Amy Birnbaum

September 15, 2006

Amy Birnbaum is a 25 year-old creative assistant to a Broadway production company based in New York City. The IM conversation took place on September 6, 2006 at 11:30am

IMInterview: ok, first of all, what is your field?
11:30 AM
AB: I work in theatre-Broadway Production
IMInterview: Broadway production: good or evil?
AB: (besides being a rockstar at night of course)
AB: good
AB: (but evil at times)
IMInterview: why?
AB: why good?
IMInterview: why both?
AB: good: working in an environment that caters to the arts, that increases cultural awareness, that deviates from the mindless reality tv
IMInterview: is it all that different from TV?
AB: i dont think its black and white. there are some similarities now, such as the dumbing down of tv programming and musical theatre to create work that appeals to people that want to be entertained and not have to think. and then there’s the financial aspects of both–its all about what show will reap the greatest financial benefits. but where i work, we took on a new, smaller production (Grey Gardens) that will NOT be the next Mama Mia or Wicked, but a smaller show that has a lot of heart
IMInterview: why is it considered more culturally commendable to see theater than to watch tv or a movie?
AB: its not in ALL cases-that’s for sure. and sometimes its def not–there is a ton of incredible tv programming. but if you take a well written play by August Wilson, Eugene O’Neill, Tony Kushner-the language-the challenge. With tv shows they are often didactic, but infiltrated with a whole lot of fluff
AB: and when you see an amazing movie-same thing….
AB: I think the people that say theatre is more ‘commendable’ are making too grand a statement. It’s what you’re viewing w/in the respective genres: film/tv/theatre
IMInterview: theater is so fleeting. once a show is over, you can never see it with that same cast again and you can never see it on your own time. how do you think that comes into play in a society where people want instant gratification?
AB: you can’t expect a person to be in a show forever. its tiring, they need to do tv b/c there is no money in theatre. I guess you buy the cast recording and then become one of these obsessive nuts who go on broadway chat rooms to discuss the original casts. I think the question abt instant gratification is a diff. ballgame. we’re living in a world where if are computers dont turn on in two milliseconds we have panic attacks. With technology taking over our lives, we have no patience for anything. SO-if we have to turn that statement around and tap it back into theatre, maybe that is why producers feel the need to ‘Disney-fy’ everything and make the sets HUGE and have people flying from the ceiling–because audience need that instant gratifcation.
AB: On the flip side-the play History Boys was a resounding success, and that show was very barren-but the play-it was all about the language
IMInterview: so there’s hope after all?
AB: I mean, its hard to say–Light in the Piazza was a good step–I miss Cole Porter and Gershwin. And then there are these great little musicals like Avenue Q and Spelling Bee that are smart, witty, and not as ‘grand’
IMInterview: you mentioned financial concerns that go into production. what don’t we, as the audience, know? what goes on behind the scenes on the part of the production people to get us the finished product?
AB: Lord-these shows are often in the works for 10 years in development. They go through SO many changes, regional tryouts, so many people spending endless hours raising funds, trying to get good reviews, find a theatre
IMInterview: is that true for shows that are coming back to broadway or just new shows?
AB: revivials are somewhat diff….for example-Pajama Game or Three Penny Opera-they already have the books and scores. They often re-write stuff, re-arrange, have new directors come in…but people already know the shows. So, this fall A Chorus Line will be back, Les Mis will be back, Company…all revivals. They too have to raise money, but they already have built in fan bases.
AB: the new shows are tricky–you have to try so many diff things, get so many people backing you to get that financial support. But no matter what, its always going to be a gamble
IMInterview: is production where you want to be?
AB: I love where I work. I’m working with an amazing producer (Jordan Roth) who is saavy, intelligent and SO passionate. I also LOVE music (my college major). I have an affinity for music. I just spent the past 6 hours creating playlists of old school soul and rhythm and blues for a director’s 60th bday party
IMInterview: in your fantasy world, are you on that stage or behind the scenes?
AB: you mean would I rather perform or produce?
IMInterview: yes
AB: to be honest, its a toss up. I do have the dream of making really good music. Right now, I’m working w/ this turntabilist, taking these old samples and adding live instrumentation and then vocals. So I guess, ideally, I’d love to sell my tracks for commercials. So that’s not really on stage, huh.
AB: or if I’m producing, I’d only do it if it’s a project I have IN LOVE with
AB: I dont want to produce to say “I’m a producer!”
AB: I have to be passionate about it
AB: Like-if they wanted to make a musical about James Brown, I’d be in!
IMInterview: ha ha
AB: but who could play James besides James?
AB: that may not work
IMInterview: well, thanks for the interview!
AB: was I everything you’d dreamed of?
IMInterview: everything and more