Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Larry Kaye, Producer of The Velocity of Autumn

By • Oct 4th, 2013 • Category: Interviews

Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Larry Kaye who is the producer of the show currently playing at Arena Stage called The Velocity of Autumn. Larry is a lawyer turned producer a few years ago as he was wanting to branch out into the more creative aspect of his life. Thank you for talking with me today.

Larry: Oh, thanks Mike. I’m glad to be here.

Mike: So lawyer-turned-producer. What kind of law were you doing? Where were you based?

Larry: I’ve been practicing primarily employment law and civil rights since 1992, primarily in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Mike: I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve worked with lawyers, so I can totally see how that can lead to getting burned out or frustrated with life in general. Is that kind of what pushed you towards the creative aspect of theater or were there other areas that were interesting to you?

Larry: I think it was a combination of things. I had a theater background before I became a lawyer. I went to graduate school in theater to get my Master of Fine Arts degree because originally I had wanted to be a theater director and decided not to complete that program.

I came back to the Washington DC area and continued to keep theater as a very important activity in my life and as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, decided that having a law degree could be a very valuable degree to have regardless of what profession you’re in. So I decided to go to law school at night while I continued to work during the day. As I was involved more and more with law school and the various activities that are part of the law school experience, it was clearer and clearer to me that I could really like the practice of law, and so I came out of law school and decided to practice, but I would continue to also be involved with theater.

I began to direct some shows in the Washington DC area, began to practice law, and use some of my theater background as a trial lawyer and eventually got to the point where although I really had had good results with the litigation that I was involved in and felt like I was making a great contribution to the employment law in Maryland, I became increasingly dissatisfied with it as a career. In the long-term I did not see doing that exclusively until I was age 65 or 70.

I started thinking more and more about could I get back to the activity that really seemed to feed my soul which was theater. I had an opportunity when I was working at a small theater in Alexandria called MetroStage. They came to me because they developing a show with a New York producer that was going to be going to off-Broadway. It was a two person musical called Rooms. They asked me if I would be interested in meeting with this producer and possibly supporting the show as it was going to off-Broadway. I had been thinking awhile that producing could be a good use of my skill set and spoke to a lot of the strengths that I had, but really wasn’t sure how do I do it.

And so I met with this producer, became involved with the production and as I began to go to New York and meet with other producers, started to hear about their projects it became more and more interesting to me. And then eventually I took classes at an organization called the Commercial Theatre Institute, which is an organization that trains new producers. I took pretty much every class that they had and began to get involved in projects where other people were acting as lead producers. I was sort of like a sponge. I sat in the room and absorbed everything I could possibly absorb and learn everything I could possibly learn. There is no substitute for on the job training. That is what brought me to where I am now.

Mike: I always think of producing as the people behind the curtain that coordinate all the details. Is that pretty accurate?

Larry: There are sort of two types of producers. There is what we refer to as a co-producer which is a producer whose come in underneath a lead producer and whose responsibility at least initially is largely money-raising to help get up shows on Broadway. And then would have additional responsibilities involved typically in attending advertising and marketing meetings, giving general input as required by the lead producers and then other duties as the lead producer asks you to be involved with.

The lead producing job is much more comprehensive. That is sort of the person who heads, if you will, the little industry which is a Broadway show. Responsible for hiring the director, ultimately hiring all personnel. Has any impact or any contact in any way with he show. Overseeing with the general manager and the show’s finances and basically shepherding the show through not only until it’s open on Broadway, but in its maintenance on Broadway and its afterlife after Broadway closes.

Mike: We out in the world, we see TV shows like “SMASH” and you have the producer worrying about the money all the time and getting the handful of people involved. Is that a fairly accurate view of what you were just describing?

Larry: It is. It’s exactly what happens. I would not necessarily say that “SMASH” itself is extraordinarily close to reality, but the basic premise of having a show or a property you believe in that you want to develop for Broadway. Getting other people interested in working with you on it including fellow producers who might come in to work with you as co-lead producers or as co-producers. Yeah, that’s very accurate.

Mike: I think I saw something fairly recently talking about the number of producers of a Broadway show has like tripled in the past few years. Does that seem real?

Larry: Oh, it seems very real. There was a time a long time ago, many, many years ago when one producer might put up all the money to produce a show. That time generally has long since past. What happens now is Broadway shows have become so expensive and producers are interested in sort of spreading out the risk associated with the expense of a Broadway show that they will bring in multiple people and essentially carve up the amount of money required to produce the show in more manageable amounts for more people. And so yeah the number of people investing in shows and in producing in shows has gone up considerably because of that.

Mike: That makes sense. And then your current show is playing at Arena Stage called The Velocity of Autumn. Tell us about that.

Larry: It’s a great show. It’s a two-person show about a 79-year-old woman played by Estelle Parsons, the fantastic Academy award-winning actress. This 79-year-old woman, her name is Alexandra, is in a stand-off with her family about going into a nursing home. They want to put her in a care facility because they believe she is having increasing trouble living at home by herself. She’s adamant that she is not going to a nursing home and so she barricades herself inside her Brooklyn brownstone with an inventory of Molotov Cocktails that she has made herself and threatens to blow up the building and frankly the entire city block if anybody tries to force her to go to a nursing home. Her estranged son Chris, who she hasn’t seen in twenty years, climbs in her window to convince her not to do this and becomes sort of an unlikely mediator in this dispute in an effort to save her life and also his own.

Mike: Wow. Holy smokes.

Larry: It’s a beautiful beautiful play and extremely funny.

Mike: And it’s headed to Broadway or it’s hoping to go to Broadway?

Larry: It’s headed toward Broadway. We are waiting to find out what theatre we have and we are still in the midst of raising money for it, but the prospects look very bright.

Mike: Has it been touring elsewhere or is this the premier here in DC?

Larry: It had a world premier in Boise, Idaho. Not with the same actors. And then a subsequent production at the Beck Center in Cleveland again not with the same actors. this is the DC premier of the show and this is the one that will be going to Broadway.

Mike: Any idea what time frame that will be or is it totally dependent on space up there?

Larry: That’s really what it depends on. It depends on the availability of a suitable theatre and obviously we need to make sure the actors’ schedules mesh with the availability.

Mike: It’s not a musical so that’s the thing I’ve heard is that Broadway can only be successful if it’s a musical. Is that a concern? Is that true?

Larry: No, no that’s not true at all. There are many plays that are very successful on Broadway. Different shows attract different types of audience members. A show like this may initially attract the sort of regular theatre goers in New York who will go to see multiple plays in a season. Estelle Parsons and her co-star Stephen Spinella, who is a two-time Tony award winner for the play Angels in America and then the sequel to Angels in America. They’re both two of the finest actors in the American theatre. And so New York theatre goers will we believe be extremely interested in seeing this pair on stage. Their chemistry is really something you’ve got to experience to take in. But they’re just absolutely superb in a very very funny and touching play. But a very difficult play to do. Keeping that active and alive in front of an audience is a really big challenge.

Mike: I was looking at your bio here. You’ve been in involved in other shows; How To Succeed in Business, Oleana, American Idiot, Blithe Spirit. That’s a pretty nice wide range of shows there.

Larry: It is. I’ve been really fortunate. The shows I’ve been involved with have all been pretty wonderful pieces that excite audiences or move audiences. It’s one of the things that really feeds my soul is finding a great piece of theater that can really move an audience in a variety of ways.

Mike: So as a producer is it more important to invest both time and resources, is it better to invest in something that speaks personally to you or speaks to you more commercially?

Larry: I think for producing you’ve got to find something that will do both. I could invest in a play because I happen to like the play, but if nobody wants to come and see the play that I happen to like then commercially it won’t be successful. So it’s important especially since you have responsibility to your investors to find things on properties, pieces that will really accomplish on both ends. Where the material is good and will really speak to, not only you as a producer, but audiences who you will come and see the show and then beyond that ones that will be as a result of that commercially successful.

Mike: So if someone wanted to start producing, how do they stumble across these works? It’s not all new works I’m thinking. So is it just networking, getting out there in their area of the country.

Larry: Well I think if someone wanted to start producing there would be a couple of things to do. One would be to learn about what producing involves. There are organizations. there are really two of them in New York. One I mentioned was The Commercial Theatre Institute and another called Theatre Resources Unlimited or TRU. Both of them offer classes and seminars to perspective new producers as well as veteran producers, but they train producers.

It would be good to avail themselves of the classes offered. Some of these classes are offered online in the form of webinars. So you don’t necessarily go to New York to take the classes. Some of them are being offered around the country in other cities. That would be a good thing to do. And of course to read about producing and what’s involved.

The second thing to do which is what I did would be to meet with other producers. Indicate to them that you are interested in becoming a producer and would like to find out about the business from them. Talk to other producers about their projects and what they are involved with.

Finally, and to join other people’s productions as you sort of learn. Once you are sort of through that particular step, and you think you are at a point where you think you can produce either as a lead producer or working as a co-lead producer with other people. Looking for other plays that speak to you, authors that are putting out new work around the country. That certainly is a good way of finding new plays. Once you become a producer people will send you scripts. I probably get 5-7 a week now from people who have shows that they would like to have produced or need assistance with. Then it’s really a question of reading them and seeing what speaks to you.

Mike: How much of a time commitment is it?

Larry: Well it can be a great deal of commitment. When I was first a co-producer my time would be spent raising money. Then once the show was up and there was no more money needed raising, then my ongoing commitment was usually about once a week for a couple of hours.

If you want to expand that level of commitment and spend time out meeting people, meeting perspective investors for the next project, then you can obviously expand that time commitment into as much as a full-time job. My producing now I’m slowly sort of winding down my full-time law practice. I still have a few cases I’m working on, but my time as a producer is very slowly eclipsing the amount of time I’m spending as an attorney and I’m probably spending with Velocity of Autumn probably close to full-time before my time as an attorney on the show. So I’m putting in now 60 and 70 hour weeks working on both.

I’m just very excited about the Velocity of Autumn which is running at Arena Stage through October 20th. I would encourage people to go see it. These two amazing actors we’re so fortunate to have them in Washington performing. The audience response, Mike to this show has been so fantastic. It is really striking a chord with audience members when thy go see it. People leave with all kinds of interesting stories about how the show is resonating with them. Reminding them of their mothers or their fathers or their sons or things that their going through as they slowly confront the aging process and it’s a really really funny and poignant look at it and I recommend it.

Have you seen Velocity yet?

Mike: No, we don’t get into DC itself that often.

Larry: Oh my it is just such a spectacular show. Really really wonderful. And it’s just so gratifying to sit in the theatre night after night and hear the audience react to it. It’s a very different sort of reaction. People see plays and say, “oh that was a good play” or ” really liked that play.” This one people are like, “My gosh I saw my mother in this. I was reminded when she was going through this.” It’s really sort of striking a different chord with audiences than I’m used to seeing. So very exciting.

But what’s also so wonderful about that is there are so many other things. When she’s talking, there are so many one-liners or jokes you can tell strike a chord. There’s a place in the show where she’s talking to her son about how much she likes being alone and then she says to him, “You know the thing that was the toughest about raising kids is that you were always there!” And the audience just laughed and you could tell they’re all laughing because they’ve all thought that at one point or another about their own kids.

She goes on and she says, “I loved it. I loved taking care of you, but after you went back to school it was like climbing out of a pit. Fingers torn from the climb, but free at last! Free at last!” And then he says to her “You should really write Mother’s Day cards.” And the audience just howls. But it’s true that they all probably thought that at one point in time. “My gosh why did I have kids.” There are so many other sidetracks and things like that really touch a chord with people. This character says things that a lot of people think, but would not necessarily say. It is very cathartic for the audience in a variety of ways. So it’s great.

Mike: Well, that’s busy! Do you ever want to get on stage? Or do you want to stay backstage?

Larry: I’ve actually been on stage before. I was an actor before. I did not necessarily consider myself a very good actor. When I was in college and my early years after that I did a lot of theater in the area. I played a couple leading roles at the Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre and things like that.

Yes, it’s funny, Mike, when I became an attorney my first trial was in front of a woman who a couple of years earlier had been my trial practice professor at the American University Law School. At the end of the trial during my closing arguments I sort of did something and I saw her sort of cover her mouth like she was trying to stifle a laugh. After she sent the jury back she said, “Mr. Kaye, when you did that I remembered that you were a frustrated actor.” So I was fortunate to realize that acting was not going to be my particular forte which was why I started moving more and more into directing. Then ultimately I’m just thrilled to be a producer. It’s been a great thing for me to do.

Mike: Ok, well your website is if people want to get in touch with you for anything. Thank you very much for talking with me today. I appreciate it.

Larry: Mike thank you very much.

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