Podcast Episode 32 Transcript – Kristin Caskey
Ken: Hello, everybody and welcome back to the Producer’s Perspective Podcast. I am Ken Davenport. I am super excited about my guest today because she is one of my favorite people in the business. I am here today with the president of Fox Theatricals, Kristin Caskey. Welcome, Kristin.
Kristin: Thank you, Ken. It’s great to be here.
Ken: I first met Kristin when she was producing for Fox and I was her company manager on the Broadway production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Since then, she has produced countless plays and musicals including Legally Blonde, Red, Caroline, or Change, Death of a Salesman, Bring it On, and others. She was also an investor in my very first show, The Awesome ’80s Prom, which did pretty well for her, I might add.
Kristin: It’s an investment that keeps paying off and we are so happy we made.
Ken: And, of course, this year she produced the Tony award winning musical Fun Home, and if I had a handheld mic I would give it to her so she could drop it right now. So, Kristin, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started in the business?
Kristin: I think like most people in our industry, theater was always a major interest and I think I always felt I’d end up in the business. I didn’t know, specifically, what I would be doing, but I also think my roles as an actor definitely pointed me in the right direction. My first role, in third grade, was in Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood and I played a producer, and my very last role was as an understudy at the Goodman Theatre in Vivisections From the Blown Mind where I played an agent/producer, and learned very quickly after Vivisections that being an actor was definitely not my career path. But, in all reality, I came to producing after college. I came back to Chicago, and the Chicago theater scene offers a huge amount for people figuring out what they want to do. You can really participate in the non-profits in a major way as a producer, as a director, as an actor, and I was a member of Strawdog Theatre Company and I interned at the Goodman Theatre under Susan Booth, which is now the artistic director at the Alliance. And Susan asked me if I’d ever thought about producing. I admitted, in the moment, that I wasn’t entirely clear what that entailed, and she introduced me to Mick Leavitt, who at that time was the head of Fox Theatricals. And Mick was looking for an assistant, as luck would have it, and I do equate part of my career, at times, with luck, which I’m sure we’ll talk about a little bit in this interview. Mick hired me, and I took the job because I was really interested in working for him and learning more about the business, but also it was a 9-5. Then, very quickly, when I understood how producing really blended both the creative side of the business and the business side and what was possible within commercial theater, I knew I had found my fit. Then you fast forward, about six years later, where Mick had really taken me on and taught me the business and allowed me inside the process of a show, which was invaluable to my growth as a producer. We were in the middle of Thoroughly Modern Millie. We had, at that time, done You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. We had done the Goodman Theatre transfer of Death of a Salesman, and I had done a few productions in Chicago because Fox, at that time, was also a commercial producer in Chicago, with Having Our Say, Three Tall Women, Fully Committed, and Mick decided that he wanted a different career path and left the company. And we had just finished the La Jolla production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Again, luck being part of this, knowing the show was coming to Broadway, knowing that Fox wasn’t going to all of a sudden stop producing at this point, our owners came to me and Mike Isaacson, who at that time was working for Mick’s partner in St. Louis . . . because our company owns the Fox Theater in St. Louis. And they sat us down and said, “Can you guys try to see this show to the finish line?” And we had a great partner in Hal Luftig who had a lot more experience at that time than we did, and our partner said, “Can you and Mike do this? Can you finish the fundraising? Can you get this show to Broadway?” And Mike and I said, “Absolutely, we work so well together. It’s done, we can definitely do it.” They leave the room and Mike and I look at one another and say, “Hi, I’m Mike,” “I’m Kristin.” We’ve hardly worked together and really didn’t know each other well, and it’s the best arranged marriage ever because we’re now 17 years into our partnership, and really grew up together in the business. And I’m grateful that Thoroughly Modern Millie turned out as well as it did, because I’m not entirely sure we would be here doing what we’re doing had it not.
Ken: That’s a great story. I’m going to start telling that story instead of the one I usually tell, which is the famous Bill Gates and Microsoft and selling IBM Windows or DOS before he created it. I’m going to now tell the story of how Kristin and Mike sold Fox on producing Millie and they had never met before. I love it.
Kristin: We knew each other, but the idea of a partnership . . . we really didn’t understand each other’s styles, how each of us worked, so we just dove in. We said, “We will figure this out.”
Ken: Well, let me tell you, as a company manager, watching you two work, we never knew.
Ken: You guys do work unbelievably well together, but it’s just, once again, a great example for all of you listening out there, about just taking opportunities when they come, knowing that no one was asking you to operate on the brain of a person who is going to live or die. It was, “Hey, we have a Broadway show. Do you want to give it a shot?” And you just said yes, which I love. So that was the first show that you really had the reigns on?
Kristin: Yes, I was an executive producer on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but that was a transfer of a play that had been reviewed and fully produced. But Thoroughly Modern Millie was the first musical where . . . at the time that we came on board, only act one had been created. It was a NAMT reading, and Dick Scanlan and Michael Mayer had worked on act one. At that point, we brought Jeanine Tesori, Hal Luftig came on as our partner, and that group of people worked together as a team. I will talk often about team because I believe the world of commercial producing is all about collaboration and the team that’s around the table, and that team worked together from that point where, again, it was just act one all the way to the opening on Broadway, so about a five year process.
Ken: As you look back, were you nervous through the Thoroughly Modern Millie period?
Kristin: I was, but there was a beauty to the naivety. We had fundraising we had to do and there were people who were interested, but I will acknowledge Dori Berinstein who, through the course of getting to know me . . . and at this point I was in my late 20s . . . said, “I really believe in this show. I believe you guys can do this, and I’m going to come on as an above-title producer.” And having someone say that to you really allows you to make that next ask and, the more that I did it, the more comfortable I became in realizing that, oftentimes, when people were choosing to fundraise it had very little to do with me and had much more to do with the show, the financial plan that we had put together, what we felt, how we felt the show was viable. And the more you do it, and I often say to people when they ask about fundraising that once I realized that all people had to do was say, “No,” it became a lot easier. If they want to invest, they will. If they say no, they’re not going to be offended that you asked. And you just move on.
Ken: Yeah, I think people sometimes equate asking people for money to asking people out on a date. They think that people are going to not only just say no, but slap them in their face. “How dare you do this!” And tell everyone in the world. “Can you believe this?” And it’s just not the case at all. As you look back at Millie, is there anything about that experience that you would do differently now that you’ve done many, many shows since then? Anything where you go, “Ah, if I’d only known this I would have done this just a little bit differently.” Besides hiring a different company manager, because that guy was a hack.
Kristin: No, our company manager was fantastic! In fact he’s gone on to great things, let me tell you. I often look back on the Millie journey, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of those people who, now that I’ve just told you the story, they embraced the fact that this was Mike and I’s first show at this level. What was most difficult was going through that six week period from the reviews on Broadway . . . and I need to explain it by saying that when we did the tryouts at La Jolla the reviews were over-the-top raves. And even though they were raves, our team knew that the show needed work, and in fact did a major overhaul on act two between La Jolla and Broadway. We got a number of great reviews, but we got eviscerated by Ben Brantley and that was very difficult for me to take at that time in my career, and I wish that I had known that that didn’t mean that it was a death sentence. And in fact, to watch what happened from the opening on April 19th to the Tonys that were in June and what that win allowed for the show . . . if I’d had a little bit more of that fighting spirit the moment I saw the review and knew that we could overcome it. Obviously we got there, and we all came together and said, “You know, this show has legs. It is a great show. Let’s get out there.” But that day after was a tough day after. We call it Black Friday.
Ken: I remember that. For those of you who haven’t heard the Hal Luftig podcast, you should definitely listen to that because he talks a lot about the campaign that both he and Kristin and Mike waged so successfully. And I witnessed it first hand and I’ve actually never seen anything like it, how he went from that Black Friday to a Tony Award-winning musical that has recouped its investment and been done hundreds and hundreds of times all over this country. So listen to that podcast. I’m not going to have Kristin talk about it, because she waged another Tony campaign this year that was also pretty successful and I want to make sure we have time for that. I always say that producers can be great fundraisers, they can be great development people, they can be great marketers. If you only had one skill to say is your strength, what would that be for you as a producer?
Kristin: I think because I believe in order to be a successful producer, even if you’re not a natural in each of the different areas you mentioned, you have to become knowledgeable and educated enough to operate within them because it’s required by what we do. That said, I have spent a great deal of time in my growth as a producer concentrating on communication, and concentrating on what it means to be in the role where you’re not the director, you’re not creating the sets, you’re not creating the art that eventually gets used for your show, but you interact with every single person working on your show. And the need for communication with all of those various areas, because the more you communicate and the more you ensure that everyone is on the same page, it is my fervent belief that the more successful your show will become and the easier it will be to make decisions and move forward because everyone is on the same page. So whether or not it’s my best area, it’s definitely an area I’ve tried to develop and cultivate just because I find it essential to what we do.
Ken: What’s your favorite part about producing a show?
Kristin: Great question. I love sitting in the audience. It’s often when people ask me why I haven’t gone into film and TV. I don’t believe that there is anything that can compete with the experience of live theater, where you all come together as a group to experience a show, and the fact that one audience can be different from another just based on who’s there. I loved experiencing, when we did Legally Blonde, having people there where it was clearly their first Broadway show, and seeing the impact of the show and their experience. And knowing that perhaps because they enjoyed themselves, they might buy another ticket to a Broadway show was incredibly gratifying for the work that we do. With Fun Home, and especially because the show is in the round, being in that audience and experiencing the show, I won’t forget many of those memories. So I would say sitting in the audience.
Ken: Least favorite part about producing?
Kristin: Fundraising. It’s what we do, we have to do it. At times it’s really difficult and, as I said when you talked about the areas that we have to do, you have to get good at it if you want to be a producer. But I’m not going to say it’s the most enjoyable part, especially on those shows that prove more challenging, even though you fervently believe that it can work. And it is that passion for the individual work that I think every producer chooses to do. It’s that passion that drives you and has you be able to fundraise.
Ken: What’s been an easy show for you to raise money for? Of all of the shows you’ve done, do you remember one that was just a no-brainer?
Kristin: Legally Blonde was very easy and, strangely enough, so was Fun Home. In order to talk about Fun Home, I have to not only talk about Mike Isaacson, who’s my producing partner, but I also want to acknowledge our producing partner on the show, Barbara Whitman. The three of us came together and, following the reviews at the Public Theater . . . because we went into the Public production. We had the Lab production at the Public. The development of Fun Home and how it was able to develop is part of the reason it’s been successful, so I have to acknowledge the Public Theater for that and how we were able to develop the show. But we were involved at the point that the Lab production took place and, even going from the lab production to the full production at the Newman, we still had no idea. We felt there might be something here, but we had to see what the momentum might be. And once we had those reviews and we saw the audience that was showing up, how the ticket price was increasing, our ability to extend four times . . . in many respects that momentum took care of itself and many of the people we approached were as passionate as we were about trying to find a place for Fun Home on Broadway.
Ken: It’s a fascinating thing to think that would be the easy show to raise money for, but it sounds like you’re a real big believer that, “If I build it, they will come,” in the same way that, with Millie, you were just selling that show at the time.
Kristin: I believe that if the work speaks to people the same way that it has spoken to me and Mike as we have decided to produce it, I have found that fundraising is easy. I want to be careful using the word “easy.” It’s less challenging than I would have expected. And Fun Home was not a piece . . . in fact there were many people who said to us, “I love the show, but I don’t believe it’s commercial.” At the same time, there was also a large group of people that were as passionate as we were, and because we took extra care in how we structured the show financially, I think that also had people feel that, if it’s going to work, this is the commercial model that will allow it to work. And we had some people step up in a major way and knew that, “Okay, we’re going to be able to do this.”
Ken: I can actually see where it would be an easy show to raise money for, and I remember throwing my hat into the ring at some point after I had heard all of this buzz and they extended it four times. I was like, “Okay, there’s something,” and there wasn’t any room left at that point. But you obviously got involved much earlier than that. Someone pitches you this idea and says, “Oh, it’s about a lesbian cartoonist and her father is gay and kills himself.” You bought into that?
Kristin: I knew immediately.
Ken: That’s it! Because that’s where I would have said, “Meh, no, I can’t get involved.” I’m the guy who said, “Oh yeah, I’ll get involved,” after the rave and four extensions. How did you see what was coming? What was that about for you?
Kristin: Well the benefit for our entry into the world of Fun Home is that Jeanine Tesori called us and, in a full circle moment, the first show that Fox won the Best Musical Tony for was Thoroughly Modern Millie and Jeanine happened to be the composer. And, now coming full circle, Jeanine is the composer, and there was a lot of joy watching her accept that night, having worked with her as long as we have, on Caroline, or Change and others. Jeanine called and said, “There’s going to be a reading at the Public Theater of this piece I’m working on with Lisa Kron and Sam Gold, and we’d love for you to take a look and consider potentially being the commercial enhancer if the Public chooses to proceed.” And so, in some respects, it wasn’t the way you just described. We were, in fact, able to look at the overall conceit for the show, what they were striving towards and hear some of the music, etc. Now, that said, at the time, Mike and I knew it was beautiful art. We were not at all clear it would be commercial, but it spoke to us and the beauty that was there was so strong that we thought, “If there’s going to be a piece where we take a risk, this should be it,” and we worked with the Public Theater on a relationship that made sense and we gave the piece to Barbara to take a read and she had the same response that we did and thought, “Okay, this may not work and it is risky, but if this piece becomes all that these three creators want, it could become something incredibly special.” And thankfully it worked out.
Ken: How much of the piece has changed since that first reading? It went through its developmental process. What percentage of it changed?
Kristin: I don’t know if I can equate it by percentage. I will say that the structure that existed in that reading is still the structure that’s there today, but there is a huge amount of clarity in the journey. It’s a non-linear show, so you can imagine how things have been moved around and been replaced to ensure that, from beginning to end, there is a very clear narrative. That said, I can remember that first reading, hearing the song “Ring of Keys” and thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s a song I’ll never forget,” and that obviously still remains.
Ken: For sure. That performance on the Tony Awards was something very, very special. So it opens, it gets great reviews, starts doing well, and then you say, “We’ve got a shot at winning this Tony Award, we think. Maybe, we’ll see.” Did you have an inclination? Did you roll up the sleeves and say, “Okay, how are we going to win this war?” Do you campaign for Tony Awards? Are you a campaign person?
Kristin: The way I look at a “Tony Award campaign” is that you have an opportunity, if you are a show . . . and I want to be really clear, when it comes to the Tony Awards I have been on both sides of the equation. As much as I can celebrate what’s happened with Fun Home, I can remember sitting in Hal Luftig’s living room with Hal, Mike, Dory and myself, listening to the nominations the year of Legally Blonde and saying, “Wait, I don’t think I heard Legally Blonde. Did I hear Legally Blonde? Oh my gosh, I did not hear Legally Blonde.”
Ken: You weren’t nominated.
Kristin: We weren’t nominated. At that time it wasn’t just about the nomination. If you were not nominated, you were not allowed to perform, so we lost that coveted performance slot on the Tony Awards that year. So I’ve been on both sides of it. But I think that if you are a show like Fun Home, where you have the opportunity, because you are one of the most nominated shows . . . and we shared that with An American in Paris . . . you have six weeks where the attention is on you at a pivotal point in your show. It is a sales opportunity. It is an opportunity to take advantage of all of the free press that you’ve been given, and get your show out there in a major way and support that. Do I ultimately believe that a campaign is what wins you the award? No, but I think that, as a producer, it is your responsibility to sell as many tickets as you possibly can, and that’s a moment where you have a spotlight on your show and you should take advantage of that.
Ken: There’s been a lot of talk over the years about there being a road block of voters out there, from all of the theaters around the country, of which you represent one, that there are people who come to town and vote for the show that they think will most likely play well in their home town. They vote with their theater in mind. I’ve disagreed with this theory for years, and obviously Fun Home is an example where you would think not. Anyway, I’ll as you the question. Do you believe there is a road vote?
Kristin: I appreciate that you’re asking this question because I do not believe there is a road vote. And I answer that as someone who is a road presenter, who is a part of the Independent Presenters Network and very close to many of the other presenters across the country. If you look at the numbers breakdown, the road block cannot make or break who wins the Tony Award. Secondly, the presenters do not sit in a room and talk about what they’re voting for, what we all should vote for because it’s going to go out on the road. In fact, and I hope this is good news to people, the majority of voters, when they sit with that ballot, vote for the show that they like the most. And, yes, do people have their own interests in mind if they’re an investor or a producer, etc.? Yes, and maybe I’m being idealistic, but I do believe that the majority of voters vote for what they respond to the most. So I wish that the various columns that we read that talk about the road vote would just sort of go away because I don’t think it makes or breaks whether or not you win.
Ken: Obviously the show did win the Tony. It’s doing unbelievable business over there at Circle in the Square, at that very teeny house. I assume it will go out on the road now?
Kristin: It will. We were well on our way. The reason we announced the tour prior to the Tony Awards is because we did have enough markets to know that, whether or not it won the Tony, it was still going to go out on the road.
Ken: Even without the Tony you were putting that sucker out on the road?
Kristin: Even without the Tony we were putting it out on the road. Now, with the win, we’ve been able to add some weeks and, hopefully, depending on how the show dose . . . because in today’s time we normally have that first year and then pencil in the second year of the tour and we’ll see what happens further from that but, yes, it’s going to go out on the road.
Ken: Okay, let’s talk about that magic Tony night. So, look, it’s just me and you talking, no one is listening at all.
Kristin: No one at all is listening, it’s just us!
Ken: How shocked were you when they announced that Fun Home had won Best Musical?
Kristin: We were incredibly shocked. Mike, Barbara and I went into the night with our producing partners, with our creative team, and thought to ourselves, “We may have a shot in some of the other categories.” Everyone had said Jeanine and Lisa were favored for book and score, and I think in our hearts we hoped that that would be the outcome, just for what it would mean to them and also what it would mean for this industry. As many people know, it’s the first time a female creative team has won both awards. Potentially the hope of Sam. But we had come to peace with the idea that we would possibly not win the big prize, and we went into the night with the mantra, “Whatever happens, we’re going to celebrate,” because the night before, we were at the Tony rehearsal and someone had said to me, “Are you stressed? Just because it’s going to mean so much if you guys win.” And in that moment what I thought to myself was, “I’m just grateful because we are going into the Tony Awards with our show already grossing enough that it’s making money. We aren’t in a position that we’re going into the Tony Awards with a show that’s grossing $300,000 a week and not doing what it needs to do to continue running.” So, in that regard, we felt that there was some momentum around the show, but we kept saying to ourselves, “Whatever happens, we’re going to celebrate.” I think when you watched us win, I don’t think there’s any denying we were in total shock. We were, and, at the same time, so grateful to the industry for that acknowledgement which, as we all know, really allowed the show to be present and to know that the show is going to continue with this win.
Ken: It sounds like you were pretty confident that the show was going to be successful to some extent whether or not you won the award, based on the grosses that you were doing and the business that you were doing, and you announced a tour. How much more does the Tony Award add to that?
Kristin: It adds a lot, and I think it’s why those that are nominated do put so much thought and consideration into what it would mean to win. When you look back on Thoroughly Modern Millie, it’s our belief that Millie had an extra year in its playing because of the fact that it won the Tony Award. I can’t deny that, as well as we were doing prior to the Tony Awards, this win not only means a huge amount for sales, but there are people who go to see a musical just because it won the Tony Award, and that audience and having that audience come in and specifically see this show means a lot to us. What’s been an extraordinary experience for all of us involved in the show is to see how varied this audience is that’s coming to Fun Home, and it’s much richer and much more expansive than I think we ever thought possible, and that’s a great tribute to our industry and to how far as a culture we’ve come.
Ken: It’s funny you say that because that weekend, Tony weekend, I had three guests come in, that didn’t know each other, from out of town, and they packed their weekend with Broadway shows. And on Sunday at my Tony party I said, “What did you see?” And Fun Home was not one of them . . . but it is now. All of those people have come back, to your point of it meaning a lot to people outside of this city, that they will see it just because it won. And I’m sure bookers will be just, “Oh, it won the Tony Award so now I will produce a tour,” and regional theaters, “Oh, now I’m going to do this.”
Kristin: And I will add that I also believe that many of the performances, and the fact that we now have performances from shows that aren’t always nominated, benefits those shows with sales. When you look at how incredibly well American in Paris and Something Rotten! and these other shows, it shows how impactful the Tony Awards are, both for the telecast and the press that comes in those preceding days. It means a huge amount to our industry.
Ken: You said with Millie, you had another year. Can you qualify for Fun Home, how many more years or months you think you’ll get now that you have a Tony?
Kristin: We don’t know yet, but the fact that we are in a place where we are primarily selling out every night, moving into the fall, which, as you and I both know, is typically a more challenging time, and are feeling more confident for the fall, I think that it shows good things for the show. As far as how long? We just don’t know yet. You look at Gentleman’s Guide and how long it’s been able to run and how well it’s done. I think that prize definitely shows that there is value to it.
Ken: As president of Fox, you produce shows in New York and you also book shows at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. Can you describe the different process you go through, wearing both of those hats? Like, “I’m going to provide unique and cutting-edge entertainment for New York,” but what do you look for in terms of criteria for shows that you book at the Fox in St. Louis?
Kristin: A Broadway presenter . . . and specifically what we do in St. Louis, is we try to bring the best of Broadway to our audience. We have 17,000 subscribers, we have a two week subscription. And the success of that theater is what allows our theatricals division to exist. And we look at those shows that have been the most successful on Broadway. We look at those tours that are coming out on the road that we feel our audience may enjoy. We did Dirty Dancing, for instance. That wasn’t on Broadway, but we knew that our audience would respond. That being said, when you look at those shows we brought, we have also brought those shows that might seem riskier. We did August: Osage County, we did Doubt, we presented Next to Normal, titles that might seem riskier in “America.” But many of the audiences across the country and the audience that we have in St. Louis . . . as much as they want to see the classics and the crowd-pleasers, they also want to see those award-winning shows that are innovations that are forwarding the medium. They’re all, for the most part, musical theater lovers. So I have enjoyed my years as a presenter, because it’s had me appreciate the audience that is there, their loyalty to that theater, and what that means for theater across the country. Because there is a vibrant scene in all of these various cities with their Broadway series, and that means a lot to the business that we do in New York, and when people come to New York to see a Broadway show I think they relate to one another. It’s made me a better producer because you really begin to understand the ins and outs of this business and how, as much as it’s about your run on Broadway, there’s also that life after Broadway. There’s your national tours, there’s your international productions. And a national tour is a huge part of the process of producing a show.
Ken: One a scale of one to ten, how healthy is the road right now? Ten being business is the best it could be?
Kristin: It’s pretty high up there, I would say around an eight. Right now we are in a time when there is a huge amount of product out on the road. You have multiple mega-hit shows. Now when you look at it . . . most people say it’s about five or six years, every time you have what we consider a mega-hit, but many of these mega-hit shows are having huge returns. We’re doing our fourth engagement of Wicked, and every time we do it we sell more than previous engagements, which says something about its lasting power. I think we’re on our fifth engagement of Jersey Boys. So you have these new shows coming out as you have these other shows returning, which is allowing for a longer life of these shows. So it’s an incredibly healthy time. And I think, coming out of this Broadway season, when you look at the year when you had Pippin, Cinderella, Kinky Boots, Matilda . . . again, that’s a high number of shows that were incredibly successful that all then went out on the road at pretty much the same time. Then you’re looking at this season, where you have Fun Home, American in Paris, The King and I, Something Rotten!, a number of shows that are selling above $1 million . . . we can’t, based on the house we’re in . . . but selling at capacity, and selling over $1 million. That’s great news for the road, because all of those shows will tour.
Ken: It’s fascinating. You just made me think . . . I’ve always said that runs are longer now on Broadway than they were 20, 30 years ago. We didn’t have 30 year runs or 20 year runs. We’ve gotten better at extending the life of shows on Broadway, and it sounds like we’ve got better at extending the life of tours as well, if these shows are returning time and time again.
Kristin: Absolutely. We had a return of Phantom of the Opera last season and broke a house record.
Ken: Damn that Andrew Lloyd Webber! Man, he’s good! Okay, let me ask you the same question about Broadway. How healthy, on a scale of one to ten? If the road is about eight, where would you put Broadway’s health?
Kristin: In light of what happened, I think obviously I’m feeling really good about Broadway at the moment. The fact that there is more product than there are theaters shows how healthy our industry is, and the fact that there’s a number of producers interested in developing a show. There is a huge investor base willing to invest in shows, so I think it’s incredibly vibrant and healthy. I will bring up Lisa Kron’s acceptance speech at the Tony Awards where she compared our show to the idea of being a house, and the house is much bigger than you think it is, and the fact that shows can be very different, but they all have the ability to live on Broadway. I think that if there’s anything that we hope Fun Home‘s success will provide for the industry, it is this idea that, as much as you can have incredible mainstream entertainment on Broadway, you can also have . . . the quirky, potentially riskier shows also have a place.
Ken: Advice for young producers out there? Young, wannabe producers, sitting in Chicago right now, saying, “I want Kristin Caskey’s career.” What would you advise them to do?
Kristin: I, first of all, appreciate you saying that. I’m blushing, although no one can see me. I talked about Susan Booth asking that question. I talked about Mick Levitt willing to teach me the business. Those people mentored me and I remember asking Susan, “Why are you doing all of this for me?” Because she went out of her way to ensure I was introduced to people who could potentially employ me, and I was just an intern. And she said, “Someone did it for me and I hope, by my doing it for you, you will continue to do it as you get older.” So mentorship, finding mentors, finding people who will open up and show you the process is key. As I talked about, as much as it’s the practical aspects of learning the business, I also think getting inside the conversations that happen with your ad agency, with your creative team . . . there’s nuance to that. And being able to watch people who have gone through a process of potentially fine tuning that dialogue and have a lot of knowledge of the business is incredibly valuable to a producer’s development. I would also say have patience. We are a business that takes time. There are failures. In fact one of the things I joke about is, even though we’ve had this success, you never know. On any show, you never know. You can have one that’s successful, you can have one that’s a failure. You really do have to accept that there will be failure along the way, and frustration, but to have patience and to just continue getting your feet wet in the business. I also think, looking at the careers that producers have taken, people like you, who start as a company manager and are able to do that aspect of the business as you produce . . . I think of Jeffrey Richards, who was a press agent before he got into producing, Stuart Thompson, Roy Gabay, others who are producers and, at the same time, they also have other businesses that provide income streams that allow them to also produce. So getting to know the business and gaining knowledge in occupations that allow you to make a living in this business I think are also key.
Ken: Okay, last question. It’s the Producer’s Perspective Podcast infamous genie question, which is . . . I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin knocked on this very nice glass conference room door and said, “Kristin, you have done such amazing things for the industry. You’ve produced a show that not many people would have done, and that show is going to ripple throughout the world and change a lot of people’s hearts and minds and I so appreciate that, as the genie, that I’m going to grant you one wish.” I want you to think about what drives you so crazy about Broadway, what keeps you up at night, what makes you so mad? What’s the one thing that you would wish this genie to change with the snap of a finger . . . and you only get one.
Kristin: I only get one? Okay.
Ken: No wishing for other wishes! Somebody did that, I won’t tell who. We had to edit it out.
Kristin: I did listen to your podcast with Kevin, who gave a fantastic response as it pertains to education and arts education, and I fervently belief in that. I will get a little bit more practical into my desire. Part of Fun Home existing is that we paid close attention to the financial structure of the show, and had an opportunity with Circle in the Square, based on the cost of that theater and that financial model, that allowed it to be viable. And I’m assuming that, when you ask this question, there is no reason and insanity can enter the equation.
Ken: The crazier the better.
Kristin: So I’m just going to throw it out. I would love to get rid of the financial structure of how we put together shows, break it open and completely redesign the financial structure of commercial Broadway, that allows more flexibility in when we perform and don’t perform, that allows us to create a financial model that has many various questions based on the viability of the show, that will allow for a wide range of commercial productions in how the financial system works. Because the price of tickets is not solely driven by costs, but when you look at why a show costs as much as it does it is absolutely related to how expensive it is to run a show. If we can break open and completely restructure the financial model of a Broadway show, we will have more flexibility with the pricing that will allow it to be more user-friendly. And now my insanity will cease.
Ken: We’re going to shatter the Broadway budget model right here! Kristin, I want to thank you so much for being here. One of the thing I love about Kristin’s career is that she’s produced such a variety of shows, from Thoroughly Modern Millie all the way to Fun Home, and I will tell you personally that I was a producer on The Visit which was up for the Tony. I thought American in Paris was going to win, and I’ve never been so happy as when Fun Home actually won. That show is going to do a lot for a lot of people and really, as I said before, change a lot of people and it wouldn’t have happened without you, so on behalf of all of us out there we thank you for that. Thank you for joining us on the podcast and we’ll see all of 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.