She Believed She Could: Why Broadway Just Cain't Say No to Eva Price
This season on Broadway, everything has definitely been going Eva Price's way.
The producer is behind two of this past season's buzziest hits: the edgy, stripped-down revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, and the whip-smart play What the Constitution Means to Me. For Price, though, her journey to Broadway has taken her on quite the winding road, from teenage theatre camp in New Hampshire to the 2000 presidential campaign to newsrooms. Since landing on Broadway, though, Price has prioritized work that's both powerfully emotional and thought-provoking.
"There has to be some sort of emotional urgency at the genesis of the story. It has to leave not only the characters in the story changed, but it needs to leave the audience with that same feeling... I would say the majority of what I've done, and what I've done the best, are the ones that do that."
Price's love for theatre has been ongoing throughout her life, first encountering live theatre at a New Hampshire summer stock company as a child. Over the years, Price moved from the audience to the stage, but eventually realized that, despite her love of theatre, being on stage wasn't necessarily the right path for her.
Instead, she pursued a career in journalism, getting a degree in political communication at George Washington University, while keeping theatre as her side hobby. That led her to work on the Al Gore campaign in 2000 - "politics is very theatrical!", Price interjects - and then to ABC News for over five years. Working for ABC in New York proved to be exactly where Price needed to be."I was in New York, and I was around a lot of theatre and theatre people, and I began learning something I never knew as a kid: that there were careers offstage, that you could do as a woman and a young person... not just the usual image of a producer," she describes.
"So I woke up one day, and I said, life is short, and I don't want to regret trying something that I feel is my dream." She quit her high-powered journalism job and, well, the rest is history.
When we turn to discussion of new work on Broadway, the conversation turns, naturally, to that concept of the "pipeline" for new works - that nebulous network of festivals, regional theatres, and other avenues where new work develops before hitting the country's biggest stages. Oftentimes, the question of "why isn't there more diversity?" is answered with some version of "we need to have more diversity in the pipeline," but Price has a somewhat different view.
"The pipeline is very long, and there comes a moment where the pipeline ends up feeding forward a lot of more privileged [voices], but the pipeline doesn't start with that! The pipeline starts with a much more diverse pool," she points out. "Opportunity ends up weeding out [the diversity]. So whatever we can do to provide the most opportunity for the most diverse group of people, we will have a more opportune, diverse group of audiences."
"Everywhere you look [this is happening]. It's become - thank goodness - a standard. The work's not done, things haven't completely changed... but it is beginning."
Questions of perception are at the heart of the revival of Oklahoma!, which has managed to transform the historically crucial but oft-dismissed musical into the season's buzziest conversation starter, as shocking today as it must have been in 1943. The show has long been perceived as a dated or fluffy relic, which erases its crucial role in the history of musical theatre as the textbook example of the "book musical" that focuses on integrating story and character with the musical score. For Price, upending these preconceived perceptions was part of what drew her in to this particular production, which originated years ago at Bard College.
"Someone wrote [to our email list] 'Spoiler alert: I just saw Oklahoma!, and I can't believe it was Oklahoma!,"she recalls.
"When you have a perception of something, and then you experience the something and it's everything but what the perception was, then you finally have something interesting. You have a story to tell. As a producer, we have stories to tell in the shows we produce, but we also have stories to tell in how we make the shows happen," Price explains about the contemporary, unexpected take on the classic. "That's what made it all necessary and vital to be done. The 75th anniversary of Oklahoma! was approaching [in 2018] and I wanted to breathe another 75 years into that title."
Of course, Oklahoma! isn't Price's only project at the moment. She's also behind What the Constitution Means to Me, which looks at the core document of our nation from a contemporary, feminist, personal perspective. And this coming season, she'll be producing the Alanis Morrisette musical Jagged Little Pill, the tale of a suburban family struggling with an array of issues from mental illness to race to assault. It's no surprise that Price's productions all deal head-on with the frustrations in our society today.
"It is not a coincidence, and [yet] it is completely a coincidence, that those are the three shows I'm most passionate about and that are the most exciting to the public and to me... I think that's completely a coincidence, as well as completely by design, because I'm choosing to do the things that I'm inspired by. And the things I seem to be inspired by are the things that are actually saying something about the world we live in today."
Price speaks about her shows with a genuine, obvious passion, and that's at the heart of the advice she offers to those who are interested in a similar path in the theatre.
"I wish I knew how incredibly hard it was, but at the same time, I kind of wish I didn't, because I might not have taken the shot," she admits, adding with a laugh, "There's something to be gained from naivete!"
But when it comes down to it, it really is all about finding the passion and the projects that spark that special something deep within, Price says.
"I have to do the things that speak to me and punch me in the gut, and nothing short of that."