Episode 31: Broadway Maven Jim Kierstead

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a spark to our world. I am sitting here in New York City, Manhattan. We're in Times Square yeah?

Jim Kierstead:  We're in Times Square. We're in the Hell's Kitchen area to be exact.

Heather Newman:  Yes. Hell's kitchen, Times Square. I am here with the lovely Jim Kierstead and I am so excited. I haven't seen you in forever.

Jim Kierstead:  I know. It's been crazy. I don't know how all this time went by.

Heather Newman:  And Jim, I'm so excited, Jim and I have known each other for a while now and we haven't seen each other in a while, but we were introduced by lovely and wonderful, talented Dan Holme, back, gosh, it's been a while now, that was for Side Show.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, it's about four years ago.

Heather Newman:  Four years ago. Yeah. So I really wanted to have Jim on because he is a producer, a theater producer and, and many other things as well. But, I was so excited and I've seen American Son. Yes?

Jim Kierstead:  Yup, we just had American Sonon Broadway.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. So I would love for you to talk about to our listeners, what does a producer do? And tell us about your life as a producer, because I know you've been doing this for a long time.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, it's going on 20 years. Well, you know, Heather, it's so funny because I think unless you're in this business, unless you're a producer or unless you're somebody who's connected, you don't really know what a producer does. You know, you look at the title page of the playbill and there's names above the title and nobody pays attention to them because they're not in the show and they didn't direct the show, and they didn't write the show. So, they just wonder who these people are. And a producer is really the person or group of people who are the business end of a show. So what they do is they find the property, they put the team together to present it, to work on it, to develop it, and then they raise the money to make it happen. And then they manage it, you know, from a marketing perspective, from a press perspective to try to keep the show going as long as possible and be lucrative for everybody, get some money back and get some, some profits hopefully, and then allow it to live, hopefully have a long life on the road and in other cities and then to get it eventually published and have the piece done all over the world. So that's kind of what a producer does.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, you're an arts VC.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah. I try. I try. Thank you.

Heather Newman:  I love it. Oh my goodness. And you, it's Broadway for you for the most part.

Jim Kierstead:  It's Broadway. Um, you know, I started about 20 years ago working to develop theater and it was because I was helping a friend, really. I was helping somebody who was a writer. She and her brother were writing a musical and super talented people and they needed somebody to give a little bit of money, but also somebody to run around and do some errands for them and be an extra set of hands and eyes and whatnot. So I learned this business just by starting helping these people out and I never necessarily thought I was going to do it again cause I come from the information technology world for many, many years and this world was very foreign to me, but I fell in love with it immediately. So I started developing work and then we got into Broadway over the years after investing in various shows. And over the last couple of years I've gotten involved with film and TV as well. So we just had a series that was on Amazon that won an Emmy award last year. So that was fun. It's called The Bay. Yeah, it was this really cool little series.

Heather Newman:  Oh wow! Congratulations.

Jim Kierstead:  Thank you so much. Thank you. So it's really fun because over all these years it used to be that theater was a little separate island and film was a separate island and TV was a separate island. And then all of a sudden as technology started catching up, it allowed all these parts, all these artistic areas to come together and cross. So a lot of people who just did one before, one of these areas, they can participate in all of them based on what the pieces is. So you can kind of choose the best medium.

Heather Newman:  Well, and you see like many Broadway actors coming into television for sure. It's like what was the, Bunheads?

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, that's right, right. Sutton Foster. She was in that one. Yeah. And a lot of the people go on to CSI. If you look, if you watch CSI or any of those kinds of shows, you'll see all the Broadway actors in there cause it's filmed in the New York area and they all go in and they actually make money doing that, which is fun.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. That's always nice, right? Oh my goodness. So, so what do you have that's on right now?

Jim Kierstead:  So, we have Kinky Bootsthat's been running for six years. So that actually concludes on Broadway on April 7th.

Heather Newman:  You know, I know Mr. Burrows.

Jim Kierstead:  Do you really?

Heather Newman:  Yes.

Jim Kierstead:  Oh, that's great.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. He was an actor at SRT.

Jim Kierstead:  Oh, fantastic!

Heather Newman:  Santa Rosa Summer Repertory Theater.

Jim Kierstead:  Oh, that's wonderful.

Heather Newman:  Yes. Shout-out, yeah! That's amazing.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah. So that concludes in April after a really great six year run. We were, you know, we had a production in London. We're in Toronto, we had an Australian tour, we had a US tour. A UK tour is going on right now. So hopefully that has a nice long life ahead of it, you know, even after Broadway is over. We have Waitressthat's still running on Broadway. It's been on a few years. Sara Bareilles wrote that of course. And that's still doing really well. We have a US tour of that, that's doing really well. And that's just starting performances in London right now. And then we have Pretty Womanwith music by Bryan Adams and that began performances this August, this past August. So that's doing pretty nicely. And we've got three new shows starting. So you mentioned American Son, that was a 16 week limited run, but that closed a couple of weeks ago and now we've got Be More Chillstarting, which we're excited about. We've got a show Ain't Too Proud, and that's basically the life of The Temptations. It's their backstory and all their music, that incredible song book. And then we have an amazing new piece called Hadestownthat's coming. And that started at the New York Theater Workshop downtown several years back. And it went on a journey of development and, you know, the amazing Rachel Chavkin is directing it. She's the one who did The Great Cometwith Josh Groban which we were part of a few years ago. And it ended up going, Hadestownended up going over to London. It was just at The National on its journey to Broadway. So that starting previews pretty soon, which they just went into rehearsals last week. So we're getting ready for that as well.

Heather Newman:  You have so much that's on Broadway right now! That's amazing!

Jim Kierstead:  It's been a lot of fun. It's been super busy. And then I've got my own shows that I'm developing. So, there's this one play that I had gone downtown with a friend a couple of years ago and we knew somebody in a cast of this one act festival. So it was three little half hour one act plays. And I wasn't holding out much hope for this little one act festival, but we figured we'd have a good time. And the first play was this play that I'm mentioning and it was only a half hour and it blew me away. I said, I need to know more about this play. I want to work on this play. So I asked my friend who I went with if she knew the writer, she did. So we went up and met him afterward and I said, if you'd like to work with me to turn this into a full length, like 90 minute play, I said, let me know. And he's like, ah, yeah, I'd love to do that. So he started meeting regularly and he started working on it and, you know, three years later we've got an amazing Broadway director who's on board, Sheryl Kaller, and we're working to cast it right now. We're going to do an industry reading at the end of March and then we're going to get it out into the world and I'm super excited about it.

Heather Newman:  Can you tell the name?

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah. It's called Sparkler.

Heather Newman:  Sparkler.

Jim Kierstead:  It's all about 1950s Hollywood and the underbelly of that, it's pretty cool and it's very sexy.

Heather Newman:  There's a lot of that for sure in Hollywood. Yeah. And having just moved to Los Angeles, I'm kind of dipping into that old Hollywood stuff and kind of learning more about that. So that's exciting.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, I'm really, really happy about that one. And then we've got another piece called Fancyand it's based on the Reba McEntire Song, “Fancy Was My Name”. So the story, it's really kind of a neat concept. These writers wrote a book for the musical based on the story of the song, from Reba McEntire's song. So that's the story. And they've adapted it to use 25 hit contemporary country music songs to tell this story. And we've been working on this for a while. So we're going to do this at a theater in the Midwest in the spring of 2020. Get this thing up on its feet and then we'll probably do another production of it in the fall of 2020 and then get this thing out on the road. And there's lots of places that I think it would play incredibly well, including like Las Vegas, some other of those types of spots.

Heather Newman:  Do you think that it's something where, because it's using contemporary songs that the, the folks who either wrote or play those songs might like dip in for a hello, like a cameo?

Jim Kierstead:  Oh, I love that you asked me that question. Yes, I do, in fact, think so.

Heather Newman:  Isn't that a good idea?

Jim Kierstead:  That's part of the plan and I love that you thought of that. Are you a producer?

Heather Newman:  Uh, maybe, a little bit, little bit.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, so we're definitely gonna do that. And they all know that the show is happening, including Reba. So we want to get her out there too, to see it because you know, it would be lovely if she'd like to be involved in some way as well, even if it's just to be a friend of the court. But yes, we're working on that now.

Heather Newman:  That's so cool.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, it's been a lot of fun.

Heather Newman:  So, what was the most, sort of like you, you had this moment where you got started with a friend and then when was sort of the next moment of like you were like, yes, I want to do this? Was it you seeking out or did somebody go, oh he just did this and maybe we should talk to him? Or like what was the next trajectory from that?

Jim Kierstead:  Well, it's funny you say that. So the first thing that got me involved with wanting to be part of theater, because it was never something that ever crossed my mind except that I was an audience member. In 1998 I went to see the original production of Side Show. And you and I met at the revival of Side Showa few years back. But when I went to see this in 1998 I walked into the theater as an audience member and I left as somebody who wanted to be part of this world. It just changed my life in such a strong way. So I got to be friends with the writers after that, just through circumstance. And I started getting a little bit more involved in the world just because they were writing new shows. So I would go to readings that they did. So I started understanding like what the process was at least on a very general level about what was involved in putting a theater piece together because you don't really know that unless you're, unless you're in the world. So that was my entree into the world a little bit. And then this whole experience with these people who are writing this musical, that was my first time really getting to be a little bit of a producer on something rather than just somebody going to see readings and whatnot. And then when that ended, it was a great experience because I got to meet a lot of exciting people in the business and we went through a whole audition process. So I understood what that was like. But right after that, I, you know, I figured it was, I figured it was done. I was going to go back to my world of information technology.

Heather Newman:  Where were you in IT?

Jim Kierstead:  I was the systems manager. No, I wasn't the systems manager. I was the information technology manager for companies. So I was there about 30 years by the time.

Heather Newman:  Wow.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah.

Heather Newman:  Okay.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, so a long time. So, I had a whole career doing that. But right after I finished up with this show that I'm telling you about, a friend of mine came to me and he said, you know, I have a piece that you might be interested in working on. And he took it off of his shelf and instead of being like a 30 character musical the size of Les Misérables, which the other one was, this was a two character musical with one piano. So it was very manageable. So we ended up doing it in a theater festival in the city in 2003. And Martin Charnin and the guy who wrote and directed Anniewas our director. So, it was exciting because honestly I thought it was just going to be six performances and done. But the show was a huge hit at the festival, we ended up doing a cast recording of it. We ended up doing it off Broadway in 2005 and to this day, that show has been published and it's had hundreds of productions in the United States. And it's been done all over the world, translated into 15 languages. It's been in Korea for 12 years now, Japan for six and China's going into its second year.

Heather Newman:  What!? What is the exact name of it?

Jim Kierstead:  It's called Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story. So, it's the story of Leopold and Loeb in a musical. But it's a chamber musical. So it's very dark and gritty and sexy also. So it's, uh, it's been very interesting experience. Yeah. It's been a real wild ride.

Heather Newman:  That's amazing. So 12 years in

Jim Kierstead:  12 years in Korea. Yup.

Heather Newman:  Wow. And that was really the first one, sort of the second one that you had your hands in.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, that was the first thing that I did on my own. The other one was I was sort of helping out those folks. So it was very, just fortunate the way it all worked out and um, you know, it's, it's been really well received everywhere it goes. It's a really tight, interesting piece. So as a result of that, I went on the board of the York Theater Company in New York City, which is where we did Thrill Mein 2005 and I started developing other work with them and we did a show called Yankin 2010 off Broadway and that got nominated for a lot of great awards. And then, um, I was working on the show Unexpected Joy, which was with Bill Russell who wrote Side Showand that's how we got to,

Heather Newman:  Who I met, who is lovely.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, he's great. Bill's terrific. Yeah, he's a very good friend. So we started working on this four woman show called Unexpected Joythat he and his writing partner, Janet Hood, had written. So we started developing that and while I was there, I'd invested in Broadway a bunch of times at that point. But while I was there,

Heather Newman:  Invested meaning? Tell everybody what that means when you say that.

Jim Kierstead:  Sure. You know, Broadway is an interesting structure. Like you have lead producers who are responsible for the show, but then what they have to do, because Broadway musicals are very expensive, you know, they could be $15 to $20 million for an average Broadway musical nowadays. And it's impossible for one person to bring in that money. And even if they could, they would want to spread that risk around. So, what they do as they bring on co-producing partners and you get billing and you get, you know, some extra, you know, financial consideration for all your work you're doing. But what you do is you take on a chunk of the fundraising. So then you, those people go out to their investors and they'll write a check to invest in this corporation. So it's like it, it's an LLC.

Heather Newman:  Give me a checky checky check.

Jim Kierstead:  That's right.

Heather Newman:  I love the producers a little bit. Yes and no.

Jim Kierstead:  Exactly. Yes, yes, yes. It's completely true. It all happens.

Heather Newman:  Hey, you know what? Investing, whether it's investing in a company or investing, you know, it's the same thing. I just, I wanted you to explain that because I don't think everybody understands sometimes that that's similar in, in theater and in, especially in something like Broadway where you do have such large amounts of money to actually get something off the ground.

Jim Kierstead:  Absolutely. Just to give you like some more information about that. You know, like most investors, um, for shows like if it's a musical, a lot of times the minimum investment to be to write, and you know, you're filling out an SEC investment paper where it's an operating agreement and subscription documents and it's a liquid investment, but it's sanctioned by the SEC. And the minimum dollar amount that you could invest usually for a Broadway musical is either $25 or $50,000. And for a play, usually it's around $25,000 and that's considered a unit in the show. And you can take multiples of those units and whatnot. And that entitles an investor to, um, you know, obviously you hope you get your money back and then you start getting profits and it gives you first right of refusal for subsequent productions. And you also get opening night tickets so you get to go and go to the red carpet. So it's, it's a lot of fun. But as a co-producer, it's up to you to raise a substantial chunk of money. So, you go to your investors who may do a unit or a couple of units and then you're responsible for your entire raise and then that's your structure.

Heather Newman:  Gotcha. Thank you for that.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, no, no, absolutely. So when I, so I had been investing as an investor, like somebody doing a unit or two units over the years in various shows. Um, but while I was there working on Unexpected Joyat the York, one of our, our director, in fact, she had gone to the reading of Kinky Bootsto the workshop of Kinky Bootsand I had been aware that was coming and I knew Cindy Lauper wrote the music and I said, I want to be a co-producer on this show and I set out to do that. And I ended up doing it and it took me a long time to raise that money cause I didn't really have people to go to and I figured it out. So we had a really fun year that year.

Heather Newman:  That's cool. When did, what year did that open?

Jim Kierstead:  It started in Chicago and out of town in a 2012 and it opened on Broadway in April of 2013.

Heather Newman:  That's right. And tell everybody what out of town means.

Jim Kierstead:  Sure. You know, you work on this show and it's, it's big, right? You’re working on a big musical and there are too many moving parts in it, when you're developing something brand new, to just come to Broadway. It's too much. It's too expensive and it's too risky. So what people do is, so they have a diff, another chance to work on it. They'll do it out of town somewhere like a theater in Chicago or at a not for profit theater or in various cities. There are theaters

Heather Newman:  Yeah, Seattle, living there a long time, the rep would do, certain, Seattle Rep would do something, a play and bring it and then bring it to Broadway.

Jim Kierstead:  Completely. So it gives the creatives a chance to get it up on its feet, to go through a full rehearsal process to make changes to it, to get out of town reviews. So you can look at those and see like maybe the critics notice something that we want to look at and address and then a number of months go by before Broadway and then it allows them to do work and then do it all over again for Broadway. Hopefully the show is even in much better shape than it was when it went out of town. So it's a way of really going and having two opportunities to make that first impression before you open on Broadway.

Heather Newman:  Less of a workshop. Right?

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah,

Heather Newman:  Cause I think sometimes people are like that, doing something out of town and then versus doing like a workshop of something.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, a workshop is usually done for the most part, I mean you could do it different ways, but usually it's done in New York City in a big rehearsal studio and it's not with fully fleshed out costumes necessarily or fully fleshed out sets. They may just build something temporarily and it's more about let's get the choreography down, let's work on the story, let's work on some new songs. It's like their specific work points that they want to do. But when you're doing it out of town in this, this tryout, that's a full production, you're up there and people are paying and they're arriving and they want the show to be in tip top shape.

Heather Newman:  Right? Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for making that distinction because I think some people are like, well, what's the difference between this and that and the other thing, you know, and it's, if you're not in the world sometimes, um, you don't know the terminology.

Jim Kierstead:  You're so right. Absolutely.

Heather Newman:  So, what's the, like big, biggest might not be the right word, but I guess I'm going to say biggest, show or like the sort of, I don’t know, cast, money or just grand. Like what's the, what's the biggest one maybe worked on or you produced?

Jim Kierstead:  The big, the biggest show that I've been a part of, was The Great Comet. There's no doubt because what that show was, I don't know if people are aware of that show, but that was the show. You know, a bunch of years ago, there's a little theater, a little not for profit theater in New York called Ars Nova. And they developed this show. They commissioned it, in fact. The writer's name is Dave Malloy. And they brought him in and they said, we'd like to write a show based on this number of pages from War and Peace. And he wrote a musical and he wrote the book and it was this immersive show in a very small theater called Ars Nova. And it got a lot of attention. And one of the board members saw it and said, you know, I, he was a Broadway producer and he said, I'd like to move this. So he moved it to a tent, he actually created a tent, set up a tent, and it was an elaborate tent, with the most incredible bathrooms. Actually. It was crazy. It was amazing. Yeah, it was just, it was noteworthy that the bathrooms were incredible at this tent. And, they served food, they actually served a dinner and the people were dancing all over and it was this really elaborate piece and it did very well down there. And then the next iteration of the project was he decided that he wanted to bring it to Broadway. And before he did, he went up to ART, up in Cambridge. And they did it for a proscenium stage for a more, for a traditional theater instead of a tent or a little tiny immersive show. And they built out some of the stage and they put the audience on the stage and then they tried it out up there and reworked it and how they would set that up and after they were successful, he said like, okay, let's go to Broadway. So they took the Imperial Theatre. They were given the Imperial Theater, which was a nice sized theater for a big Broadway. Nice sized Broadway house and they gutted the place. I mean, they completely gutted it. They set it up so there were ramps going through the theater. There were staircases going up to the mezzanine and people were sitting on the stage. There was, you know, they were serving pierogis that was kind of fun and dumb. It was just this crazy event and it cost a fortune to do it. But they got Josh Groban to star as the title character Pierre, and that came to Broadway. So I was part of that. And when I walked into that theater I was like, I've never seen anything like this before. It was really beautiful, it was a beautiful production. I think everybody involved was, you know, very proud of the artistry of it all. It was a great group of people, you know, who were putting that show together as far as the creative team is concerned.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And I, that's, and so you know, listeners that aren't as theater-y, the proscenium stage is typically just what you think of, I think when you think of a theater. It's just you're looking into sort of a theater with a box and a stage around it.

Jim Kierstead:  Yes, exactly. Yeah, exactly right. The proscenium, is that that arch that's above most theaters that people would recognize.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And so this production, as Jim was saying, like kind of broke, I wouldn't say broke rules, but maybe kind of broke rules of where you sit as an audience member and where things happen and so like that sort of more experiential theater piece if you will. Right?

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah. You know what I think is so interesting, and this was one of the reasons why that year in particular and ongoing, certainly, but I've really gotten excited about immersive theater and I think people like it because we live in a world now where everything, we don't want to just watch something. We want to be in something, we want to be a part of the action, you know, whether that's video games or whether that's social media. So people feel the same way. They don't want to just watch something happening on a stage, they want to be a part of it. And that's why these immersive shows have started becoming so popular. So this is an experiential show where the actors were all around you. You could sit on the stage. Um, you know, Josh Groban was right in front of you, like three feet away. So it was, it was exciting to see and it was just a neat proof of concept because I think there's going to be a big place in the world for this, you know, even more so in future years.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Was that one of the first that did that, cause I know there's been a few here, especially in New York, you get such great, some of the crazy architecture here or old buildings or you know old hotels where some of that stuff. Was that one of the first, cause there's been a few others?

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, there are others. There's, you know, the Sleep No Morethat's downtown right now. And that's in an old hotel and it's this big multi floored hotel and people wander around and they do this story in there with the masks. This is an unusual situation because it's not often that you do an immersive piece in a traditional Broadway theater. I mean, I have a hard time thinking of one. You know, they did Once On This Islandat Circle in the Square. I wouldn't exactly call it immersive, but I would call it realistic because they, you know, they made it into a, into a space that felt like there had been a hurricane wreckage there. So it was that, but it was still, you weren't really interacting with it like in this show. So for them to redo a Broadway theater like this was, was a big deal. It's very expensive.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. That's so cool. So, that fits the bill of biggest I would think or just, you know, most expensive.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, it was really, it was very, it was very, you know, like brave of them to do that. Yeah. That wasn't something for the faint of heart.

Heather Newman:  Right. Yeah. That's super cool. So I mean, you bring so much to Broadway and any way just all the time and have for so long. Is there other things that are out there besides your fabulous shows that you're excited about seeing or that you've seen that really blew you away?

Jim Kierstead:  Um, yeah. You know what I just saw, I just saw To Kill A Mockingbirdand I think it was, it was a really beautiful interpretation of that book, that very beloved book. And the cast was fantastic. It was, it's a very special story. So to be able to see it on stage at the Shubert, you know, they don't usually put plays on the stage at the Schubert. It's more of a musical house cause if its size but, but it deserves to be there. It's a great show. And you know, there's, there's a lot of new great things coming out this season as well, so it'll be, it'll be fun.

Heather Newman:  And talk to everybody about the season, like what that means, like the season. So like where it starts and where it ends. Just so folks know.

Jim Kierstead:  Sure. The, you know, the Broadway season, tends to go, the fall is first and then we go through the winter and then we have the spring season where things start to open. So the season is really, you know, kind of marked by the Tony Awards, which are in June. So the Tony Awards once the Tonys happen, right. So the cutoff for the season is in April because then you've got the voting and all of the, you know, the promotion of the shows for the awards and whatnot. So the cutoff is an April. So anything that opens after April is not eligible for that season, would be for the following season.

Heather Newman:  For the Tonys.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah. And then the Tonys are in June. Yeah. So the summer tends to be quiet or a lot of people are away. They don't really start too many new things in the summer. Although this past year we did Pretty Womanstarting in July and opening in August. But, um, that's a little bit unusual of a situation. So starting in September, then you get a big new batch of shows, right. Because things tend to close around the end of the summer or around like right after the Tonys. So you've got these theaters that have space available and then they bring in a whole bunch of new shows for the fall. And then after Christmas, which is a very busy time. Thanksgiving, Christmas time is very busy for theater cause you've got a lot of tourists in town. You have anything that's kind of struggling, they'll announce closing like right after the first of the year and then they'll start ramping up to bring new shows in for the spring into those theaters because now they've got some real estate available. So that's kind of the way the season works. Um, you know, so we always celebrate the season at the Tony time. It kind of the marks the end.

Heather Newman:  Yes, absolutely. The big hurrah. Do you find, I guess with, since you've been in the business so long and seen Broadway change so much, I don't know are there things that have really changed that you can put your finger on that you're like, Gosh, over the years trends or I don't know, like, yeah.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, there has, there have been a few things. I think the most notable trend is theater like our culture had to catch up because the audience for theater had always traditionally been a little bit older and certainly to pay Broadway prices a little bit more affluent. And what ended up happening was the audiences were getting older and young audiences were looking at theater and saying, I don't want to go see this. I don't want to go see a revival of, you know, some old show or something that feels like a clunky musical theater piece because tastes were changing. So what they ended up doing is, you know, we had a real problem in the late eighties, early nineties where theater was concerned. We had a lot of dark theaters. Now you can't get a theater. They've got like waiting lists of a hundred people, but back then they couldn't give the theaters away. There was nothing to put in them. So what ended up happening was they had to realize we have to start inventing content differently. So the first way they do that right is any time you're on a progression like that, you have to make some mistakes along the way and figure out where you're going to go wrong to get to where you need to be. So what they started doing is they did all these jukebox musicals, so everybody was doing a jukebox musical because they realize, oh, this is young and it's fresh, and people know the music already so you're not risking doing a brand new piece that nobody knows. So people at least would go and say

Heather Newman:  Like the Jersey Boyskind of thing, is that what you mean?

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, and Jersey Boyswas one of the really successful ones, right, as Mama Miawas. But there were a bunch of them. There were a whole string of jukebox musicals that were not all that successful and they just kind of did them. And they were, they were kind of cheesy stories they would throw in with the song book that you would know every song. But the story was kind of like ridiculous. So those were in favor for a while and they started to bring new audiences and, but they sort of fell out of favor very quickly. That flavor of the month sort of disappeared. Um, but what really happened after that is they said, you know, we need to be more contemporary. We need to be more pop oriented. So they started doing things that appealed to younger, cooler audiences, like Wickedfor example, like Book of Mormon, um, you know, so all these shows came out.

Heather Newman:  Like Spring Awakening.

Jim Kierstead:  Absolutely. All these,

Heather Newman:  American Idiot, like some of that stuff.

Jim Kierstead:  Absolutely. All these, all these shows, they started realizing like, hey, let's bring in younger audiences. We'll go more pop. And then they were sort of filling their theaters up again so they realize this is good. But what I'm so excited about and one of the reasons why, so this has been progressing, right? Because now you can't get a theater no matter what. It's really hard. So what I'm really excited about is the show Be More Chill. And the reason that I wanted to be a part of it is this even skews the audience younger, right? Cause like a Dear Evan Hansen, the young people really love that. And so do adults, people of all ages are flocking to that show. But this Be More Chillshow is really interesting because it's speaking to people, you know, kids in the 12 to 15, 16-year-old range. And when these kids want to go see it and they're so passionate about it, they bring their families along. You know, at least that's the hope. And so far it's been proving to be true. So, and what I love about that is when you bring in young audiences like that, it's a great way to introduce them to the theater experience and have it be something that they want to do. And after they see this show and they've had a great time, they might be more inclined to say, Hey, what can I see next? And that might be Dear Evan Hansenor Wickedor Hamiltonor one of these other great,

Heather Newman:  And the Lion KingI think has always been a big,

Jim Kierstead:  The Lion Kingis just such a, such a hit. It's such a hit. Yeah. And that's a really big hit because you can see that show and not speak a word of English and still have an amazing time. It's so visual and wonderful.

Heather Newman:  It's global. Global language for sure. Yeah. That's amazing. Oh, okay I totally want to ask you, what do you, the Hamiltonphenomenon, what do you think about that? Like just it's everybody knows all the words of the songs. Every child I know, like I can rap that, you know, you're just like, wow. Like In the Heights, you know, Into the Heights, am I saying that right?

Jim Kierstead:  In the Heights.

Heather Newman:  Like that was, I saw it, I got to see that on Broadway and then just his progression too just so interesting and just blew up.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah. Yeah. He's a genius. Like, I think it's funny when I went to see Hamilton, there was so much hype surrounding it and I'd seen at the Public before it came to Broadway. And I watched it and I was like, and it was before anybody. I mean, people, it was starting to catch on, but it was still within the New York theater community that it was popular. The world didn't know about it yet. And I'm remember going down and I was like, what is this show, it's so different? And I admired it on so many levels, but I was still trying to figure out what this show is. It was so fascinating. And then the next time I saw it, I got it and I was like, oh, this is amazing. This is a genius show. It's so special. So it was really worth the hype, which surprised me because I was almost thinking, oh, I'm going to be disappointed. You know, how can something ever live up to this? But it's pretty terrific. You know, and I think it just really captured the hearts of people because here we have this famous figure in the history of the United States and, you know, it's, it's told in such a fresh cool way. But it's, you know, it's about a person. I think that's the kind of shows that do the best, right? When you're talking about people, when you're talking about emotion. It doesn't matter what that story is, right? It's about like, how can you connect with those characters.

Heather Newman:  I think I just, when I think about you, I think about how for so long you've been able to bring empathy to a lot of people. And I think that's so cool.

Jim Kierstead:  Oh, thank you.

Heather Newman:  I mean, that's what theater is about right?

Jim Kierstead:  I love it. Makes me so happy. Well, what I do, what I like to do with theater is the, especially, you know, anything I get to be a part of, but if it's something I'm developing, you know, I want it to be something that has a positive message. I don't get involved, I always tell people, I don't really get involved with political debates. I don't want to argue politics. I don't want to talk about, you know, anything in a way other than, cause I'm not going to convince anybody. Right? And they're not going to convince me. We all have our opinions. But what I like to do is I like to put my efforts and resources behind positive pieces and put them out in the world and let people get the message that way and be entertained while getting it. And at least if they don't agree, at least they can hear something from a different point of view and maybe it'll stick with them, and maybe it will convince them to think of things, you know, outside the box.

Heather Newman:  It's like if it educates and entertains at the same time. Right. It's like magic.

Jim Kierstead:  I think so too. I think so too. It's very powerful. It's a really powerful medium. To be able to give somebody something like that to take away.

Heather Newman:  That's cool. All right, my last question. What was the first piece of theater you ever saw?

Jim Kierstead:  The very first piece of theater that I ever saw. Well, I know the first Broadway show I saw for sure. And it was Annie. I saw Annieon Broadway and it was so fun because I got to work with Martin Charnin for my first show when I did Thrill Meall those years later. So I remember that was my first Broadway show. I loved it. It was like I was probably in, I don't know, second grade or third grade and everybody was seeing that show. It was such a phenomenon.

Heather Newman:  Are you from here?

Jim Kierstead:  I'm from New Jersey. I grew up in northern New Jersey, so we, everybody would go to the city to see Broadway shows. Not all the time, but we did it relatively frequently. So I loved that. And as a kid, I probably, you know what, it wasn't a play that I saw when I was a kid that made the biggest impression on me. But when I was a little kid, I saw the movie Mary Poppinsand it was, it was back in the theaters on one of its many times back in the theaters. And I remember I couldn't get enough of that show. I got taken every week to see that show. It made me, it really made an impression on me. I'm sure it had a big impact with my love of musical theater.

Heather Newman:  That's cool. Yeah, I think I saw A Chorus Linewith my father, we would Drury Lane in Chicago and that was my first musical and didn't quite understand. I think I was maybe in middle school or something, but all I knew is I was like, those people are amazing. The dancing, the singing that everything. And I was enthralled and one of the reasons I became a theater major.

Jim Kierstead:  So great.

Heather Newman:  Now tech person. But yeah,

Jim Kierstead:  We have a lot of crossover with that.

Heather Newman:  You know, it's funny, our community, our wonderful Microsoft community has so many art people who are tech people. You know, Dan and, Dan Holme who introduced us, shout out sweet Dan.

Jim Kierstead:  Hey Dan.

Heather Newman:  Hey Dan. Um, you know, he was a theater major as well, Lucinda, who's another friend, she was a music major. Like there's tons of interesting crossover between art and technology. And I, if people sometimes are like, how is it that you're theater major? And I'm like, I use it every day.

Jim Kierstead:  Oh, I completely agree with you.

Heather Newman:  I tell stories. It's about empathy. It's about understanding. It's, you know, in sales it's about how to sell something to people and understanding human emotion and all that. We were talking about that a little bit before and, um, just basic psychology, you know? And so I think it's really interesting that you find that those things crossover a lot.

Jim Kierstead:  I think so too. You know, there's been a lot of interesting studies and articles over the years about how an acting degree can be so incredibly valuable in all facets of life. You know, even if somebody never goes on a stage, just that course of education they get is so helpful in business and just dealing with other human beings. You know, how to present yourself properly and, and whatnot. So it's valuable. And that's what disturbs me so much about any undervaluing of the arts in this country. It's so short sighted and terrible because people all have this need to be creative and if they're not allowed to be creative, I think they just are miserable. I don't know how I would live my life if I wasn't able to be creative in some way. You could see how people would suffer from that.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. It's hard to see arts programs suffer in our education system.

Jim Kierstead:  It helps in every facet of life, you know, and people, people who think that you don't need art because you're going to go into a business are sadly mistaken.

Heather Newman:  Yup. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think and presentation skills, I mean public speaking is still one of the, like it's up there with, you know, spiders and I think I said this the other day, I was talking to someone, spiders and sharks and it is a fear that people have about getting in front of people. And so it's like theater and Improv and all of those things are so helpful for that. And that's again, like you just said, any aspect of business, you're going to have to do that.

Jim Kierstead:  Completely. Completely. And we live in a world now, you know, sadly we're, you know, it's a double edged sword, right? We have technology that's available to us and it starts to, technology can be amazing, but it can also distance us from human relationships. And if you look at the kids now, right, they're very busy on their devices and sometimes they forget how to talk to adults or talk to each other and they'll just text all day long. And I think that theater is going to be even more important because as human beings, you know, we're animals who have a need for interaction and communication and communing, doing something together rather than being isolated in their bedroom on a video game. And by being in that theater, you're with a group of people, you're watching people, you feel connected with people and that's something you can't get in any other form of entertainment.

Heather Newman:  And collective moments of awe, right? The moment when there's a moment, a friend of mine, Shannon was working with us and there was a little night music and she flew in a drop that she had painted, the production did, and everybody in the audience at the same time went (inhale sound). And to this day, it's one of my favorite things, that she did that with paint on a beautiful piece of Muslin or whatever you know, and that's, that's the stuff.

Jim Kierstead:  It's incredible.

Heather Newman:  Yeah.

Jim Kierstead:  Yeah, it's true. Yeah. It's so fun because in theater, right, you can like, you don't have to be literal. Like in a film you have to be literal. You have to create the environment exactly as it should look. But theater you can be so creative and abstract. It's really neat.

Heather Newman:  I just want to say thank you for doing what you do. I mean it's, I think it's so important and what a neat job.

Jim Kierstead:  Aw, thank you so much. It's so funny. There have been times in my life with theater where I'd get done with a project and I'd say, okay, I'm, I think I'm done for a while. And then literally the next day I was like, I can't stay away. I have to do this, I have to do this again. Like, where's the next project? So I've kind of given up on doing anything else at this point. So thank you.

Heather Newman:  Thank you for being on the show and sharing this with our listeners and, giving them a glimpse into what it is to be a producer here in New York City on Broadway. So cool.

Jim Kierstead:  Thanks Heather. Thanks everybody.

Jim Kierstead:  Absolutely. Well, everyone this was another episode of Mavens Do It Better. And, you can find us on iTunes, on Spotify, on Stitcher, on the Mavensdoitbetter.com website on all of our social and fun stuff. So check us out there and here's to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Cheers.

 

Heather Newman

Heather Newman is an award-winning marketing maven, technology entrepreneur and an epic connector that brings many worlds together. She has extensive experience marketing products and services for Enterprise businesses, startups and emerging markets. Heather builds plans and processes that are nimble, human and different. She is an adept storyteller and is passionate about growth for both employees and the corporate bottom-line. Heather hails from the arts and the bulk of her career has been working with the largest technology companies in the world (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, and Dell). Her nineteen years of experience working at technology companies and building global high-tech marketing strategy has driven millions of dollars of revenue and multiple award-winning campaigns. She has led global marketing teams for many technology companies including AvePoint, IT Unity & KnowledgeLake. Heather was a part of the original Microsoft SharePoint Marketing team. During her tenure, she helped launch multiple versions of the product, build the SharePoint Partner Ecosystem and conceived of and produced the first three Microsoft SharePoint Conferences. Creative Maven has produced thousands of global marketing campaigns and events. Currently CM is focusing on go to market strategies for Microsoft and its partners as well as a new site sister site launching in 2015 called Marketingfixer.com. Heather also serves as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Content Panda, an innovative technology startup looking to actively disrupt how content is delivered inside software.