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BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

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“Cabaret and concert should be informative. What did the artists learn about themself on that stage, being intimate with the audience?”

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

Years ago Michael Kushner heard his idol say, "When god closes a door, somewhere, he opens a window." Well, nobody is closing any doors on Michael Kushner - only opening them. And in return the new Director of Programming at The Green Room 42 is opening doors for others... many, many others.

"Every day is a new lesson for me."

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario Life for Michael Kushner has been very satisfying these last few years. An accomplished photographer working with some of the biggest names in the New York entertainment community, Kushner has managed to balance his other career goals as a writer, a producer, a performer, and a podcaster. Michael Kushner is, indeed, one of the industry's most visible Multi-Hyphenates, hence the name of his podcast, Dear Multi-Hyphenate. With all of this satisfying success at his fingertips, Mr. Kushner wasn't really thinking of branching out in yet one more direction in his work-life. Then, he got a phone call from Daniel Dunlow, the man who created and built the wildly popular Midtown Manhattan nightclub The Green Room 42. Assuming incorrectly that Mr. Dunlow was about to offer him a position as the resident photographer of the cabaret and concert space, Kushner arrived at their meeting, only to be surprised with an offer he never expected and, frankly, didn't want.

"Daniel Dunlow Willie Wonka'd my ass."

Dunlow sought no photographer. Looking to take a step back from his duties as the leader of the Forty-Second Street venue, Mr. Dunlow was looking to appoint his successor, and, in the role, he intended to cast Michael Kushner. Having no thoughts of, or interest in, becoming a Director of Programming for a major cabaret theater, Kushner's immediate reaction was to decline the invitation. Citing his honor and amazement at being offered the position, he demurred, with absolutely no hesitation, a response Dunlow did not accept, encouraging the multi-hyphenate to take some time out to consider the offer. "Ok but the answer is probably going to be No."

The answer was not no.

Kushner's life partner (boyfriend, in alternate parlance), Remy Germinario, had recently been urging Michael to lean into the word "No" but when Michael returned home to Remy and their dog Sandwich, Remy stopped Kushner in his tracks with a simple, "No, you need to say yes to this," and the die was cast. Michael Kushner just bought himself a brand-new hyphen.

"In everything I do as a multi-hyphenate, it is always rooted in the service of others."

In an October 8th interview with Broadway World Cabaret, Mr. Kushner detailed his vision for the nightclub, discussing how the opportunity being presented to him could create opportunity for others.

"If I take on this role, I will be able to put forth more queer stories, more artists of color, more trans artists, and BIPOC artists - maybe artists who don't normally get to perform in the cabaret and concert circuit. I am the one that can now be that liaison, that connecting point, and create that accessibility."

In his new position at TGR42 and his new capacity as cabaret and concert community leader, Kushner's mission statement was already apparent by the time of his interview for Broadway World. The nightclub's website had undergone a discernible change in its calendar, showing a higher volume of innovative artists with a more youthful and adventurous audience base, more artists of color, more queer performers, and more diversity in the style of the acts to be presented. It turned out that Kushner had been doing a lot of research into the Brooklyn scene to find artists that he could mentor into their shows, simply by providing them with a space, for he has no desire to dictate, only to facilitate. For that, he is determined to always maintain an open mind, ready for discussion and exploration.

"It'll always be Yes And."

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

Declaring his desire for artists to have a home in the cabaret and concert circuit where they can fail, Michael wants to take the pressure off of the performers to pack the house with an audience or put on a production that is flawless. For Michael, it is about taking risks... risks for himself, risks for the club, risks for the artists on the stage. "You can't sell failure but you can sell risk-taking," says Kushner who believes, deeply, that the pressure to be perfect doesn't have to be a part of the cabaret and concert experience.

"The best thing about cabaret and concert, for me personally... some of my favorite nights are when an artist onstage screws up because that's when we really see the uncalculated version of who they are. I will always forgive a flubbed lyric - that's the space to do it in because the audience becomes a part of the action. Five years from now, they will say, 'I was at that show where....' That's what cabaret and concert is about. It's about the relationship. The audience gets to see the artist in a way that they never get to see them again. That's what's important."

Having spent time producing on the stage and behind the camera, Mr. Kushner felt prepared to take over the Captain's Chair at TGR42, even though it would mean some on-the-job learning, and the placing of his faith in others, and vice versa. It gives the fledgling nightclub impresario a sense of satisfaction that the kind folks at The Green Room 42, the Yotel, the Green Fig restaurant, and the staff of the establishment are trusting him to cultivate some great art and to reflect what the artists in the industry are calling for, in regards to forward motion.

"That's the best compliment I could ever get: someone trusted me."

Regarding the subject of getting the word out that there is a new day at The Green Room 42, Michael seems to be neither worried nor intent on doing any heavy lifting, admitting that any time he has actively tried to rebrand something, the attempts have failed. Allowing the change to come organically has always proven to be more effective. Already by October 8th, there was a new type of clientele filling the seats of the club, based on both the talent on the roster and Kushner's reputation, which lends an air of optimism to the proceedings, an optimism that Michael hopes will inform the visibility and success of the entire industry, one that Michael calls, "an extension of the Broadway community that so many feel like they are not a part of." Proclaiming his understanding of the experience of working very hard for something for a long time and not feeling included, Michael says, "Watching the Tonys is a really weird thing because, while it's celebrating Broadway, it's only a slice of Broadway, and a very cultivated slice of Broadway at that - because it's a big advertisement. It's mainly a big party for the producers."

"The theater is what I've always wanted to do, it is my profession. What it looks like is entirely up to me."

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

Determined to make his new home an asylum for everyone, Michael has no closed doors, figuratively or literally. Although maintaining an office space at the Yotel (an office that happens to be nowhere near the performance space), Michael prefers to execute his administrative duties from a table either in the lobby of the venue or the actual venue itself, making him accessible to anyone with either business talk or personal chat on their mind. He enjoys the opportunity of regular society with "magician" tech director Sheridan Glover and "incredible" administrator Bella Babich, not to mention the artists themselves. It is a workspace informed by a love of people, a large part of Kushner's personality makeup

"I like to be peopled. Michael Kushner likes to be peopled. I like to be around people, I get my energy and inspiration from other people. I can't really YES AND if I'm in the back: I have to be around people. If I am going to be in charge of something (which I am) I have to make sure that everyone comes with me."

The desire for people leads Kushner, in all things. He has no interest in competing with other clubs for talent or audience, a credo he established immediately, upon assuming this new role, by reaching out to clubs with which he had previously worked, in order to thank them for those past opportunities and to open an ongoing line of communication between venues. To that end, Michael has no desire to limit the artists' accessibility to performance spaces, encouraging the acts that play TGR42 to also play other rooms, to explore their aesthetic with that of the all spaces offering opportunities

"I have no interest in competing. I love the other cabaret and concert spaces in the city. Each one serves a very specific purpose. I think artists are going to start to see that, now that I'm at The Green Room 42. I loved producing at other venues because not only did they offer the audience a different experience, they offered the creatives different experiences. But there's room for everyone. We need more community."

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

As far as the booking process for potential acts for TGR42 goes, Michael does a fair amount of research, both in person and by way of his network. Casting his net wide, the budding David Merrick ("He was a monster, I don't want to be a monster.") invites his inner circle to recommend acts to him that they consider particularly unique, voices that they find resonant, then (and only then) will he use the YouTube tool to investigate, preferring to not fall down a YouTube Watch Hole unless there is something specific to explore because "I have a huge responsibility" and it's a job that he takes seriously, since "I just want to invite the audience to come here and feel like they are a piece of what's happening on stage. That their presence is informing the artist, is informing the venue to take the next steps. Coming to TGR42 and investing your time here I think what you're actually doing is participating in an art form that is so communal. That feels like what theater is really meant to be like. We've lost what theater is meant to be like over the years."

"If it's not the right time, it's not the right time, but what if it is?"

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario Even with such ardor for the art of theater, Michael won't be auditioning for anything anytime soon. Happy to leave his acting career on the back burner because "the only thing that I want to do is play Mama Rose or Roger Debris or Thenardier," Kushner is laser-focused on telling stories that originate from a place within his control, whether that control is in the form of the podcast, the photo studio, producing, writing, or talent booking, which is why being a multi-hyphenate is so important to Michael, a big proponent of visualization who will not go to sleep at night without a good thought in his mind.

"My peoples' stories, the people that I represent, are not being told. So I need to take initiative and I need to bring forth my story. So I'm going to write it, I'm going to produce it, I'll get it on camera."

The determined and dedicated young arts industry professional has declared his love for "what the cabaret and concert spaces do in this city," and, already, his enthusiasm for his new position in the industry is a welcome infusion of electricity (and diversity) for a community that sometimes reads like the Island of Misfit Toys. Many is the actor, the singer, the magician, the musician, the dancer, the romancer, the storyteller who isn't quite sure where, in the world, their place might be. Those artists often turn to the world of cabaret and concert to share that voice that is most uniquely theirs. Thanks to a new Green Room 42 where Michael Kushner might, well, be the image of GB Shaw controlling the destiny of Eliza Dolittle, those artists, once overlooked, will have a place to call home.

That is all any artist wants: a place where they are home.

Michael Kushner is waiting at the door.

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

Visit the Green Room 42 website HERE.

Michael Kushner has a website HERE that covers all his professions, including the podcast DEAR MULTI-HYPHENATE.

THIS is the Michael Kushner photography website.

Michael Kushner's book How to be a Multi-Hyphenate in the Theatre Business: Conversations, Advice, and Tips from "Dear Multi-Hyphenate" will be published by Routledge Publishing of the Taylor & Francis Group and available for Pre-order in the Spring of 2022.

Photos by Stephen Mosher

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario

BWW Feature: Michael Kushner - The Accidental Impresario


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