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Production: “Avenue Q” (Working In The Theatre #316)

Production: “Avenue Q” (Working In The Theatre #316)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 30th
year, coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Today’s seminar is devoted to the production
of the new Broadway musical, AVENUE Q. With the members of its creative and production
teams, we will follow the show from its beginning Off-Broadway, through to the current production
on Broadway. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing. And so, now, let me introduce our moderator
for this seminar, director, actor and writer, . Lonny? (APPLAUSE) Well, I’m totally delighted to be here,
because I’m this huge fan of this show. So when they called and asked if I would come
and moderate, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do. And also, to introduce you guys to – (TO
THE AUDIENCE) by the way, how many of you have seen AVENUE Q? (A FEW PEOPLE CLAP AND RAISE THEIR HANDS)
Have you? You’re the lucky ones. Okay, great! The rest of you, you need to get there very
soon. The way we’ll start is, I just want to introduce
our panel, and I will just tell you what their function on the show is, and later we’ll
get into their sort of bios and that sort of thing. Next to Isabelle is the book writer, Jeff
Whitty. And we’re just going to give the camera
time to pan away! (LAUGHTER) There he is! And next to him is Ricky Lyon, who is a puppeteer
on the show, and I’m sure, has many other functions as well. To my right is the dazzling producer, Robyn
Goodman, one of them on this show. To my left is one of the composers and lyricists
– they actually write together. They write both together, which I really need
to find out about. This is Bobby Marx. No. Bobby Lopez. Nope, I’m sorry, this is Bobby Lopez! I failed already, this is Bobby Lopez. (TO ROBYN) And thank you. And next to him is Jeff Marx, his collaborator,
music and lyrics both. And on the far left is a wonderful producer,
Jeffrey Seller, who is responsible for the amazing RENT as well as the Puccini, LA BOHEME,
and DE LA GUARDA. So we’ll talk about everybody’s, actually,
past and career. Before we start, I thought that it might be
really great for you all to take a look at a piece from the show, so I’ve selected
something that’s one of my favorite parts. And I think they’re going to roll the film
right about now. (MUSIC) (SINGS) If you were gay
That’d be okay! I mean, ‘cause hey! I like you anyway. JOHN TARTAGLIA
Ah! Because you see
If it were me I would feel free to say
That I was gay. But I’m not gay! I’m happy just being with you. JOHN TARTAGLIA
I might choose PAL JOEY! So what should it matter to me what you do
in bed with guys? JOHN TARTAGLIA
Nicky, that is gross! No, it’s not! If you were gay—
JOHN TARTAGLIA Ah! I’d shout, “Hurray!” JOHN TARTAGLIA
I am not gay! And here I’d stay
JOHN TARTAGLIA No, no, no, I’m not! But I wouldn’t get in your way. JOHN TARTAGLIA
Ah! You can count on me! To always be
Besides you every day To tell you it’s okay! You were just born that way
And as they say, It’s in your DNA,
You’re gay! JOHN TARTAGLIA
But, gee, I’m not gay! If you were gay! JOHN TARTAGLIA
Ah! (APPLAUSE; END OF CLIP) I’ve never seen that! (LAUGHTER) Ah-ha! What’d you think of it? Rick had never seen it before. I’ve never seen that. (LAUGHTER) Ah! You’ll tell us later what you thought of
that. I think it’s thumbs up. Let’s start at the beginning. So, Bobby and Jeff, you started, you met. And did you meet at BMI or did you meet before
that? Yeah, in the BMI, doing the whole musical
theatre workshop. Right. And we were both working as composer-lyricists
separately. So I was writing my own songs, and he was
writing his own songs, and we got kind of lonely. Everyone else was collaborating in the workshop
and we felt like we were missing out, so we decided to collaborate on something and that
led to us working together. And how many years ago was that? Five? I think six? Five, six. And did you stay in the workshop through this
whole process? Yeah, sort of. Actually, we wrote most of the AVENUE Q songs
in the workshop. And you brought – this is the Lehman Engel
BMI Musical Theater Workshop, where songs are discussed by your class? Yeah. And they’re sort of, you’re given – who
was your mentor there? Was it Maury Yeston? Maury Yeston. Right. And so you sort of developed it in the BMI
workshop, yes? Yeah. It was the first – actually, “If You Were
Gay” was like the first song we brought in to the class with Maury. Uh-huh, uh-huh. The show has such a specific tone, which I
want to address with Jeff Whitty as well. Has it been fairly consistent? Did you hit it fairly quickly, the irreverence
and the kind of off-center humor that it is? I think, yeah, we had the off-center humor
from the beginning. But certainly, we never expected it to grow
into a full-length Broadway show. The idea was, first, to do a television show
that was more of a parody in nature. And we wrote “If You Were Gay,” we wrote
“Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” And we came up with the characters and – “The Internet Is For Porn.” “The Internet Is For Porn,” yeah. All good titles! Amazing! Stuff like that that was mock-educational
songs. And who had the idea to do this sort of – are
we going to have to say the word? – “Sesame Street” kind of idea? (BOBBY AND JEFF LOOK AT EACH OTHER) Oh, we’re
not allowed to say that name! Well (HE AND JEFF LAUGH), never heard of it! Uh-huh! Were you fans of children’s television? Yeah. Well, yeah, we grew up on it. Yeah. Actually, the idea for doing a show with puppets
came before the idea for doing an educational show. I see. We were writing a movie that we hoped we would
sell to the Jim Henson Company. It was for the Muppets, which you know well,
you were in one of the Muppet movies! Yeah! A survivor of THE MUPPET MOVIE, yes! (LAUGHTER) And through workshopping that and demonstrating
it, we met Rick. And seeing him perform puppets, we went, “Wow,”
you know, “puppetry live is really really cool.” It sure is. And it works for musicals, because it gets
past that whole problem that some people have with people breaking out into song on stage. Singing, indeed. I mean, it’s animation these days. Right. It’s satire and it’s puppets. And it seems like we need some sort of gimmick
to make that accessible to people, sadly. Well, no one says, “Oh, give me a break! That puppet would never break into song.” (LAUGHTER) It’s true. “Now, that puppet would, but that puppet
wouldn’t!” (LAUGHTER) Just before we leave you guys,
just tell me, ‘cause I’m always interested in this, you both write both. Now, what does that mean? Explain your process. Does one of you get an idea? No. Well, usually, you know, the composer writes
the music and the lyricist writes the lyrics. But we actually, you know, Bobby writes music
and lyrics and I write music and lyrics. So we decided, early on, to just try sitting
in a room together and hashing it all out. We don’t split things up. So it’s not like you write one song and
he writes another song? No, no. You both write all of them? Yeah. Right. We don’t work on anything individually. We don’t bring in ideas we really – because
then, you know, somebody works on something for four hours and brings it in, the other
person goes, “Oh, I don’t love it.” You go, “What do you mean? I worked for four hours on this! How can you not like it that quick?” So we work on everything together at the same
time, in the same room, and we only keep what we both like. Do you come up with a vamp or a title? Or is there any[thing] more specific you can
get about your process? I think, quite often, like we go into a restaurant,
away from a piano, and decide what we’re going to do, whether it’s a title or, you
know, a rhyme or something, or an idea for a melody, hum something. And then we maybe get a quatrain or something,
bring it back to a piano and – So you really do it together? Yeah. Yeah. That’s extraordinary. And most of it’s done in cafés in restaurants. Uh-huh. Coffee shops. So did you gain a lot of weight, writing the
show? (LAUGHTER) We like having people walk around, interrupt,
and having life – not, you know, being in a little secluded room? Any particular coffee shop that’s inspiring
that we should know about? (LAUGHTER) Yes! Yes, downtown, Eighth Street and Third Avenue,
“Around the Clock.” I’ll be there tomorrow! If I can come up with a show half as good
as yours. So now, is the next person that was involved
in this was Rick? Did you find Rick? Yes. Yeah. Rick, tell us just a little bit about your
background and how long you’ve been a puppeteer, and all of that. Can you? Oh, well – how long is this program? (LAUGHTER) I’ve been a puppeteer since I
can remember. I’ve been interested in the form since childhood. And certainly, the things that I saw early
on in life that attracted me to puppetry were like “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” – Oh, sure. And even the puppets on, like, “The Captain
Kangaroo Show.” I’m so dating myself! (LAUGHTER) I remember those. So puppetry on TV was really how I was exposed
to it. And the first time I saw a puppet show live
was, I think, at the 1964 World’s Fair. There was a Punch and Judy guy doing a show
there, and I saw that live, and I went, “Oh, my gosh! This doesn’t just exist in this little tiny
box in my living room! You know, it can happen live.” So I’ve always been interested in puppetry,
and by the time I was eleven years old, I was already sewing and building my own puppets
and that sort of thing. But always as a hobbyist, never something
that I considered as a serious career. I studied theatre in college, and I was always
on stage – Where was that? Which college was that? Oh, Penn State. A very tiny little theatre department, which
actually worked in my favor, because at the time – you know, when you’re in college,
everybody’s the same age! (LAUGHTER) It’s funny how that is! And when you’re casting shows – That’s right. You’re sort of stressed for a character
part. And since I was so out of the box, a character
actor, I worked a lot at Penn State. I was in shows and shows and shows and shows. I was just always on stage, so I got to really
exercise my chops a lot, as opposed to some big huge department that had a lot of people. It was a very small little thing, so it was,
you know, small pond, big fish kind of thing. And all during that time, I kept doing puppet
things. And somewhere during college, and I don’t
know how to this day, one of my professors found out that I did puppets and encouraged
me to do public performances in that community. And I started doing that, and slowly, the
theatre stuff started falling away and the puppet stuff started emerging as being a more
dominant force in my life. And I suddenly found myself paying my phone
bills by doing puppet shows, (LAUGHTER AND MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE) and going, “Hey,
wow, I paid, like, thirty percent of my rent this month doing puppet shows!” And so, I started thinking, “Well, maybe
there is some, you know, career aspiration buried here somewhere in this thing that I’ve
always been doing.” And after college, I sought out some training
and exposure to other puppeteers, ‘cause up until that time, I was the only person
I ever had met that called themselves a puppeteer. And so, I went to a program that used to be
affiliated with the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center up in Connecticut, which sadly no longer
exists, called The Institute for Professional Puppetry Arts, or something like that, and
was exposed to puppetry in a professional mode for the very first time. And it was while I was there that I ran into
Jim Henson and started working for him, and blahdetty-blahdetty-blah. And so, that’s when I really started singularly
focusing in on puppetry. And when did your paths cross? When did you guys meet? Well, it’s funny, because Jeff and I had
a mutual friend. And Jeff had told her that, you know, they
were doing this puppet piece, and you know, they wanted somebody to perform a puppet and
she recommended me. And you know, I came over and said, “Hi,
I don’t know you guys, you don’t know me, what are you doing?” And I ended up, you know, demo-ing one of
their songs in class. And that’s sort of how it all got started. And that’s about how long ago now? Four? (TOGETHER) Four years? Just about four years, yeah. Excellent. And now, when did Jeff Whitty join the team? That was later. That was after – That was after Robyn and Jeffrey got on board. Ah! See, okay, okay, great. So I’m learning, too, that’s great. So you have this show, which was, in my circles,
whispered about endlessly, of this amazingly funny, terrific, irreverent musical. And so, what did you do? You involved Rick. Did you do some readings of it? We did one reading. We did one. We had, like, six songs. And we thought it was going to be a TV show. So we put it on its feet. A friend of ours was Associate Director or
something or other of the York Theatre, or assistant, associate or whatever. And he said, “You know, on some Monday night,
would you like to come use the theatre?” But you know, I saw you at BMI. That’s where I came. Oh, did you? You did? I didn’t know that. You guys don’t remember! (LAUGHTER) Oh, no! Was that when we were doing the puppets ourselves? No, no, Rick was there. I saw you at BMI, that’s where I saw you
the first time. Doing an AVENUE Q song or the Kermit thing? Yes, yes, you did two songs. My friend Sharon Warner from HBO said, you
know, she had just seen these guys performing at BMI weeks before and that I should check
‘em out. It’s the funniest stuff she’d ever seen. And so I went up there, because I think it
was the first time I’d ever been to BMI, actually. That’s how I remember. And I saw you guys, and I think Ann Harada
was there? I think you did “Racist,” actually? Is that possible? Did you do “Racist” at BMI? In class? We did it in class, but we didn’t do it
with puppets. We did it– No? Well, I saw you do, I think, “Racist”
and “Gay.” I think those were the two songs. Was Bobby wearing a red wig? (LAUGHTER) ‘Cause we did it once, without
puppets, with Bobby wearing a red wig. Yeah, I played Kate Monster. I think I was wearing a red wig! (LAUGHTER) I don’t remember that part. We were playing puppets! But I remember that’s where I saw you, because
you hadn’t done the York thing. Because the York thing you only did once,
correct? Or did you do it twice? Twice. Yeah, for four nights. Yeah, but remember? ‘Cause that’s when I invite – I met
with you guys, and I said, “This would be a great musical. We should develop it into a musical.” Right. And you said, “No, I want to do a TV show. But thanks so much!” (LAUGHTER) Being the persistent person I am,
I didn’t give up! And that’s about four years ago, Robyn? So about three and half, four years ago? Yeah, three and a half. But we had stood up at this reading – we
invited everyone we knew, and we said, “If you know anyone at Comedy Central or Fox or
HBO, you know, please tell ‘em about us!” Yeah, you asked me! You asked me to invite all those people. That’s right. And you invited Jeffrey and Kevin. I invited Jeffrey and Kevin and three or four
other producers and television people. And out of the – you did it at the York. And out of all those people, the only brilliant
people who emerged interested in the project were Jeffrey and Kevin. His partner, Kevin McCollum. Yeah, Kevin McCollum, who’s not here. And we got together. We didn’t know each other that well, really,
but we liked each other! (LAUGHTER) And we said, “Let’s develop
it. Yeah, we get it. Let’s make it into a real Broadway” – no,
actually, not “Broadway” at all, just “make it into a musical.” So did you both approach – well, first of
all, Jeffrey, tell me, what was your take on it when you first saw it? Oh. I think that there’s three kinds of laughter. There’s the “That’s funny.” You say it. There’s the, you smile. And then there’s the laughter that just
takes over your entire body. So, when I went to the York Theatre, which
is in the basement of a church on Lexington Avenue, at Robyn’s suggestion, I witnessed
these six songs, and I just had that kind of laughter take over my body and knew right
there that I wanted to participate in bringing this show to its next step. Which you thought was a theatre piece? You agreed with Robyn that it could be a theatre
piece? Yeah, Robyn and I, though we don’t know
each other, seemed to share a lot of the same values theatrically. And we thought, well, this should be a book
musical. Interesting. And then our job was to convince these guys
that it should be a book musical. Yeah! Very stubborn, guys! So it was sort of a revue? It was just song, song, song, song? There was no book? They wanted a TV show! Well, no, it was a TV project. So it did have a plot? It did have a plot. And did you guys write whatever was the spoken
material as well? We did. We were writing it with another co-book writer,
and we expanded it. So, at that point, we expanded it into a full-length,
three-act musical. My, my! Which still resembled a TV show. Got it. Right, it was very much a hybrid. And the story didn’t work. Did it have the dramatic arc that we know
of, that it has now? No, no. No, it didn’t. So that’s when the producer said, “We
need a real playwright to make it into a play.” Yeah. It didn’t have a love story. Well, it had the “Fine Line” song. Wasn’t she hit by a car or something? Yeah, it had a car accident. It was very sad! (LAUGHS) It had the “Fine Line” song, and it had
the “Ruv Someone” song. Right. And it had the “College” song and the
“Deeper” (PH) songs, but it didn’t yet have a convincing structure that worked. A structure. And I’m assuming that you’re getting ready
to enter here, Jeff Whitty. Yep! And how did that happen? Well, Jeffrey and I, almost, it was like simultaneously,
thought of Jeff Whitty. Because you read THE PLANK PROJECT, correct? Yes, I did. And I was going to see THE PLANK PROJECT,
because I knew Jeff from – I had a reading series when I was at Manhattan Theatre Club
and Jeff was part of it. Robyn gave me my first reading with professional
actors as a playwright, years before. Ah-ha! By the way, I’d just like to take a moment
to talk about . is the co-founder of Second Stage, which is an extraordinary theatre,
where she’s produced over fifty plays and musicals. She also produced the amazing METAMORPHOSES. She was an associate producer of A CLASS ACT,
BAT BOY, [and] tick, tick … BOOM!. In a very short time, she has become a major
force in the theatre as a commercial producer, having been a major force in the not-for-profit
world. So I’m really glad she’s with us today. Nice of you to say. I’m just happy to be around all these cute
men! (LAUGHTER) She’s known in the business as “the lady
with taste,” which is unusual for producers, I have to say. (LAUGHTER) Not these producers! And great aesthetics. So anyway, Jeff, you had known Robyn and Jeffrey
– oh, you had known Robyn, she had given you that break. I knew Robyn. I didn’t know Jeffrey at that point. And so, they called you and said, “We’ve
got these puppet show, we don’t – ” What did they say? My agent called and said, “How would you
feel about writing a musical for puppets?” And I hadn’t thought about it. I had never thought about writing a musical,
actually, before, because I had never written one. So tell me a little bit about your background. You’ve written straight plays before? Just plays, mostly. Comedies with sort of a dark bent to them. He’s also a wonderful actor. Oh, yeah! And I act as well. Yeah, so, you know, I met in the office with
Bobby and Jeff, who I had never met before. And this all seems to be an introduction of
strangers, one after the other. You know, and I heard the score, and I knew,
I loved the songs, I thought they were really funny. And just little by little, we went to the
Museum of Broadcasting and watched some old “Sesame Street” episodes, the pilot. And we just began to talk, and eventually
hammered out a draft that would have a story arc. But at this point, it was very much pieces,
characters that – as a playwright, characters come out of necessity. And this was this collection of fascinating,
very vivid characters, who didn’t necessarily fit into a story at that point. Right. So you had to work backwards, essentially? Work backwards, and there were songs that
suggested a story. There’s a song called “Mix Tape” that’s
sort of a beginning of a love story, and a song called “Fine, Fine Line” that’s
about a breakup. But then there are songs called “Everyone’s
a Little Bit Racist” and “Internet Is For Porn.” And those were hilarious songs, and they had
to be in the show. So it was a matter of assembling all these
pieces and finding why they were necessary, and what the tone and style of the show would
be that would allow for the fun songs that weren’t quite so plot-oriented to fit in,
as well as the most plot-driven songs. And then, new songs were written as well. I think you did a masterful job. And what’s also marvelous about the show
is that the voice is so unified. You know, it doesn’t sound like the song
writers left off and the book writer came in. It sounds like it’s one voice, talking to
us, which is quite unusual, actually. And its structure is just sensational. And you talk about laughing, when you go to
the Golden Theatre, it’s an unusual thing to see an entire audience, and almost all
the time, laughing all the time. Usually, you get sort of a pocket here and
a pocket there. But belly laughs, and you can watch them rock. It’s really an amazing thing. I think we also have to say, even though we
haven’t quite gotten there, that Jason Moore, our director, is a big part of – Mmm-hmm. Now, when did Jason come in? Even though he’s not here, we can talk about
him. (LAUGHTER) Oh, good! Particularly since he’s not here! Oh, boy! Well, when did he come in? I think about one year after Jeff [Whitty]. Right. No, it was about six months. It was very short. Because we all hammered out this first draft
that was this, you know, for me I was just trying to figure out how to write a book. And so, it was very, very wordy – I didn’t
understand how terse you had to be. And then Jason came in, and that’s when
it all began to click, because we wrote another draft, threw out the old one completely and
wrote a whole new one which had the – did it? It had the “purpose” arc in it, didn’t
it? Yeah. The “purpose” arc came in when Jason came
on board. Was that his idea? No, it was Jeff’s idea. And – The lead character is looking for his purpose
in life, is sort of the – He’s just come out of college, and he’s
facing his life. And it’s something, also, which is so terrific,
and I know it’s very important to you, Jeff [Seller], and to you, Robyn, which is that’s
a show about people in their twenties, for people in their twenties as well. I mean, it’s not a show that – you look
around that theatre and it’s not a lot of people in their sixties and seventies, like
a lot of other musicals, but actually it’s young people who are coming to the theatre
to see it, which is terrific. Where do you come from? Literally? New Jersey? Where did I grow up? Oh, I grew up in Oregon. And I moved here about ten years ago. You went to school in Oregon? I did my undergraduate in Oregon. I went to NYU for grad school. What brought you to New York? Vague thoughts of being in the theatre somehow,
I don’t know. (LAUGHTER) I didn’t have a specific plan
at that time. And you came, just without knowing anything
about the theatre in New York? I didn’t. I worked at Joe Allen for my first year here. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Well, that’ll teach you well! And you still wanted to be in the theatre? That’s extraordinary! (LAUGHTER) So, Jeff, you joined the group,
and you had Jason and you had Jeff. Jason was extraordinary. I just want to put in a word for Jason. He really was. Jason was incredible, yeah. He was fantastic! He really had a brilliant sense of dramatic
structure. And you know, collaboration isn’t always
easy, you know? And he kept us on a course, and he kept them
working and always improving. Always improving, I think. Absolutely. That’s swell. So, now we’ve got the team. You’ve got Jason, you’ve got Jeff. And then, what? Readings after that? Workshops? What happened? Was that the O’Neill? Yeah, then – No, we did a couple of readings. We did, yeah, we did. So, Robyn, essentially, you and Jeff and Kevin
optioned the show, is that what happened? Yes. Jeffrey and Kevin and I, all three of us together,
optioned the show. Okay, so that’s the first thing. And that is a payment to the authors, essentially. Correct. And for a period of how long does the option
run for something like that? A couple of years with extensions, I’m assuming? A year with an extension, I think it was? No, I think a standard option is two years
with an extension. Oh, is it two? You buy an option for twenty-four months. I see, great. So you guys get producers, you’ve got a
director, you’ve got a book writer, and you start doing some workshops. So what was that process like? Well, I think the first one we did was just
a table reading, really, of our first draft. And that was encouraging, because we finally
had the arc. We had a story that was seeming to work, it
wasn’t quite right. And then the next thing that we did was re-write
it completely, with Jason on board. Completely, like threw out whole sections. And it must have been really hard for Jeff
[Whitty] because (LAUGHS) we threw out whole scenes and sections. No, I mean, in writing a musical, the one
thing you learn is how great it feels to cut anything. Any word you can cut is a gift. Right. Economy, economy. Really. We had hundreds of meetings in Jason’s apartment
where we would just hash it out and hash it out. Hash out a new story. And it’s just really hard to write a simple
story. It’s just really hard. And I think that the next thing we did was
do a reading sort of to solicit some backers. And – But then we sort of combined drafts, remember? ‘Cause the problem with the second draft
was that it was very – too efficient. It didn’t have enough sort of mess and fun
in it. So we took kind of pieces of both of them
and reassembled – I see. Right. Well, there was Manhattan Theatre Club, right? We did a reading of just the first act, and
then Jason, who was narrating sort of, just sort of summarized the second act, and it
was like, “Oh, now it’s over!” (LAUGHTER) “Then a miracle happens and the
story is over!” And then, at that point, it seemed like we
actually had something. It felt right. Yes! And after that, I think the producers brought
us to the O’Neill Center, where we had our real workshop. And that was how many summers ago now? Is that two years ago? Two years. It was two summers ago. Two summers ago? And that’s a two week workshop at the O’Neill. It was three weeks, wasn’t it? Two. Two, only two. Oh, it was two? Two writing weeks, and you live up there,
right? Yeah, it’s heaven. And so that’s like every – That was great! Yeah. And you have five live performances in front
of audiences. And each one, you know, there’s space between
each one and you’re encouraged to – Do some writing. You know, do the second act first, toss things,
change. You know, drop characters, add, you know,
drop songs. And the actors involved in that, any of them
still with you? Almost all of them. Oh, that’s great. That’s amazing. Mmm-hmm. Just about all of them. Five out of seven. Oh, that’s terrific. But by that time, we had involved the Vineyard
and the New Group, correct? Now, how did that come about? That’s true, that’s true. Yeah, ‘cause they were up there with us,
listening. I forget. Well, Scott Elliott of the New Group was at
one of the readings. Like, Manhattan Theatre Club or something
like that? Yes, Manhattan Theatre Club. And he flipped for it, he just loved it. I had invited Doug Aibel, because Jeffrey
and Kevin and I had decided that it would be good to do it in a small not-for-profit
venue in New York, just, you know, to work on it and give it shape and not let it be
overexposed. You know, the right way to start a musical,
we thought this was the – Were both of you thinking of it as a Broadway
show? No. Or as an Off-Broadway show? No, I remember the moment when we realized
it was possible. I remember we looked at each other, “Maybe
this could go to Broadway! Yeah!” Really? But at the moment it was just an Off-Broadway? Yeah, it was just a musical. I mean, and probably for Off-Broadway is what
we thought. Right? Am I right? Absolutely. Well, at first, we didn’t know if the puppets
would play – Yes. To a Broadway-size house. So, you know, as we developed the show, we
absolutely thought this would be a terrific Off-Broadway musical that would play, you
know, in the tradition of the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Sure, yeah. You know, play at the Orpheum or at the Minetta
Lane or a theatre like that. That’s how we imagined it. But you know, I think it’s an interesting
thing about the theatre which is that when you make a show, you don’t know who it’s
for yet and you don’t know where it’s going to land. And lord knows, we never thought, before we
did it at the Vineyard, that AVENUE Q would be a Broadway show. And of course, going backward in time to my
past, I never thought RENT, obviously, was going to be a Broadway show, nor did Jonathan
Larson. Well, you know, it’s interesting, because
we invited a bunch of not-for-profit producers that we wanted to sort of help us develop
a show. And several of them said, “Well, who’s
it for? Who’s the audience for this, with the puppets?” And there’s a good answer to that. Anyone who ever said, “I don’t know who
it’s for” – It’s not for you! (LAUGHTER) Anybody but you! I’m sorry, I took your punch line! But you got the laugh! (LAUGHTER) And I read the line! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, yeah. It’s Jeffrey’s line, it’s totally Jeffrey’s
line, I’m sorry, it just came out. So anyway, Doug Aibel couldn’t make the
reading, but he saw them perform at a benefit. Right! (LAUGHS) Yeah, he just saw one number. He saw one number and he flipped out, and
he called me. He said, “I made a big mistake not coming
to that reading!” He said, “I’m interested.” So we said, “Well, if you can work with
the New Group, if the Vineyard and the New Group can do it together, that’s okay with
us, but you guys have to talk.” Now, that’s pretty unusual, that two not-for-profits
get together in collaboration. Yes, yes, yes. Was that tricky? Well, no, because it turned out they were
old friends, which was a lucky break for us! And both wonderful guys and wonderful producers. And in fact, doing a musical for either theatre
was a big endeavor and an expensive endeavor for them, so actually pooling their resources
helped them both be able to do it. So now we’re at the point where the Vineyard
is committed to doing a production, an Off-Broadway production? With the New Group. With the New Group. Yes. Now, is enhancement money given to the Vineyard
Theatre by you guys? To both, yes. Yes, absolutely. And how much enhancement money would that
be? That was a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. A hundred fifty thousand dollars. And what is the Vineyard’s portion – so
you’re giving a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. So the Vineyard has a budget of what, that
you’re adding to? I think that the show ultimately cost, Off-Broadway,
four hundred fifty thousand dollars. In fact, I’m sorry, maybe closer to five
hundred thousand, because it went over budget. Yeah, because – yeah. I see, I see. And so, then the Vineyard and the New Group
split the other part? Are you third-third (PH) partners? Yeah, I think actually, we put in something,
about two hundred. We put in more, yeah. And then the two of them each put in like
a hundred and fifty. Something like that. Or, you know, I don’t know the exact details. I think they did about a hundred and fifty
each, yeah. But in fact, we wound up going to about two
hundred. And in terms of – okay, so that you opened
– The idea was one third, one third, one third. That was the idea. Right. So you’re partners. You’re fairly equal partners. Right. So then it opens at the Vineyard. Well, tell me just a little bit about previews. Hell? Okay? Fun? (LAUGHS) Oh, my God, it was such hell! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It was absolute
torture! Great, tell us everything! Rehearsals were torture – Why? Because we were worried about how it would
play and whether – we had to cut a number that was dear to our hearts. Oh, my God, yeah! (LAUGHTER) It was about – But you’re not upset now? No, we’re not, no. Oh, my God, it’s still a sore subject! Don’t talk about it! m No, it’s all a fog now. It is still a sore subject. It was a great song. It was about jury duty. Do it for us right now! It was called “Tear It Up and Throw It Away!” Rick can do it for you right now. You’ll hear it sometime. It was a funny song. You got no bonus cut on the CD? Oh, we tried. And that’s a sore point, too. Lonny, why don’t you just put a paper – you
know, give me a paper cut and put some lemon juice on it? (LAUGHTER) I’m not on anyone’s side! I’m not on anyone’s side! (LAUGHTER) All right, so previews were hell. Yeah, but you know, we learned to deal with
it. What is the hard part of it? I mean, you’re putting it in front of an
audience. You’re seeing what works and what doesn’t
work. Is the hell part that other people are telling
you what they think works and what you should change, and you don’t want to change it? I mean, what is it? No, we were open to change. And we were always working. You were open. And what about you, too? Do you feel you were pretty open to changes? Yeah. And you know – you hear it! You can hear it in the audience. Right. That’s what’s great about previews is
you know. When something isn’t landing, you know. They’re restless. They’re restless, they’re rustling their
papers and stuff. And you’ve got to get working. And we were cranking it out. The show that began previews is quite different
than the one that opened. Mmm-hmm. It’s true. I mean, I was firing – sometimes, like,
a twenty page stack of new pages. Every day, right, yeah. Some days. And they’re a gift, previews, but they really
are harrowing, because you’ve got this, it’s tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. (TO RICK) How were they for you? Oh, well. (LAUGHTER) A lot of changes! Yeah. It was intense. I mean, as a performer in the show, being
handed a stack of this stuff to master “for tonight!”, oh, okay. And not just for you, but for your friend
with you. Well, yeah. But the friend follows. (LAUGHTER) But no, I mean, it’s always intense
when you’re handed this massive amount of material to, hopefully, get some sense of
mastery through the process. Just on a personal note, for me it was a very
difficult time, because – let’s see, was it our … You’re talking about the accident? Yeah. Um … did we actually even start previews
or was it during [rehearsals]? Yeah, we were about – I think it was about,
like, five – It was like our third, our third or fourth
– Five, right before we opened, yeah. Yeah, our third or fourth preview, I had a
mishap and basically walked off a stage and fell down the escape stairs and sprained my
ankle very badly and couldn’t continue. We actually had to cancel the rest of the
performance, because I couldn’t continue. In one sense, the fact that it is a musical
with puppets in it actually saved us and allowed us to keep the show going. Because a lot of the characters that I play
in the show are two-handed puppets. They’re actually performed by two puppeteers,
working in tandem, as you saw on the clip, from “If You Were Gay.” I’m in the head of the puppet and in one
hand, and there’s another puppeteer who’s in the other hand, who’s assisting me. And my being off-stage basically was an opportunity
for her to take over the puppet instead of just assisting. She took over the manipulation of the character,
while I did all the voices for the characters offstage. We should say that Off-Broadway – or, at
least in the non-profit, there’s no understudies. That’s right. You can’t afford understudies. Yeah, there are no understudies Off-Broadway. So if it weren’t for that, I mean, we would
have had to cancel. We had to solve the problem. I actually saw one of those performances – Miraculous. And it was kind of extraordinary because,
you know, even though we knew where you were, you kind of just bought the whole thing. It was just – but I’m sure it was frustrating
for you to not be on stage. Well, not really. (LAUGHTER) I mean, it is a job, and so I was
still able to do my job, so that was what was important. But that was one of the situations that, you
know, having the puppets being a part of the thing actually allowed us to do that. Right. Because the lady who assists me, and who is
also in the Broadway, Jennifer Barnhart, knew my track so well, from just walking around
doing my right hand, that she could step in and, you know, manipulate my puppets and do
the track. It also shifted a bunch of other things around,
but we were able to do them, because the audience will buy the puppet character as long as,
you know, the performance is consistent. So that was an additional stress of – Of previews for you. Well, and it also shifted a lot of responsibilities
for other people. You know, one of the hardest things about
this show, honest to gosh, regardless of everything else, the choreography and learning the lines
and the songs and music and everything, one of the hardest things about this show is the
– not choreography, exactly – but the staging of the way that those puppets get
passed back and forth between people. Because we have puppeteers who are playing
two different characters and sometimes (LAUGHS) their characters appear on stage together. And how you make that happen, and how you
make puppets shift back and forth and so forth is an extraordinarily complicated traffic
pattern. And so, when we added that to the already
stressful process of getting new lines and getting new songs and new cuts and everything,
that was very difficult during previews. Actually, you know, the Broadway run has been
a piece of cake! (LAUGHTER) Compared to going through that
preview process Off-Broadway. You know, I think one of the reasons for that
[was] one of the challenges of this show was the set. Mmm-hmm. I wanted to talk about the designers, too. And designing the set in proportion to people
and puppets. Well, Anna Louizos did the set design, which
is extraordinarily brilliant. It’s just very witty. And watching the Broadway version of it, watching
how it expanded to be Broadway-ified, it’s just a total delight. It’s like a character in the show. It really is. And Howell Binkley is your lighting designer? Yes. And I don’t remember your costume designer. Mirena Rada. I didn’t remember that. What about the unions? Do you have to have a union for puppeteers
or for puppets? Oh, well, that’s interesting. Rick, is there a puppeteer union? I don’t know. No. We’re all Equity. There’s not? You’re Equity. So you can have as many characters as you
want, without the unions? So a puppeteer can do as many as they can
do, is that correct? Right. Sure. I mean, your role in the show is “Nicky,
Trekkie, blahdetty,” you know, it’s “as cast.” So it’s various roles. Your role is various roles. But I think that’s why people were hurting
themselves a little bit, because sometimes the scale of the set was for the puppets. Oh, interesting. Like, you bend down when you come through
the doorway, don’t you? The center doorway? Yeah. For those of you who have not seen the show
– and correct me if I’m wrong – the scale of the set, which is semi-realistic,
is about eighty percent. Right. So the doorways are just under six feet. And the windows are all a little small, a
little bit narrow. It’s perfect for me, I would love it! (LAUGHTER) I’m looking for a house! The effort is to make a compromise between
the scale of the human beings and the scale of the puppets. Right, right. And Anna’s done a really great job with
that. But there’s all these fun little things,
like windows that pop open in ways that you don’t expect them to. And there’s pieces of the set that open. I think one of the basic design ideas was
sort of like an Advent calendar. Yeah, that’s right. So there’s all these things that pop open
and flip up, you know. Sort of a cross between an Advent calendar
and – Those pop-up things. Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” joke wall. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it made the writing process easier, because
you could just have characters appear and disappear. Yeah, marvelous. Which, you know, it was a real gift, because
you could get information out very quickly. And you didn’t have to see them arrive. They just could do a – Yes. Pop and go, which is really great. Yes, and then it was – the button on the
joke a lot of the time is the slamming of the window or the – Indeed. It’s consistently inventive that set, it
really is. Okay, so now we’re Off-Broadway. We have terrible, horrible previews, which
is a problem. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Well, actually, the audiences were loving
it. Right, it was just your experience. From the first preview. It was just our experience that was hell. And also, it was your first, was it not? This was sort of the first time you’d gone
through that process? Yeah, yeah! For all of us. Yeah, we wrote a couple trawler (PH?) shows
for – I think for Jason, too, first musical. Yeah. And Jeff and myself. And a lot of the actors, also, their debut
Off-Broadway. And working on a new piece, there’s nothing
like it. It’s just, nothing prepares you for that. But it was funny. I was just reading that account of FOLLIES,
Ted Chapin’s book. Oh, I haven’t read it yet! Yeah, yeah. Oh, it was unbelievable! But it was amazing to me how many situations
were similar and reminded me of our experience on this show. Interesting. Mmm-hmm, excellent. All right, so we’re getting ready to open,
critics are coming. First of all, how do you all deal with critics? What’s your thought? I mean, does that make you nervous? Do you show up when they’re there? Well, we stayed away on like the five or six
nights we knew they were going to be there. Smart you, that’s great. What did you do? But we were asked to stay away. (LAUGHTER) Oh, nothing! Let’s talk about this a little bit now! Who asked you to stay away? Uh, Jason. The director. The director had you stay away. Why do you think he might have asked you to
stay away? It would make us and them nervous and the
actors, and – I see. I’m glad I stayed away. I stayed away on Broadway. Well, there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing you can do, you might as
well just have a drink. You might as well be drinking down the street! Is that what you did? (BOBBY NODS) Yeah, excellent, good. I’m always told to do that, and I never
have the courage to. Right. But I think after the last season [HE’S
REFERRING TO THE REVIEWS FOR URBAN COWBOY, WHICH HE DIRECTED], I actually might drink
heavily the next time. (LAUGHTER) So, what about you, Jeff? How did you feel? I’m sorry, Isabelle? I want to know where the money came from. The Off-Broadway? Well, we’ve talked about the Off-Broadway
was a consortium. How many investors do you have? Oh, there you go. You mean now? The front money was only, like, three or four
investors, I believe. Four? Three, four. Yeah, that’s a good number. I had two, yeah. That sounds right. And ultimately, we have … sixty? I don’t know. I don’t remember. Yeah. I actually don’t remember. I think it’s something like sixty. Yeah, that sounds good. Sixty people. Really. We were actually turning people – Yeah, they each think they own a hundred percent
of the show, really. (LAUGHTER) Yeah! You heard it here first! Yeah, we have a little couch in our office,
too. But we were turning people away at the end,
actually. But we didn’t get to the opening Off-Broadway
yet, so I just wanted to go in chronological order. So Jeff, just for you, how do you deal with
critics? By the way, do you read them? I mean, as an actor, I never read them. Right, yeah. Because you have to do the show the next night. Of course. But as a writer, it’s like, well, the work’s
over, so you might as well, you know. Uh-huh. So you read them all? Pretty much. I mean – You read the whole [thing]? They send you the stack and you actually read
it? Yeah. I try not to be too obsessive about it, you
know, but – Good. But yeah, I mean, it helps to know what – you
know, plan for the future, you know. It’s just good to know what the picture
is going to be. Right. And were you in the house when the critics
were there? No. Oh, no. So none of you showed up for the critic nights? No, because I mean, even if, like, a celebrity
like Bette Midler or someone would watch the show, I’d be staring at them the whole time! So I didn’t want to be doing that with Ben
Brantley, or, you know, another critic. Sure, sure. Okay, so the show opens – ‘cause I don’t
read reviews, but I am assuming it got phenomenal reviews, or got very strong notices. It did. And you guys decide that, what’s the next
step? And so, how did that decision come about? That’s a gut decision. I think you feel these things, you know, on
the level of your body. And fortunately, this was a gut decision that
Robyn and Kevin and I, and Doug Aibel of the Vineyard, and Scott Elliott all shared. We all looked at each other and said, “This
should go to Broadway! This is a Broadway musical! And you know what? It’s a great Broadway musical, and it’s
just the kind of musical that Broadway needs.” And we said, “Let’s go for it.” And then we really started to plan in that
direction, from that day forward, while also doing an analysis of what would it look like
financially, if we did it Off-Broadway as well. But I think that the audience for musicals
is on Broadway. And I think that is the greatest thing that
Broadway has to offer, which is its brand name for musicals in particular. And you know, in truth, there haven’t been
a lot of successful Off-Broadway musicals over the last decade. And shows like DE LA GUARDA and BLUE MAN GROUP
and STOMP are really entertainments. You know, you could call them new vaudeville
shows. They’re different. They employ dance, they employ music, but
they’re not musicals. And Off-Broadway can always be a hospitable
home for plays. But we really looked and said, “We want
to be part of the Broadway musical theatre tradition with this show. And we think that we will do better by the
show and by our investors, by going in that direction.” So the decision is made. I guess a house is very im[portant] – We looked at – Some theatres? Some Off-Broadway theatres, actually, just
to make sure we knew the whole range of things we were looking at. Right. We all went. We looked at maybe five Broadway theatres? I think it was about five. Yeah. We looked at all the little houses. We looked at the Golden, we looked at the
Helen Hayes. The Booth? We looked at the Booth – Walter Kerr. We looked at the Walter Kerr. And maybe one more. Right, right. The Music Box, maybe? Yeah, the Music Box. Royale. It seems like you picked the perfect – that’s
a fun thing. That was the coolest experience ever! Yeah! Just walking around, shopping for Broadway
theatres. (LAUGHTER) That was damn cool. But you know what? I think the coolest moment in my life, and
I’ll never forget this, as long as I live, was a couple weeks after the critics and the
opening – maybe it was a couple days, I don’t know – the producers came, and they
said, “We have to have a meeting after the show.” Which, you know, is not always a good thing. (ROBYN LAUGHS) You know, somebody got hurt,
somebody has to go away, you know, there’s something bad’s happening. So nobody knew. And they sat down and they said, “We think,
you know, everything’s going well. We think this show belongs on Broadway, and
we’re going to move it to Broadway and this is going to happen.” And just the elation in the room! (MURMURS OF APPRECIATION FROM THE PANEL) Just
everybody was like, “Oh, my – Oh, my God! Did you just say we’re moving to Broadway?!” (ROBYN LAUGHS) Well, I just want to add, but this guy (POINTS
TO JEFF MARX) always thought it was a Broadway show! And I mean, we may have probably done our
first reading, and Jeff was like, “We’re going to Broadway, right? We’re going to Broadway, right?” (LAUGHTER) So the first believer was undeniably
Jeff. And I want to say that when I thought it could
go to Broadway was when I heard the vocal arrangements from Stephen Oremus at the O’Neill. Stephen Oremus was our music supervisor and
orchestrator and arranger and music director, with Gary Adler, and he wrote some phenomenal
vocal arrangements, that just – like, we had always heard it as a small sound, and
we always thought, “Doesn’t matter if the singing is all that, you know, big or
great.” Yeah. But he got them to sound like twice as many
people, and it just sounded huge. He’s extraordinary. It was great. So you decided to go [to Broadway]. Now, who figures out the budget? Well, we did. When we narrowed it down, we took the puppets
– and (TO RICK) you weren’t there, though. Were you? Or were you at one of them? Oh, yeah. But you weren’t – yeah. To see how they would read, how far back? Yeah, we sat way back in the last row of the
balcony, to see how the puppets would read. And of course, what we found out is that they
looked better than people, actually! (LAUGHTER) When your face is orange, you have a decided
advantage! Yes! Big eyes, yeah. Their heads are slightly bigger, you know. I mean, they’re big as human heads, actually. Yeah, yeah. Sure. And they read wonderfully in these smaller
houses, and that was the delightful surprise. So you decide – We chose – Does the set bigger? I mean, do you add costumes? Well, we chose the Golden, which was only
about a foot wider? Really? Yeah. For all practical purposes, the proscenium
opening of the Golden was the same as the opening of the Vineyard Theatre. Isn’t that something? Wow. Yeah. Cool. So I think Anna may have added a couple inches. It really – That’s all it is. You know, the major set piece, which of course
is this – Brownstone, yeah. You know, the front of the brownstones – row
houses is probably a better word for AVENUE Q – was virtually the same as it was Off-Broadway. Did you use any pieces of the set or did you
rebuild from scratch? No, you have to rebuild from scratch once
you’re – Is that the union? Yeah, you have to have a union shop build
it. The stamp and all that? Yeah, exactly. But at the same time, we probably could have
used parts of it. But you need to build it stronger and sturdier
– To last. When you’re going to do eight shows a week,
and hopefully play many, many, many weeks. Yes, indeed. Indeed. And so – well, how much – I’m sorry,
you were – I thought the biggest difference was the number
of people in the audience, because that really gave the laughs more air and more – they
caught fire. Mmm-hmm. So the rhythm of the show changed? The rhythm of the show – we thought, “Oh,
well, there’ll be fewer laughs, but they’ll be bigger.” But that’s not true. They were all there. There were some new laughs, because there
were more people to laugh, and it caught fire across eight hundred people. Yes. It’s very infectious, isn’t it? It was infectious. There’s just a difference between watching
something with a hundred and twenty people, and watching it with eight hundred, with a
balcony, you know? And you hear everybody roaring. It’s wild! Yeah. That was an interesting thing, as a performer
in the show, the move from Off-Broadway to Broadway. We started becoming aware, through the Off-Broadway
run, that the size of the house sometimes worked against the laughs, because people
were in a small space, and they were all sitting right next to each other, and a lot of the
light from the stage was splashing into the audience, and the audience was a little self-conscious. Once we moved into the Broadway house, and
people were a little bit more anonymous, and a little more bit more sort of safety-in-numbers
kind of thing, some of the laughs that we’d had at the Vineyard that were guaranteed were
huge! And laughs that we’d never gotten at the
Vineyard, ever, were now enormous. So it’s been extraordinarily gratifying,
moving to the Broadway house, where it’s actually, in many respects, playing better
than it played, with the same material – That’s the shock! Yeah, I mean, really! I have to say, I was one of the naysayers. I thought, “Wow, this show is going to get
swallowed up in a big house.” And it’s just been an extraordinary process
of seeing how it’s played so well in a bigger house. You know, I used to think that. But I have this theory that there’s something
about, particularly, certain houses on 44th, 45th Street, the Shubert houses, the relationship
of the audience to the stage – there’s some sort of energy about it that it so happy-making
and so – you want to see something, you want to respond to it! I don’t know what it is. It’s that – I think that the seats are
lower. There’s some relationship that’s very
kind of chemical, I think, to us all, that makes, I think, almost [always], more than
not, that it’s better on Broadway than it is [Off-Broadway]. And it also looks better, it sounds better. It’s always just sort of better. I mean, that’s my [viewpoint]. Well, and to everyone’s credit who was involved
in moving the show, the Golden is a really good theatre for that show. It’s a beautiful theatre, yeah. The Golden Theatre feels intimate. It has a feel that’s comfortable. The show works really well. Well, how many seats is in the Golden? Seven ninety-four. Okay. So next to, you know, something like the Gershwin,
I mean — (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) it really is intimate! It’s eight hundred seats. And an Off-Broadway theatre, the biggest one
is five hundred now? Four ninety-nine is the most we can go. So it’s really two hundred more – three
hundred more, actually. Yeah, three hundred more. Which is not insignificant. Okay, cool. So now you’re moving, now you decide it’s
going to be three million, five million, six million, two million, what? Who makes that decision? And how? How does all that get done? I don’t know those things! Yeah. We make that decision! Yes, we do. Well, we thought it should be – No, we have nothing [to do with it]. They don’t tell us anything! (LAUGHTER) That’s not true! It’s basically, you know what you have to
put in your grocery cart to go to Broadway. You put it all in your cart, you go to the
cashier (ROBYN LAUGHS), she adds it up, and you get three and a half million dollars. All right, so it’s three and a half million. But there are some variables. For instance, in advertising, budget reserves. Yeah, sure. So tell us about that. But the fixed costs, those things that really
are like going to the grocery store – Yeah, adding them up, right. Are very easy to calculate. And our general manager, John Corker, was
commissioned to do so. So once you plug in how many weeks of rehearsal
it will take, how many actors, how many musicians, how many stagehands, multiply their number
of days, their number of hours, by their salaries, you get a number. And you add up all of those numbers. Advertising is a subjective number that every
producer has to decide, but the truth of it is that nobody’s going to open a Broadway
musical today without having a million dollar advertising budget in its capitalization. So out of the three and a half, a million
dollars is – One million of it was advertising, correct. A huge expense. And then, loading into a Broadway theatre
is your second biggest expense. Right. (TO AUDIENCE) Do you guys know what that is,
what “loading in” is? Could you explain what that is? Yeah, sure. “Loading in” is the process of taking
your set, your lighting, your sound and your costumes from the places in which they originate
to the theatre and setting it up. And you employ IATSE stagehands in order to
do so, and all of them earn a salary, and it’s a very fine salary! (LAUGHTER) And when you add it all up … And what about – a reserve is also sort
of the next thing. Right. So then you have your line items for making
the show, your line items, you know, for paying all your people, your line items for making
your set and your costumes and your puppets and your lighting – Right. Closing (PH) a lot, right? And now you have understudies, I mean you
have – Exactly. And then – More musicians or not? Yeah, we added two musicians. We had four musicians Off-Broadway, and for
Broadway, the guys, we all agreed that a bass was essential to fill out the bottom of the
sound. And then these guys and Stephen said, “We’d
really like to have a guitar as well,” and we thought that was a great idea for Broadway. And so, that also means a re-orchestration
fee as well? Not a whole fee, but you know, you add two
more charts, so then you pay the fees for those two charts, absolutely. Right. We expanded the cast. With understudies. Well, we expanded the cast through the use
of understudies, but we knew we were going to have to do that, no matter where we went. Right, absolutely. And then you have a reserve, which are monies
that you raise, that you hold in reserve, in case you lose money during your preview
weeks. I see. So you add all of that up, and in the case
of our show, it was three point five million dollars, which in the Broadway climate is
now considered modest. Absolutely. You know, a play comes in now for two million
dollars, and a musical anywhere from six to ten million dollars. So for us to be able to do a musical for three
point five million dollars felt economically responsible. (LAUGHTER) It’s a sad state of affairs! When it went Off-Broadway, it cost five hundred
[thousand dollars]. So we went, you know, five times seven is
three point five million dollars. So it’s a multiple of seven, and that was
good producing! (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) Robyn, do you have anything to add to that? No, he’s a genius! (LAUGHTER) What makes the difference between Off-Broadway
and Broadway? Well, you know what? Off-Broadway, an actor is going to make five
hundred dollars a week, and he’s not going to be able to have a wife and children and
support them. On Broadway, an actor’s going to make a
minimum of thirteen hundred dollars a week, and he’s going to be able to make a modest
living. Same thing for the stagehands, same thing
for the musicians. You know, the truth of it is that on Broadway,
the practitioners of the theatre can earn a living. Sometimes it’s a good living, sometimes
it’s a great living, but it’s always a living. And Off-Broadway, it’s very difficult. You know, when you go to a terrific New York
actor and ask him or her to be in your Off-Broadway show or in your not-for-profit show, they
have to decide that they’re going to do it because they love being in the theatre
and they love working on plays and musicals. And they then have to hope that they have
commercial work and voiceover work or television and movie work – Puppet work! So that they can meet their mortgage, because
you can not meet your mortgage if you are a practitioner Off-Broadway. And for the most part, that even applies to
the playwright and the lighting designer and the set designer and the costume designer. So that is the difference. Well, they have no idea, but it’s true. But isn’t it great that there’s a whole
profession where people do it for love? I mean, it’s really extraordinary. Yeah. I mean, I did it for many years for love. I ran a not-for-profit theatre. That’s right. I can’t say I made a living! And you had to – you know, and ultimately,
you made a big decision. I did other things. Yes, I’ve made a big decision. I mean, the hard part, too, though, about
that, is that you lose people. I mean, when you’re in an Off-Broadway situation,
because they can always get out for more remunerative employment, which is just about anything. So it’s kind of tricky with that. I know – And that’s why we celebrate Broadway. And that’s why we celebrate the American
Theatre Wing and the Tony Awards, because that is part of the system by which we can
make a living, because it is a brand name that people believe in, and they’re willing
to invest in. And I mean, as consumers, to buy the tickets. Right. So that they can get their musical theatre
and theatre fix, and we can make a living. So we’re up to, you’ve raised the money,
you’ve gotten the theatre. Everybody’s on board. There was a fairly quick turnaround in this
show from your closing to your opening. And you opened in the summer, which used to
be considered, “Don’t do that!” but you did it anyway. How are these decisions arrived at? Randomly! (LAUGHTER) No, no. What made you want to do it? We wanted to move quickly, you know? Quickly, on the momentum of the reviews, I’m
assuming. Right. The reviews were so extraordinary that we
felt that moving quickly would benefit us. We were in the mindset. There wasn’t anything opening. There was no new musical opening until October. Ah, yes. And so, we had a field there, from mid-July
till October, where we were the only new game in town. That’s for press and for getting articles
and for attention, essentially? Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. So we thought that was an important thing
to do. So our official opening was July 31st, and
we got through the summer fine. It was a fine thing to do. Right. And I think, didn’t HAIRSPRAY open last
summer as well. Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. It’s no longer an issue. I think this would be a good time to just
take a few moments and I think we are ready to hear a few words from Isabelle. (APPLAUSE) Before we get back to the American Theatre
Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminar on Production, I would like to remind you
that these seminars are only one of the many year-round programs that the Wing undertakes. You are probably familiar with the American
Theatre Wing’s Tony Award, which is given for achievement of excellence in the Broadway
theatre. We also have an important grants program,
providing aid to Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatres. We have expanded our scholarships to promising
students, so that they can pursue studies in the theatre arts, and we offer a comprehensive
guide to careers in the theatre to those seriously interested in entering the profession. As a long-established charity, dating back
from World War One, and World War Two, and our famous Stage Door Canteen, all of our
programs are designed to reward and promote excellence in the theatre. We just love to introduce young people and
their families to theatre and the magic it unfolds. We take pride in the work we do and remain
grateful to our members and everyone else whose contributions help make possible the
dynamic programs of the American Theatre Wing. Our work is so important to the theatre and
the community and we are proud to be a part of this exciting industry. So now, let’s return to our panel on production,
and our moderator, . Lonny? (APPLAUSE) Thank you. I’d like to talk just a moment about auditions. And I guess, to you, Rick. I mean, you must be in the process of auditioning
puppeteers, I’m assuming, and what do you look for in a puppeteer? I mean, this would be a job that has a lot
of requirements. You have to do an awful lot of things. How do you – I’m sure you all look at
auditions. I mean, how does that work for the show? Well, it’s sort of like what we were talking
about before, in terms of the creation of the show being almost, in a way, backwards,
having the songs first and then, you know, creating a book around a lot of them and so
forth. The casting was also very sort of non-traditional. Most of us were connected to the project very
early on in the process. Most of us have never auditioned for the show,
we just came along for the ride. I guess I’m (LAUGHS) the original cast member,
in a way! (LAUGHTER) ‘Cause I started working with
Jeff and Bobby right from the start. Then as, you know, they wrote songs and we
wanted to do more workshops at BMI, we were like, “Well, we need more puppeteers,”
and I was like, “Well, let’s get Johnny [Tartaglia] in,” and we brought Johnny in. And then, it was sort of a two-part conversation
about Stephanie [D’Abruzzo], and I said, “Yeah, bring her in if she’s interested,”
and Craig (PH) was like, “Yeah, yeah, bring her in.” And so, we brought Stephanie into the cast,
and it just kind of kept going that way. Because I knew that John Tartaglia, who plays
Princeton, among other roles in the show, I knew he had a theatrical background and
musical background, as well as being a very excellent puppeteer and I knew the same about
Stephanie. So everybody that I brought to the project,
I was like, “I can vouch for these people. These are very talented people.” It’s been a hard show to cast with understudies
and so forth, because it is kind of a quadruple-threat. You have to be an actor, you have to be a
singer, you have to be able to dance, and you also have to be able to puppeteer your
butt off, and that’s not easy to multi-task. For those of you who have not seen the show,
one of the things that makes the show unique is, with the puppet characters on stage, we
do not make any effort to hide the puppeteers. The puppeteers are onstage with the puppets,
in full view. And was that your decision? Was that a creative decision? It was pretty much a mutual decision. I think when we first – It was a very clear decision, although no
– Well, actually, going back, when we did the
very first reading, when we thought it was going to be a TV show, we would never have
shown the puppeteer. Right, sure. And we talked about, “Should we spread a
sheet, or have like a lemonade stand type thing?” And we decided, you know, this is ridiculous. They’re going to be having music stands,
turning pages. Let’s just, you know, let ‘em hold the
puppets. And then the audience told us they loved seeing
the puppeteers! Seeing the puppeteers, yeah. It was a huge surprise. Yeah. The best thing about having a reading with
puppets is, you know, if you’ve ever been to a reading, you know that the actors put
their music or their scripts on music stands. And you see them look up and read, and go
like that (DEMONSTRATES LOOKING UP AND DOWN) whereas, in AVENUE Q, the puppet is looking
and can act freely up here (DEMONSTRATES; LAUGHTER) while the actor turns their pages. Oh, right, right! And that was amazing. And that also posed a problem, when we began
to stage the show at the Vineyard, because none of the actors could do blocking and hold
their books, because they have the rod to manipulate the arm, and they had to memorize
their lines before we started rehearsals, and before they would ever put new lines in. That’s fascinating. Sure. Makes total sense, yeah. It was a little different. Yeah, yeah. But it was amazing. Then memorize all the changes every day. Right. Oh, of course, oh my gosh, a new thing. So I’m sorry, Rick, you were also were saying,
in terms of the audition process – so do you – You know, so it’s a tough nut to crack. You’ve got to have performers who have some
pretty particular skills. And this is a very specific style of puppetry,
too, the lip-sync puppetry, the mouth puppets that we use in this show, a style that a lot
of people associate with television. It’s sort of like if you’re doing a jazz
dance show, a show that incorporates jazz dancing. You can’t expect that someone with ballet
is going to be appropriate in a jazz piece. It’s a different skill set. I mean, a marionettist could not probably
do this show. So it’s a very specific skill set. And I was not involved in the preliminary
auditions for understudies and so forth. I came in after the producers had seen people
and had kind of narrowed down their choices to, “Well, these are the couple of people
that we would like to cast. What do you think?” And then I worked with them a little bit in
the audition, just so they could see them working puppets and interacting with other
puppeteers and so forth. So that’s pretty much the process. And did you design the puppets? I mean, where did the idea – Yes, yes. So they are your designs? Yes, I designed the puppets. I’m one of the few major designers on Broadway
who’s performing eight shows a week. (LAUGHTER) It’s a challenge, William Ivey
Long, if you’re out there! I don’t know that we want to see William
Ivey Long perform. (LAUGHTER) That’s all right. There’s a lot of people who’ll tell you
they don’t want to see me perform! Anyway –
VARIOUS VOICES Oh, no! No, no! (LAUGHTER) Not on this panel! (CONDUCTING THE AUDIENCE) Come on, everyone! “No!” (LAUGHTER) Well, maybe there’s a lot of designers who’d
rather I didn’t design. Anyway, but no, I designed the puppets. I mean, right from the start, it was clear
that they really needed to be this style of puppet. They needed to be mouth puppets. They needed to be the kind of puppets that
people are used to seeing on TV. Because, especially at the very beginning,
the show very much started as a parody of children’s television, very satirical. And I think it’s important to honor your
source. When you’re doing a satire, it’s very
difficult to – well, for example, this is the sample that I use all the time. If Darrell Hammond, on “Saturday Night Live,”
who is known for his Bill Clinton impersonations, came out in a red wig and spoke with a Brooklyn
accent and said, “Duh, I am Bill Clinton,” you wouldn’t buy that. You have to put him in a gray wig and you
have to speak with a Southern accent. You have to honor the source, or people aren’t
going to make the connection. And so, that was something that we always
worked with, right from the very beginning of this show, is that you have to have puppets
of this kind of style, because that’s what people equate with this style of show, the
parody of this style of children’s television. And other than that, I mean, as a designer,
you know, it’s a completely blank slate. And all the decisions that you make as a designer
are completely and utterly based on what works for the character in the context of this show. And the tough thing about designing puppets
is, even beyond designing costumes, you are creating the character. You are not creating what they’re wearing,
and then the actor fills in a lot of the blanks on what happens with the character. You’re creating the character, their eyes
and their noses and everything. And so, it’s just, you know, the multitudinous
choices that you can possibly make and then paring them down. And Jeff and Bobby were like, “No, let’s
not do that. No, that doesn’t work for me,” you know. And there was a lot of going back and forth. How many puppets are used in the show a night? Hoo! Forty-two. Wow. Forty-two. We started with what, six? (LAUGHTER) Or three, I think, even, you know,
our early runs (PH). And do they get maintained every day? Is there a person that [does that]? There’s a certain level of maintenance. There is a puppet wrangler in the show (LAUGHTER)
or puppet rustler. But not day-to-day maintenance, no. I mean, there’s certainly upkeep like Kate
wears human hair wigs, which is always slightly ironic to me, that this monster puppet who’s
made out of synthetic fur has human hair wigs. She requires probably the most maintenance,
‘cause she’s gotta look pretty, she’s gotta look cute. She’s a girly girl. Sure. She’s the romantic lead! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, she’s the ingénue! And so, her wigs have to be attended to. And actually, probably the one that needs
the most upkeep is Lucy the Slut. Lucy T. Slut! Lucy T. Slut, sorry. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Can’t say “the”
on television! (LAUGHTER) Because, of course, Lucy’s all
about the way she looks. And so, her wigs are, like, inflated every
other day or something, whatever, to make sure they’re nice and poufy. We probably use as much hairspray as Harvey
Fierstein does. (LAUGHTER) So yeah, there’s a little bit
of, you know, day-to-day maintenance sort of stuff. Hopefully, we’ve made ‘em sort of goof-proof,
so they don’t fail too often. We haven’t lost any pupils (KNOCKS ON WOOD)
or ears or anything like that yet. I’m glad. Except in rehearsal! Yeah, there’s a couple of famous rehearsal
stories about rehearsing, yeah, when we were first getting the new Lucys. I should mention, very quickly, that from
Off-Broadway to Broadway, there were some re-designs, not really huge ones, just some
major tweaking, minor tweaking to Princeton particularly and Lucy and some brightening
of colors. A lot of the characters stayed the way they
were, ‘cause they played really well. But – where was I going with this? Lucy changed the most. Oh, yeah, Lucy changed the most. But in terms of the – no, what am I talking
about? In the rehearsal, there was – Oh, in rehearsal, yes! So the new Lucy wasn’t quite done yet, and
we were trying different kinds of wigs on her, ‘cause Lucy’s so much about her hair! And in one rehearsal, I had a wig just sort
of pinned on, and during her big number in rehearsal, her wig went flying. And she really looked like nothing so much
as a chemotherapy [patient] (LAUGHTER AND GROANS FROM THE AUDIENCE) and that kind of
stopped the rehearsal cold. And eyes falling off, those kind of things
are a little distracting to actors on the stage. Doesn’t happen with a human cast, and I’ve
never quite figured out why! I’ve lost a wig once or twice! (LAUGHTER) They weren’t wigs to have, anyway. They were pretty terrible. Well, you might mention, we have two of our
understudies here. (GESTURES TO THE FRONT ROW) Yes, absolutely! Jodi Eichen – Berger [Eichelberger]. Thank you. And Erin Quinn is here. Quill. Quill. See, I’m doing so well! Well, nice to see you, thank you for coming! (APPLAUSE) I wanted to talk a little bit about
marketing, because this is a very particular kind of show, and puppets, and I know that
the initial posters were puppets. And I’m seeing ads that have more people
in them lately, and I know, Jeffrey, this is one of the things that you’re wonderful
at. And I just wondered how you started the idea
of how to market it and what you’ve been doing since you’ve opened, and what’s
working, what you’d like to work better? Uh! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Well, I’d like
to start by saying that, you know, marketing starts with, “What are you marketing?” And you know, I think our best marketing decision
was to do AVENUE Q. And I think that when you do the right show, eighty-five to ninety
percent of your marketing takes care of itself, just by the nature of the show. ‘Cause it’s good, right. And I think that a Broadway producer who does
great marketing could probably pump it up maybe another ten or fifteen percent, and
one who does a poor job may diminish it by ten or fifteen percent. But I think that our ability to affect it
is smaller than other people may think, because I think that when you are dealing with the
theatre, which demands a time investment and a money investment that’s that large, people
go by word of mouth to that first eighty percent. And if you’ve got a good show, people will
tell their friends and they will listen to them and they will go. Having said that, you know, the major dramatic
question for us going to Broadway was “Puppets or no puppets? Advertise the puppets or don’t advertise
the puppets?” And literally, Robyn and I, on Monday we would
go, “No puppets!” And then on Tuesday, Robyn would go, “We
should use the puppets!” (ROBYN LAUGHS) And then on Wednesday, I would
go, “No, we shouldn’t use the puppets!” Right, it’s true! And literally, like every day, we would go
back and forth on were the puppets a liability or an asset? And how do you feel about it now? I feel that where we are now, in which we,
in print advertising, use a Richard Avedon photograph that uses – Which is really adorable. You know, our three puppeteers and some of
the puppets. I think that that photo captures, better than
any other tool that we’ve had – It’s great, yeah. The exuberance and the specialness of this
show, that uses both unique puppets, but uses them with performers who are flesh and blood
and have bodies and legs and arms and are enormously attractive performers. Indeed. So we felt that when Mr. Avedon did that,
that was the first thing that really captured what we were looking for. So that’s what we try to lead off with now,
is an image that shows you the exuberance of the show, the fact that the show will make
you feel good when you go to see it, and that in fact it employs great-looking Broadway
performers and puppets. And I think that, in a nutshell, that’s
where we are today. And I was just also curious about, obviously,
there – well, I don’t know that. I mean, will there be tours of the show? It’s kind of a tricky show to tour, because
I know that the road houses are huge, most of them, anyway. So what are the plans for second companies? Or is it sit-down companies in smaller theatres? Or what are you thinking? What do you guys think? Yes! (LAUGHS) Yes to everything? We don’t know, is the answer. Yeah. You know, we’re listening to the show right
now, and watching the audiences that are seeing it in New York, to try to – and hope that
they will tell us what to do, in the same way they told us to go to Broadway. And you know, I think that there are theatres
that are twelve and sixteen hundred seats on the road, in places like Boston and Chicago,
that maybe could house the show. Or maybe we should play it in a four hundred
ninety-nine seat theatre, like some other shows have done, in places like San Francisco
and Boston and Chicago, and in Toronto. So the answer is, you know, we’re still
learning, in our experience in New York, what the show requires. But we certainly know this: you will see this
show in Chicago, and you will see it in San Francisco, and you’ll see it in Columbus. Mmm-hmm. Great. How are you guys feeling about – I know
the show’s a very solid hit and it’s doing well, and all that’s spectacular. How do you feel about its success? Do you feel you’re at the level that you
want to be? Do you feel that business could be better? Is the advance – I mean, this is – Yes, definitely. Which, yes? Oh, just “Yes” to everything you said. (LAUGHTER) No, the show is doing really well. It’s doing really well. Very solid, it’s going to be there? It could do better. There’s a lot of product out right now. There’s a lot of new shows, there’s a
lot of shows opening, which of course inevitably changes, as the season goes on. Sure. I think – you know, I ran into someone in
the ladies’ room who said, “You know, I didn’t want to see this show, because
I don’t like puppet shows, but now that I’ve heard you talk about it, I really want
to see it. I’m going to buy a ticket.” I think there’s a little bit of that going
on. I think we’re finding that there’s a little
bit of resistance from certain people about so-called “puppet show.” Well, it’s not just a puppet show. It’s a story about real people going through
real challenges in life. It has a romance that you actually care about. You root for the characters. It has a sweet, sweet, loving message at the
end, you know? Mmm-hmm! It has all the best qualities of a Broadway
musical. And all people somehow are hearing is “puppet
show,” and that’s one of the things we talk about daily. How can we communicate that to people? Is it radio? Is it television? So, we feel our challenge, for the next three
years, is to keep people coming to the show, is to break through that barrier that people
have towards puppets. Which I think we will slowly erode, because
we have lots of ideas of how to do that. And also, the word is so extraordinarily positive. The word of mouth – I don’t think I have
ever produced a show, and I think METAMORPHOSES had a great word of mouth, but I don’t think
I’ve ever produced a show that had a word of mouth like this show. People fall in love [with it], yeah. Well, you run into people on the street coming
out of it, and they’re so happy. Literally, they’re just sort of skipping
down the street. It’s the most infectious thing! Yeah. Now, if Kevin McCollum were here right now,
he would say, “AVENUE Q is the cure for a bad mood.” Mmm-hmm! That’s true. And that’s really the way he wants to advertise
the show. I give him credit for that. I mean, if there was a way we could just walk
around and tell people that. It’s, “You don’t need your Prozac, put
it away. (LAUGHTER) Just come see AVENUE Q. Save you
a lot of money!” It’s one of the few musicals that’s about
to be about normal people with normal problems, because it’s a puppet musical, because these
characters are distilled versions of people you know. And they’re all based on people we know! They’re all based on people we know, yeah. And it’s because they’re puppets and there’s
that element of fantasy that it’s able to sing and be a musical and not have to be in
the 1850’s or some crazy [place], you know, where you believe that they break into song. The puppets allow us to do it. And I think it’s really one of the few musicals
that’s about modern life. Absolutely. And it is really is about today. You’ve really captured what the spirit of
being alive today is, and that’s really unusual, particularly – and it’s so great
that you guys are young, and that you’re writing. I mean, so many of those shows are either
revivals or are by men in their sixties and seventies whom we all adore and have grown
up with, but it gives us hope to hear, you know, new songs by people who are as young
as you are. But also, they’re not cynical. No, it’s very sweet. You know, there are so many edgy new shows
out, you know, that are kind of cynical. And this show is not cynical. It’s very hopeful and sweet, and it gives
you – the message is – It’s optimistic. Yeah, it’s optimistic. That life is okay. Whatever you’re going through, it’s only
for now. Yeah. And if it’s bad, it’ll get better. And if it’s good, you’ll have a little
bad, and then it’ll get better again, you know? And it’s a very sweet, hopeful – people
are surprised about how moved they are by the end of the show. Mmm-hmm! Yes. That’s the big surprise, I think. I remember Marsha Mason coming out of the
show with tears running down. I said, “This is a musical, you’re not
supposed to be crying!” (LAUGHTER) She said, “I am so moved, I loved
it so much!” You know, I mean, it’s just that – we
need to communicate that as a message of what the show is about. And I think slowly, people will do it for
us, as Jeffrey said, and we’ll find other ways to communicate it. Like right now, I think I just communicated
it! (LAUGHTER) I think you did. Just before we leave, what are you guys up
to next? Do you have something on the horizon? Are you working on new ideas? We’re working on a couple things. I don’t know how much we can talk about,
really. (BOBBY LAUGHS) But a musical film that’s
funny. Wow! Uh-huh. Little stuff for Comedy Central and something
for VH-1. So more television, perhaps, and film, than
theatre at the moment? Well, we always wanted to go into television. Right, I remember that! (LAUGHTER) But we haven’t had a chance! We just talked them out of it! But I mean, there’s nothing like a Broadway
show, and we will definitely try and do another one. Do more of them? I hope you do. And we’re actually talking to two of our
heroes about writing a theatre piece with them, too. So, yeah. Oh, that’s thrilling. That’s great. What does it feel like to go to the theatre
and watch eight hundred people laugh and cheer and stomp and go out skipping down the street? Is it a high? Is it amazing? It is amazing! And it’s amazing to get just exuberant emails
from people – I bet. Saying, “I had the best time! I’ve never seen my wife laugh this hard
in twenty years!” (ROBYN LAUGHS) “I can’t take the CD out
of my CD player. I walk around seeing the tunes. People in my office are ready to kill me.” (LAUGHTER) It’s just amazing. I’m checking down a list – I went to a
school in New York, and all of my sixth grade teachers and all my teachers have left notes
at the theatre for me! Oh! (LAUGHTER AND MURMURS OF APPRECIATION) They’ll come out of the woodwork! It’s nice, it’s a good thing. And what about for you, Jeffrey? I know you’re always working on other stuff. Anything you can talk about? Yeah, well, Kevin and I are working with the
Nederlanders on the first production of WEST SIDE STORY to come to Broadway in twenty-five
years. Oh, yeah! (MURMURS OF EXCITEMENT FROM THE AUDIENCE) So we’re planning that for next season. Oh, that’s exciting. That’s great. Yeah. And Miss Goodman? Oh, I’ve got lots of things in development. I’m working on a musical about Betty Boop,
with Bill Haber and Andrew Farber. And I’ve got a little musical called ALTAR
BOYS that I’m developing, which is about a Christian boy band. (LAUGHTER) You got a part for me in that? (LAUGHS) Yeah, definitely. There is one Jew in the band, actually. (LAUGHTER) How tall? Not very tall. Not very tall! And some revivals that I’m working on. And also, I’m a consultant at the Roundabout. I’m an artistic consultant, so I work with
Todd Haimes just on looking for new plays. Mmm-hmm. How tricky is that these days? Very. It’s hard. Why? I don’t know why! You know, I’ve been doing new plays my whole
career. And right now, it’s very difficult to find
– I think maybe a lot of younger people are going off into film and television. Yeah! (GLARES AT JEFF AND BOBBY; LAUGHTER) You’re
forgiven! And a lot of talented people are writing for
those mediums now. And to make a commitment to writing plays,
you have to be willing to be very poor. It’s tough. Yeah, I agree. I mean, do you think it has something to do
with that there doesn’t seem to be a unifying crisis? We had all the AIDS plays for a while. You know, it seems as though there isn’t
maybe one thing that’s moving people to a great degree. Well, you know, one of the terrible things
about 9/11 is that it has inspired a lot of young people to write plays about it. But yeah, I don’t even think that’s it
so much. I think it’s that, you know, one of the
things that Jeffrey and I and Kevin are committed to is bringing young audiences to the theatre,
because the theatre will die if we don’t encourage them to come. Absolutely. And I think a lot of young people don’t
feel that’s a place that they have a voice, or that’s the best place to say what they
need to say, or they want a bigger audience. So the ones that hang in there, there are
a lot of wonderful writers, like Jeff Whitty, but less and less, I feel, actually. That’s just my opinion, from reading a lot
of plays. I read plays, every week I’m reading new
plays. It’s tough. It also seems that there doesn’t seem to
be a follow-through, too. I mean, with people who have a success, it
doesn’t seem as though there’s the next play the next year and the next play the next
year. It seems like it dissipates or something. Well, I think some of that is the fault of
the critics. Our critics are not like the critics in England,
who are quite supportive of a body of work and have a longer view on writers. Our critics are “Good, bad, it worked, it
didn’t.” They don’t tend to look at it as a whole
career, as a process for a writer. It’s kind of a make-it-or-break-it world
here. So it’s very different. Yes. Well, I hope it improves soon. I know that Robyn was instrumental in bringing
PROOF to Manhattan Theatre Club and to Broadway, and that certainly was an amazing play. I hope there’ll be more of those. He’s a great writer [David Auburn]. He’s a great writer. He’s a great writer. And what about you? New puppets, new ideas? Or any other things you want to be working
on? Oh, I’m a pretty typical free-lancer. I’m just working on lots of little different
things, yeah. How long do you think you’ll stay with the
show? Do you know? Well, my contract is up in … (LAUGHTER)
No, I’m fully expecting to stay with the show as long as they want me. That’s great. Forever. And will you supervise the puppets – well,
the producer said “forever” now! (LAUGHTER) So will you supervise the puppets
on other companies of it as well. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I expect to, yeah. Well, that’s terrific. Oh, by the way, I mean there must be some
sort of idea of putting this on television or – Yeah, we’re talking about that, too, at
some point. Yeah, that would be swell. It would be really great to do. I think we’re in good shape – In taking this show on the road, don’t you
have to have auditions for replacements? Yes. Yes, absolutely. Where do you have those? And where do they come from? It’s a good question. And (LAUGHS) in the column of “I don’t
know”s, we’re going to add that! (LAUGHTER) But you know what? When we did RENT, we didn’t know where these
young rock singers were going to come from. When they did STOMP, they didn’t know where
those stompers would come from (LAUGHTER) and God knows, they didn’t know where all
those blue men were going to come from! (LAUGHTER) So if they could find blue men
to populate the world, I know we can find more puppeteers. Well, and on that note, I would like to thank
this wonderful panel for being here this morning. This has been the American Theatre Wing’s
“Working in the Theatre” seminar, coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York. Thank you all very much for being here. (APPLAUSE; REPRISE OF “IF YOU WERE GAY”)

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