Podcast Episode 64 Transcript – Robyn Goodman

Ken: Hey, everybody. Just a quick thank you to all the folks out there that joined the Producer’s Perspective Pro last week. We had a fantastic launch, a brand new webinar in the archives, all sorts of sample documents. Join The Producer’s Perspective Pro – you’re going to love it. On with the podcast!

Ken: Hello, everybody! I am Ken Davenport. This is the Producer’s Perspective Podcast. I’m super excited to have as my guest today someone very near and dear to my heart because she is the first producing partner I ever had on the first show I ever produced. Welcome to the podcast Tony award winning Broadway producer Robyn Goodman. Welcome, Robyn!

Robyn: Thank you, Ken.

Ken: So that show Robyn and I partnered on was Altar Boyz which opened eleven years ago now, in 2005. I know, but that’s just one little blip on her incredible producing resume. Most recently on Broadway she produced Cinderella, on tour as well, The Performers, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and, of course, that little show that could, Avenue Q and a whole bunch of off-Broadway shows – that’s one of the reasons that Robyn is one of my favorite producers, because she has such a long resume both Broadway and off-Broadway – Bat Boy, tick, tick… BOOM! and, of course, Altar Boyz. She is also the co-found of Second Stage, now she’s the special artistic consultant at Roundabout and word has it that she spent some time on a soap opera, but we will get to that.

Robyn: Oh, shame!

Ken: So Robyn, why don’t you tell us how you got started in the theater biz.

Robyn: When I was four and a half my mother took me to my first show, because my mother had been an actress and a writer on radio and she wanted me to be in the theater, so I went to the theater all through my childhood. We lived in New Jersey by then – we started in Brooklyn, went to New Jersey – and I got the bug, I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a famous actress, not just any actress. I went to college and I studied acting, I went to Brandeis and studied acting, and came to New York as an actress, actually, and acted for a good seven years, making a living, eating a lot of spaghetti, and I ended up getting a job rehearsing some plays that were going to London, three new American plays, one by the man who raised the money and was producing it, one was a play by Susan Miller called Flux and one was In the Boom Boom Room by David Rabe and we were a company of two women and, I think, three or four men and right before we were supposed to get on the plane this guy came in and said, “Gee, I really want you to go and the theater is waiting for you but I don’t have enough money to get you there and put you up,” so the woman and I said, “Well we’re going, we didn’t spend all this time rehearsing…” and we went out and raised, at that time – this was 1976 – and we raised $3,000, brought the boys on the plane, got on the plane, didn’t know what the hell we were doing, we went to this little fringe theater and we ended up producing this and being in this season of three plays, which Michael Billington of The Guardian later said “changed the tide of new American plays in London,” so I really like taking credit for that because I had no idea what I was doing, but the plays were very successful and I stayed on and I acted in England for a while but it sort of gave me the producing bug even though I was probably terrible at it at the time, and when I came back I had met Carole Rothman and I had auditioned for her – I had taken another job but I fixed her up with her husband and…

Ken: She owed you one.

Robyn: Yeah, she owed me one. She came to me and said, “I want to start a theater and you’re the right partner,” and I said, “Can’t we just produce shows? Wouldn’t that be more fun?” and she said, “No, it’s more fun to know you always have another show you can produce in an ongoing institution.” So we spent a long time planning Second Stage and we found something that nobody else was doing at the time, giving contemporary plays another production, and we spent a year planning it, actually, putting the board together and raising money, enough to do the first show. My favorite story about Second Stage is that the first show, and I suppose people can Google it but I’m not going to say what it was, but it was a disaster. The playwright, who was a military guy, threatened our lives. Our lawyer, Paul Weiss, said, “Don’t leave your apartments, you’re in danger,” the director quit, the two lead actors quit, the lighting designer quit and the next thing I know Carole and I were in the fetal position in front of Joe Papp saying, “What do we do? We’ve sent out all of these invitations to everybody in the press and we’re on the Upper West Side!” and Joe said, “Get back up there. Carole, you direct it. Robyn, you do everything else,” and so we said, “Oh my God, we have to find some actors,” so Carole called this young actor who she had worked with at Circle Rep. His name was Jeff Daniels and he came in and an actress that I knew named Lynn Milgrim and we did everything and we got the play up and it actually got decent reviews, which is amazing because Carole knew how to direct but we didn’t know anything else. The second play we did was a huge hit, there were lines around the block, and Equity shut us down because at the time they were trying to put a lean on the authors to pay the actors in the future if the plays went on and Michael Weller said, “I have to stand with my guild,” and it was just the worst thing that ever happened to us because we were making money, it was Brooke Adams and John Heard and Polly Draper, it was a wonder production, it was great, and we were really upset until, I think, two days later when we were on the front page of The New York Times – “Young Second Stage shut down by Writers Guild!” So you never know what’s going to put you on the map. They shut us down because they thought we were a bunch of kids, they weren’t going to shut Playwrights Horizons down. The next thing we knew, everybody knew what Second Stage was because there we were and actually it was illegal what they were trying to do, so about two weeks later we went back on and we finished the run of the play. That’s how we started our theater and it was a huge success. Certainly everybody in the business knew Second Stage by that time but everybody on the Upper West Side suddenly knew who we were.

Ken: No such thing as bad press.

Robyn: Exactly.

Ken: I have to ask why the playwright threatened your life.

Robyn: Because he was bringing piles of rewrites every day and the director would call us at night and say, “This guy’s insane! These rewrites don’t make any sense and he insists I put them in,” so it was probably me, I probably called him and said, “You have to stop writing. You have to let the director and the actors own the script and own the play,” and he went berserk.

Ken: Well I will definitely not ask you the name of that play or that playwright. I will Google it later and include a link in this podcast’s blog.

Robyn: No, no! Well it’s all true, it’s all true.

Ken: Okay, so how do you come back from that? Your first success in London, okay, great, then you start a theater company and do these two things and they both don’t go well but they put you on the map and then you’re like, “This is fun, I’m going to sign up for this!”

Robyn: “This is great!” Well, you know, it was exciting. I was young and it was exciting and it was challenging and I was suddenly realizing that I had a sensibility – I was reading plays and I actually knew which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t like and God bless Frank Rich, he was the critic. I know everybody called him a butcher, but Frank Rich was about our age and he shared our sensibility. I tell you, all those years that I was there, 13 years, Frank was reviewing us and he didn’t always give us great reviews but he got it, he got what we were doing, he really liked the work we did and that was a part of our success, I really believe he was the third wheel on our success and that’s just luck. That’s just luck because sometimes you have critics who just don’t get what you’re trying to do or have different tastes, because taste is something you can’t explain, you can’t teach it, it’s just something you have inside you, but 13 years, it’s a burnout job. Carole is amazing that she’s still doing it, actually.

Ken: You mentioned that you knew which plays you liked and you knew which plays you didn’t like and certainly we’ll talk about this a little late, it’s obviously what your special artistic consultancy with Roundabout is about and carinal I know you as a devourer of plays and the dramaturgical work we did on Altar Boyz your comments were so insightful, I remember, so what is it that makes you go “Oh, this is a play I like.”? What do you look for?

Robyn: I look for a fresh voice, someone that writes in a way that is completely individual. I also love to read something that I think I’ve never seen on stage before, either just a whole event or a character or a way of looking at the world. That’s what the Underground is for me. The Underground is like a soul feeder for me because I love doing that and I love helping people bring out in a play what they’re trying to say and what they’re trying to do. I would say if you looked at the list of plays in the Underground they all have originality to them and something special and all those writers are working somewhere – in film, in television, in theater – Stephen Karam, of course, is on Broadway. You can just feel it in the writing, it’s got a kind of energy and freshness.

Ken: So, 13 years at Second Stage and then, as you said, it was a burn out job and you decide you’re going to go out on your own.

Robyn: No, I decided that I needed to make more money, honestly. I think I was making $30,000 a year and I was in my late 30s and that’s too old to be making $30,000 a year. I told everybody I was leaving and people thought I was insane and I said I needed a job and a woman named Jean Passanante who had run New Dramatists years ago had a job at ABC and she was leaving it to become a soap writer for $1 million a year or something like that and she said would I like to interview for her job because they wanted another theater person. I said, “I’ve never watched a soap opera in my entire life,” and she said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Believe me, you’ll pick it up.” So I got the job, I more than doubled my salary, which was my goal, and I worked in the corporate part of ABC, overseeing daytime and bringing writers in, overseeing All My Children and One Life to Live. I knew a lot about acting and writing and directing but I didn’t know anything about soap opera or cameras or anything so Linda Gottlieb came in as the executive producer, she had just done Dirty Dancing and Citizen Cohn and all of these movies and she wanted to completely change the way soaps were done. She brought in editing and music editing and novelists and Lonny Price and real directors – Casey Childs and people from the theater – and she said, “I want you to be my supervising producer.” I said, “Please get me out of this corporate environment because I’m not functioning well here.” So six months into my job I went over to One Life to Live and became the supervising producer and did that for four and a half more years and it was a seven day a week job and I never went to the theater for four and a half years. Wow, it was really strange, but I loved it, I learned a lot and I think it improved my dramaturgy.

Ken: Well that was going to be my next question – before we even get into the dramaturgy, is there anything that television does that theater could learn from that they actually do better than we do?

Robyn: Well now, I’m not sure about soap operas, but the writing on television now, I think those people should have been staying in the theater because there’s such original writing now, as you know, on television, even in network television, on cable and everywhere. It’s extraordinary, you just don’t have enough hours in your day. But the great thing about working in something like a soap opera or an hour drama or whatever it is, especially if it’s an overarching story, like our head writer wrote a story, a six month story they call it, it was the first gay story on television and Ryan Phillippe played the gay boy, he was like 16 or something, and so he brings this story in, it’s pages and pages, it’s wonderful, and as a producer you get to sit into the writers’ room and divide it up into days, weeks and scenes. You work with the writers and the best idea wins and what happens is you start to see storytelling in a very incremental way – how you keep the audience interested, how you build an arc over a long period of time – and I think it’s definitely helped me, even though I think dramaturgy is more of a gut thing than anything else – you can feel it, or I can feel it anyway – I think doing that job for four and a half years improved my skill of storytelling, it really did, for that reason. Is that clear?

Ken: Absolutely. I’m, again, remembering all of the experiences, especially with writers, on Altar Boyz.

Robyn: Oh wow, yes. That was quite something. We were brave, Ken. We were brave. We just didn’t give up because the music was so great. We said, “We’re going to nail this puppy if it’s the last thing we do!”

Ken: We certainly did. One of the things I really learned from you was how you deal with writers. Tell me a little bit about what you think an ideal producer/writer relationship is or how you go about giving them notes or not giving them notes.

Robyn: Respect is, of course, very important. I interviewed Hal Prince one time and I said, “Let’s talk about how we give notes because I have a theory about it.” And he said, “Well you tell me your theory first.” And I said, “Well, I don’t think a director hears more than three notes so I try to start with the largest note and give three of them.” Maybe one of them is about the set or the lights or an actor but, whatever it is, if it’s a dramaturgical note it’s got to be the biggest one first and I never talk like “This line doesn’t work,” I wait and I just work my way through each time we get to talk, and Hal said, “That’s funny. You know what I do? I go to the rehearsal room and I take pages and pages of notes and then I give the director about a week and I check off the ones that he or she is already doing and then I slowly start to deliver them in small doses.” and I think that’s, as a philosophy, a good idea, because when you start giving people a ton of notes they just don’t hear you. I remember saying to Stafford and the writers on Altar Boyz, I said, “Look, you’ve just got to have those boys on the stage and a band and you need to have an event that breaks them up and then brings them back together again. That’s all I know, and tell Kevin the same thing and figure out how to do it because we haven’t been able to.”

Ken: And that they did.

Robyn: But usually I ask questions and I rarely get prescriptive. If I give them an idea I say, “This is not meant to be on the page but here’s the way I can express what I’m thinking, if you have the character blah, blah, blah,” but I don’t like to do that if I don’t have to. I like to swing wide and then, if they’re not hearing you, each time you get more and more specific. I can’t write the way they write, they’re going to come up with something better, so I have to have faith in them and they have to have faith that what I’m saying is right.

Ken: So you’re at this job which has doubled your Second Stage salary and then you decided, “Eh, forget all of this stuff, I’m going to go hire myself, in a way,” right? That’s what I think producers do.

Robyn: Well, first I went to Manhattan Theater Club, you know.

Ken: I did not know that.

Robyn: Yes, because I didn’t know what I was going to do. I hadn’t seen theater for a long time and it seemed like all of a sudden there were these partnerships between commercial producers and not for profits and we had never had one at Second Stage and I thought, “I have not seen five years of theater, I don’t know what’s going on,” and so at just that moment Lynne Meadow and Michael Bush called me and said, “Can we talk to you about coming in and helping us? Because Lynne is building a theater and she doesn’t have time and our literary manager is leaving and we need someone to both run the literary office and produce some of the shows,” and I said, “It seems crazy when I have my own theater that I would go to your theater,” and she said, “Well you’ll have some freedom,” so I said, “I’ll do it for two years so I can get the lay of the land,” which is what I did and I started a reading series and out of that reading series came Proof which I produced for her and I met David Lindsay-Abaire, we did Fuddy Meers. We did a lot of good work, I met Scott Elliott and I met a lot of people, in fact I met Scott Rudin who I later produced a show with there – he was wandering the halls for some reason – and Daryl Roth and Kevin and Jeffrey, I met them again, I had met them during Rent because I produced Jonathan Larson’s first workshop of tick, tick… BOOM! and they had asked me if I wanted to come into Rent and I was doing the soap, making a lot of money, so I thought, “Never! Not some off-Broadway show!” That was a miss. So I did that for two years and I had a lot of fun, it was very interesting. I read a lot of plays and they replaced me with two people when I left, actually – the literary office and the producer. Yeah, it was very good because I understand what was going on by the end of that. I still had some savings and I said, “I’m going to do musicals eventually,” because that’s where you make your money, “But I’m going to try to learn first as I’m figuring out what I’m going to produce.” So the first thing I did was Class Act with Lonny Price and Lonny knows more about musicals than most people in the world and so I learned a great deal from hit and I raised a little money for Bat Boy and did that, and meanwhile, right as I was leaving the Manhattan Theater Club, I went to BMI workshop and saw three guys and some puppets singing four songs and I fell in love and I had to convince them that I was the person to produce a musical – they wanted to do a TV show, they didn’t want to do a musical, they were going to do another presentation of these songs and I said, “I’m telling you, it’s a musical, I’m inviting my producer friends,” and I invited all of those people that I mentioned earlier and Jeffrey Seller was the one who called me the next day and said, “I haven’t had belly laughs like that in a long time, I want to do this with you.” Once I had the Rent boys, as I like to call Kevin and Jeffrey, all of a sudden they were paying attention to me so we started on that journey from scratch, really, finding a book writer, finding a director, the whole team. It was just a wonderful, wonderful journey putting that show together.

Ken: Do you remember what you said to the writers to convince them that this was a musical, even before Kevin and Jeffrey? This is, of course, a lot of what producers have to do – we have to sell, persuade to our point of view. If I remember correctly, because I think I was at that same presentation – that’s one of my misses.

Robyn: You were.

Ken: And I remember having those incredible belly laughs but hearing that they wanted to do a TV show, because South Park had just hit and it seemed perfect for that.

Robyn: I said to them, “You’ll get a TV show if you do a musical on Broadway. That’s the path, you’re not going to get a TV show just because you have some funny puppet socks, it’s not enough. You haven’t got a writer, a book writer or a TV writer.” I said, “This is the way you should start,” and of course they were all in love with theater so it’s not like it would never be seductive to them but they just thought they could make a lot more money if they could just sell it as a TV show, I think. And also it was just me and they didn’t know about Second Stage, they didn’t know what my history was, I was just a woman to them and it wasn’t until Kevin and Jeffrey came on board that they agreed, actually. That’s fine, I don’t care what reason they had, I was just adamant about it. I said, “This is a perfect musical. I can see it.” I said, “The only thing you have to promise me is that you’ll put a love story in it. It’s got to have a love story, it’s a musical,” and they said “Oh, okay…” because there were no love songs – it was “If You Were Gay” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

Ken: And the cut to.

Robyn: “Tear it Up and Throw it Away.” Funny song.

Ken: You just mentioned something that I was going to get to later, but since you brought it up – you said, “I was a woman” Do you think it’s harder to be a woman producer?

Robyn: I don’t think now it was as hard as it was when I started. It was 2000 but it seems like a sophisticated time to start. Look, it’s a man’s world because men own all of the theaters and that’s where you have to beg. I do think that it’s changing because there are so many smart women on Broadway now, but guys like Bobby and Jeff, I think they felt differently at the beginning, not by the end, but until they get to know you I think it’s easier to trust a man in a producing position than it is to trust a woman for certain people. It’s a fight we all have all the time, it’s true. I’ve done so much now that I don’t have that experience as much but in the beginning, yeah, I think so. People who knew me, I mean tick, tick… BOOM! came about because I had worked with Jonathan and the estate and Victoria Leacock said, “We want you to do this for us,” but things didn’t come to me like that so easily, I had to work. Metamorphoses was because of Second Stage, because there were other people who wanted to move it.

Ken: It sounds like relationships are such a key part of it.

Robyn: Relationships are so important. My father told me, “Always be nice to everybody” and he was right, it’s one of those things. It comes naturally, hopefully, but treat people well because that person who’s an intern in your office – Bernie Telsey, he was an intern, or Richie Jackson. It’s like he begged me for a job and I said, “You’re too smart for this job.” So you never know, in the future, where they’re going to turn up and you could need something from them, but even so it’s a nicer way to go through life, being nice to people, I think, just assuming the best in them, and kindness, like Cinderella always says, “kindness is important.”

Ken: Anything we can do to encourage more female producers to get into the game?

Robyn: I think they’re getting the message. I know a lot of young women who are interested in producing and every time I do a class at Columbia there’s a lot of women there. I think sometimes they want to run not-for- profit theaters, which is great, and sometimes if they have the ability, I mean the problem, as you know, Ken, if you’re not a rich person or you don’t have a rich husband or wife, it’s a tough business because you spend a lot of time developing something, even if you pay yourself $10,000 for three years or whatever you pay yourself, it’s like I have three jobs, you have fourteen, but I still have three jobs and I do it because I’m afraid that I’m not going to get a musical up in time or a play up in time or something that’s paying me real money. I don’t think plays pay real money but musicals do and they take a long time to develop.

Ken: Tell me about how you’ve cultivated and found investors over the years. What’s that process for you? Do you enjoy raising money?

Robyn: No, I don’t. I wish I did. I have met some wonderful people, though, I have to say, some really lovely people. You widen your investor base and there are so many people out there who are interested in getting involved in producing – they all have more Tonys than I do, God bless them – and I like the nice ones. I know some to stay away from but they’re attracted to the material. I have friends who I have love and they’ve invested in everything but one show because it just didn’t turn them on and I never force people – never, ever, ever. I brought Ruth Hindle and Steve Hindle in to invest on shows, on tick, tick… BOOM! and we’ve had a wonderful journey but now they do their own shows, which I think is great. I still invite them to my readings and stuff because I love them. I don’t necessarily do enough, I only go to lunches or dinners with people I really like, I don’t know if I do enough networking. I try not to steal other people’s big investors because it makes me feel uncomfortable, unless they approach me. It’s a tricky thing. I would hope that whatever I’m producing is good enough to attract people, that they’re interested. I always invite a lot of people that I feel good about. I’m trying to get Steven and Josh, who are my partners now, to do more of it because I’ve done it for so many years, the Second Stage years and producing years, and it’s tiring and it’s not my favorite part of the job. Is it your favorite?

Ken: No. I can get myself into it.

Robyn: Of course.

Ken: I can rev myself up because I think, “If I do this then I’ll be able to get to that opening night and that will be magical.”

Robyn: I get it.

Ken: But I don’t know many people who like it.

Robyn: You know what I admire about you that I can’t do? If somebody says no I can’t call them again and ask them again and you can and I’m sure it’s worked for you too and I think that’s great, that you can do that. I get embarrassed. I think “They said no…” and I assume people mean no but obviously they don’t always.

Ken: Well, sometimes when I call them back they hang up a lot faster, so…

Robyn: But I think it shows passion, it shows that you really care about it and you’re really trying to make it work. Although I’ve had a show where it was so hard to raise money that I should have listened to my investors and not done the show, probably. Sometimes when you can’t raise the money it’s a message.

Ken: Do you want to tell us what show that was?

Robyn: No, I don’t!

Ken: Well let’s talk about that for a second – every producer out there working has had shows that don’t work.

Robyn: No question.

Ken: That’s the way it happens more often than not.

Robyn: And some are heartbreaking.

Ken: So how do you deal with that heartbreak?

Robyn: High Fidelity was the biggest heartbreak I had, I think, because I loved it and I loved the people involved. You cry when you tell people you’re closing – I do. I think the most important is to make sure the creative team realizes there’s a reason the show didn’t work, it doesn’t mean they’re not talented. They turned out to be hugely talented – Tom Kitt won a Pulitzer and a Tony on his next show and he was eviscerated by the Times so that was a major coup for him. I was depressed for six months on High Fidelity, I was really depressed and Jeffrey Seller and I used to get together and say, “Let’s analyze what was wrong with it,” and we finally figured it out. It was probably obvious to everybody else but you cannot have an unlikeable hero at the center of your musical – Pal Joey, Sweet Smell of Success, High Fidelity. If you don’t like the guy or the gal, the music is not going to fly, it’s just not, no matter how interesting it is or how interesting the story is and how cool it is and all of that, it’s not going to work.

Ken: There is a serious dramaturgical truth bomb for all of you writers out there because I totally agree. Let’s talk about Broadway, for a second, as a whole. If Broadway was a patient in a hospital right now, how would it be doing? Would it be doing okay, about to be released, would it be in critical condition? What do you think the state of our business is?

Robyn: I think it would be doing well but it would be gaining a lot of weight and getting diabetes. I worry because when I grew up you saw plays on Broadway and they weren’t necessarily filled with stars, they were just great actors that you discovered when you went. Please, God, The Humans breaks that because it’s a wonderful play and it doesn’t have a big star in it, it just has great actors, but I think that everybody says that Broadway is going to become a theme park. I don’t think that, I think there’s always going to be artistic people working on Broadway, everybody is trying to do good work, but it has gotten a little corporate and a little “Let’s do the next movie,” or “Let’s do the sequel,” or “Let’s do the brand.” Not that I’m not thinking about those things too but I sort of come at it from a different angle, I think, like if it’s not good I’m not interested. I just hope that people still want to take risks. In big ways Hamilton was a risk, Avenue Q was a risk, when I did In the Heights everybody said, “Don’t move that little Latina show to Broadway.” They said, “Don’t move that little puppet show.” “How can you do a show called Hamilton with people of color?” someone said to me. So don’t listen to the other voices – if you believe in something, do it, because it’s the purple cows that really break the farm and are successful, I think. Although sometimes bad shows succeed because they have a great brand and that depresses me, honestly.

Ken: Me too.

Robyn: I know. I love Spring Awakening, I think it’s one of the best things I saw this year.

Ken: Thank you very much.

Robyn: I really do, I thought it was totally artistic and beautiful and just wonderfully produced and all of that.

Ken: Thanks.

Robyn: You’re welcome.

Ken: The biggest change you’ve seen on Broadway over the last couple of decades?

Robyn: The cost. We did Avenue Q for $3.5 million.

Ken: Oh my gosh, you can hardly produce a play for $3.5 million.

Robyn: You can just about produce a play, without any advertising. It’s frightening. The cost is the biggest change I’ve seen. It’s just unbelievable to me that we pay so much money to do plays and musicals.

Ken: You know, I should find a producer who’s open enough to take a musical like that and see what it would cost today.

Robyn: Oh, we could figure it out.

Ken: Like produce Avenue Q for 2016 and see how much it would cost.

Robyn: $8 million.

Ken: At least.

Robyn: At least! And what’s happened, what’s changed? I guess you could blame it on the unions and the real estate, it’s certainly not the actors and the directors and the artists who are involved so it’s got to be the union people and the real estate, I think, mostly. But, you know, supply and demand, Ken. Supply and demand.

Ken: Okay, last question. I lied, second to last question. As you look back on your career so far, anything you’d do differently?

Robyn: No. How do you like that? I think I was so fortunate that I was able to do so many different things and now run Bucks County Playhouse and do the Roundabout Underground and what I do on Broadway. I think I’ve had a charmed career. I’m very fortunate – I came here with $500 in my pocket, when I came to New York, and got work as an actress and went on from there – not that my father didn’t help me out a couple of times, but I made my way in theater in different ways and learned something in television so I feel very fortunate.

Ken: Okay, now that last question.

Robyn: Yes.

Ken: It’s my Genie Question – I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to your office, knocks on your door and says, “Robyn, not only have you been a fantastic producer on Broadway but I loved you in that show in London when you were an actress.”

Robyn: When I was naked?

Ken: Yes, exactly

Robyn: Thank you.

Ken: “I was a big fan of your soap, so I want to grant you one wish.” I want you to think of what’s the one thing that drives you so crazy about Broadway, that makes you angry – you listened to your dad about being nice to everybody, you’re one of nicest people I know, I remember this and try to learn from you when we worked together. What makes you mad, so angry that you would ask this genie to change with one snap of a finger?

Robyn: Wow, that’s a great question. Let me just think about that for a minute. You can’t wish for people to have better taste, I suppose, which would be one of my wishes. If I could change one thing… I don’t know the answer to that, Ken. I really do wish that we could make Broadway less expensive, both to the people buying tickets and the people producing theater, and I would have to brainstorm with the genie to figure out how to do that, because I think we’ve shut out a whole lot of audience with the prices, and I understand why we charge them – no one understands it better than you and I do – but twenty seats at $25 is not enough to bring in another generation and my core value when I started was to bring young people to the theater but I don’t know how they can afford it and that makes me very sad. So I would say probably that. I don’t know about the costs, they’re probably always going to go up, but I would say what can we do about the next generation of theater goers and how can we make it affordable and how can we get people’s sensibility, including them and not doing every revival in the world or things they don’t relate to. That’s why Hamilton is so exciting, because they’re actually paying for those tickets, which is wonderful, even if they see one show a year. I guess that’s what I would care about.

Ken: It’s a very good wish. I want to thank you so much for everything you do on Broadway and also everything you do for me – when we started I learned so much from that show and partnering with you, so thank you so much for that. Next up on the podcast – we’re going to start doing something different at the end when I reveal the next guest. We’re going to play how many degrees of separation between the guest in front of me right now that you’re listening to and the next one. In this one there’s only one degree – next up on the podcast is Bobby Lopez, creator of Avenue Q, The Book Mormon, an EGOT winner, so make sure you tune into the next episode to hear everything that Bobby’s got to say and hear his perspective. Thanks so much for tuning in, we’ll see you next time!

Ken: Don’t forget, join The Producer’s Perspective Pro. You can get it on the blog or at TheProducersPerspectivePro.com.

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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.