Part 2 of 'A Conversation with DCPA President Randy Weeks'
In part 2 of my conversation with Randy weeks, he discusses the new adaptation of the musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", "Girls Only", the affect of the economy on the theater, performing a mile high and ?the business? among other things!
On the new Adaptation of the musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown": (My question to Mr. Weeks about the new adaptation was if it was possible that Denver would get the out of town try-out/world premiere)
That's basically the position that we took. We don't have any current rights to the material. The rights are controlled, first and foremost, by the Willson Estate. And Mrs. Meredith Willson, Mr. Willson's widow, is alive and well. She was here for the reading at the New Play Summit. Wonderful lady! After the reading I got her to tell me some stories about living in Hollywood back in the 50's and 60's on and that was the fun stuff! But, Dick Scanlon is the fellow who has re-written the project. What Dick did, he did the adaptation of the movie to a musical, and had been kicking around "Molly Brown" for a while. He ended up coming out here to Colorado, did the trip to Leadville, studied, read and came down to Denver and spent time at The Molly Brown House and decided to go ahead and do it. He is a very wise man and he didn't really throw himself into it until a rather prolonged negotiation with Mrs. Willson. It is my understanding that the signed agreement with Mrs. Willson is that he can do anything with the play, the musical, as long as the title stays the same and the Music is all Meredith Willson Music. So he basically had free reign to re-write the book and use or not use all of the original songs in the show. I think he kept about six or seven and then went back, well, he actually went back and visited Mrs. Willson at her home, and if you can imagine such a thing, if you are a theater person, of being in MerEdith Wilson's basement and going through file after file after file of Meredith Willson songs, published or un-published and going through and go "Oh this could make this work and put this together with this" and basically re-structured the entire show. His arching project here was to re-focus the original musical from Molly Brown the legend to Molly Brown, the person. And that's what he has done. I don't think Dick is done yet. I think there is more work to be done. But you don't know that until you have a few readings and the Denver Center facilitated that, for Dick, both here and in New York and now I think he has a better sense of what happens in front of an audience, what works and what doesn't work, and we have an agreement with Dick that if the production does take the next step of garnering a commercial producer, that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts has an option to become a co-producer on the project. And also, with a few hold-outs and a few extenuating circumstances, that Denver would be the "quote, unquote", New York out of town preview".
We the discussed the warm reception the reading, which I attended, got here in Denver:
It might not happen. Things might not go anywhere because it is so hard to raise money right now. But it makes an awful lot of sense for "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" to preview or open in Denver, Colorado! I think he (Dick Scanlon) really advanced the show a long, long way. And I think the Ellie Caulkins would be good! (A little more intimate than the Buell).
On the affect of the economy on the DCA:
Well we are actually making audiences more aware. There are, and have been for a long time, lots and lots of ways to get into all of our shows whether it be the DCA or the DCTC, at a relatively inexpensive price. Starting with subscriptions, we try to have a relatively low subscription price where you are getting in the door from anywhere from ten to twenty dollars per show. And then it goes up from there. It depends...we don't have a standing set policy for all DCA shows because the fact of the matter is that every single show that we are presenting is attached to a presenter. So it is sort of a unique relationship that we have to create over and over again. We always try to have the student and senior half priced ticket program that is one hour before the curtain at the box office at the theater. Rarely do we not have that in place. So really, for a twenty dollar balcony ticket, you're getting in for ten dollars. One of the things we don't have in Colorado, just because of fire laws, is standing room. We have student matinees at the Theatre Company where the kids are paying eleven or twelve dollars to see a show. We are working on being much more aggressive with our lower priced tickets. Somehow in my mind it still works backwards, but if you can increase the actual attendance at a lower ticket price, at the end of the day you end up doing better anyway.
The conversation then turned to premium tickets:
We have been relatively successful with the premium tickets, Golden Circle. Greg, what that does is basically we are acknowledging, and to some extent, taking advantage of a couple of things. First of all there are people that really are not sensitive to price as much as desiring the best locations. By capitalizing on that, and also to some extent, taking that margin, that profit margin, away from a ticket broker for example, and actually capturing it ourselves, at the end of the day what we are able to do is to even become more aggressive with making more tickets available at a lower price, it kind of balances things out. There will always be people who don't care what the price is as long as they can get that eighth row on the aisle seat. Some of the consulting ideas that we are getting from people we are working with is to go ahead and have the Golden Circle, but then you start breaking down, let's take for example the main floor of the Buell Theater, and you have 4 other prices on the main floor. So there could be a $120.00 ticket on the main floor and there could still be a $20.00 ticket on the main floor. So it creates more opportunities and price breaks for people and not just banning the $20.00 tickets to the top of the second balcony. There's no reason to do that!
Mr. Weeks then circled back to "Girls Only":
What we did, with Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, Denver Center Attraction optioned their play and we optioned the worldwide rights for the play. (We are working on our second cast) On March 18th we will open our second production of "Girls Only" in Des Moines that we are co-producing with the Des Moines Civic Center. Other cities that we are talking to include Cleveland, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Dallas, Sacramento, and there is somebody in Melbourne Australia that is interested and I would love to fly over because I have never been to Australia! We feel that the "Girls Only" project is probably going to become quite large! And we are going to be kind of pulling the strings here from l'il ole Denver Colorado!!!
On being a mile high and preparing incoming performers for the high altitude:
Well Greg, we make sure we don't have people that are our age in the show!! (Yes Randy, I left that in!) But seriously, we have a bit of a packet that we send out to the shows that are coming in and it's really kind of simple. There are two things about playing in Denver that we bring to the attention of touring kids. First of all, we are a mile high and the air is thinner. What that means physiologically is that is takes approximately 2 days for your body to kind of go "it's different". We got some advice from a physician and our own Voice and Research Center that if they (they performers) have the opportunity, and most of the times they do, to travel on the travel day, which is most of the time a good 36 hours before they have to perform, when they get here to take it easy. They can use the stairs but note that you are a little higher up and hydrate. It is dry here. Drink lots and lots of water. (I then asked about the rumor of there being oxygen tanks backstage for the performers) There are still oxygen tanks backstage but it doesn't truly do anything. It can be a quick fix but these kids are all in great shape! But literally sucking on oxygen is probably worse for you because it does nothing but dry out your vocal cords.
Final thoughts on current or future changes at the DCPA and do you have any thoughts for readers who may want to get into Arts Management:
I'll attack the latter first. Arts management has really kind of evolved from what it used to be to what it is today. That makes a lot of sense!! But in theatre for example, back in the day a lot of arts managers actually kind of worked their way up. They were a standby or a chorus kid who didn't make it as an actor, might have become a company manager, etc. This industry has really matured a lot since those days and it's become a multi- billion dollar industry. A lot of the things that business people do apply to what we need to do. The DCPA now averages, the annual budget is, somewhere around fifty million dollars a year. We have six buildings, we are running a major business. It's a business. (Yes, we went off on a tangent about "Curtains"!) The business has changed. It used to be a handful of people that were producing shows that had long-term relationships with a handful of people that presented shows around the country and it was kind of this big "clubby" group. And then it became a big business. And with that, everything changed. And that's natural. Change is inevitable. And we are facing another change and that is dealing with the current economic situation that not just the United States is dealing with, the world is dealing with. I don't believe that this is anything that is going to snap back this year, next year, maybe not even the year after. We might actually be in a whole new paradigm. But, that doesn't mean that we will be gone or that Broadway will be gone. We will carry on and it is going to be just re-defining what that is. And I don't know what that is.
We then discussed theatre becoming a business and the affect on the quality of shows:
There is a quote is always use from "A Chorus Line that made it into the show. And it is one of the kids who gets cut. But the line was "Don't tell me Broadway is Dying, I just got here". That was thirty five years ago and they were talking about Broadway is dying. I have been in the business since 1978 and Broadway was dying. The point is, the business continues to reinvent itself. We go through the British invasion and what that is, is the cats, the chandelier and the helicopter and we got into this whole thing where it became about the set and the production, Granted with good music and so forth, but it had to be a mega-musical. And then, along comes this little Bohemian thing called "RENT"! And guess what? It worked, they loved it and it ran and ran and ran. It's another one of those stories where a couple of Broadway producers, younger and smart, who happened to go to a reading and they pulled out a checkbook and wrote a tiny little check, put their resources behind it and, Broadway reinvents itself, again. Anything can happen! It doesn't have to be a twenty five million dollar extravaganza, it can be a simple little gosh knows what. If it's good, people will go!
Mr. Weeks' final thoughts on the DCA/DCPA:
I think for the short term and probably a little bit of the long term is examining our entire organization. The actual amount of programming that we do, I think we an awful lot of programming, and kind of looking at that, studying that, maybe trying to find a better mix of programming and also dealing with our changing customer base. Back in the 60's, Danny Newman wrote a book called "Subscribe Now" it kind of re-invented the whole issue of subscriptions and subscriptions blossomed and grew all around the country. Well, people are trending away from subscribing in big huge commitments where, you know, every Thursday of every month for the next year I am going to be sitting in the theatre. People are looking for a lot more flexibility. There seems to be less willingness to commit their time 8 weeks out. People are now making entertainment decisions 2 or 3 days ahead. I remember a time where you would place a quarter page ad in the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News and people would come in person and buy tickets or they would mail in a check and buy tickets 2 and 3 months in advance. Now they don't even want to call on the phone. They want to go online, look at the seats and print their tickets at home. We have just launched a wonderful new website at www.denvercenter.org. We did a major upgrade with tons more information. What I really want to do is get to a point where if someone is interested in something about one of the shows that we are doing, they can't hit the bottom of the well. They can keep drilling and we can keep providing more information. And, of course, it is all linked to "buy tickets now"!
My thanks to Mr. Weeks for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit and chat with me for close to 2 hours. And in your words Randy, "See you at the theatre"!