Oleanna, written by famed American playwright David Mamet, is a two-character play about the power struggle between a college professor and his student. The show is directed by Doug Hughes, the Tony Award winning director of Doubt, and stars Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles.
Kaye got involved with the project through his work as an associate producer for the Off-Broadway musical Rooms. As he traveled back and forth from Washington to New York, he began meeting other New York producers, having conversations about producing and their upcoming projects. It was during this time that Kaye met producer Jeffrey Finn and learned that he was in the process of bringing Oleanna to Broadway.
Kaye, who had always been a fan of Mamet, went to Los Angeles to see its pre-Broadway tryout at the Mark Taper Forum. After seeing the show twice in one day and speaking with the director and actors, he decided that this was a project that he really wanted to be involved with. “Its a very provocative play and the audience is completely engaged,” Kaye said.
As a co-producer, Kaye’s primary role was to raise money by finding investors for the show. Ultimately, he said, you are looking for people who are interested in investing for a variety of reasons, be it interest in that particular show, supporting the arts in general, or those who see it as a money-making venture.
However, Kaye noted that “theatrical investments are risky by their very nature, it’s just a fact of life.” It is his job as a producer to make sure that potential investors understand the risks and provide them with enough information to make an informed decision about whether or not it is the right investment for them.
Kaye found the process of finding investors to be quite enjoyable. His first round of investors came from a variety of different areas of his life, like people he knew since high school, colleagues in law (Kaye is also a practicing attorney), as well as through friends. “It was like revisiting my life a little bit as I talked to these people,” he said.
Kaye was also involved in all of the other types of producing decisions that are made for a show. “He has a say and voice in advertising, the positioning of the show, marketing, all of it,” Finn said. This included helping to arrange panelists for the Take-A-Side Talkback Sessions that are being held after every performance. According to Kaye, during previews 400 to 500 people were staying for the talkbacks. “It’s pretty clear that the play is striking a provocative chord with our audience,” he said.
While producing for Broadway may be a new role for Kaye, he is a veteran of DC area theatre. Washington theatregoers might know Kaye more for his work directing The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!), now in a return engagement at MetroStage, and for being one of three writers of the musical The Tapioca Miracle, which is being prepared for its own Broadway run.
After a reading in New York in April, Tapioca has undergone a rewrite, which is nearly finished, according to Kaye. Rewrites should be completed this fall, then they will record a demo CD. The team will begin shopping in earnest for a regional theatre pre-Broadway tryout for the 2010-2011 theater season in early 2010.
He enjoyed his work in producing Oleanna “immensely,” but has had to balance it with the demands of his law practice and his work on Tapioca Miracle. Eventually he would like to move away from the complex litigation that his practice does now to concentrate theater producing full time, through his company Hop Theatricals. Kaye concluded: “I think that’s probably the direction that I’m headed.”
Oleanna plays at the Golden Theatre, 252 W 45th Street (between Broadway & 8th) NYC.
Justin’s article hit on an intriguing question – how do people interested in investing in commercial productions make themselves known if they aren’t already on a New York producer’s do-call list?
“Stay informed about upcoming investment opportunities”, Kaye wrote. Sites devoted to theater as well as theater trade publications will often provide the names of lead producers who may be seeking potential investors. Additionally, Kaye indicated that it may be helpful to develop a business relationship with a producer in advance of any projects, so you can be kept apprised of upcoming investment opportunities. Organizations such as the Commercial Theater Institute and Theatre Resources Unlimited help develop new theater producers. “The producers and industry representatives I have met through my work with CTI and TRU have been very helpful, and have provided a good deal of sound advice and guidance in the last 12 months,” he said. “Both organizations offer ongoing workshops as well in theatre production.”
Broadway “is not an investment,” veteran producer Emanuel Azenberg told a group of young investors (“Angels”) in a Portfolio.com article. “It’s a cultural crapshoot.” By some reports, 80 – 90 percent of all shows fail, and 20 to 25 cents on the dollar is considered a good return. Still, shows do recoup and go on to reBroadway grosses are up this year, Broadway producers are finding more new projects to love with and when they do, they call their angels.
Nothing in this article is intended as a solicitation of an investment of any kind.
Joel Markowitz has been following the development of the new musical The Tapioca Miracle:
The New York reading June 2009
MetroStage reading, March 2009
Philadelphia reading, February, 2009
First reading, May, 2007 (podcast with Larry Kaye)