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Student Blog: An Interview with Wait in the Wings

Student Blog: An Interview with Wait in the Wings

Three years ago, a YouTube channel called Wait in the Wings published its first video, titled "The World's Most Dangerous Musical -- Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark." From that moment on, Brendon Henderson gained a reputation in the theatre world - The Explorer of Underrated Shows. Since then, Wait in the Wings has been used as a place for Brendon to publish documentaries on different underrated Broadway shows that haven't been given their full due by the theatre community. He's discussed shows like Carrie, Groundhog Day, Diana, Rebecca, and even fictional shows like Rogers the Musical from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Brendon about his YouTube channel and how his documentaries are created. Read on to learn more about Wait in the Wings and how Brendon has created a YouTube channel dedicated to underrated Broadway shows!

Kat: So how did you decide to get involved in making theatre documentaries?

Brendon: I don't know, it's a weird thing to fall into, right?

Kat: Right!

Brendon: So basically, I've been making YouTube videos since Mom would let me go on to YouTube, so like eighth grade. I started with just watching, but then once I figured out that you could actually post stuff, I was like, "Oh, this is this is a game changer." And the videos were horrible! So it's been like 10 years of absolutely horrible videos. In my theater program at Utah State, I was able to do student productions, like stage shows, and those were doing great. They were getting great critical responses and we were selling out every night. After I graduated, I was laying on my bed thinking, "Why is it that we can get the sellout shows in person, but then my YouTube channel is just a joke?" And I realized, "Oh, maybe you should stop making bad videos!" [Laughter] I had always been an avid watcher of Defunctland and HiTop Films, all of those classic channels. I wanted something like what they were doing. Defunctland talks about theme parks, HiTop talks about bomb movies like the Spider-Man 3s of the world and paints them in a different light. I always wanted something like that for theatre, but there wasn't really anything there. So I was doing a theatre podcast [Slate Your Name] where I was interviewing friends and other people who were in the local theatre community. As I was going off to do some interviews in New York, I needed to do something as filler, because I didn't have time to book a guest, so I thought, well, what if I just do this short podcast examining what went wrong with my favorite musical, American Psycho, and I posted that. The podcasts had been getting like five listens, but after the American Psycho podcast went up, that one got like, 200, which was just crazy. So I thought, "Okay, maybe there's something here." It's funny because that didn't save me any time at all, I think it took me more time to make that podcast than it did to interview somebody! But then, off the back of that, I made another podcast episode on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. I was working at Texas Roadhouse at the time and I shared it around to all my friends. They were like, "It's great, but we'd really like to have some visual aids there, just to help us see the thing." And I thought, "Well if there's a time to get back into YouTube, this could be the way in." I'd come home from my shifts at 2:00 AM and then stay up until 4:00 AM researching and writing. Then I eventually posted the Spider-Man video and went from there. A lot of it, like the reason to focus on flops, that spawned from my contemporary theatre class in college. In the regular acting class, we'd been talking about the classics like Death of a Salesman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof over and over. While it was great to get that understanding of the fundamentals, the morbid side of me is like, "I want to examine like the Spider-Mans or the American Psychos! And so really, it's just all of that combined into one thing. And that's really how the channel started.

Kat: So the focus on flops started with your contemporary theater class. Have you ever sent your videos to your teacher?

Brendon: I've been thinking about it, but I can't find his email!

Kat: Oh no!

Brendon: But I'm sure that some people do! He's not with the university anymore. It really all spawns back to that contemporary theater class. What made that one really cool was that you would come in and you'd give a little essay on the history of a show. And it's funny because I had to give an essay on Fun Home. So with the latest Fun Home documentary, it was really like, "This is where it all started."

Kat: It's all full circle!

Brendon: Yeah, really! I should send them that one and say, "Will this get an A??" [Laughter] The professor's name is Dennis Hassan. So if anyone has Dennis Hassan's email . . .

Kat: What's the process for making one of your videos?

Brendon: It's changed! It's evolved a lot where it used to just be, "Oh, that show sounds interesting, let me just do that." And then it would be pretty cut and paste of doing some research, writing the script, blah, blah, blah . . . There wasn't really any rhyme or reason to it. But this past year, it's gotten a lot more focused and streamlined to where I can't start working on a video unless I can come up with a compelling title or a compelling reason to watch it. Like what just happened with the Funny Girl video. That just started with an idea, because I wanted to cover it and talk about it, but if you don't have an idea that sparks curiosity, is it worth exploring? Are other people going to be interested in that?

Kat: Yeah!

Brendon: A large majority of the time now is spent on formulating those ideas. Once I have that idea and if the thumbnail looks cool, like something I would click on and watch, then that means that it's most likely a solid idea that you should keep exploring. So after that's done, then it goes into like two weeks of research. So that's getting interviews with people, reading books, finding anything and everything that I can about the show, and reading every footnote that exists to go down this rabbit hole. And then from there, it's writing the script. Stephen King describes writers in two ways: You've got Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters are people who mark down every single point - They have everything just structured. And then there are Pantsers who basically just fly by the seat of their pants. I definitely fall into the Pantsers category where it's like, "I've got too much research, most of which isn't gonna make it in here. Let's try to make a cohesive story through this." And that's really it. Malcolm Gladwell is a really great example of this. When you're talking about topics like this, don't be afraid to reach out into different worlds. Theatre is so niche. I know that I can't just focus solely on theatre, because not everybody's into it. But if it's like Beetlejuice, where I can also work in astronomy, or Holy Musical B@man!, where we talk about the Golden Age of Comic Books. That's really where I think it thrives. And then it's lots of video editing and audio recording.

Kat: Have you ever had an interview or a bit of research that you've done that changed what you were originally going to have as your main purpose for the video?

Brendon: Oh, yeah! I think Fun Home was one of the greatest examples of it just because there's nothing written about that show. The interviews that I did with Chris Himba of Sundance [The Sundance Institute] and David Zinn, that's like eye-opening stuff that completely changed how I was going to approach the piece. Specifically, with David Zinn, he brought up the wallpaper and how that was the main piece of tying these two worlds together. And from that, the wallpaper became the focal point. I went to Beech Creek to see the wallpaper myself!

Kat: Cool!

Brendon: We found it on Vrbo and I was like, "I need to see this stuff!" Actually seeing the wallpaper really gives you a deeper understanding of Bruce and the real people behind it. But then also, you have interviews and research with shows like SpongeBob. I was sure SpongeBob was going to be a "What Went Wrong" and a huge flop. But the more that I researched and actually watched the show I was like "Whoa, this is actually really good!" And so I think that was the greatest 180 ever because on the notes I had written "What Went Wrong" and I had to change it to "What Went Right!"

Kat: Do you see your videos as their own type of performance art?

Brendon: I have a really good friend who said that "Art is just artists ripping off other artists." Nothing's truly original. So I definitely pull inspiration from people. Obviously, I pull a lot of inspiration from Defunctland, I pull a lot of stuff from Johnny Harris, and other creators who I see doing this type of documentary filmmaking that I want to infuse into mine. But the key is that you look at what they're doing but then say, "How do I add my own style onto it and give it its own voice?" I feel like that's something that's really been coming around this year - Figuring out how to infuse my own voice into things. But as far as performance art, I don't know! I see the videos as being important tools for archiving the history of the shows. I think that's one of the biggest changes that's happened with the channel. Instead of just looking at it as, "Oh, we're going to talk about what went wrong with Spider-Man," it's turned into, "A lot of people worked on this show for a really long amount of time, we should get the story out there so that their work isn't forgotten or swept under the rug."

Kat: Which video would you say was the most challenging to make?

Brendon: Superbia . . . Because there's nothing on it! The fact that I got that one done in a month is nuts! But that was like two days of just flipping through Jonathan Larson's papers. You have such a short amount of time - You can't sit there and read through everything. It was literally just with my phone, and I had to scan each page. So it was eight hours of flipping through everything! And then the tough thing is "Great, I have these handwritten notes, but I can't legally show this to anybody."

Kat: [Laughter]

Brendon: And there's no footage that exists of this thing! So then that became the thing - "How do I share this?" Larson's scribbles were some of the most interesting things I could see. And so that design choice is what made its way into telling the story without using the material that I can't use. But that was definitely the toughest one.

Kat: In terms of research, do you have a specific style that you use, or do you just go for it?

Brendon: Yeah, just grab anything and everything that could be relevant! I try to make sure that I have way more information than I'm ever going to use. So that's why it's really cool for the people on the Patreon because I post "research dumps." Fun Home was like 60 pages of research notes! Not everything got in there, but they can just go through and see where it was going. Interviews are the best! Interviews will always be the best way to get information. But other than that, it's whatever I can find, because I don't know if it's going to be relevant later on. But either way, it adds a different dimension to it.

Kat: Do you have a favorite interview you've done?

Brendon: Jeff Blim and all the StarKid interviews. Those were less interviews and more stand-up comedy acts! Those were some of my favorite interviews that I conducted, but I've loved them all. They've all been so eye-opening. And it's great because when you're doing this interviewing stuff, you just get to sit back and listen. I usually just have to ask one question, and then they'll just go. You get to hear these crazy cool stories that they've been wanting to share with people, but they just haven't really been asked. It's really humbling for me. And the theatre fan in me is where I have to stay composed as they're saying all these things. I'm like, "Do you not understand how cool that is?" Just yesterday, I was interviewing a guy who was set to play Elvis in Viva Elvis in Las Vegas and he couldn't figure out how to like turn his camera on. So it was just his voice and I was like, "This sounds like I'm talking to Elvis!" It's just cool things like that.

Kat: How do you see theatre documentaries evolving over the next few years?

Brendon: I'm hoping more independent people start making the documentaries. I think the tough thing is when you have people who have a specific bias - That's going to be reflected in the piece. So that's the really cool thing with me and with the channel. It's me at a computer so I don't have to be beholden to different people. I can tell the story as it happened. And I think that's the important thing. Don't try to paint people as good, don't try to paint people as bad, just lay out the facts and let other people figure it out for themselves. A really good case in point comes is how we approached the Rebecca story. The whole coverage is just like, "Let's tear everybody down. Let's shine a light on how dumb these people look." But they never really talked about how the musical was made or everything that went on behind the scenes, like how the producers really got screwed. And so I think that that's the direction that Broadway documentaries should be taking down the road. Unbiased - Let's just tell the story. It's tough because some parts aren't pretty, but they're still important to the story.

Kat: I feel like that's going to be important, especially with shows like Paradise Square. That's going to be an interesting one to delve into!

Brendon: Even with Funny Girl, everyone has picked a side. You're either "Team Beanie" or you're "Team Lea Michele." There are so many rumors going around that are getting documented as fact. You guys need to stop! I know we're in the heat of it now, but you still need to take a step back and be skeptical about some things.

Kat: Check your evidence.

Brendon: Yeah! I kept hearing rumors about Beanie Feldstein's dad being a producer on Funny Girl. With the way it was being reported, I was like, "Oh, that must be a fact." But then the more I dug through it, as of now, I can't find anything. That's not to say that it's not true, it's just we don't know it right now. And we should really be responsible with what we're reporting.

Kat: I think that's gonna be a good one to look back on in like 20 or 30 years. I think this one might be a "What Went Wrong With . . ."

Brendon: Yeah, probably. But who knows?

Kat: Maybe something will happen!

A special thank you to Brendon Henderson for the fantastic interview! You can find Brendon on his YouTube channel, Wait in the Wings, as well as on Twitter and Instagram. Currently, Brendon is taking donations for his Wait in the Wings Kickstarter, which runs until August 17th. The Kickstarter includes rewards for donators like shoutouts, Playbills, and even a piece of the banner used in the film version of The Producers! Please also consider supporting Wait in the Wings on Patreon, with donations starting as low as $3.00 per month!

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