Podcast Episode 102 Transcript – Howard Sherman

Ken: Hello everybody. Welcome to the Producer’s Perspective Podcast. I am Ken Davenport and I am super excited about my guest today, partly because one of the first times I actually met him in person, and I am looking at him right now to see if he remembered, I was on the other side of the microphone with him asking the questions. Now the roles are reversed. Please welcome to the podcast. Honestly, one of the smartest advocates and best administrators we have working in the business today, Mr. Howard Sherman. Welcome, Howard.

Howard: It is nice to meet you again. And I do remember.

Ken: Yes.

Howard: It was very early in the days of my podcast as I recall.

Ken: Yes, it was. It was. We talked about Off Broadway. So Howard is currently the director of the Arts Integrity Initiative at The New School, also the Senior Strategy Director, and Interim Director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts. He was the Executive Director of the American Theater Wing for almost a decade. He is a fantastic blogger and a fantastic Tweeter even when he disagrees with me, and well by default, he became the chief archivist of the infamous ‘Ham-for-Ham’ before Hamilton’s performance last year. Check out his YouTube page, quite extraordinary the number of views that stuff got.

So Howard what I love about your career is the diversity in the types of work you have done. So I want to start by just asking you what drives you to be so passionate about the theater? What is it that makes you want to go, “I got to be involved in this community. I want to write about it. I want to work for the Wing. I want to work for included for the Arts”? What is it?

Howard: It is all I ever wanted to do. I never conceived of something else that attracted me more. When I was getting ready to go to college, that certainly swallowed all of those things I wanted since childhood to make a living you know so much and I was– I went to a good school, and certainly for the first year I was trying to find something else that might interest me and there wasn’t anything. This is all what I wanted to be a part of.

So what drives it is frankly finding ways to be part of this world and in school I performed, I acted once in college, I directed a couple of shows in college but I even stopped anything along the performance side or creative side by the end of the first semester of my sophomore year. I just knew that it wasn’t for me. Whether I had talent or not, I have no idea. I doubt it, but what I didn’t feel that I had was the ability to constantly sell myself.

I found that I was probably better at if not selling, promoting the thing that I loved.

It is an interesting life when your avocation is your vocation. There is very little separation. What did I do in my free time? I go see more shows. Why? What drives me is just I never found anything that excites me as much, that I enjoy as much, that I hope other people will enjoy as much, and I am driven by just helping them maybe know something more about it.

I guess if there is a theme to my career it is that idea of information and knowledge about the theater and whether it was back when I was doing PR, or when I was doing my podcast or what I do now in terms of advocacy. I think that has been the real consistent part of it, even though the job titles are very muddled.

Ken: So what was the first job you had in the business after school or during school?

Howard: Well it was during school. My great fortune was that even though I had gone to college, and I wasn’t going to do theater part of my financial aid package was that I had to do 20 hours of work-study paid for and there was box office job in the art center on campus and that really was my first paid theater job. And I worked in the box office for a couple of years and last two years of college. I worked as an assistant to the Associate Managing Director of Performing Arts Center.

I had my first fully professional job doing PR for a new theater company in Philadelphia during my junior year. So I left school already having some professional credits and then started and I had done a little PR role as I said professional work in terms of film promotion stuff and so that is sort of what brought me into the fully professional role after college.

Ken: What was the first show that you ever saw when you were a kid, you remember it?

Howard: The first show I ever saw was a children’s theater production at Long Wharf Theater in 1967 for Stephen Garfinkel’s fifth birthday party. I do not know what the show is. I have a visual image of being in Long Wharf, which at that point was a year old, and while– I have never been able to determine what the show is in conversation with Alvin Brown who was a long-term artistic director, but initially ran the Children’s Theater Company, he couldn’t even figure out what the show would have been, but whatever it was, he directed it. That is as much as I know about it.

Ken: First Broadway show?

Howard: First Broadway show was The Magic Show by Stephen Schwartz. I had seen the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof in New Haven about five years earlier, but that was definitely The Magic Show and then Beatlemania was next.

Ken: Beatlemania, I saw that on tour myself. So what you have been in a variety of positions over, you know a couple of decades now.

Howard: [laughter] More than a couple.

Ken: I know I was trying to be nice there and what, what is the biggest change you have seen since when you started on the administrative side of the Broadway? [cross-talk]

Howard: I think we need to be clear that in terms of Broadway, I have been Broadway adjacent, is the way I would describe it. I came into the Wing in 2003. While the Wing job obviously has a relationship to Broadway through the Tony Awards, I wasn’t working on Broadway per se. My name has never been on the title page or the listing in the back of a playbill on Broadway.

I had a great ringside seat to how Broadway works at the wing, but in point of fact I always worked for not for profit organizations, whether they were service organizations or producer’s organizations. So that said, I don’t know if you want it– what have I seen changed in the time I came to the Wing, 13 years since then? I would say probably the biggest thing is the escalation of price and the rise of secondary market.

Ken: Do you think that there is anything we can do to bring prices down or do you think that it will just keep going up and up and up?

Howard: Why divert, really in economics, the law of supply and demand has reached Broadway in a way that it strangely– while there was a certain amount of it that it is underground, it is now very open, the fact is that there is a finite amount of inventory that any show has to sell in a given week, in a given month, in a given year, and when demand outstrips that, then prices rise, and while Hamilton is looked at almost as if it was the first show that has ever happened- I think it is the first show where it has been this high demand where the secondary market has been as open.

We have to remember that 10 years ago– Only 10 years ago that the anti-scalping laws were removed, and I sort of thought at that time, “Oh, this isn’t going to end well.” There has always been scalping. I think there will always be scalping in some form or another, but when scalping is transitioned into being the hold of the secondary market and made so open and easy, and you literally you can go on websites to buy a ticket, and that same website is prepared to sell you a ticket- on a second resale ticket essentially, on the secondary market, it’s blurred the lines in extraordinarily difficult ways.

Remembering that commercial Broadway is fundamentally responsible to its investors. It is a business, I think it is very difficult to turn over- for those businesses to turn around and say on a consistent basis, “We are going to forego revenue in order to maintain accessibility.” I am not saying I wouldn’t like to see them do so, gathered there some rhetoric around J.K. Rowling, wanting to keep The Harry Potter play accessible when it comes here. I don’t know what has happened in London in terms of the secondary market for that show, whether she personally can do that because of her extraordinary wealth and her commitment would be fantastic. I’m sitting here talking to an independent producer who I imagine would find it difficult to say, investors, we’re just not going to charge but the market will bear, how about you? Would you? Could you?

Ken: Oh God, here we go, the question is turned around already. To be honest what I think what you do, and I think Hamilton has done this to some extent already. And I think Harry Potter should as well which is you as a producer do have a responsibility, that is why these people give you this money. And a lot of people will say, “Well they are going to make so much money.” Well what people forget is that when I raise money and people make money on a show, it usually means that they have lost money on many shows before, so they are trying to recover actually their other losses and I am sure that’s for many of the Hamilton investors they are actually recovering from previous shows that they have supported.

So I think the answer is you do isolate. You have small groups of tickets that are cheaper and then you do isolate big charitable events just like any other large scale corporation would do, just like Verizon does, just like the Yankees will do, or just like anything that is – like Chase Bank. That is what I think the answer is there. I am asking you the questions dang-it. So let us talk creatively for a second. Grade the creative output of the New York theater scene right now as compared to when you started? Do you think we are producing artistically better plays and Musicals than we were when you first came here?

Howard: I see so much that I can’t even tell you what was in what season all that easily, so I have to hedge on that. I think, I can’t say that it is more so than when I first- when I came to New York in 2003, but I am very pleased to see a Broadway certainly that can support a Fun Home that can go Ape for Hamilton. There is definitely a range and I am really glad to see it. I was disappointed actually that Falsettos and Fun Home didn’t end up overlapping. I thought it would be quite wonderful to have both of those shows playing at the same time, just because what they are about, what they represent in terms of how our society has changed. But I think you know analyzing any given season is kind of a mistake. I think that there has been a lot of great work and there has been a lot of stuff that you wonder how it got there, and that is just the nature of certainly the commercial.

Ken: You do a lot of work in the Hinterlands as well consulting the region.

Howard: I don’t even like you using that word. They are not the Hinterlands. They are part of this country who simply happens to not be in New York, and that is not a failing and it is not that Steinberg Map of New York where there is New York and there is everything else, you were saying.

Ken: Perfect segue, what I wanted to know is if you think there are things that the New York theater scene can learn from the other theaters around the country, because too many of us, including me as I just did, separate us from the rest of the country and certainly look down on some of the other theaters out there, just like New Yorkers look down on some people that may live in Indiana or East wherever. So is there something that we can learn from how some of these great theaters across the country are being run?

Howard: When you say ‘We’ and you say New York Theater, New York Theater is not a singular thing because there is Broadway, there is Off-Broadway, there is Off-Off, there is institutional, there is–

Ken: I am saying ‘I’ as in Broadway and Off-Broadway commercial theater producer, can learn.

Howard: I don’t– I think that the most important thing that exists particularly in institutional theaters, and to a degree with the performing arts centers now, which are by and large not for profit, is how to maintain a relationship with an audience. I think it has gotten tougher. I think a lot of people have shifted away from subscription and towards single tickets, but in New York, I think people always think about what’s the show as opposed to what’s playing at Hartford Stage tonight, what’s playing at Steppenwolf tonight.

I think the idea of a producer identity, not in the way of their merit, but in the way of that there is this entity that creates a body of work over time for an audience in a place, is something that – that has value, in the sense that if you know where the work is coming from and you get a sense of who it is who is doing that work, then I think you could conceivably build audience for your shows based on who you are, what your aesthetic is, what your track record is.

If you look at Hollywood right now, I think it is a little extreme, but we actually now see ads that say “from the producer of” and they will name. Now to a certain degree, it is that they are trying to invoke anything that can interest somebody in the product. But when that producer is Pixar, then that brand as a producing entity signals the kind of work that is going to come from them and I– I don’t think–I think producers are very broad-minded I think they do a lot of work that has a wide range of topics, etc, etc., but there is something to knowing who is behind it, because the relationship for all theater going is connecting to people and sensibilities and whether it is a performer, whether it is a director, whether it is a writer, I think that model of knowing the producer is something that is much stronger outside.

Ken: Speaking of the Pixars and the movie studios, what do you think about movie studios and their presence on Broadway today as opposed to 20 years ago when they didn’t seem to care less?

Howard: I think it is difficult to finance Broadway shows. It is difficult to finance Off-Broadway shows and even regional shows, because it is not a uniquely Broadway thing- You are seeing shows developed and shows supported by studios. I don’t remember which company it is, but Dead Poet’s Society has a credit you know in a 200 seat Off-Broadway theater. You know part of that is they own the rights, the screenplay, etc., etc.

I think if the kind of money that is available in film or in television for that matter can come into theater, it is terrific. And if over time that money and people behind that money are willing to go beyond simply reiterating properties just as they were for the exploitation of the existing familiar names, but actually realizing that something can be done beyond that, and it can be quite extraordinary and we’re seeing that a bit. You know Once for example in which the show in many ways is bigger than the movie, and if I remember correctly that that might have had seen involvement not from the studio per se but that is one of the shows that Broadway family was involved or did I misremember?

Ken: Fred Zollo was a producer on that.

Howard:  Oh yeah. As the lead.

Howard:  So you know when you think about resources that may have been generated in part by the James Bond films being brought to bear on a quite remarkable musical. I thank that’s fantastic.

Ken: It’s a very, and I’ve never looked at it that way, and it’s what you’re suggesting in a way that each studio– Disney may not be able to produce a small independent artistic stage production, something, but they could create an independent film studio that’s a subset of them in a way.

Howard: First of all, I think Tom Shumacher has involved Disney theatricals in things which are not singularly replications or adaptations of Disney films. So I think that does a disservice… Tom’s actually.. you said nice things about me at the top, Tom’s is one of the smartest people about theater overall, that you can meet and enthusiastic and supportive and so, you know, I think that work is already happening at a certain level. Can there be more of it? Sure! Because as people like to say you know, what it costs to produce, certainly a play on Broadway as opposed to what it costs to produce a dramatic film. We also have to look at the amount of activity that’s going on in Broadway right now that’s generated by Scott Rudin and you know… with… certainly early on it was very often a related credit for Paramount which at that time he had a producing relationship with. Being brought to bear and putting Paramount movies on stage it was being brought to bear on some really, really interesting theater. So… I do think there is, there is an emerging world we see Bob Greenblatt from NBC and his involvement… the idea that theater isn’t a plaything for these people, but that they are serious and committed to it.. it is just great….

Ken: So obviously, you work for inclusion for the arts… Give me your – take our temperature on diversity and inclusion right now…. How do you think Broadway is doing? Last year there was several jumping up and down… What an amazing year for diversity in Broadway but give us the real truth?…

Howard: I mean, my comment earlier about.. It’s very hard to look at any single year of Broadway and define anything because there can be you know, just a couple of things can swing your perception of what’s going on, on Broadway. I think you know there is no question, Spring Awakening, which you produced with Jimmy from Deaf West, it shifted the awareness of the acceptance of performers with disabilities on Broadway. This season, to the best of my recollection, the one show that we have is… Glass Menagerie has cast a woman who is a wheelchair user as Laura, a character who has always been described as having a disability but certainly in any major production never played by someone with a disability. But if you look at it on a percentage basis, the number of performers with disabilities on Broadway has just been reduced. In terms of racial and ethnic diversity…. That’s a show by show thing, and you get an allegiance, it’s going to tip the balance and part of what we also have to look at is not simply “Was there someone in a show?” But at some point we have to look at it across worldviews. You know, how long were actors diverse actors on Broadway? How…We can look at who directed shows because the direction is, in a way, finite, then it’s just how long the show runs, but you know, yes we need to look at that we’re still at a huge deficit in terms of gender equity on Broadway. I think overall, the racial diversity, disability diversity has a long way to go because it’s still treated as something special.

Until we get to the point where there is equity, and where it’s no longer a story that there are shows with a large number of Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American, people with disabilities, all-female creative teams. That’s where we actually achieved something. Right now, it’s still outside the common phase and therefore something to remark upon and therefore something to remark upon and therefore we’re far from it all.

Ken: So, I wanna talk about writers specifically, because I have always been a big believer that that’s where it starts, if you have writers writing for people of color, writers of color writing about what they know and their experiences it will slowly transform, I am just a big believer in that. So I want you to imagine that you’re speaking to five thousand theater professionals, Broadway producers, Off-Broadway Producers, regional theatre artistic directors, the whole group of them. What’s the one thing you would tell them to try to get more diverse writers writing today? What’s one thing we could all do? All the people listening out here today that we can try to get more writers of color or writers with disabilities. This is something I spoke about at a government conference actually, about this writing for the theatre and produce.

Howard: First of all, well I think there are two separate questions. I think there are diverse writers out there. The question is, are people willing to produce it and would the economics of producing on Broadway support producing at least some of those works? Are they of a scale where they are best served? So I don’t think you know, I think it’s really about as it should always be, looking at more scripts, consciously saying, let me go see work at places I don’t normally go to. I mean, I’ve, you know, when I was at The Wing because of Tony responsibilities and because I was doing Down Stage Center and interviewing people only ones who have seen what they are currently in, primarily been there. There is a certain level of work that it was prescribed I have to see. I consciously tried in the past five years to go see work that is out of my, not especially my comfort zone, but probably my instinctual zone of what I think I like. Tomorrow, I am going to see a show at the 3LD Technology Centre, simply because I have never been there before. And I just said, you know what? I read about this place, I hear that there’s interesting stuff there. It’s a different idea of how you approach a theater because by its nature, it’s meant to be employing technology in service of the story and maybe I’ll see something wonderful, maybe I’ll see something that I don’t particularly care for. But the idea that whether it’s me, whether it’s other audience members, whether it’s producers looking for writers, it’s about going to places you don’t always think to go, it’s about not waiting for reviews to tell you to go because the work is there. Yes, there’s a finite amount of time so people use certain tools to help them make decisions. But I think taking chances, just in what you choose to see or perhaps read, can bear fruit. Then the question is, can you make it work? And there are shows, which I always found marvelous, is the shows that people in the biz, buzz about saying “Oh my god, you know, it’s great but I can’t believe they would bring that in, that’s going to be so tough”. And then those, are shows that succeed. I mentioned Once, and Once was a sure thing, certainly Fun Home was not a sure thing. Look, I remember people thinking it is insane of Kevin and Jeffrey to transfer Avenue Q. I mean just thought it was nuts. And so, work that doesn’t fit the mold, needs to be welcomed and it’s out there. It’s not a question of convincing writers to write it, it’s the willingness to engage that will change this

Ken: You’re very active on social media, with Twitter account, the YouTube channel, the blog, all of it. Do you think this is something that all arts administrator, artistic directors, people that sit in an office and not in a rehearsal room every day should be actively engaged in, in twenty-first century?

Howard: You know, I don’t think it’s for everybody. And I don’t think that an individual should force themselves on to social media because something tells them they should. If they’re not comfortable with the format, if they’re not to a degree enjoying it, then they’re not gonna engage well and it’s just not gonna work for them. You know, you talked about my YouTube channel. My YouTube channel consists almost entirely of sixty-one ham4ham videos. And the funny thing is I had shot five or six of them before I stopped to say, how do I get these out of my phone? I wasn’t even posting them. I was just filming and figuring I’d do something with it. So for me, YouTube is a tool for a certain thing at a certain time and almost everything else I put on YouTube is either something I find amusing, you know and it gets a hundred views compared to hundreds of thousands of views for Hamilton. Twitter was the first social media platform that I took to. I actually was Facebook resistance, something I regret because I think it’s proven to be an extraordinary tool. But Twitter, which in contrast to talking to me in person where I have trouble saying hello in one hundred forty characters. It’s fascinating, you know, how I sort of found myself boiling down faults so that I could fit it on to those – into that very limited messaging capacity. And I also use this as a tool to just say,” here’s a lot of stories about theater from “The Hinterlands” Ken, that I could share to try to- in my small way at least for people who decided they’d follow me – to see stories they might not otherwise look at, because I do look at what’s going on in many other cities. And I figured there might be some people who find that interesting. Facebook, ultimately, the power of Facebook to accelerate and spread material is extraordinary. And sometimes in the writing that I view, the advocacy that I view, I’ve put up material that’s you know just flashed around in ways I never expected and other things just lining at. And that’s what’s you know so confounding is it’s not like you can truly master it, you can try to get it, you can try to spend money to reinforce it but that algorithm is a tricky little thing. And of course if any of us actually knew how it works then they just change it again.

Ken: As they do, seemingly every other day which mean, I mean between them and Google, it’s driving people crazy.

Howard: Yeah but I think individually, it is in some way a form of expression. It is most successful, when it is an expression of the person and not merely billboarding you know what you’re doing and selling whatever your company, your organization is selling, because if all, somebody gets from you is marketing messages, they’re gonna turn you off. So it’s how you balance, things that you genuinely wanna share with people from things you think that people will find interesting, things with people will find a value. And then if you have some institutional messaging, have them work that in.

Ken: So between your time at the Wing and your time with these all organizations, you helped develop a lot of programs and initiatives that you work on. What has been the most successful for you in terms of getting young people to come to the theater that you feel theater drama country, people like me, we could develop ourselves or institute to try to encourage that? Anything here about —-

Howard: It’s hard to say because there is no direct correlation to talk about that things, or any of the things we did we set up to be revenue streams…

Ken: What’s your gut tell you? I’m asking this because I believe in your gut that you could look at this program and say you know that was a really good one. More people should be doing stuff like that?

Howard: I guess I would go back, I mean, in Downstage Center and the working in the theater program which, when I used to before I got there and In The Wings, their short documentary series that we did. I think the more that it could be created about theater to inform people that theater isn’t about selling them a ticket is what’s going to support theater. Because if every message is tied to marketing then it fundamentally becomes transactional. Whereas, if people feel they’re simply gaining value by spending time with it again it builds up a relationship and it builds up knowledge and the more people that know about theater, the more people have theater demystified for them I think the more they’ll appreciate it because there is this ongoing belief that theater is elitist and that in some way it’s monolithic and the more variety we can show people in more different ways the better. And if you don’t like this show then maybe you’ll like the next one. But if you can look it and understand it, I mean, it’s actually one of the things I always try to bring up, or things that I do from time to time is helping people to understand the difference between the text and the production. Most people see a show and they think that’s it. That’s all it can, that’s what it is and will always be. Part of it is people that see as much theater as you and I do, that’s obviously is not an issue. But understanding sometimes that you can see a show and not like it and realize maybe the play’s okay, I just didn’t like how they did it. And learning that which is hard because it requires you know people to see multiple productions that are significantly different. I actually suggest doing it with movies sometimes and movie remakes is the way you can do it. A particular example of that is two True Grit movies because the structures of the film are identical virtually scene by scene and because they’re both based on the original Charles Portis novel which at times have scenes written out like a script, even the dialogue is the same. So if you watch Tom Lane’s performance then you watch Jeff Bridges’ performance, you’d see that even though they’re playing the same character, they bring different things to it and I think people understand that. It’s a really great tool about the fact that unlike film, theater isn’t fixed and in the sense of permanent fixed. And that each element brings something lucrative.

Ken: What do you think Broadway probably looks like in twenty years?

Howard: I have no clue. I don’t spend my time thinking about that because A. I’m not a Broadway producer, B. I don’t believe that Broadway’s is the be all, end all of theater, I don’t believe it’s the rationale. I’m concerned that the shift which is not certainly in my time, New York but that’s been ongoing to building shows to last for decades is, has potential of reducing the opportunity for variety on Broadway. Fortunately, have these small theaters that aren’t well suited for this kind of big appeal shows but what we’ve watched is a verification in which the vast majority of plays are now produced for sixteen weeks whereas musicals the goal is always to have them run forever. With plays, it’s the War Horses, the Curious Incidents are now the rarity because they are actually conceived in a way that allows them to continue. They’re not star algorithm. The play becomes what’s important. And for whatever it’s gonna mean, when Harry Potter gets you. It won’t matter who’s in Harry Potter. I don’t mean that to say that the actors or in any way are not important in telling the story, but the show is already the star because of what it brings from the books and the movies and indeed some actors have been stitched onto it. It’s hard to do that but just like Curious Incident showed, it’s not impossible. And the idea that we could have shows that might run a year, a year and a half as plays did when I started going to it.

Ken: Interestingly enough, I was just reminded as you said Harry Potter, Curious Incident, War Horse are two very specific things in common. While all the respectable plays, well war respectable plays almost musicals in a way….

Howard: Yeah they have scale too.

Ken: And two, all of them are based on best-selling books.

Howard: Sure. But let’s also think about some of the other long runners. I’m going back a little further but God of Carnage had a good run and there was no spectacle there. There were names but after the first cast they weren’t people we thought of that was necessarily box office, but people are familiar with them. They could get interviews etcetera, etcetera. And art for that matter. You know, again, whatever you may think of the guys I mean Yasmina Reza’s work, she creates vehicles whereby you could bring a wide variety of performers into their shows and it works because I saw all three casts of God of Carnage and you know you literally suddenly, “okay now this character is rich, now this character is smaller than another character” and so this physical relationship too, will change. I mean, that, again the idea of that, it’s a production, not a text. It must not always be someone who looks and sounds just like that show is great and it allows the shows to live on. But if the shows are so associated with who’s in them that is impossible to long afterwards. That’s problematic and that’s, that is a self-fulfilling thing about saying plays can’t run longer. Well they could run longer if they’re built differently and perhaps the marketing and the communications needs to adapt so that there’s more of them.

Ken: Okay, my last question, my infamous James Lipton-like like genie question, I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to visit you, knocks on your door and thanks you for all the incredible advocacies that you’ve done for the theater and getting new eyes into coming, more diverse people in our audiences and on the stages and is going to grant you one wish in exchange for all your hard work,  what is the one thing that drives you crazy about the theater that can get you so angry, so mad that you’d be jumping up and down, that you’d ask this genie to wish away or change in this? Only one and I know you can get riled up, you get riled up at me twice in this podcast. But if there is one thing gets you the most.

Howard: But see, I love theater so I don’t get riled up about theater. There maybe things about theater.

Ken: I usually say Broadway but I wanted to…..

Howard: Yeah don’t say Broadway. I think the thing, I can’t say it riles me up. It’s the thing that I think is most important and I think it’s you know, I’d think I’d need more than one wish or a very generous genie and then definitely not a genie written by Henry because there would be some bad you know weird twist in the end. I think all theater – theaters, the venues and I think this is happening outside of New York. And it is a real estate issue and I understand  the limitations, but I think the more that fierce can be comfortable. And I’m not talking about reclining seats. I’m talking about restroom issues. I’m talking about leg room issues. I’m talking about lobby space so that theaters you gather and I mean in a way, Broadway has the hardest time making itself a comfortable experience even though it is charging the most in order to have the experience. And so long as going to theater requires patrons to accept uncomfortable situations and sacrifices in order to have the experience, that is fighting against the idea of theater being a regular comfortable, acceptable, popular thing that is simply a part of people’s lives. And now that I’ve talked all my way through that, I’d like to change my answer. I would like the genie to fund all theater the way signature theater is funded so that the cost of going to theater is eradicated and people can simply go to theater as easily as they can go to a movie.

Ken: You’re talking yourself into two answers there. You got two wishes out of that genie.

Howard: Well you know I say this often of people. I think I talk it which is sometimes dangerous but I have to find my way around and as I was talking about, and it’s not that I don’t feel the first issue is not important, because I think you’d go to some theaters outside New York and it’s like, this is lovely. And we can walk into the garden during intermission. And so it has a warmth, I used to work at Goodspeeds and most beautiful places to go when I used to think every day that I was driving over the bridge into Bridadoon. So I think that is important. I think the experience around our going to theater, not just the thing on stage is important. But ultimately, yeah, if I had a dream, it would be that. Everyone could go to theater, there would be no secondary market that people can buy those tickets cheaply and run up the prices and that truly even when we have things like okay, we’re gonna have this performance for ten thousand, or these performances that could serve ten thousand school kids. That’s great, but it’s not great if economically then the school kids can’t possibly get into a show again. Because what we’ve done is we’ve teased and they’ve had a great experience. But it’s been a tease, and we have to find a way to make it so that it’s not just when it’s underwritten. And if the genie would magically make it so that it’s affordable for people to go and producers could still make their, you know make some money putting it on, and everybody can have a living wage working in it.

Ken: Great answer and I do want to personally thank you for all your great advocacy on behalf of all of us in the theater. If you want more of Howard, check out his great Twitter, it’s terrific. hesherman is the username and the website hesherman.com. Thanks to all of you for listening. Thanks again for being here Howard and we’ll see you next time.



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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.