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Interview: Dylan Bustamante of 54 DOES 54: THE 54 BELOW STAFF SHOW at 54 Below on August 3rd

The always popular 54 Below staff show is about to kick off and Dylan Bustamante is reflecting on his work as producer.

Interview: Dylan Bustamante of 54 DOES 54:  THE 54 BELOW STAFF SHOW at 54 Below on August 3rd 54 DOES 54: THE 54 BELOW STAFF SHOW is returning to The Basement this week and many (like this writer) could not be more excited. The series of shows has been happening for a few years now and it is one of the most fun and, honestly, most special nights of the club's cabaret season. 54 Below has developed a dedicated clientele over the years, many of them people who did not know each other in the real world but who have, just from seeing each other at the club so very often, come to be friends. Or, at least, they are 54 friends and, sometimes, Facebook friends. Those regulars who have gotten to know one another have also gotten to know the 54 Below staff. The waiters, the bartenders, the hosts, the managers who care for everyone at each show, ensuring a fine time is had by all, have become some of our favorite people. And 54 DOES 54 is our chance to see them shine in the skills we don't see all the time.

As THE 54 BELOW STAFF SHOW puts the finishing touches on for tomorrow night's 9:30 pm show, producer Dylan Bustamante took some time out to do a q&a with Broadway World about his work on the program, the history of the series, and what we may expect tomorrow.

54 DOES 54: THE 54 BELOW STAFF SHOW plays 54 Below on August 3rd at 9:30 pm. Information and tickets can be found HERE. The performance will be live streamed. Get information on that live stream HERE.

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

Dylan Bustamante, welcome to Broadway World!


We are finally about to see the return of the 54 Below Staff show - How are the preparations going?

Everything is going really great, we have a great band lined up, great performances lined up, and a few surprises in store, it's going to be really great.

Tell me about the history of the staff show, how it started and what the journey has looked like.

Interview: Dylan Bustamante of 54 DOES 54:  THE 54 BELOW STAFF SHOW at 54 Below on August 3rd The staff show started in 2016, it was a very fast turn around, I remember that; we must have had a spot open up very last minute and I don't remember exactly whose idea it was but the idea came to me and Jennifer Tepper, the programming director, and immediately Emily Essig and I (Emily was the late-night programmer) rallied the troops - I think we just had a piano player for the first show and, now, here we are! 8 staff shows later, with a full band and rehearsals, it's now a staple of 54 Below and some of our regulars' favorite nights.

What does your work as a producer on the evening entail?

Producing a show like this is mainly just organizing schedules and getting all that you need to make the night work, figuring out the running order, organizing band rehearsals, doing press, and, ultimately selling, tickets. The day of is always crazy, from sound check to making sure all the requests from the staff are in for the front door to making sure we are respecting 54 Below's time limit. It's a whirlwind of a day, but seeing everyone on the staff come together is really great.

Regular guests of 54 Below can always be seen in the audience of the staff show - it's quite a popular night in the season - do you feel any pressure over that, or does it fuel you forward?

No pressure at all! Everyone that comes out is always super positive and just excited to see everyone's talents! A lot of these regulars will come see any of us in gigs outside of 54, our regulars are a true heart to 54, and definitely support us at our jobs and outside of work! They ask for the staff shows more than we ask to put them on. It's all very positive.

There is a long-acknowledged stereotype about waiters being actors, but there have been staff members in the shows who are not actors: do they volunteer, or are they sweet-talked into it?

It actually has been really great to see some of our staff, who aren't performers, get up and dance or sing. Who doesn't love to sing? Some of these staff members who may not have any training get up and there and really can sing and it's like, where did that come from? I don't pressure anyone to do the staff show, but some of our most fun talent comes from people who don't perform on the side and just love to sing or play guitar. It's really great.

What are some of the most interesting acts that you've seen in the shows over time?

Most interesting acts? Hmmm... a few years ago we had an "art piece" done by one of our bartenders, it involved paint, I think it's on YouTube. That was definitely interesting, there also was a dance that two of our backwaiters at the time did with one of our runners singing! That, I believe, was in your round-up! I would come downstairs from the offices during the day, and here I have staff learning a dance and coming up with it together. It was really great to see!

(See the 54 Does 54 ten video roundup HERE.)

Do the performers bring their ideas to you and prepare them for the show, or do you take an active role in piecing and rehearsing it all together?

I let them run wild with whatever they'd like to do. My job is to just make a running order for the show so that it's pleasant for the audience.

You work in collaboration with Kevin Ferguson - how do you each divide your duties?

Kevin is great! I love working with Kevin - this time around he has really helped me get the band together and also kept me on my toes. We both have had recent projects at 54 Below, him with his amazing Luther Vandross show and me with the Pride show, so we have both been good with keeping each other on track for this staff show.

What appeals to you about producing?

Producing this show specifically is all about the staff. We all know working in restaurants is hard but being able to see such great performances every night at 54 Below is really the best perk of working there. To be able to get the staff together to put on a show for our regulars, owners, friends, and family is what makes me happy and why I love producing this show, specifically. Producing with my creative partner Michael Hull has been really great, as well. Getting friends and colleagues together to make a fun night out for anyone is such a great thing to be able to do, and, with Michael, we produce some crazy things together. Like Masked Singer.

How is that Masked Singer obsession going?

HA! We are on a little hiatus at the moment, we have produced two AMAZING three-part shows for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS. It truly is a crazy task of getting people to say yes to us filming them in furry costumes, but I don't think you have seen the last of Broadway's Masked Singer. We have some ideas for a season three.

You wear many hats at 54 Below - will you wear your producer hat more often in the future?

We shall see! I have nothing on the docket currently, but that doesn't mean there is nothing brewing in my head, I know there will be more staff shows, so if you can't make it to this week, keep your eyes posted for one maybe in the fall!

Dylan, thank you for chatting with us today, I can't wait to see 54 Does 54!

I can't wait to see you there Stephen, thank you!

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From This Author - Stephen Mosher

Stephen Mosher is the author of The Sweater Book (a collection of his photography featuring celebrated artists from the entertainment communities of New York, Los Angeles, and London), Lived In Crazy... (read more about this author)

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