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BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

This Superman of Cabaret and Concerts just can't stop creating.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

Scott Coulter's is a name that has become synonymous with quality entertainment in the club and concert industry. The award-winning nightclub singer was already well regarded in the business as a performer when he decided to begin mounting his own productions. Making the wise choice to surround himself with artists of the highest quality and highest character, Coulter created a family with whom he could play, and who he could pay. It is no secret that work for actors can be mercurial, but Scott made it is business (literally) to make sure that the people in his logical family always have a source of income by providing them with job opportunities, and while all the actors benefit from this goal, the strangers sitting in the seats do, too, because what you get when you buy a ticket to a show by Scott Coulter's Spot-On Entertainment is perfectly crafted musical theater presented by the best in the business. The marriage of actors to material and producer to performers is, in fact, so foolproof that at the end of a Spot-On concert, you might feel like you're one of the family, too; you certainly will if you are a regular attendee.

Curious to hear about the genesis of the company and how Spot-On is surviving the show business shut down, I reached out to Mr. Coulter with a few questions and, after hearing what he has been up to, I am feeling quite like an underachiever...

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

Scott Coulter, welcome to Broadway World, and Happy Holidays!

Thank you, Stephen! Happy Holidays to you!

Boy, have you been busy. How do you do it? Do you ever rest?

Ha! I do. I rest a lot. I'm a big fan of naps. However, napping leads to my staying up 'til two or three in the morning but I find I get more done after midnight so it all works out. I have been luckily and very happily busy during quarantine and the time at home has been good for me in that respect. I've been able to get a lot of things done during this performance/travel pause. I have an incredible team working with me and they keep me on top of things. I couldn't do it without them.

You are the man behind Spot-On Entertainment, providing musical concerts with a theme on the nightclub stages of Manhattan and the concert stages of the world. I've seen three of your shows at 54 Below, the last one being THE BEST OF TIMES, the night before I went into quarantine - for obvious reasons I never got to review that show, but it was wonderful. I have, in fact, been beyond impressed by the quality of your shows - as a producer you really go to great lengths to make them excel. Where does that quest for perfection in your work originate?

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTWell, thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate that. I'd like to think that what we're doing is being well-received and impactful so I'm happy to know that you enjoy it. The folks I work with will be shocked to hear you refer to me as a perfectionist. I'm a perfectionist in many areas but I'm not a big fan of over rehearsing. I prefer to assign the right material to the right singer, have them do the work, come in prepared, work through it, fine-tune it, and get it done. If the shows excel it's because the material suits the singer and the singer suits the material. In my opinion that is what makes or breaks a show. I will say that I'm a perfectionist in many other areas. I spend a great deal of time thinking up concert ideas and how to make them work and what to call them -- titles are so important! -- and I'm notoriously high-maintenance with graphic design but as far as making the performances excel it comes down to knowing the material, knowing the performers, and assigning the material correctly.

How did you make the decision and transition from nightclub performer to producer, and did you have a mentor who taught you the producing ropes, or did you learn on the job?

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTI never actually made a conscious decision to make a transition. Actually, I don't think I made a transition. I still think of myself as a performer who wears a lot of hats. Over the years I've been fortunate to work with some incredible people who were willing to take a chance on me and give me opportunities that helped forge my path. Scott and Barbara Siegel were my first (and biggest) champions in the city. After one of my very early cabaret shows, they waited in the receiving line to speak to me and said, "One of these days everyone we know is going to know your name" and then they spent two decades making sure that was true. They gave me my first directing jobs and trusted me to create/direct concerts starring Broadway legends and they supported me implicitly. I thank them every chance I get. Stephen Schwartz was the person who gave me permission to be myself and to embrace what made me different -- both as a vocalist and a storyteller. He also encouraged me to follow my own path rather than try to fit into any mold and that was very empowering. Then after traveling with "Stephen Schwartz & Friends" for many years (with Stephen, Debbie Gravitte, and Liz Callaway) the show's booking agent, a lovely man named Greg Phillips, gave up his booking business and switched careers. I needed that show to keep happening (obviously) so I asked Stephen if he minded if I tried to book it.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

That's really how I got into the whole booking/producing game. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I'd gotten used to singing at performing arts centers around the country and I wanted to keep doing that so I started booking them myself. And since I would need a roster of shows to book I started creating them. Steve Cook of TCG and Michael Kerker of ASCAP have also been instrumental in giving me chances to grow and try new things. I owe a debt of gratitude to a lot of people.

Put a picture in my head of the Spot-On trajectory - how many shows did you start with? How did you begin to draw such exceptional and celebrated talents to your company?

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTI started Spot-On almost fifteen years ago with a roster of six shows including "Stephen Schwartz & Friends," "The Marcy & Zina Show," and Scott Siegel's "Broadway by the Year." I very quickly learned that I had no idea how to go about booking concerts across the country. However, I knew that my friend Lee Lessack did. At that time Lee had a concert division of his record label called LML Artists. His concert roster was made up of solo artists and my concert roster was made up of group/themed shows. We decided to merge our two companies and use my company's name, Spot-On, and that changed everything. We were business partners for seven years or so -- along with Rob O'Neill (of Comedy Central). Lee is a brilliant businessman and I learned a great deal from him over those seven years. When our company split up I retained the Spot-On name and started building the roster I have today. And I started creating shows that would feature my ridiculously talented friends. Performance traveling is tough and if I was going to do it I wanted to do it with people that I loved and enjoyed spending time with. That ended up being a great move because one thing that sets our shows apart in the concert world is the rapport that every cast has. The audience can see it and feel it and it helps elevate the evening.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

Spot-On has been doing live streams during the global health crisis - I hear there is a tie-in with Adelphi University. What has your virtual concert experience been like, and do you have anything that Spot-On fans can tune into for the holidays?

We've done several live streams over the last few months with orchestras (including the Buffalo Philharmonic and Tulsa's Signature Symphony at TCC) and several piano-only concerts. Each was a wonderful experience but live-streaming is not without its obstacles. Every event to date has had some slight glitch and I only mention that because I think it's important for audiences to understand. This is not broadcast television. It is a stream across the internet that is being bounced from platform to platform in order to reach your viewing device. Any number of things can go wrong and almost all of them are out of the hands of the venue or artist presenting the concert. It's a bit of a game of chance every time out and audiences need to approach any live stream with an open mind.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

The Live from Adelphi concert series is a fun project that I'm producing with Rich Aronstein of RJ Productions and Blyth Daylong at Adelphi University. We launched in November with a four-show series available to anyone in the country but with several participating theatres promoting directly to their subscribers. The final show of this series takes place this Sunday, December 20th at 5 pm EST. It's a holiday celebration called "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and stars Kelli Rabke, Jessica Hendy, Natalie Douglas, Lorinda Lisitza, and Alex Getlin with John Fischer at the piano. Tickets are $20 and are available at http://bit.ly/SpotOnHoliday

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

Yours has been one of the few lucky troupes given an opportunity to perform live recently. How did you manage to make that happen for you, and do your future engagements look likely to go ahead?

When the pandemic hit and the country shut down we, like every artist in the world, found all our engagements canceled. We had bookings every week from March 15th through June of 2021 -- some weeks more than one -- and everything went away. It's been rough. Luckily, we've been able to pick up some new dates as venues have found ways to present concerts again -- both live-streamed and in person. We did the Mayo Performing Arts Center weekend for a very limited and masked audience. The show was also live-streamed. We had a ball.

The most emotional concert we've done over the last few months was actually a live performance with the Jacksonville Symphony. It was our first performance back. There was a full orchestra onstage -- all fully masked except for the flutes -- and with plexiglass panels everywhere. The socially-distanced audience was masked and the three singers (Blaine Krauss, Chris Blem, and myself) were masked. Everyone in the building was masked. It was a surreal experience. I was worried that the magic of the concert would be dampened but it wasn't at all. It was actually a glorious two nights. The connection was still there -- both in the music and the storytelling. Everyone in the hall was moved at some point. I will remember that night forever.

We're booked several places in January. We've got dates with the Detroit Symphony, the Cincinnati Pops, the North Charleston Pops, and a piano/vocal performance of "Music of the Knights" in West Palm Beach Florida. At the moment all are going ahead.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

What are the precautions that you and the symphony spaces have to take in order to make these live performances possible?

Everyone is requiring testing which is wonderful. When we landed in Jacksonville, for example, the car service drove us directly to a rapid testing site on the way to the hotel. For a while test results were coming back relatively quickly but now that testing is taking longer we have to travel to the performance city earlier than we normally would. This means we have a couple of days doing nothing but sitting in a hotel room but it's worth it.

Most of the symphony concerts are live streams performed without an audience. Some orchestras around the country are allowing limited audiences but the majority are not. Everyone is taking this very seriously and I've been impressed with the protocols in place everywhere we've played. In fact, one concert this fall was canceled when someone on a symphony staff tested positive the week of the concert. No one is taking any unnecessary risks.

Earlier this year, Broadway World did a story on the creation of Spot-On Academy. What was the impetus for the creation of your company's teaching division?

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTI've spent almost two decades teaching both here in the city and in master classes around the country. One of Spot-On's concerts is a celebration of Jerry Herman that I created for Jerry and The ASCAP Foundation. It involves a master class at a high school or university in each performance city. From the master class, two students are invited to sing in the symphony alongside the cast of Broadway stars which includes Jason Graae, Klea Blackhurst, Ron Raines, and Debbie Gravitte. It's life-changing for these kids. Between those ASCAP classes and the masterclasses I teach on my own I've come to realize how important it is for artists of all ages around the country to be able to work with people who make a living doing what these kids are hoping to one day do. Not only is there knowledge shared there is a connection made, a contact created. When these students move to New York they reach out to me and I'm always happy to meet with them, answer questions, offer advice, or just offer support. I have friends today that I met from a master class situation and there are students from those classes that now concertize for Spot-On. I wanted to offer that feeling of mentorship to people everywhere and that is how the Spot-On Arts Academy came to be. It was just a logical extension of what we'd been doing for years.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

How are things going with the Academy?

Great! It's been a weird year for everyone, right? The Academy had been in the works long before the pandemic but once it was up and running it seemed like everyone was doing online teaching. We're in it for the long haul though. It's not a temporary service for us. It was created to work in tandem with the teaching we do on the road and once we get back to it the Academy will grow exponentially. The students we've worked with during the last ten months are excelling and many are about to get into colleges of their choice. It's exciting for all of us.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT

Tell me about the GIVE MY REGARDS competition.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT"Give My Regards: A Competition Like No Other" was created to raise awareness of the Academy but it culminates with the grand-prize winner singing in concert with a major American symphony. Pretty cool! We launched the contest with no sponsors, no theatre website affiliation, no outside support, and the response was overwhelming. (Thank you to Chris Blem and Victoria Cook of The Network and Kimberly Giannelli of The PR Social.) We received so many submissions that we decided to make it an annual competition. We're about to announce the Top Six and I'm anxious to see how it all plays out. They are all so talented. I watched every video submission that came in. And I mean I watched them from beginning to end. I spent almost fifty hours watching videos and I loved every minute of it. There are some phenomenally talented people out there and I'm thrilled to be able to give them a chance to share their gifts.

Even while running Spot-On Entertainment, you have continued to work on your own artistic life - do you have a daily schedule that structures the amount of time you will dedicate to the company and the hours you will spend working on the musical you are writing?

I spend the mornings answering emails and if I can get through all of those I spend an hour or so reading. I'm an avid reader and I find that reading relaxes me and allows me to get through everything else I need to do. Then I walk for an hour or two every day. That's my exercise but it's also when I work things out in my head. I come up with show ideas, I come up with new projects, I work through projects, I learn lyrics, etc. It's the most productive part of the day.

Every Tuesday I have a meeting with my team and we discuss what has to be done that week and then everybody gets to doing it.

I'm also the artistic director of the Pocono Mountains Music Festival and director of their summer performing arts camp so a good part of every week is devoted to that.

You've been working on the Elliot Willensky project for a while now; is there a timeline for when you will be showing it to the public?

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTAbout nine years ago I was asked to write the book of a musical based on the life of songwriter Elliot Willensky. Elliot was a songwriter who wrote for some of the biggest names in pop music (including Michael Jackson's "Got to Be There.") I was approached by Matt Schicker (Show Shepherd) who told me that Elliot's brother, Steven Willensky, was looking to turn Elliot's song catalog into a show. Elliot and Steven share a very interesting life story and after Elliot's untimely passing Steven presented a very well-received evening of Elliot's music and their shared stories in Cleveland. Steven wanted to adapt that evening into a theatre piece and came to Matt for help finding someone to make that happen. They asked how I would go about creating/conceiving a show based on Elliot's life. I presented several ideas/options and got the job. The first completed draft (which remains my favorite) had a cast of seven. It's gone through a lot of changes over the years and is now a two-man musical. It's actually getting its world premiere this week courtesy of Hudson Theatre Works. It's being streamed December 17th-20th. I can't wait to see it. It stars Eric Briarley and Drew Seigla and has musical arrangements by Michael Holland. Michael is brilliant and really helped shape the show musically. I love working with him. You can get tickets at HudsonTheatreWorksTickets.org.

Rumor has it you're also working on a new project for Stephen Schwartz.

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTWho's been talking?!? (Ha!) Yes, I am working on a Stephen Schwartz project. I've had an idea swirling around my brain for many years and last year I called Stephen and told him about it and asked for permission to proceed. He gave me his blessing and off I went. We're both excited about the idea and the concept. The plan was to see a staged draft of it in September but the pandemic changed all that. I don't want to say too much about it just yet but I'm over the moon to have been given the green light from the wizard himself.

Let's talk about the rather epic HAPPY HOLIDAYS music video that you just released. How did you wrangle all those singers and edit all those videos into one? It must have taken weeks to do - tell me everything, leave nothing out.

Don't you just love it? I'm so proud of it.

This has been quite a year for everyone on the planet. As far as Spot-On goes we may have had no jobs but we still had music and each other. I wanted to do something special to honor that fact and to lift the spirits of people around the world. Originally I was looking to create a special Christmas card but while talking through ideas with Chris Blem we decided a video would be better. I went looking for the perfect celebratory holiday song and discovered there wasn't one. So we wrote a new one (or rather we re-wrote.) I think that "Y.M.C.A." is one of the happiest songs in the world (and it's part of Spot-On history because it's in our disco show) but no one really understands what that song is about. (Ahem...) Then I had the thought, "What if that was an all-inclusive holiday song."

I wrote a lyric that I liked and then asked Marcy Heisler and Josh Hyman to do the same. We ended up with what I think is a wonderful and universal holiday song. (Josh Hyman, by the way, is a brilliant parody writer I met when he entered the "Give My Regards" competition. Cool, right?)

Once the lyrics were set I put out the call. The people that responded are the ones you see and hear in the video. They only had four days to shot anything they wanted to submit. John Boswell, Spot-On's secret weapon, laid down a piano track that was sent to everyone who wanted to participate. The singers then filmed themselves singing to that track and sent the videos to me. The musicians in the band did the same thing. (We reached out to folks around the country who have become regular parts of Spot-On concerts to be the band) Once I received all the videos I sent them off (along with some holiday city scenes I'd filmed) to audio/video technician Ashton Michael Corey. Ashton is a gem. He took all those videos and isolated the audio to compile and create the audio track. Once that was finished Ashton and I worked over Zoom to edit all the bits and pieces of video into the final product. When I say "we worked over Zoom" I mean Ashton did all the actual work. We discussed ideas and I told him what I wanted where but he made it all happen and provided inspiration of his own. He's an incredible singer/musician as well and that fabulous shot in the video from computer screen to his live singing and back to computer screen was his idea. Just perfect. On one of my daily walks, I was playing the audio track over and over in my head and started singing "Happy Holiday" over it and it worked. So did "Jingle Bells." So I incorporated both of those ideas into the new song. Jason Graae had written saying he was time-crunched but could play something on the oboe. I said if you can play "Jingle Bells" in this key that'd be swell. Of course he did and then became the star of the video.

Again, I'm really proud of the finished product. I think we all are. The whole thing happened in about ten days -- from putting out the "Go!" email to final product. Happily, it's been taking off online where the response has been so appreciative and joyous. It's lifting spirits just like we intended. People have asked where they can purchase the song so we're releasing it on iTunes. It will be there and on Spotify. It's called "Happy Holiday! (Zoom 2020)" to reflect this moment in time and the single sounds JUST like the video. We didn't tweak it to make it sound like an overly produced single. It sounds like a group of friends got together online to spread some cheer.

Speaking of the holidays, are you going to get to enjoy some time off and some holiday cheer? Or are you working through till the new year?

This will sound cliche (and maybe sappy) but I truly feel like every day is Christmas. So few people in the world have a passion that they can identify and even fewer have an identified passion with which they can make a living. I really feel like every day is a gift. The work never stops but it's what I love so it never feels like work. I'm aware of that gift and never take it for granted.

As far as holiday plans, Dave and I are trying to figure out how to do the responsible thing for Christmas. I've been back home in Tennessee for every Christmas of my life so I'd love to be able to make that happen safely if it's at all possible. Our parents are our primary concern -- my folks in Tennessee and his mom on Long Island.

Because of your work, you have to manage many different artists and their various personalities; and you and the actors who work with you are devoted to each other, there is such a strong sense of loyalty about this professional family. What advice would you give to budding producers about the most successful way to be a performer's producer?

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENTFind your tribe. Find the people that speak your language and move your spirit and touch your soul and make you laugh. And be open to finding them everywhere and in the most unlikely places. I found Isabella Rose Sky (who sings and plays sax in our holiday video) at a Jerry Herman master class. She was eleven years old. She blew me away and moved me to tears in that class and I've reached out to her every time I've had something for her to do. I found Blaine Krauss in a master class at CCM. I met Alex Getlin when Michael Feinstein asked me to direct a cabaret show for a then-seventeen-year-old girl he was presenting at the Regency. I found Ashton Corey through auditions for "Broadway's Rising Stars." I saw Chris Blem in a production of "Hair" and turned to my mom and dad and said, "That kid is amazing." Kelli Rabke I met decades ago doing Marcy & Zina's "Dear Edwina" where we played 'Scott' and 'Kelli'. Jessica Hendy and I moved to New York together. Klea Blackhurst and I used to hand out flyers at TKTS in Times Square. John Boswell, I met when I subbed for a show he was part of and I thought, "Aha! I've found a musical partner." There's a story like that for everyone on the roster. The various personalities are really quite easy to manage because they are all people that I love -- both as people and performers. The personality that needs the most managing is mine -- a fact to which I think they will all attest. Lucky for them Dave manages that for everyone.

Once you have found them never let them go (to paraphrase Oscar Hammerstein II). Treat them with respect. Take care of them as much as you can. Give them material that lets them shine. Everyone has a unique gift so find that gift and let them keep sharing it.

Scott Coulter, thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your trade secrets with us today. I look forward to seeing you back in the clubs, hopefully very soon.

Ditto! Thank you for all you do for all of us.

"The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" premieres December 20th - information and tickets can be found HERE

BWW Interview: Scott Coulter of SPOT-ON ENTERTAINMENT



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