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New York City the theater capital of the world Riverside radio brings you the story behind the theater. If any person connected with a theater can be truly called The Man Behind the scenes that person would have to be the producer. How the omnipresent producer shapes a play how banking is obtained and how the play becomes a production thats the topic for discussion today. JR managing director of the Equity Library theater talks with Laurie Noto producer of the long running off-Broadway hit the Fantastics and Norris Holden producer director author and co-founder of the Phoenix Theatre in New York City. Here is our host for these backstage visits. Lyle Di Jr.. Lori and Nora I think is we know a producer means many
things to many people. Many people's conception of a producer I think is in the rather frantic overweight gentleman with a carnation in his buttonhole who spends all of his time throwing lavish parties to raise money for his plays are having two well known working producers here today. I think the best thing we can do is immediately start in and destroy these misconceptions and get right down to precisely what a producer does do where his responsibility begins and where it ends. Albeit it's an overall responsibility certainly but first things first to produce You must have one thing and that is a property. Laurie as an example of a single property doing a show independently as a producer how did you choose your property how do you choose it how frequently do you get lots of scripts thrown at you or how frequently do you go to see new works here a reading of a new play. Do you look for the
property does it come to you. Well of course properties come to you and you are constantly looking for properties. How do you decide on a given property I think should basically be your own personal reaction to it and nothing else really. In your introduction they're about producing. You talked about the responsibility of the producer being the overall one. If it's going to be that and it must be of course the only way that you can drag yourself out of bed in the morning and go through the hectic activities of the producer would go through every day and the various problems would have to come really out of personal appreciation of the quality of the work. And if there is any other reason it seemed to me except total
belief in the property that you're working on I think you're in trouble. It's nice to hear however that there is a consideration that you feel is primary aside from Will the script make money. Well I've always believed that art will always make money. When I say Art I don't mean in the arty sense I just mean in the theatre as an art form. A producer assuming this kind of responsibility and let's say the producers do then Nori for instance your arrangement at the Phoenix Theatre would give you even a much more difficult problem of knowing that you're not going to produce just one play during a season then you've got to look for an entire series of plays for a repertory group let's say or for a precise company that you're keeping at the Phoenix. I think the principal problem that the producer faces whether he be producing a single venture at a time or a series of things as you
pointed out that the Phoenix does the principal problem is the making of that choice of the play. If you choose the wrong play that doesn't make a difference what you do thereafter if you choose the right play. Then also it's well it does make a difference what you do to it because you can ruin it. But still it comes right back basically to that choice of what you're going to do. But this choosing of play is big is I think dreamy tricky it becomes even trickier when as you suggested a minute ago you have a resident acting company that you have to take into consideration for all but two of the nine seasons of The Phoenix we have not had a resident acting company and that made it much give us much more flexibility because we could use plays. They were built around musical comedy personalities or we could choose plays that if we could get somebody who could do Shakespeare fine if we could find somebody who could do this Julie.
And so on with I think company it does I think somewhat constrict you because then you have to deal in terms of the people that you have. And this adds another problem to it. Despite the artistic integrity that you both obviously feel must go into the choice of a play. You cannot ignore the fact the commercial pressures the fact that a play must sell tickets and also the fact that really the next step you've got to get money before you can put a play on I think we have two interesting examples here of a continuing operation with Phoenix in terms even of financing and Laurie for instance the obvious problem of raising money. And is there just the one way backers auditions if you don't have. We all know of the angels of the people who will come along to say here's the money do the play really. Too much of the vanity theater especially off Broadway that's going on now isn't it. At Mary's money is used to produce a play off Broadway so that Mary and Johnny can come into the city and be in it. One of the things I
think that's hurting off-Broadway But nevertheless as to raising money backers auditions themselves is just a general exposure then of the material to get people enthused to take a chance. I think off-Broadway If only more people would recognize as you two both obviously do a work of quality. Put some money into it just because they think it should be exposed it should be seen. This doesn't happen often enough your problems with raising money let's say with your previous shows the failures or that's the title of the show now what happened to you but it's also harder on our with the Fantastics. You went through a rather torture a series of backers and visions with the Fantastics Isn't this right. It was rather difficult. Talk to us. I don't think so for one reason. Both of these shows the failures and the Fantastics flop and the hit. I personally wanted to subsidize both. In other words I was willing
to go broke to get both of these shows on and did with the failures and fortunately found there was enough response so that I didn't have to you know make that total commitment on the Fantastics though. What happened was I did put up a great deal of personal money on the Fantastics and found that there was a wonderful demand for participation after the commitment had been made on my part. The man who was doing onsets for instance came to me and he said you know this is just marvelous. The lighting designer said I would like a piece of this. You know the attorney came to me and he said this is really wonderful and none of these people expected to make money out of the show. And I could it help they get these offers. The budget was sixteen thousand five hundred dollars and I had some by $30000 offered you know to me.
But on the other hand I didn't happen overnight. And you know it didn't happen overnight it came out of numerous backers auditions at the playwright's apartment. Various theatres around town and anywhere we could get a piano and people conveniently located to come. We would do backers audition after Bakker's audition the so-called smart money wouldn't touch the show at all. They did not believe in the commercial possibilities. Record companies did not believe in the possibilities of the show but people creative people in the theater. And this is why the Fantastics in that sense is a rather an unusual success is because it has always had the support of theatre people. One more thing about that. I do believe that the success of the Phoenix today 4st success circle in the square success still proves that the public will
always see through you know poor theater and I think that that is that thing I explained before that comes out of you know history of people being put in that certain spot and having paid the certain money to be convinced of something just what it is they don't know. And when I say convince I mean it could be the most entertaining kind of thing kind of experience. We at least we hope they will see through it but I think it's true too that the audience will not necessarily always encourage that say what we might call art for instance how you might not call them art yet but the best plays that are chosen each year are usually two or three that are chosen have been sort of the grand flops on Broadway at any rate plays that have not been encouraged by the public but nevertheless they were some of the best play we have here the case history less of a season or two ago don't we of all the way home with what ended the season by winning the Pulitzer Prize and yet was constantly at the point of closing because it wasn't a
financially successful and the play that I did that it really brought the Phoenix into existence a long time ago as it was a dramatization of Melville's Billy Budd. Which got wonderful notices it was nominated for all the prizes but ended by losing a hundred you say. Once you you've chosen your play you have your money although I think both of you have gotten your money easier than many of your commercial producers because you had good properties. What I'd like to know then that you start. Let's say you get your director first this then of course will follow your designers working with your directors and all of your pre-production planning. Then when actually it comes to the casting how heavy a hand do you as a producer and I'm sure you can speak only out of your own experience but how heavy a hand do you like to exert or do you feel you should or could exert as a producer on the casting on saying to a director either this person is diametrically wrong or this person you must take Nari do you sit in on
casting Oh yes and I think that. The producer has to recognize that he is going to hold the director responsible for the success of the way the play turns out. And therefore for a producer to force a director to use an actor it would be a grave mistake. I think that if you hired a good director presumably the director and you were going to see eye to eye about this. So that what I what he wants is going to be likely to be what you want if he is the best the director then he is probably going to want to surround himself with method actors. If he is to run Guthrie he's probably going to bet that actors and want some other kind of actor. And if you will if you put your confidence in the director and believe that he is the right director to work with that kind of material almost certainly you will will see I know why. If there is a difference of opinion it would be my
tendency to bow to the Director at least until he has proved to my satisfaction that he was mistaken in which case then you solve that problem. When you come to it never would you would give the director almost complete freedom. Almost almost a particularly in a situation like these off-Broadway situations where the financial thing doesn't enter into it. Yes if a director said I want an all star cast and it's going to cost you $20000 a week to pay for the people I want then of course the producer who has is responsible for the money that he has raised will say I'm terribly sorry but we can't afford all these people. Could I answer that too. I agree with Norris completely about this 100 percent except that it is true that the producer has the power. He cares. He can foolishly throw away the production for vanity or arbitrary reasons. But I believe that only the good producers will survive who have the mutual
respect of fellow craftsmen who have the ability to learn the courage really to go with the director. Also of course when things are seriously wrong to retain the right. To make the decision that perhaps you know he feels that the director is wrong. You know of course you he has the power certainly. You have hired the director is clear also that this should be explained perhaps to the listener that that the contract between an actor and management is signed by the producer and not by the director writer. Let's take a hypothetical situation where you feel you have chosen a script with high artistic integrity. You have raised your money through various means you hired to director the show has cast its lets say a week 10 days before opening youve been watching it closely. All of a sudden it isnt happening somehow. It was a wrong choice of the script somehow it isn't working. How often do you think it advisable to simply close the show to try and call in
someone else and say I play doctor. To give up to go on through it. This kind of a situation I think must happen frequently. Else we just couldnt get the number of bad productions that is for that are flooding off Broadway today. But I think frequently it would be smart even at the eleventh hour to just say well like on Broadway this season there have been a couple even have played more than a couple. Yes there's been quite a few. Many co's out of town but even some that have played out of town come on to Broadway and then close during the previews before. This doesn't seem to happen that often. Off-Broadway I think it should more often. You can tell after all there is the the pail of death that can settle on a show. You made a ghastly mistake all the way down the line. It's interesting I do think that the Broadway producer somehow has more courage to do this on the off bubbly producer. Maybe it's because there is more money at stake on Broadway and therefore you're more prepared to take the gamble because it's perhaps $100000 or a quarter of a million that you're going to
get you're playing with and the Off Broadway producer because it's only been 15 or 20000 says well after all I can afford to risk this. And but. I don't know why it is that off-Broadway producers for the most part don't don't take some drastic action when things go wrong. But I think this is true that they don't know me damn well I've seen drastic action taken on in the Broadway journey about on Broadway and you see a lot of them you'll see I've known numerous directors who've been let go but somehow I feel that that's where the courage of the producer. You know what the final decision is that is made is always after the fact really you know when I'm when I said I mean when was it the right decision is only the right decision when it works. But frequently it happens because a great deal of panic that takes over. I think that the problem of the producer is always to evaluate
just critically as critically as he can possibly experience criticism and. I always have the confidence in the people he selected. As far as he reasonably can. Certainly there's a point when you have to throw up your hands. Yes to carry just a word I don't always lettered. It is a kind of conflict in art. When are you always right. Nobody is ever that right. The director could be absolutely right. I've worked with directors who will simply. Well I know from their experience that they simply will not deliver what you want to see at a given moment. And if there's a mutual respect between producer and director he will almost make it a point not to deliver it now as he sort of challenges you that this is not the time. Now if you have good judgment it pays off. But I have seen too many cases where directors have been fired because a producer demands for whatever
reasons that he must have results at a given time. And it's not necessarily the right time for those results. After all we work for a target date and that's opening night. When I say this you know I'm sure you know what I mean about say certain kinds of so-called method actors. Yes. Who will not even know how to arrive at a result except under given conditions. Opening night for instance. It's a very real problem in the theatre. Is how do you force the performer to arrive at these results when he's not ready for it. And that's where I think all along the line in terms of a production you have to examine what's happening. But then on the other hand aside from canceling a play closing it if you do have a show let's say that is a fantastic hit. You know and you know it's going to continue to run as a producer than let's say. How much do you continue to be involved as two replacements as to keeping up the artistic and
professional level that was hit on opening night. You know come back often. You're completely involved. Because it's your responsibility to the to the customer who buys a ticket six months after you open to provide give him his money's worth just as much as the responsibility to give somebody on the night his money's worth. I personally find this terribly difficult because I'm rather like a cat with who's had kittens at this sort of walks away from me. Want to see anything more to do with him. So I have to exert a great deal of willpower to keep getting interested or continue my interest in something after it's what's been created but it has to be done at least so it seems to me. And if you have a responsible director he will usually drop in the theatre and keep an eye on things for you if you have a good stage manager he is constantly reporting to you on any problems that are arising and the question of replacements I think it is a serious one and you will have to do everything you can to keep maintain.
Right. Well Laurie for instance during the run of the show let's say you was producer off to London. Your director has another show that he's working on and is not available to come back to check on the show you know replacements are going on. Who is it you rely on then. Well certainly when you're away as the stage manager who has the task of actually casting on the quality. Fortunately we had the kind of people who stayed with the show there were no trainers while we were away. But it's the same kind of the citizens who have to make that important decision about a stage manager also. I believe that the director should pick the stage manager. After all he does carry on the director's work so if you have a good stage manager he is the one the production stage manager responsible for the quality of the show. If you're in town how often do you like to get back to see a hit where they're not like two but how often do you feel you should go back and if nothing else that's a check the show check up on the part I feel I
should go once a week I don't do this but I think one should. Check in at the theater and watch the show through from beginning to end if you can once a week right. Often the exigencies of travel or things like that prevent this but wouldn't you agree that oh yes you need a few that I don't and I'd only think my going every night and watching the show are going to end because then I think you lose your perspective yes exactly can't really tell whether the performance is deteriorating or what. What is happening but if you if you take six nights off and don't see it then on the seventh it's a good idea to drop in and see what I don't want to lie about that I think that it's important to have people who care associated with the production. I mean on all levels we have actors who care we have stage managers who care we have often and often become leaders. Composer musical director cares you know. And in that sense. That is really the ideal. Otherwise it produces problems are
just impossible and you think this is OK we're hitting it right at the very. The difference between a professional approach to the theater and amateurs and yes it is. Any professional must care and that's what National has a sense of responsibility and will care. And it's the amateurs in the fly by nights who have momentary enthusiasms and they may get awfully excited when they do it and they're delighted. And then the excitement wears off because basically they're just not professional. And then think of what we're doing to audiences when people go to see a show let's say a year and a half two years after it opens. They have read these marvelous reviews long ago the reviews that are blown up and still going to still be interested Yeah exactly the quotes the cast let's say is 50 percent change and how often you hear people coming out really not understanding how this won the award of the best play of the year or how this actor. Won an award. Even if he stayed with the show let's say his performance has dropped. This then is up to the producer to keep this kind of level of his responsibility to the audience I
must. If you have to rely entirely on reviews what happens then to your and artistic integrity that you both are have spoken so highly of but a show that you you are convinced should go it must go. The reviews aren't good. There is some money left let's say to keep it running for a while. That's a completely bad set of reviews almost dictate to you. Despite what I feel we must. I think it's got to go I think it completely bedstead overviews cannot be overlooked and it really cannot be fought against. I think if you get seven out of seven bad notices. Thank you Mr. Moses as you can if you get seven out of seven good notices you don't have any problem either. It's only what the real problem is when you get a mixed press and you get three or four reviewers who think this is the best thing they ever saw unfair for reviewers I think it couldn't be worse then.
Then the question is what you can do to capitalize on the good notices and forget the bad notices. And that's where your trouble I think. What do you. Are either of you as a producer. Do either with or to a press agent that let's say you have mixed notices the press agent isn't doing quite as much as you think. Is it up to you to prod the press agent to put in the kind of quote you think will attract to keep it going. How important a role is he playing if he doesn't play the role we're back to the producer again who's got to. Well I think that the producer must exercise control over the press department the same as he exercises it over every other department. And if he has a good press agent he won't have to offer so many suggestions if he has a bad press agent he'll have to do most of the creative thinking himself. I don't know if either of you realize what you've done in the past few minutes but have actually we've touched on virtually every phase of a production. You as producers Allen despite the fact you haven't talked once about throwing your lavish parties.
And I haven't had a carnation in my buttonhole that you might have had as a producer as you have then assume the responsibility of choosing the property choosing your director and the staff helping with the casting. Raising the money keeping the artistic level of the show as high as possible having your hand in public city what else could a producer do in other words it's a producer's show and he is in on every phase and every level of it I'm sure even down to if it must happen disagreeing with the designer on the type of renderings that are submitted on the sketches on the the physical aspects of the show itself. I think there's one other arrest but the producer has to be a little adroit at it and that is as psycho therapist. Quite often when the principle time consuming problems that he faces is to make the actress feel that she is loved and the director appreciated the author
admired and one person comes to you and says I can't possibly continue if so-and-so continues doing what he's doing and the other person comes as I can't possibly continue if this goes on and this starts at about the fifth day of rehearsal and continues until the play closes no matter how many days weeks months or years later it is and I think that the producer is the is the final court of appeal always in these matters. And if the director doesn't get work with the designer and the designer thinks that the director is thwarting his problems then the producer is the man who has to come in and make sure that he gets what he what he bargained for with all these people and make them all happy as we used to say they have part of a happy ship. Yes so this is sort of the capper on the overall picture there isn't anything that a producer can't handle. Thank you both for coming today and for your your opinions and your experience and certainly good luck to you in the hundreds of shows you'll be producing from now on.
Thank you. Thank you. Well story behind the theater today the producer Lyle Doyle Jr. has been. Talking with Laurie Noto producer of the off-Broadway hit the Fantastics and the result an author or director or scenic designer and co-founder of the Phoenix Theatre. As the person who interprets the action and sense of a play the director fulfills a key role in the theatre. In our next programme Lyle Di Jr. managing director of the Equity Library theater talks with directors and Giudice and Lee Foley about their roles in the staging of the play. Listen next week when New York City the theater capital of the world better side radio again brings you the story behind the theater. Radio collaboration with the Equity Library theater
the National Association of educational broadcasters the Metropolitan FM station and the Riverside Church in the city of New York. This is the end Radio Network.
The Story Behind the Theatre
The Producer
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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The Story Behind the Theatre is a twelve part program produced by WRVR Riverside Radio. Each week, Lyle Die Jr. of the Equity Library Theater addresses a specific aspect of theater production and interviews two people working in the New York City theater industry. The series seeks to explain the many factors involved in producing a piece of theater by talking with playwrights, producers, directors, and other industry professionals.
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