Podcast Episode 73 Transcript – Ben Stanton

Ken: Hey, everybody. Ken Davenport here, back with another Producer’s Perspective Podcast. I’m super excited about today’s guest because, well, this guy’s expertise is one of those areas that I really do not know much about. Today’s guest is a two-time Tony-nominated lighting designer, including being nominated this year for my production of Spring Awakening. He’s also a brand new dad! Welcome to the podcast Mr. Ben Stanton. Welcome, Ben!

Ben: Thank you so much, Ken. It’s nice to be here.

Ken: In addition to Spring Awakening this year Ben also lit Fully Committed which is running now at the Lyceum. Last year he lit the Tony Award-winning Fun Home. He has lit Seminar, Enemy of the People, Off Broadway’s The Christians, The Whipping Man, The Lion, so many more. Ben Stanton, how did you find the light? Where did this all begin for you?

Ben: I think I had a fairly odd introduction to theatre. I did theatre in high school – I went to school in Massachusetts, I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, went to Belmont High School, which had a great theatre program and a great music program but I was a musician, I was a drummer. I started as a drummer from the age of 10 years old or something like that and in high school I ran a follow spot – I was definitely drawn to lighting, I was drawn to technical theatre, but it was more like I liked to climb around and get electrocuted and hang out with my friends. My social life was in the theatre. I think a lot of people go into this business for the social aspect of it as well as the art. I was already being pulled towards the theatre in high school but I was a serious musician – I was a jazz drummer, I was performing and gigging around Boston and I was applying to schools that had good music programs and I ended up getting a scholarship – fast forward – to UMass Amherst to study jazz, and at the time famous jazz drummer Max Roach was on the faculty there. He wasn’t there that often but he was there a couple of times a semester and Billy Taylor was on the faculty as a sort of adjunct and Jeff Holmes ran the program, it was a kind of serious program, and I went there and I wasn’t really sure how it would turn out but I wanted to play music and so I went to college to do that and I got a free ride and I thought ‘This is it,’ and I spent two and half years studying music and I wasn’t finding a mentor, basically. There was no real jazz drum teacher there so I was still going back to Boston for lessons and I was in need of a mentor. I was 20 years old and I wasn’t sure where I was going and I was learning stuff and I was getting better but I had no clear vision of my future so I started thinking about going to Berklee College of Music but I also checked out the theatre department because that was my other interest and I met who would become my mentor – her name is Penny Remsen, she still teaches at UMass Amherst, undergrads and grads, but her undergrad roster includes a few people you might know – Jane Cox, Justin Townsend, Matt Richards, David Korins – we were all in school more or less together – Jane was a little bit older and went to Smith but studied lighting at UMass, the rest of us were all in school at the exact same time so it was actually kind of a remarkable time to be there as a wannabe designer. So long story short, I got hooked in with Penny and with all these other really talented students, went in a drummer and came out a lighting designer. The reason I tell that long winded story is because what I was pleasantly surprised to find out was that the skillset is almost exactly the same, in the sense that lighting is like jazz, lighting is reactionary. As a drummer and a lighting designer you’re sort of in a position to respond to lots of other stimulus, there are lots of things that kind of come first, and you hear and you respond, in the case of music, and when I switched over the theatre I realized it was the exact same kind of muscles, just not literally muscles, it was my brain. So I would see a set, I would read a script, I would hear music, I would see a costume and I would respond to it intuitively, like I had been doing since I was in the fourth grade, and because lighting is real time – you’re in the theatre, you’re sitting in that theatre and the set’s up there and the actors are on stage and you’re having to respond very quickly – it was a real natural transition from playing in a small group jazz ensemble to sitting in a tech and just fielding all of this stimulus and responding to it. Like that was never confusing to me, how do you respond to something? Because I had been doing it since I was a little kid – and the freeing part was I didn’t have to rely on my muscles, whereas you could only play what you can physically play, here I just had to have ideas. I was like, “This is a joke, I could just put 50 of those things over there,” and eventually I’m not even the guy who has to do it, someone else has to do, and I just say, “Turn those on,” and they turn on. I used to have practice and practice and practice. It was exciting and there’s an intellectual component to theatre that I liked a lot and it just really felt like the right fit so I came out of UMass, I interned at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, they hired me back the following summer and I basically met most of the people I still work with, all of these young directors – Sam Gold was there, Trip Cullman was there, Cameron Cantor was there, Amy Dawson, like tons of people that I still am either connected to or work with. Danny Goldstein was there, Will Frears was there, and I was like 23, we were all like 23, and we were just hanging out and assisting all of the fancy people and I also met some lighting designers that I assisted shortly thereafter and I formed some relationships with Kevin Adams and Ken Posner and people that I assisted and I just came here and worked and worked and worked and eventually, I mean I’m 41 years old.

Ken: You look about 23 years old.

Ben: I appreciate that. Well, it’s because I’m inside all the time. I never get any sun.

Ken: Right, you don’t see the light. The lighting designer doesn’t see daylight!

Ben: I go to the doctor and they’re like, “You have no vitamin D in your system. Literally zero, you need to take something.” I mean I’m in tech all the time so I weather well, I guess, but I’ve been doing this a long time and I didn’t go to grad school, I never really had a substantial regional career. I think sometimes young designers come out of a grad program and have connections at certain regional theatres and spend their first 8-10 years working out of town. I hear that story a lot – set designers, lighting designers – they’re at the Alley, they’re at the Huntington, they’re at Hartford Stage, and they have relationships there so they can count on those jobs and at some point there’s, ideally, a transition to more New York-centric work, but for me, it was just working on lots of Adam Rapp plays at the Rattlestick Theatre and lots of proper Off Broadway but small Off Broadway, I mean it was years before I worked at the Manhattan Theatre Club, years. One of the early champions of my work was the New York Theatre Workshop. Linda Chapman and Jim Nicola at the New York Theatre Workshop gave me a few breaks when I was pretty young and that was really helpful but, you know, I designed for five years before I got an agent. It took a long time, it took a long time, I just finally feel like I’ve stopped paying my dues and I’m starting to enjoy some larger shows, I mean this whole Tony award thing is crazy. Three years ago I was watching it on TV and last year I was there. That transition is still mind boggling, you know.

Ken: What’s your approach when you get a new show? A brand new piece, a new play or a new musical, someone hires you and you’re on board – what’s the first thing you do to figure out how you’re going to light it?

Ben: I’ll obviously read the script several times and just try to become conversant because usually the people you’re about to meet with – let’s say a first meeting with a director – have spent a lot of time with this material and in order to contribute something I feel like you have to catch up a little bit, and oftentimes by the time I’m hired the set is already designed, a lot of times. Oftentimes the set designer and the director have been working at it for a while, so you have to kind of walk a line because you want to come in with some ideas and some thoughts but you also don’t want to come in with something that ends up being completely out of left field because chances are they’re going to put a sketch in front of you or a model box in front of you and say, “So this is what we’re doing, what do you think?” so you have to stay open and energetic but what’s great about that, like I said before, is I’m a reactionary artist – I don’t really call myself an artist or think of myself as an artist – but I work in a reactionary art form, I’m a craftsman of this thing where you’re being dealt a lot of cards and then you have to figure out what the best thing to do is, so having someone put a sketch in front of me and talk to me a little bit about the world of the play, I just start processing it. If it’s a period piece or if it’s set in a unique place I’ll do some research. If there are words in the title or in the script that I don’t understand I will look them up, I just try not to be a dummy. I try to do my homework so that I have something to contribute early on, knowing that, at the same time, I’m being dealt a set of cards that I have to stay open to.

Ken: Would you prefer coming on much earlier or do you think people are hired in the right progression?

Ben: It’s always great to be brought in early, it’s always fun to be a fly on the wall in those early meetings. We all get busy, I don’t think that I’m being excluded, I don’t consider that I’m being excluded from the process, I actually think directors are sensitive to our time and want to work out some fairly mundane details before they start talking to me and I sort of appreciate that, I appreciate there might be a discussion about molding that I might not really care that much about, so I don’t necessarily get upset when a lot of work has been done ahead of time and the people I work with are really smart so it’s rare that there are a bunch of decisions that are made that  I completely don’t understand and sometimes if I’m a little confused by something it’s me needing to catch up to kind of get with the program so I do think it is the right order. having said that, I work on a lot of new plays and if I’m invited I love to go, I love to sit in the room, I love to talk about the play, but I feel like I do want to let the set designer have their process and I’m comfortable talking about the play in the world of the play, in kind of an abstract way, emotionally, and listening a lot, but I don’t necessarily want to come in with a heavy handed idea before the set’s even been designed, in part because I’ve had some experiences where I’ve suggested something like, “Oh, what if that wall was see-through?” and for whatever reason it ends up being just an awful idea, usually the execution or something about the way it was installed, occasionally it’s gone wrong and then you’re the guy who had that idea, then all of a sudden the set designer is like, “Well that was Ben’s idea,” so I don’t know, I try to let people do their jobs and not step on their toes.

Ken: Now that I think about it, actually, set coming first and lighting coming next works the opposite way as we get towards the end of it because the set gets put in and the lighting is usually the last element to be finished.

Ben: For sure. This is what I mean about the process – my process is very public. I have a prep process where I make a bunch of decisions on paper but they’re all educated guesses. Some of them are pretty right on but it’s like picking your paints before you paint the picture – you’re picking your colors, you’re picking your brushes, you do all of that thinking, “These are probably the right things that I need to do what I want to do,” but you might discover halfway through that you need something different, whereas the set designer, by the time I sit down in the theatre to write light cues, they’ve had an entire process and it’s sort of the finished product – they might have some paint notes but, unless something has gone terribly wrong, what we’re all looking at is the culmination of their process and then a lot of the set designers I know kind of drop into an assistant director role and they start helping the director, consulting on blocking and ideas for where to stage a scene and how to manipulate a transition, but I’m just starting my process, really, and I’m doing it all in public and because I have my own hang-ups about how people interact with me when I’m in the thick of it, in the weeds, trying to get a musical number done or trying to get a bunch of stuff to work that doesn’t work, whatever it is, I’m sensitive to how people approach me in those moments, so I try to be sensitive early on in the process to the set designer because they’re potentially in the weeds, they’re maybe going down a road they need to go down before they change direction and it’s not going to help for me to just be like, “Are you sure you want to do that? Are you sure red is the color?” or whatever. I’m just so lucky to work with so many talented people and I trust their process and hope that they trust mine – and they’re coming up to me and they’re like, “Are you sure green is the right color?” It’s like, “quiet!”

Ken: You’re in one of those rare professions where there’s a real blend of artistry and also technical expertise.

Ben: Yes.

Ken: Is it 50-50, is it 80-20? What is the blend, art to technical knowledge?

Ben: That’s a good question, I haven’t thought about that. That’s a good question. Art to technical knowledge – I think there’s a third component which is organization. I think there are people that you can rely on when you don’t know the answer to a technical question – there are electricians. My responsibilities, technically, really kind of stop at the water’s edge – like I’m not the one plugging all the stuff in, if I don’t know what kind of follow spot to put in the Lyceum Theatre I can ask the electrician because they’ve done the last twenty shows there so they can be like, “Well Hal used this and Billington used this,” you can ask your electrician, they’re really smart people who know stuff so I don’t have to know that. You need to know enough technically – you need to know how to use the lights, you need to know what they do, but you can ask for a lot of advice, you can describe an idea to your assistant, your associate, an electrician, you can bounce ideas off people and people will have lots of good ideas, so I don’t feel like a huge part of my process is technical but I’ve also been doing this for 18 years and I know a lot of stuff and then there is the artistic, which is your tastes, why you pick one color when someone else picks a different color, why you like a certain intensity on someone’s face and you see someone else’s work and you say, “Oh, everyone is so bright,” and they see your work and they say, “Everyone is so dark,” whatever it is, we all have our own tastes and that’s the art part of it, is just your influences, what you like, how you think about making stage pictures, how you think about creating atmosphere and affecting the audience and telling the story. but there is a third part of it that I think comes into play, especially on the bigger shows, which I think is infrastructure, like your staff, how you get through a tech, how you organize your work. I do a lot of things that speed tech up because I try to get through the first pass of a play or musical as fast as I can – not to say there aren’t times when it’s worth stopping and talking about stuff but I feel self-conscious about monopolizing time in tech and I also think that your first ideas are rarely your best ideas, I think there’s just a certain amount of slightly tedious cue building and cuing that has to happen, communicating, just to get through the show once, and then you can all sit back and once it and then you can start to really learn what your show is, what you’ve got, what choices worked, what didn’t. That stuff you do on the first day is probably going to be redone by the time an audience sees it so why belabor that? so I actually do a ton of different things, little things that I’ve learned over the years or developed myself, that just speed it up – like I give the stage manager all of the cues that I can possibly think of before tech starts so that they actually have them in their book and they’re calling them even if they aren’t there yet. I put the cues in the board, in the computer, they’re empty, they don’t change the lights, but they’re there so when the stage manager says “Go!” a cue happens. So I’m already editing instead of writing. I don’t have to say, “Well, what cue number should that be?” I’ve decided that a week ago, so the train is already leaving the station and I’m just editing and editing, jumping ahead and editing, going back and taking a note, I’m just constantly trying to keep things moving and that’s not art and it’s not technical, for me it’s a part of, like I said, I believe shows are better the faster you tech them because you have more time to watch them. If you have three weeks to tech a big musical and you take three weeks – and they do take time, I don’t do every show in two days, but I do plays in two days usually. I just believe in getting through the first pass because I think it makes the show better. I think Fun Home was really good because we got through it with a day or two of tech left to spare. We ran it a few times for ourselves, then we brought in an audience, and I just came in every morning and just chiseled away at the lighting problems in that show until there were none, or until there were very few, until I had figured out solutions and that was tricky because Fun Home is in the round so I had to sit in a lot of different seats to see the show and edit the show, but the sooner I can get to the editing process the better I think my work is. So it’s not sexy but it’s something I really believe in, it’s part of my job. Also you get to give the actors back their show quickly, because actors are in rehearsal and they have a vibe and they have a connection and they have a connection with the piece and they’re running the piece and then you throw them up on stage and you tell them to hold every five minutes while you light around them and I can’t imagine how frustrating that might be, and sometimes it takes time for the actors to get their show back, get their rhythm back, get their relationships back, get their head back into their characters because they’ve just been standing around on stage for a week or something, so the sooner they can do that the better the show is. It’s like minutes, I don’t know, there’s a good football analogy in there somewhere, it’s like inches, you just push and push and push and push and at some point you have to stop and whatever you have at that point, you have to stop working on the show, it’s what the show is, so I try to be a speed demon when I can and I guess it’s just methodology or craftsmanship or something.

Ken: Now everyone out there listening knows why Ben is a very favored lighting designer for producers like me, because we love a quick, quick tech. This is a bit of a loaded question considering your wife is a celebrated projection designer herself – she obviously did the projections for Spring – how do you feel about projections? This is something that you’ve seen over your entire career – when you started, they weren’t what they are today.

Ben: That’s right.

Ken: So what do you think about this evolution of more projections?

Ben: I think it’s, you know, there’s a lot of… I think it’s good.

Ken: We won’t let Lucy here this.

Ben: Right! No, I think projections can really help storytelling in a show and I think the projections in Spring Awakening were great and helpful. Obviously the obvious function that the projections served in Spring Awakening was as super titling for deaf performers, well really for a deaf audience so that they could understand some of the stuff that was being said. It was basically a redundancy because a lot of what was being signed was being spoken but there was also stuff that occasionally wasn’t being spoken and a lot of times that would end up in super titles, so that was obviously a necessary end but the way that Lucy did it, she did it with a sort of fairly sophisticated concept of chalk drawings on a chalk board – and a lot of the super titles first existed on a chalk board – and then she took the chalk motif and she created entire worlds out of this chalk texture and the set was basically just a warehouse but we had scenes that were in gardens and Lucy was able to create that. I would not have been able to create that successfully. I would have tried and failed, probably, to create that – and it wasn’t a hyper realistic garden but it gave enough information. So I guess my feeling about projections is that, when used well, they’re amazing but they’re not always used well. I can’t even think of a lot of examples of bad projections but just in general I think it’s scary – I would be terrified as a projection designer because the possibilities are limitless and as soon as you put a projector up that shoots at the thing directors can ask you for all sorts of things and I think video designers have to be really clear about their scope, what they’re going to do and how they’re going to convey, or else we’re just replacing scenery with projected backgrounds, doing stuff that you would see in movies or hyper realistic backgrounds for plays, and I just don’t think that’s the most interesting way to tell stories. So really I think they’re awesome but it’s up to the individual video designer to show restraint and have a point of view that’s helpful and I also think each design has to have its own evolution, like lighting and then sound and now video are all in different stages of evolution and lighting has gotten to a point where I feel like there’s kind of a consensus about what good lighting is, at least within a certain sphere, there’s enough education programs, Yale and places like that, that espouse a certain ethos of responsibility of lighting design, the things you need to do in telling the story, like we’re all told you need to be helping the storytelling, not hurting it, you need to be helping us know where to look, not distracting us, and then there’s all sorts of different things about use of color. It’s like there’s a bit of a 20-30 year old conversation that’s been going on about how we do what we do. Video, I feel like, is just very, very new. There are lighting designers who have become video designers who don’t make content at all but they know a lot about projectors and they can manipulate content. There are people like Lucy who didn’t study video at all, she studied literature and she sketches and draws and she creates all her own content – it takes her months to sit at home and digitally create all of this animation and beautiful sketches and all of this stuff – and she used to do it for other video designers, some of whom didn’t necessarily know how to do that themselves. So someone like Lucy makes her own stuff – there are other video designers that essentially curate work, like Jeff Koons does, like modern artists maybe do, maybe some scenic designers do too – they don’t build a model, they don’t do the sketch, but they curate all the stuff and critique it and manage it, and so I just think it’s a very new art form, I think it can add tremendous depth and beauty to a piece when it’s done well.

Ken: You mentioned the evolution of all of these design elements – what do you think the next thing is for lighting?

Ben: Video! I mean I wonder if lighting and video designers, well, there’s a lot of talk right now about color because LED technology is taking over the lighting industry and the world with regard to light. I think eventually, sadly, we won’t have incandescent lightbulbs anymore, we won’t have fluorescent lightbulbs anymore, everything will be LED and they’ll last for 50 years and in the entertainment industry I think we were all pretty afraid of that early on because the kind of color options that you could get in LED technology were limited and when they started passing laws in some states about having to use energy efficient stuff I certainly panicked a little because I thought the last thing that live theatre is, is energy efficient but we’re creating this stuff and these are our tools and please don’t take away our tools – and they didn’t and they haven’t but the technology is getting better and it’s starting to add versatility to our work. I used over a hundred LED lekos on Fun Home and I did that because it was a musical that needed different colors, basically, and the only other way to have one light produce lots of different colors is to put what’s called a color scroller in front of it – and this is just a big box that you put in front of the light that has different colors in it and it literally scrolls those colors, but they make a lot of noise, they have a fan in them that hums and when they change colors you can hear the media move in front of the light, and I needed 130 of these and Circle in the Square is such an intimate little theatre that I really didn’t want to put 130 color scrollers in that theatre so I was able to get a rental shop to, instead of renting us scrollers, rent us these new LED lights that have seven or eight different LEDs in them and they make all of these beautiful colors and they’re silent. I thought, “If I’m lucky these will be quiet and I’ll get a couple of colors out of them that I can really use. I’m just hoping for that, just a few variations in colors so that I can light this musical,” but they actually were amazing, they did these gorgeous dark colors and they really upped the ante for what I was able to do on that show. So I feel like vide, even though video and lighting are very separate right now, they’re both light, so I feel like it’s about color and LED and technology and it’s about eventually are they just going to invent something that does both video and light and there’s just no separation? I’ll probably age out before this really happens but I bet eventually you’re just going to have to know how to do both. It’s already true in rock and roll – I also light concepts and rock and roll, or more accurately indie rock, but I’ve bene on tour and I’ve gone out and eight of the ten guys out on the road are doing lighting and video already, because you need to learn a few things but kind of anyone can do video, meaning if you can figure out the technology of it you can very easily get content to come out of a machine onto a wall, like that’s actually not that hard, which is why this is probably a more articulate way of saying what I was saying before but that’s why it really takes taste and restraint to be a video designer because I could do it, I just wouldn’t do a good job, and there are guys who do it and don’t do a good job but they know what the projectors do, they know how to make stuff come out of them, they know how to manipulate that stuff and a lot of people can do that and in corporate lighting, corporate events, and rock and roll, I mean every concert has video in it now and I am sort of not as marketable in the concert world as I could be if I just bit the bullet and learned how to do that. I mean my dream is that they’ll just hire me and my wife together and I will never have to learn but you get my point. I think those are the questions – what’s going to become the new industry standard for color mixing and LED technology? And then how are lighting and video going to coexist or are they going to become the same department, actually?

Ken: You and your wife, and your new baby will have to be a sound designer so you’ve got the whole package.

Ben: That sounds great. Or sets – we still need sets, Ken.

Ken: For the moment.

Ben: For the moment, I know, God…

Ken: So I started off this podcast by saying this was an area that I don’t, as a producer, know a lot about, and certainly I try to learn on every show I do. I remember learning a lot from you on Spring Awakening and, frankly, I’ve been doing this for a while. If you could get all the producers in a room and give them a quick five-minute instruction on lighting what’s the one thing you’d want all Broadway producers about lighting, to understand what you do?

Ben: Man, that is complicated. I should have anticipated that. What would I want them to know about what I do? I don’t know, I feel like most producers are really smart. I mean the way I do it is I always design what I believe the show demands. I believe in working backwards from the ideal and I do that for two reasons – I do that because, like I said, a lot of times the set has already been figured out, or a lot of the details have, the play is the play and I feel like it’s my job to say, “This is what this paly and this set demand. Based on what the director is telling me, what the play is telling me and what the set is telling me, here is what I think this needs,” and a lot of times that’s well over what the producers have budgeted for, or the general managers or whoever have budgeted for, and then I’m happy to work backwards from there, like, “Okay, we don’t have that…” and just like any sort of product you’re selling you try to break it into easily digestible understandable parts, like, “This is what these are doing, this is what that costs, as a group can we decide we don’t need that? Great, then that’s gone,” but I try to just communicate really clearly about what things do, what their value is, and then let the group decide whether those things are necessary or not, but I start from that place of, “If I have all of this I can guarantee you a good product and if we can’t afford all of this, which is understandable and often the case, then we should all discuss what of this we can do without,” so I generally have good results with that. I can articulate what I’m trying to do and people can decide if that’s something they want or not. What’s harder to articulate and maybe what my answer would be is about the support system because it’s harder to quantify what that is. Why do you need two assistants instead of one? Why do you need an assistant sitting in the theatre during load in? That’s an extra two weeks, why do we have to pay for that? And I can understand why those questions come up but, as I sort of touched on earlier, there’s a lot of organization and infrastructure that I’m building that also guarantees a better product, it’s just harder to put dollar signs next to in a way that people can always understand, but you know there are reasons and obviously what I need is different if I’m doing a play versus a musical, because there’s just so many more moving parts and pieces, but even then usually I can articulate why I need what I need but it’s a harder sell sometimes. I don’t think it’s worth getting into the minutiae of it but there are so many things to do in a timely fashion when you’re doing a social that you really do need two people sitting at the table with you in order to manage all of that stuff and there are so many questions that come up during load in that I think, ultimately, you save money by having someone there to head off minor disasters as they happening, as opposed to discovering them on the first day of tech and having to work backwards. So I just think it’s about the support, you know, what we need to make our work efficiently and effectively and with lighting it’s just so tough, people don’t always understand it. If you’re a costume designer and you need someone to shop, people understand what shopping is, they understand that’s a line item, it’s a dress, but it’s often harder to articulate for lights.

Ken: Okay, my last question, which is my Genie Question – I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to visit you and says, “Ben, you’ve done such a terrific job, I want you to congratulate you on your Tony nominations for Fun Home and for this year’s Spring Awakening and I want to congratulate you by granting you one wish.” What’s the one thing that drives you so crazy about Broadway, that would get you angry, keep you up at night, have you banging your fists on the table, screaming at the heavens, the one thing that frustrates you so much that you would ask this genie to wish away?

Ben: About Broadway?

Ken: About Broadway, or working in the theatre in general.

Ben: I have two and they’re both so petty.

Ken: Tim Rice said sippy cups so nothing would beat that.

Ben: It’s not really wishing away it’s sort of wishing in something. I’m going to sound such a miser – when you go on tour with a band or when you’re making a movie or when you’re doing anything that requires you to be anywhere for more than eight hours a day, people put money in your pockets every day for food and they feed you. It’s like you get your per diem and there’s a tent sitting there with hot food in it or whatever. I mean I’ve eaten the weirdest breakfasts in the world in basements and venues in Scotland but it’s there, it’s just understood, but there’s this sort of fallacy that because we’re in New York that we’re home, that we can go home for dinner and come back or we could pack our lunch. I hemorrhage money working in the town of Manhattan and I just think, “I just want to be fed.” I just want to be fed when I work on and Off Broadway because I’m there until midnight and I live in Brooklyn, I don’t live in Manhattan. I don’t even want per diem – forget per diem – I just want to be fed by loving people who appreciate us. There’s all this Off Broadway negotiating going on right now, there’s a big push for the union, our union, the designer’s union, to try to create some kind of collective understanding or collective bargaining for Off Broadway shows because it’s a wide range and it’s generally fairly underpaid and I support their efforts and I’m participating in whatever way I can but I just keep joking, “I don’t want more money, I just want food. Just give me two meals.” I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Ken: Ben Stanton will work for food, everybody!

Ben: I will work for food!

Ken: You heard it here. Thank you so much for joining us, thanks for the great work you’ve done all over but especially for me and for everyone on Spring Awakening, it was truly stunning. Thanks for that. Thanks to all of you for listening and make sure to subscribe and tune in next time.

Related Posts


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.