Stewart F. Lane Interview
If you’ve ever wondered what it took to be a Broadway Producer – we have the book for you!!
Titled “Let’s Put On A Show”! it’s written by Broadway Producer Stewart F. Lane.
Q – Mr. Lane you’ve written a book to help anyone who’s ever thought of starting a theatre co. or mount a production. Producing a Broadway show seems like it’s the stuff for people with money. Are you saying you don’t have to be rich to start a production co?
A – Well, if you’re gonna start a production co. it depends on what level you’re talking at. Non-profit, Commercial, Off-Broadway, Broadway. And sometimes they’re often related. Some of the best Broadway productions started out or even Off-Broadway productions started out as non-profit theatre co. productions or off – Off Broadway shows. In fact, ones that are smartly produced usually travel that route.
Q – Broadway would be the most expensive to launch?
A – That would be the most expensive one to launch, yes, ‘cause you’re dealing with unions and professionals on all levels.
Q – How many productions do you currently have in the running?
A – Right now I’ve got 2 shows. I’ve got ‘Legally Blonde’ running at the Palace Theatre, the musical and I’ve got Hitchcock’s ‘Thirty-Nine Steps’ running at the Court Theatre.
Q – How do you make sure everyone is doing their job and everything flows smoothly?
A – Well, it’s a matter of marketing it properly. You’re dealing with a consumer product. Once you’ve established it you try to keep it out there, keep it interesting. You can do that through re-casting as we’re doing with ‘Legally Blonde’. In that particular case we’ve had Lori Bell Bundy doing yeoman’s work as the lead and after a year and a half we’re finally working with M.T.V. and doing a national search for a new Elle Woods to play on Broadway. Again, something to add new excitement to an older product.
Q – How about the day-to-day operations of running a production co.-----is it difficult to find people to do the job they were hired to do?
A – It’s surprising how people are not only in our business but on every level. I remember doing a showcase years ago and being amazed at how people will volunteer their time, their important time to do such un-glamorous things as paint the set, work a box office or hang a light, just because they’re part of something that’s greater than them.
Q – There’s no Business like Show-Business.
A – It’s amazing how it brings people together. That’s where the book is so exciting ‘cause it not only works on a level of regional theatre or even fundraising for hospitals and what not.
Q – Do you go out on the road and do book signings to promote your book?
A – Yes. As a matter of fact I’ve been doing a lot of universities. I did Boston University. I did Five Towns College. I’ve been doing a lot of the university clubs around town like the Harvard Club. I did a lecture up at Yale last Spring.
Q – You get around!!
A – Well, I’m trying to get the word out. It’s difficult because it’s a specific book about producing for the theatre but, I think it’s best outlet would be university bookstores and Barnes And Noble in the theatre section-----How To.
Q – Most big universities have a Drama/Theatre Dept. So I can see them being interested in what you have to write.
A – The biggest challenge there is most of those theatres programs don’t have theatre management. And whether you’re a commercial producer for Broadway, Off-Broadway or a non-profit theatre co. working out of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis you still need to run it as a business. As a result, the needs and desires of both commercial producer and non-commercial producer are basically in tune with each other.
Q – You say that more people are taking in Broadway Shows than ever before. Why would that be?
A – It’s an amazing period. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. The last 35 years producing and acting, we finally came to the Golden Age of theatre, in my lifetime. I talked to some people and they said, ‘Oh, the 20’s that was the Golden Age of Theatre. You had Eugene O’Neil on Broadway, Hellzapoppin’ and they’d say, No. The late 50’s was the Golden Age of Broadway ‘cause you had Rodgers And Hammerstein, My Fair Lady’. I’d say, no, no. Now’s the best time. Not only do we have greater attendance among the theatres on Broadway, we have higher grosses than ever before. We have a huge range of material on Broadway that spans from children to Senior Citizens from the high brow to the low brow. This sort of takes theatre out of being an elitist sort of entertainment into a broader group.
Q – And the talent is better?
A – For the first time they’re actually training people to be producers. When I started producing there was no guidebook, there were no schools. They actually had nothing out there other than me investing with my bar mitzvah money with Jimmy Needelander in a show to learn; Seat of the pants how to produce a show. Now they teach it in some schools; they’ve got the Broadway League. They have a course you can take. But, that came later. It came after I started producing. So, that’s one good thing. They have more producers that are out there being trained properly. They’ve got actors in more acting schools. The University of Michigan and the University of Oklahoma have terrific musical theatre departments. BU (Boston University) has a wonderful classic theatre department that could probably expand into musical theatre. So, this is a wonderful time with the activity of the Internet, You Tube and cable television. You don’t have to be what they used to call bi-coastal. You either lived in L.A. to work in the movie industry or television and you lived in New York for Broadway. You can actually do both now and raise a family and live something of a normal life.
Q – And you know people who are doing that?
A – Oh, yes. It’s amazing. Silver Cup Studios and Kaufman Studios are expanding and they’re doing commercials and film-making. It’s an amazing time. It’s a great time. Tax incentives have been very helpful. The government has been very supportive in that respect in the film industry. I’d like to see more of that in the Broadway industry and in the national theatre industry to help give a little more incentive in producing touring cos. Theatre is not just Broadway, it’s throughout America.
Q – You fell in Broadway when you were 11 years old.
A – Yes.
Q – Why did you like it so much?
A – It’s that story of seeing your first Broadway show. My best friend, 3rd, 4th, 5th grade, best buddies all the time, hanging out after school. I used to see his father like at 4 o’clock in the afternoon hanging out at the house too. ‘Hey Ricky – doesn’t your father work for a living’? He’d say, ‘Yeah. My Dad’s an actor’. He works at night. I go, ‘What – great concept’. Everyone else knocks their head against the wall during the day and he works at night when it’s fun. Tell me more!! I’d never heard of his father, but he said he was an actor. One day he said my father is in a Broadway show. He’s starring in a Broadway Show. Would you like to see it? Of course! Sure. So, the whole excitement of getting dressed up for a special occasion, borrowing my father’s tie, driving into Manhattan and seeing the skyline which I still get excited about today. Going to a real Broadway theatre not just a matchbox movie house that was in suburban, but, a real design turn of the century theatre, and getting a ticket that said the name of the show. It didn’t even say Admit One on it, it just had the title of the show and you got a Playbill. So, you had two souvenirs and the curtain hadn’t even gone up yet. What a trip! And then we marched into the first row and the curtain goes up on the musical called ‘Little Me’ starring Ricky’s father- Sid Caesar. I didn’t know who Sid was ‘cause I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late. This was about 1962, so his big television career was over. He was embarking on other things. So, the whole experience sitting there with the audience, laughing, looking at the talent onstage, I was actually able to see some of the actors on the side, in the wings preparing to play little tricks on the audience and going backstage afterwards where Sid was holding court in his dressing room. They’re slapping him on the back, going Great job Sid, comparing cigar sizes. They were big cigar smokers back then. The whole experience was so overwhelming. I said this is great! What, a great career! Storytelling live! He had his own home away from home. He had a t.v., a cot and a refrigerator, a bed. I said this is great. This is something I can spend my life doing. So, in other words I broke my parents hearts at an early age.
Q – So, you’re a writer, a producer, and an actor, but you find that writing is the hardest thing to do.
A – To me, that’s the most challenging.
Q – Now, why would that be?
A – Well, I like collaborating with people. So, when you’re directing or acting you’re working with a group. But, when you’re writing you lock yourself in a room and it’s you and the screen. That’s tough. That’s the toughest part. There’s like no distractions. After you’ve made yourself a cup of coffee and check your e-mail, you really have to work on a character. It’s just yourself you have to rely on.
Q – If you find writing so difficult, why not assign it to somebody else and stick with directing and producing?
A – I haven’t tried that yet but, I understand Rembrandt used to start a painting and let the students kind of finish it. (Laughs). James Michener used to do that. He used to have people get the facts for him before he’d write ‘Tales Of The South Pacific’. I’ll think about that. (Laughs).
Q – It’s hard to wear so many hats.
A – Especially in the theatre. I try to wear only one at a time. Unlike the movies where you can direct a scene and edit it later or even produce it, it’s easier. But, because you’re dealing in real time in the theatre, it’s hard to wear two hats.
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