Everything is a problem. This is true. Everything in life, there
are pitfalls that you don’t see until too late. Anticipating problems, figuring
out how to get out of problems, problem solving. But the degree of thought
and the fact that so much of our business is contractual. Everything is contractual. And everything is
fraught with danger, in terms of whether it’s
IP problems or whatever. So having an awareness of
it, not having the expertise. I have a team of lawyers
who work on the shows I do. But I can at least
converse with them. And I understand what the
problems are early enough so it’s been great. And in terms of the
importance of the degree and the cred that
comes to you, I thought it would be
five years, three years, when I got started. It’s all of my life, it
never stops being of value. I’m one of the greatest
proponents of this education. Within Jeffrey’s, my
firm in Wall Street, I’ve always told younger
people get a law degree, not a business degree. It serves you much better. It’s also a trade,
it’s a profession. But I am a huge
proponent of the school. NELL BENJAMIN: Problem solving
probably more important in theater than
any other industry, because people do
not go into theater because they dislike drama. [LAUGHTER] If you can get 20% of
the drama surrounding your show onto the stage,
you are doing very well, sir. And so I think when you
meet somebody who’s actually like, we can solve
this problem, you want to work with them for
the rest of your natural life. LAURENCE O’KEEFE: Our very
limited experience with law, I took a law course or
two in graduate school, and we know just
enough about law to get ourselves
in deep trouble. But we have obviously
absorbed some of the issues, like rhetoric and contractual
issues, but what we realized is that the whole point of
law, as we understand it, is to encourage good behavior
and good faith practices, and to discourage bad behavior
and bad faith practices. And so you can tell
we’re optimists, otherwise we wouldn’t
work in theater. We have, in our
limited experience with law and Harvard
Law School, we’ve discovered what a
great way it is to see the world through these eyes. And some of our favorite people,
like Steven Price and Ella Thompson, just great people
who have helped us in our shows and have given us wisdom. And it seems to fuel our stuff. And I guess we’d
say, let everyone know you went to
Harvard Law School, you’ll get better friends. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: It’s a
large fraternity. JEANNIE SUK GERSEN:
What a great panel. Thank you so much to our panel. [APPLAUSE]

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