Host Luisa Lyons chats with Tony nominated composer Paul Gordon. Topics include Jane Eyre, Daddy Long Legs, how union rules impact artists, the differences between subscription and pay-per-view models, why filming musicals is important, and making theatre more accessible, sustainable, and fair.
Paul Gordon was nominated for a 2001 Tony Award for composing the music and lyrics to the musical Jane Eyre. He won the 2015 Jeff Award for Best New Work for his book, music and lyrics for Sense and Sensibility, commissioned by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. His critically acclaimed stage musicals, EMMA and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE are available to stream on Amazon Prime. He is the recipient of the 2009 Ovation Award for his music and lyrics to Daddy Long Legs which has had productions all over the world, including Off-Broadway, where it was nominated for 2 Drama Desk Awards, an Off-Broadway Alliance Award and 3 Outer Critic Circle awards. Daddy Long Legs was also the first off-Broadway musical to be livestreamed. No One Called Ahead was filmed and released in June of 2019. Knight’s Tale, written with John Caird, opened at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo in 2018 while the concert version debuted in 2020 with the Tokyo Philharmonic. His other shows include: Being Earnest, Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist, Analog and Vinyl, Stellar Atmospheres, The Front, Juliet and Romeo, Sleepy Hollow, The Circle and The Sportswriter. In his former life, Paul was a pop songwriter and wrote several number one hits.
Learn more about Paul Gordon at www.paul-gordon.weebly.com/ and follow him on Twitter.
Host Luisa Lyons is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com or follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
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Luisa Lyons: LL
Paul Gordon: PG
LL: [00:00:04] Welcome to the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, a podcast about stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. The Filmed Live Musicals website contains information on nearly 200 musicals that have been captured live. Check it out at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. And now, on with the show!
[00:00:25] It is a truth universally acknowledged that the secret to happiness is to seek our liberty, to follow the dreams of your heart. My guest this week is Paul Gordon, an award-winning composer with over a dozen musicals to his name, including the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Jane Eyre, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Daddy Long Legs, and most recently Estella Scrooge. His work has been performed all over the world and translated into multiple languages, including Korean, Japanese, and Spanish. In 2015, Daddy Long Legs was the first off-Broadway musical to be livestreamed, and the success of the stream led Paul to create Streaming Musicals, a site dedicated to bringing stage musicals to the screen. Welcome, Paul!
PG: [00:01:10]Happy to be here!
LL: [00:01:11] When did you first fall in love with musical theatre?
PG: [00:01:15] Oh, that’s a great question. I first fell in love with musical theatre when I was in the fifth grade, and we were taken to my future junior high school, where they did an eighth-grade production of Bye Bye Birdie. And my fifth-grade mind was just blown away. I just couldn’t believe people could get up on stage and sing and act and tell a story. My parents had played Broadway musicals in the background, West Side Story, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and I’d really loved the scores, and I’d probably seen some of those movies, but I was not prepared for live musical theatre by eighth graders. And for a long time, I felt that eighth graders were the best actors and singers in the world. But truly, that was the moment that I became so excited about the art form. And then later in life, I saw a production of Godspell at the Mark Taper Forum, that I went, “This is just incredible.” And then the first musical I ever saw on Broadway was Sweeney Todd. So I would say those three events really catapulted my interest in musical theatre.
LL: [00:02:29] And you started out as a songwriter rather than a musical theatre composer
PG: [00:02:34]Yeah, I had a 20-year career writing pop songs. I was in bands, I was trying to get record deals. I felt like in my 20s, I just really wanted to be Elvis Costello. That was really my goal, though I was writing musicals at the time. I had a rock musical that I wrote with my writing partner Jay Gruska that Katey Segal was in, Pamela Adlon was in. It was sort of a Rent-like musical that took place in Venice Beach. And in fact, I’m still working on it. I still feel like this musical deserves its time of day at some point. But yeah, I was always interested in musicals, but my career was pop songwriting.
LL: [00:03:19]How do you think writing pop music has informed writing musical theatre?
PG: [00:03:24] I think it’s helped me a lot in that, especially since musicals now tend to be more contemporary than they were ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, those are my roots. My roots are in pop music. So everything that I do, including my more classical shows, I still feel is rooted in my pop musical sensibility in terms of verse, chorus, hook, bridge, and what I was taught in pop music. Then that was expanded upon when I discovered Stephen Sondheim, and then that’s when my writing shifted to “Oh, this is how you write musical theatre as opposed to pop songs.”
LL: [00:04:09] And for me, the best pop songs are the ones that do tell stories, and obviously what I love about musical theatre is we’re just telling stories through song
PG: [00:04:20] That’s right, and that’s interesting, because I think after a while, the stories that I was telling in pop music were personal. The artists that I loved listening to, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, some of those artists, their work was so personal. It was about them. So that was my influence as well. So my pop songs, I was mostly writing about myself. So after a while, what can I say? I got bored with myself. How many breakups could I write about? “I fell in love, I fell out of love, my heart got broken, my heart didn’t get broken.” Those were the stories that I was writing, and after a while, I sort of had it down, and I didn’t really have anything more to say.
[00:05:07] So the moment, for me, where all of that changed was when I picked up the novel of Jane Eyre and decided to make a musical of it. And suddenly, I had this enormous wealth of material to connect to that was no longer about myself. It was an entirely different story from a completely different narrative, from an author who was a genius and whose words were magical, and suddenly I was thinking, “I can make these lyrics. I could tell this story instead of my last breakup.” And that was a revelation and I did, and I never had as much fun as I did writing Jane Eyre.
LL: [00:05:54] A lot of your musicals are based on books, and particularly books by women, which I love. What is it about all of these stories, Jane Austen and Jean Webster and Charlotte Brontë, that you connect with?
PG: [00:06:10] Well, a couple of different things. First of all, as a writer, I’m interested in stories that last the test of time, stories that last a hundred or two hundred years. You know that when you work on that story... And in musical theatre the process often takes ten years, so you’re with that story for a long time, so you have to have a connection to that story. I’ve always been drawn to strong women, in life and in stories. Strong women are my friends, and when I am attracted to stories, it’s usually about strong women, and I just find their stories more interesting. And we’ve written so much about men that I just didn’t think… And I have a few musicals that feature men, that’s fine, but I’m really drawn to these characters.
[00:07:02] I was drawn to the character of Jane. I remember reading the novel for the first time and on page 10, I was in tears with her story and her journey and how she overcame the obstacles against women in the culture where she grew up with. And of course I was enamoured by the love story. Most of my work, I want the audience to leave the theatre or the stream feeling better about life than when they went in. And we all admire stories that are brilliant that aren’t uplifting, and those stories are necessary and I have a few. But mostly, I’m drawn to stories that make us feel uplifted, and of course in Jane Eyre, there’s a lot of ups and downs in that story, and it’s really only the end that we get rewarded. But I was very drawn to Charlotte Brontë’s prose, specifically, as a writer and a lyricist. I just found her words incredibly creative, inspiring, enough for me to write an entire musical that I worked on, that I’m still working on. But we worked on that for ten years, the journey from first note written to Broadway opening.
LL: [00:08:22] It’s so incredible, the idea that a musical is never finished.
PG: [00:08:27] It never is.
LL: [00:08:28] That even all these years later, it’s still percolating in your mind.
PG: [00:08:31] Well, John Caird and I have written another version of Jane Eyre that we’re gonna publish with Musical Theatre International, who publishes the original version, that more people will be able to perform, that’s simpler, that we’re calling the chamber version. In a sense, the Broadway production was... A lot of that was about the Broadway production. It wasn’t really about being able to make the show better when we were in previews, because in that particular situation we had a new set, and a lot of our preview was about the design and not about the actual dramaturgical elements of the show, which I was more interested in, which, since post-Broadway, we’ve had the opportunity to work on that more and we’re very excited about the new version we’re gonna release to the world early next year.
LL: [00:09:23] Ooh, that’s very exciting. Will that be something that is perhaps shared on Streaming Musicals?
PG: [00:09:30] We definitely are in talks about doing a filmed version of Jane Eyre, and I hope that happens in 2021.
LL: [00:09:38] Ooh, me too. Yes please.
[00:09:41] So I want to switch over to Daddy Long Legs, and I loved when you were talking about having people leaving the theatre or the stream feeling better. And my personal story with Daddy Long Legs is that in 2014, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and I spent over a year recovering, and I couldn’t go to the theatre because my immune system was compromised. And Daddy Long Legs, the stream happened in December 2015, and I was like, “If I can’t go to Broadway, Broadway’s gonna come to me.” And it was so thrilling to watch this beautiful show with this gorgeous character of Jerusha, who loves to read and wants to learn and everything that I love, and I was able to watch this beautiful show from my living room.
PG: [00:10:36] Well, that’s really amazing and I’m sorry that you had to go through that, but I’m glad that Daddy Long Legs could be there to cheer you up. I mean, I have to say that first of all, I loved the experience of working on Daddy Long Legs and creating it, also quite a long journey to get it from page to stage. And there were so many different people involved in the evolution of that show. But I have to say, the moment where I came home from the theatre, I was having some health issues of my own around the time that we streamed it, and I remember walking to the theatre, we lived, actually, walking distance to the theatre at the time. My wife and I lived in Midtown. But it was a very slow walk with what I was going through.
[00:11:23] But I wanted to be there when the cameras were there, mainly for support. I didn’t even think much of the idea. It was Ken Davenport, our producer, that went, “Hey, let’s stream it.” I went, “All right, maybe that will help ticket sales.” And when I was at the theatre, there were these two gentlemen from Livestream that had never seen the show. One was on one side, one was on the other side. The show started, and I sort of forgot about them. The show went on. It was the show that I’d seen a million times. And when you write a show, there comes a point where you just can’t see the show anymore. You’re just done. It just washes over you and you just can’t even sit there. But I struggled through it just to support it.
[00:12:04] So Stephanie and I get home and that was the New York live feed. And then the next feed was the L.A. feed, followed by the London feed, the Japanese feed, whatever order it was. So I believe we were watching the L.A. feed when we got home, and I said, “Let’s just watch five minutes of it, just so that we’re not embarrassed. Those guys were just there, they’d never seen the show. I don’t know what this looks or sounds like.” So I’m sitting kind of on the arm of the couch while Steph has the computer open watching the show. And I’m watching it for like 30 seconds and I’m going, “This looks pretty good.” And then another 30 seconds goes by and I go, “This sounds pretty good.” I watched the entire show. I just said, “Move over.” And I just sat there and I watched the entire show and it completely dawned on me that there is a new, untapped world for theatre that can change our industry, help our industry, make our industry more fair, make it more available to more people.
[00:13:09] When I heard, and this was later, that 150,000 people from 62 countries had streamed the musical for free and branded the musical worldwide, I went, “Oh my god. This is what we’ve always needed and this is how we do it.” And what shocked me more than anything is that nobody else really, other than my two partners at Streaming Musicals, Tom Polum and Stacia Fernandez, nobody else got it. Everyone else was, “Da da da da, let’s just go back to what we were doing before with crazy insane contracts, with no way for actors or musicians to make money beyond the regional production they’re doing or maybe a Broadway run that lasts however long it lasts, then they need more work.” I thought, “Well, this is a way that we can sort of rethink the actual financial structure of theatre, that isn’t fair and hasn’t been fair for a long time.”
[00:14:08] And I can honestly say that it’s only now during the pandemic that people are starting to go, “Oh, yeah. This is a good idea and we can do this.” They’re sort of going into it in all kinds of crazy ways, and we can only show these many performances, and charge this much. I mean, it needs to be much freer and it will eventually, in whatever sort of ways that we have to go through growing pains to finally get to a place where, yeah, let’s just do this in a fair way where actors and musicians and designers and directors are paid in perpetuity, forever, like film and TV actors, and that you can create a theatre piece and either film it in the theatre that you’ve staged and share it with the entire world or just create a theatrical production outside of a theatre, without an audience, that you’d shoot more like a film, but it’s still a musical in the traditional sense. I know we’ll get to Estella, but Estella isn’t exactly a movie musical and it’s not exactly a filmed stage show. And I think some of my shows, like No One Called Ahead and Emma, they’re not the live stage show, but they’re very similar to what the stage show would be, but it is a different experience. We call it a soundstage musical. But you can call it anything you want.
[00:15:30] We’re just in a new age where it’s really important, and you know this. There are all these little gems of musical theatre or theatre shows all around the country, or at least there were before February, and they would play for three weeks and then they would go away forever. I’ve written a couple of those shows. I have friends that have written those shows or have been an actor in those shows or have directed those shows. And they’re worthy of being seen forever, a lot more than a lot of things that are on Netflix that we’ll watch. So I just think there’s a world, hopefully in the next few years, that we all create together that honors and captures the musical theatre gems from around the world, like Daddy Long Legs, a show that you never would have had any way of ever seeing had we not decided to do this marketing trick to try to get more people to see the show. And you know what? We got a few more people to see the show, but ultimately the big revelation was, “Guess what? We can stream musicals and we can change our industry.”
LL: [00:16:36] It’s amazing how the pandemic has suddenly, I put inverted commas, shifted the industry into “Oh, this filming theatre is a good thing!” I’m curious what your view of filming theatre was before the stream of Daddy Long Legs.
PG: [00:16:50] I had no thought of it, really. I did have one idea. I grew up in L.A. and I didn’t move to New York til five years ago because I always thought that I could be on both coasts, but then I realized no, I really had to be in New York. But before that, I just kept thinking, “Is Broadway and the West End our only goal? Is that all we can do? If I’m literally writing now for musical theatre, is the only way that I can really make a living through having my shows get to Broadway, and if I don’t get to Broadway there’s really no other way I can support myself?” And listen, I even got to Broadway, and that didn’t help me support myself. So I had this idea, I didn’t know anybody at HBO, but I thought, “What if HBO did a season of just musicals and just did Light in the Piazza, did A Little Night Music, did Emma, did…” And I had a whole ten-show season and they could just film them all for a million dollars, and they’d all look sort of the same and they wouldn’t have to be 15 million dollars. But I didn’t know anybody at HBO. I didn’t know anybody anywhere. I had no connections. It was just an idea in my head. But I did have the thought of filming musicals and just trying to create a different market, a different way for audiences to share in the experience that didn’t live in New York or didn’t live in the area where your regional theatre was. And that’s what I think is so important about filming musicals.
LL: [00:18:26] The work that you’re trying to do, because BroadwayHD was already established at this point when… Because Daddy Long Legs went onto BroadwayHD.
PG: [00:18:34] Right, right.
LL: [00:18:36] So let’s dive into Streaming Musicals a little bit. How is Streaming Musicals different to BroadwayHD?
PG: [00:18:42] In a very, very specific way. First of all, I love the people at BroadwayHD. We work with them, we always talk with them about our new shows, and of course they were very early in the forefront of this. But they are a subscription service, as is Spotify, as is Apple Music, as is Amazon Prime. And the effect that that has on royalty holders like myself is that… The simple version is it makes it much more challenging for artists to make money and to make a living through the stream. It’s still a very producer-centric medium, all of the streaming markets and networks. And we’re more interested in the pay-per-view aspect of streaming, which, those dollars go directly into the pocket of the actors, the artists, the writers, the designers, investors, and producers. Everybody. But it’s divided in a more equal way. And we’re still working on that. That’s still a work in progress. And of course the unions, SAG and AFTRA and everybody, they have their own ideas of what’s fair, and actually even today and yesterday they’ve come up with some kind of new agreement that I haven’t really looked at yet. But the idea is that a lot of these contracts that were written in the 1950s and the 60s, they don’t apply to 21st-century digital technology, and they don’t apply to what we are able to do in musical theatre and streaming now. And while this new deal may push us in the right direction, I still think we have a tremendous amount of work to do in the future to make it totally fair, to make it…
[00:20:26] There are things like we did a stream of Pride and Prejudice, but we didn’t do a CD because we can’t afford it cause of the union costs and the contracts that exist. We just don’t have the money. And that’s always been the case throughout my career, is I haven’t had the finances to release a CD of Emma, to release a CD of the shows that I’m doing, because of the restrictions that unions have on costs and the fact that I wrote a show that was a hit in a regional market. We just don’t have the money to pay people for the costs required for the unions to release those recordings. And Daddy Long Legs was an interesting case, because I don’t think Daddy Long Legs would’ve ever had a life after the Rubicon had we not done a CD. And I had budgeted a CD, not knowing yet the restrictions that were in place, and of course my pop music career, I’d recorded lots of stuff, I’d produced lots of stuff, that was my wheelhouse. So I went, “Okay, here’s the recording session for Daddy Long Legs, and here’s the budget, and everybody gets paid a fair amount and everybody will love to have this recording forever,” and we were all ready to go, but according to the powers that be, I had budgeted this $60-70,000 under what it needed to be
LL: [00:21:53] Wow.
PG: [00:21:54] So it was like, “Okay, we can’t do this now.” Just the same situation I faced with Emma, can’t move forward. And we had an angel board member at the last second come in and give us the money. And from that CD, the show grew and people knew the show and we ended up having productions in many places and eventually going to Off-Broadway, and then eventually capturing the show. So now it plays worldwide and now the show, I would consider it a success. But that never would’ve happened had we not been able to record that CD. So there is that barrier still that I feel. But I feel like in the future, we’re just gonna have to keep working it out and pushing forward and making the artists that the unions are trying to protect, we need to really protect them and we really need to give them what it’s worth and pay them in perpetuity.
[00:22:49] One of the things we’ve done with Pride and Prejudice that no show has ever done, to my knowledge, is we have cut the actors and the musicians in on the licensing royalty moving forward. So actors and musicians will get a lifetime royalty not only from the stream, which, that’s probably pretty low because of streaming models right now and the fact that we are on Amazon Prime, which is a subscription network. So we’re getting paid and there’s money there, but it’s limited. But I do think that when things come back after the pandemic, I do think Pride and Prejudice will have a good life in licensing and my hope is that our actors and musicians get a check in their mailbox every quarter, every half year, whatever the payout is, that is not gonna make them millionaires, but is meaningful and will help them. And enough of those checks will make it so artists can more easily afford to be artists and do what they do for a living.
LL: [00:23:51] That’s music to my ears.
PG: [00:23:53] Mine too.
LL: [00:23:54] Yeah. I’m curious if Daddy Long Legs, if you think that the recording more than the stream helped it around the world? Helped its visibility?
PG: [00:24:09] The CD made it possible that other regional theatres would ever do the show, and that enough people saw enough regional productions and we had enough buzz that we were able to do a workshop in New York for investors under Ken Davenport and Michael Jackowitz and then people went, “Let’s do it off-Broadway,” and it was sort of put in John Caird and my court to, do you want to give up more of your percentage of your future licensing fee to go off-Broadway? And my philosophy is always holding on to 100% of nothing is not as good as giving away a piece of something that will eventually create revenue streams. So I do think for sure that the stream of Daddy Long Legs made it much more successful in terms of the eyes of the world, and playing on BroadwayHD gave more people the opportunity to see it. I actually believe that if we could add Daddy Long Legs to, say, Amazon Prime right now instead of exclusively on BroadwayHD, we could do a lot more with it.
[00:25:19] BroadwayHD was in the very beginning of streaming when I didn’t even know what was going on yet. So we made kind of a longer deal with them. But now, the playing field is not so much exclusive. The idea is be on a lot of different platforms, be on Streaming Musicals. There’s new streaming platforms, as you know, springing up every day, and that’s good. It’s sort of the Wild West of streaming right now. Nobody’s quite figured it out, but I think Streaming Musicals, our company where… I can only speak for us, because that’s the only thing I’m a part of. We are about being innovative, finding new ways for investors to recoup and for artists to have more income streams. That’s the goal.
[00:26:10] And for writers like me and my peers, it’s a way for shows that have been sitting in a drawer for five to ten years to suddenly be viewed by the entire world. And for me as a writer, I’m no longer waiting for artistic directors or Broadway producers to choose me, to say, “Paul, we’re gonna do your show in two years,” which is sort of how it goes. Now I can go, “Hey, I have this new show. I feel like it’s ready. I’m gonna find an investor and then we’re just gonna stream it.” Now, that’s not necessarily easy, finding an investor, but I will give you the parallel. It took me two years to raise the money to dothe stream of Emma, because nobody knew what I was talking about. Even with Daddy Long Legs having streamed, they were just like, “What? What does that mean? How do we make money?” And I didn’t even really know. I just knew that this was the right thing to do. And finally, I got enough people that believed in me, scraped it together, and Streaming Musicals produced it and we created Emma. And it turned out really well, and all of a sudden people started to see it. And what happened? We got a worldwide licensing deal with MTI. And we had never had a presence in New York.
[00:27:34] So that told me everything that I needed to know about the model. Investors were gonna basically recoup in a year or two on licensing, which they would’ve had the pandemic not happened, and hopefully when the world changes again, they will. And it allowed me to raise the money for No One Called Ahead in one day instead of two years because the investors actually went to some of the filming of Emma, and once they were in the theatre, and they saw Video Village and they saw how we do it, they went, “Oh, I understand now. I get what this is.” And so I believe that people are catching on to what it is.
[00:28:18] And I just want to say something that’s super important, is that, and you know this, streaming and filming of musicals is never meant to replace live musicals, because live musicals are irreplaceable, and the experience of being in a theatre and seeing a live show will never be duplicated or replaced. With that said, streaming and what we’re doing and what a lot of other people are doing is the very next best thing. And there is an incredible experience to be had by plugging in your AirPods and watching a well-filmed musical on your computer that is a great experience one can have, that I’ve had from watching some BroadwayHD shows, watching She Loves Me and a few other of their shows. It’s like, “This is great! I love this!” No, it’s not as great as being there, but I get the full sense of the show, I’m hearing the score, I’m seeing the actors, and I’ve just had a great experience. And I just feel that that’s important. It’s important for people to know. And what it does for writers and authors and directors and actors, it just allows your work to be shared with the entire world in a way you never could before. It’s just a complete game changer. And I like to say it makes theatre more accessible, affordable, and sustainable. Those three things are really what filmed and streamed musicals does for our art form that it couldn’t do before.
LL: [00:29:54] Absolutely. This idea that people don’t know what it is, I keep being baffled by. It’s what led me to create this whole website in the first place. When I was studying at Central, the filmed live production of Company was streamed in cinemas, and I was in London, and there was an interview with Ellen Krass, the Broadway producer, before Company where she said she couldn’t get funding to film Company because no one had heard of filming musicals. And for me, having grown up watching Into the Woods, the original Broadway on VHS all the way in Sydney, Australia, was like, “What? Why haven’t people… Yes, filmed musicals are a thing.” So I built this website.
[00:30:38] And the pandemic has suddenly, again, inverted commas, shifting this idea that filmed theatre isn’t a thing. This fear that is a replacement for live theatre is very deeply entrenched. People are scared it’s gonna sabotage ticket sales, people won’t come to the theatre. But my argument is, well, they said that when cast recordings became a thing.
PG: [00:31:00] Yeah, yeah. Well, Legally Blonde, they did the same thing for Legally Blonde, “Nobody will go see the show!” Of course, the show got a West End production because of MTV. And the other analogy I use besides cast recordings in the 40s, which is an excellent analogy because it’s absolutely true, they were afraid of cast recordings and then look what happened, I do a baseball example. I do the baseball example for the Yankees. When they decided to televise every Yankee game, I don’t even remember what year this was now, of course everybody said, “Don’t do that! It’s crazy! Nobody will ever go to the games again.” And what happened? The opposite happened. A new generation of kids went, “Ooh, cool, baseball! I want to go! Take me to the game!” It just made the brand more exciting. It’s just fear. It’s just people having fear in the industry.
[00:31:51] The biggest tragedy for the music industry was the fear when MP3s became a thing and the music industry, instead of embracing the future, sued their own customers. And what happened? Apple ended up taking over the music industry and royalty holders like myself, songwriters, lost huge revenues due to streaming, due to the new way that everything worked, and, again, subscription services, where as a consumer, I’m happy that I can think of any song in the world, practically, and be able to play it on my phone. But as a songwriter, you get seven million hits on a song and you don’t really get anywhere near the equivalent of compensation for that.
[00:32:42] So that’s the part that I worry about, that concerns me, that we are living in a world where everybody thinks everything is free. And the problem there is it’s not free to make. So that’s the part that we’re really still grappling with, because even with your Netflix subscription and your Amazon subscription and your Spotify, Apple Music, whatever your subscriptions are, most people, we pay it by the month and we don’t think about it, and we want to watch a movie or listen to a song so we think it’s free. Or we’ve already said we’re paying for those services. So when you have a new pay-per-view come out that’s not attached to those services, or it’s an extra cost, you’re hesitant to pay that $4.99, even though you’re paying these monthly bills, but now you have to pay a little extra. So you might hesitate and you might not pay.
[00:33:37] So I’m also exploring this idea of giving away shows for free and trying to figure out how to do it that way. We did release P&P for free and we were able to get a lot of people to watch it, like Daddy Long Legs, and the offers sort of started to come and people from different parts of the world, China, were interested in developing the show. So there are ways to brand your show without necessarily having an obvious income stream immediately, but, I’m sure you’re thinking a lot about this, I know that I am and Streaming Musicals and a lot of people, we’re just trying to think about what do we do in the 21st century? How do we make these musicals more available, accessible, sustainable?
LL: [00:34:27] Yeah. How do you think this all ties in with bootlegs?
PG: [00:34:32] I’m not in the bootleg world, but what I would say, obviously, is there would be so much less of a need for bootlegs if you would just let people film things practically. We’re filming things on iPhones in theatres because unions won’t let us. There’s so many restrictions, there’s so many rules and regulations and hoops, especially in the regional theatre world, where these theatres are just barely making it and trying to do… They can’t do new work that often because The Music Man is what’s gonna pull in money, not this new show that nobody’s ever heard of. So the idea is to make it easier for them, not harder. So if we all rallied together and did that, there would be very few bootleg recordings because you wouldn’t need them.
LL: [00:35:20] Yeah. That is certainly my hope. My dream is that one day, that you could leave a Broadway show, and in the same way that you could pick up the cast recording, you could pick up the video.
PG: [00:35:31] I have to say, it’s just insane that you can’t do that. It makes no sense. It’s just fear. It’s kind of like the world we live in. It’s not any different. It’s those very few people protecting what they have. They’re the winners. This is sort of what Estella Scrooge is about. Everybody can’t be a winner, because then there would be no winners. It’s just fear of losing that little piece of what you already have. But that’s not the way it works. You wouldn’t lose. You would gain. But they don’t know that, because they’re too afraid to let it happen, in my opinion.
LL: [00:36:07] And the tiny research, the figures that are available, videos of shows don’t hamper ticket sales. They increase them, even if by a small amount. But they certainly don’t take them away. There’s so few Broadway shows specifically that have been filmed during the run that there’s just no data for it. So people can say, “Well, it’s gonna jeopardize ticket sales!” The point that came to my mind that I wanted to make earlier was that people always want the in-person experience. When you were talking about music streaming, yes, that form of income from sales went away, but then concerts boomed, touring, because people want the live, in-person experience. And I think that, and I know you support this, filming theatre only boosts people’s interest and desire to be a part of theatre, and they’ll always want to go and see. Myself personally, I saw Daddy Long Legs on film. I’d seen it. Why do I need to see it again? I saw it twice more at the theatre.
PG: [00:37:16] A hundred percent. What you’re saying now is so right on, and here’s why: I remember in the early days of Les Mis that I went to see the show the first time. I didn’t care for the show the first time, but I had a friend in it, so I had to go back, and then I really loved it the second time. And then I was just in that place, and this was before I knew John Caird, that I just couldn’t get enough of the show. So there’d be PBS concerts, you may remember, that were on, and I got excited, I’d watch that, and then the touring company would come back and then I’d see the show again. And any time they’d show something on TV, it just perked my interest. When they showed Light in the Piazza on PBS, I had it on TiVO at that time. I think I watched it ten or eleven times. I couldn’t get enough of it.
[00:38:06] But what the overall thing that that does is it brands the show. It makes you aware of the show. You’re not gonna be interested or not interested in a show if you haven’t heard about it or seen it. So filming a live capture of a Broadway show while it’s running, or any other show, only helps you. There is no way that it hurts you. Unless the show is really bad and people go, “This is bad. I don’t want to see it.” But sort of everybody likes something about some show, even the shows that we may not care for. So it only helps. It doesn’t hurt at all.
[00:38:42] There’s actually no way that I can think of that it hurts other than the restrictions of filming and how expensive it is to film. Now, if you imagine just going into, like our Pride and Prejudice. If we were just paying for the camera people to come in and the editing process, our budget would’ve been so easy and manageable and we would’ve gone into profit so quickly. But because of all of the financial restrictions that we had to deal with, like I had to ask for this money and now it’s gonna be a steep mountain to climb for people to eventually get paid back, which they will, because I have a lot of confidence the show’s gonna be licensed and it’s gonna do well. But why is it so hard? That’s what we have to ask ourselves. Why is this so challenging, so difficult? Why can’t everybody see how this is in all of our best interests? For the actors on stage, no, don’t pay them this extra huge amount that would make it impossible for us to film it at all, just give them the royalties. Give them the income. Give them the payment in perpetuity that everybody else is getting. Let us all take the same risk. Let the producers take the same risk, let the actors take the same risk. It just makes sense. If we win, we all win. If we lose, we all lose together and then we do the next one. But nobody loses because the show is there forever and your work is there forever, which scares some people, and I understand it. But we are in a new world and we have to embrace it.
LL: [00:40:28] I was just thinking about films like The Sound of Music, which is a movie musical, but was not critically acclaimed at first when it came out. But it kept being shown on television, it was released on VHS, and over time it’s accumulated this cult following. And Rocky Horror as well. So many things you could talk about, that because they were spread out over different markets in different ways, they became, as you say, a brand. They became a known entity. And there is this resistance, particularly in the United States, “No, it has to stay ephemeral.” It’s this idea, “Theatre is ephemeral, so it must stay ephemeral.”
PG: [00:41:12] Yeah, yeah.
LL: [00:41:13] But we’re losing our history, because we’re not recording these performances. We’re not recording actors. We’re not recording design. We’re not recording the shows as a whole. Whereas in the UK, the contracts are set… They’re very different, and I know the scale of pay is very different. It’s a whole [crosstalk 00:41:36-00:41:38] different ball game. But it’s one central union rather than 50,000 of them.
PG: [00:41:42] Oh my god.
LL: [00:41:44] But companies like NBC, who have very deep pockets, are literally jumping across the pond to film shows. They’re filming Elf with Matt Morrison. It’s cheaper to go to England and film there rather than use American… It’s an American show, based on an American movie, and I’m struggling with that. And through the pandemic, watching… And it’s not that the UK stuff isn’t great. It’s wonderful. But living in the US, and as a US actor myself, I want the work here and I want the work that’s being created here to be seen in the same way that UK productions through the pandemic have been able to continue to film shows with socially distanced audiences or without an audience and stream it. And that’s just not happening stateside.
PG: [00:42:37] Yeah. I mean, what you’re saying is absolutely true, and we have considered filming in the UK for specifically those reasons. And it has been frustrating when you have all the unions split here and not operating under one umbrella because they have not been talking to each other. We got approval for one of our shows to stream, but then one union stood in the way and said, “No, we don’t agree” after a year of negotiations, so stuff like that is incredibly frustrating. And again, as we’ve said, it all needs to change. It all needs to shift. And I don’t actually, at this moment, know how it does, because of what I see lurking and looming, which makes me sad because it makes us less willing to work on certain union contracts, because, as you know, you can work with non-union contracts and work with different people. But that’s not what we want to do. We don’t want to do that because of restrictions standing in our way. We want everybody to win, but, of course, our hands are tied. So in every project coming up, we have to go, “Is this a non-union contract? Is this a union contract? What’s the best way…”
[00:43:54] I just filmed one of my shows called Being Earnest, which is based on the Oscar Wilde play, and we did it at Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee, with director Michael Unger, who used to be at the York, and so I had a relationship with him. And this was the first show that… He was named artistic director of Skylight just last year, and Being Earnest was the first show he wanted to do, but with COVID and the pandemic, he was not allowed to do it. So he came to me and said, “What if we did a remote version of it and streamed it?” And I said, “Great.” So their policy, or the way they work, they work with non-union actors. So we had each actor do remote recording on an iPhone, we had a session, we did it like we would film anything, but everybody was at home. And we had a tech come in and help them with their setup, and I’m actually very proud of how this turned out. We worked really hard on it and I spent a lot of time editing the songs and I would love to share it with you at some point soon, and I think we might release it in January. I have a meeting about the show later today. But the point is, is that there were no restrictions on us and it wasn’t terribly expensive to make and the actors are all gonna be in a royalty pool moving forward. They don’t even know this. And we’re gonna take care of them. And we just don’t have any restrictions, and it was a very freeing way of doing it. And it was just their policy, “This is the way we work.”
[00:45:36] So I do think there’s ways to pursue things, but for me right now, and for companies like Streaming Musicals and all of us, we’re all just trying to figure out, “How do we do this so that it does not cost a fortune to do?” You look at Broadway now, and you look at these 15 million dollar shows, and you think, “How are you gonna make money?” Everybody’s gonna lose, one show’s gonna do okay, and maybe make their money back in a couple years, and everybody else is gonna lose. You’re in a world where you have six weeks to outperform your competition or you lose everything. And that’s just an insane business model.
[00:46:15] And off-Broadway is worse. When I’m trying to raise money, originally my idea was to raise money to do Emma off-Broadway and film an off-Broadway production, but I quickly realized, going up to an investor, “Yeah, you can either give me your money or you can light it on fire, because there’s absolutely no difference.” Because there’s just no way you’re gonna make your money back doing an off-Broadway show. And if you make your money back doing a Broadway show, you’ve just won the lottery. And as a composer, I started to feel like, “So, I have to win the lottery twice. I have to win the lottery once to get to Broadway, and then I have to win the lottery again to have a hit on Broadway.” And that’s just no way to have a career.
[00:46:57] So streaming and filming musicals gives us an entirely new path to be successful. Not, maybe, to be this huge Wicked hit, multi-millionaire Hamilton category. That happens when those shows come along and we love those shows, and it’s great that that happens, but what about everybody else? And how do we make it so it’s not just one person makes a gazillion dollars and everybody else fails? How do we make it so that one person makes a gazillion dollars and everybody else finds their audience and has their success, just a different level of success, where it works for the actors, it works for the musicians, it works for everybody.
LL: [00:47:43] Oh, absolutely. I’m curious, when you’re talking about filming Emma, for example, the decision to film it without an audience. Why do you choose to film it without an audience?
PG: [00:47:54] I love this particular idea, cause that was sort of the first idea I had was, let’s use the SAG low-budget indie contract and not have an audience so we wouldn’t be under Equity jurisdiction, we’d be under SAG jurisdiction, which at that time was much friendlier to what we were doing. And I loved the idea of shooting it like a movie out of order, but shooting it on stage so that we were actually creating something new. It wasn’t a movie, and it wasn’t a filmed live production. It was a soundstage musical where we would get to tweak the music in post and get to add things and get to… For me, I let go of the musical part of it once we’re in production and I hand it over to a music director and an orchestrator, and I’m working on the book in the production. In this, I could be part of the post, and I could, as an author and a composer, have much more say in the final product and how it looked. Working with the directors, working with our orchestrators, doing some of the orchestration myself. In my pop music world, I made my own recordings and that was my wheelhouse. And I’ve never gotten to use that part of my talent in musical theatre because it’s not the same thing. But in this, I can. This, I can go back to my recording studio and start doing some of the things that I’ve always done in this form, and that’s been really fun for me.
[00:49:29] But I think also it’s just a different experience for the actors. Like in a movie, you get to do the scene over and over. And I was really attached to the idea of live singing in this form, which no films really do, which we did in Emma. No one called ahead. That’s not something that people think of, but I thought it was really, really an important element to have the live singing. And of course you can help the live singing in post, and I like that idea too. So we could really create the version that we wanted. And people were, of course, going, “But you won’t have the audience! You won’t have that laugh, and you won’t have the applause.” And I went, to your point, “Does Sound of Music have a laugh? Does Sound of Music have applause?” No. It’s a movie musical, so why would you expect something different in this? It’s just that we’re trained to expect something in a different form, and my idea was, we’ll train them to expect something new. And listen, this is just the first one. We’ll figure out better ways of doing it as we go. And I feel like that’s what we’ve done.
LL: [00:50:35] I noticed on Streaming Musicals that there’s a tab for Japanese audiences.
PG: [00:50:40] Yes.
LL: [00:50:41] Can you talk about the relationship with Japan?
PG: [00:50:43] Yeah. So John Caird and I, John has had a relationship with a company called Toho for a long time in Japan, and we did a production of Jane Eyre years ago, and John is also married to a wonderful woman named Maoko, and Maoko grew up in Japan and she’s the one that read Daddy-Long-Legs as a child, because the book was very popular in Japan, even though it’s not popular in the States or anywhere else that I know of. I’d never heard of it. And Maoko was always very instrumental in connecting us to the Japanese market. So since we have done Jane Eyre, Daddy Long Legs, we did Knight’s Tale there two years ago, a concert this year, we just got through with a production of Daddy Long Legs. So we have sort of an audience there that’s interested in our material. So Maoko and her daughter Yaya did the translation for Pride and Prejudice. So we have Japanese subtitles for Pride and Prejudice, so that’s what that tab is. As I talked to John and Maoko and Yaya yesterday on FaceTime, they are working on the Japanese translation right now for Jane Eyre, for the new production we’re gonna do in Japan, I think in 2022, and for, hopefully, the stream, and for Estella right now. They’re doing the Japanese translation for Estella, which, we welcome our Japanese audience that have always been very kind to John and I.
LL: [00:52:23] There’s a wonderful history of American musical theatre in Japan. Back in the late 70s, early 80s, Japanese television networks paid for Pacific Overtures, and then later Will Rogers Follies and Victor/Victoria to be filmed live and broadcast in Japan.
PG: [00:52:44] Oh, wow. I didn’t know that.
LL: [00:52:46] Yeah. So when I saw Japan on your site, I was like, “Ooh, there’s more to this story!”
PG: [00:52:51] Yeah. They are streaming Daddy Long Legs, cause I think we had to be at half capacity for our production, but I have not seen that stream, but I love working with these producers. They’re so kind, and they plan things years in advance, so you have to be very, very patient.
LL: [00:53:13] But they’re streaming a Japanese version of Daddy Long Legs?
PG: [00:53:16] They are streaming a Japanese version of Daddy Long Legs to make up for the sales that they lost due to being socially distanced. So I have not seen it and I don’t know exactly how it’s working, but I know I signed something that said, “Yes, you can do this.”
LL: [00:53:32] Oh, I’d love to find that. Because I watched the Spanish translation, Papi Piernas Largas…
PG: [00:53:38] Oh, I haven’t seen that.
LL: [00:53:40] Which was beautiful. It was filmed in Mexico City by Oak Live and they did it without an audience. It was an empty theatre. But really it was so interesting, because obviously I know the English version so well, it was really fascinating to watch it in Spanish and see the kind of Mexican flair that was put into it.
PG: [00:54:00] Oh, that’s awesome. Send me that link.
LL: [00:54:02] Oh, I will.
PG: [00:54:04] It’s so funny because MTI, Music Theatre International, that licenses Daddy Long Legs, they email us a couple of times a week, “Is it okay if this company streams it without an audience in this…” Like, yes, yes. Do it! Do it! I don’t know if you were aware there was a Russian director who did, I don’t know if you saw these, he was doing, right at the start of the pandemic, with his wife, who played Jerusha, and this other Russian actor, they were doing these sort of contemporary… These shoots on the songs, just the songs, and they would do them in a contemporary way and edit in a way, and I think initially they were illegal, but we quickly gave them permission and said, “We love this! This is great!” So that was really exciting to see it in Russian and this couple that just loved the show and they had this really unique way of filming it and they were getting hits, and I think they want to try to do a television production in Russia next year.
[00:55:09] But it’s fun with this new world, with people, like yes, film everything! Do it! I’m excited. I want to see it. Even if I just know you’re doing it, it’s exciting, it’s exciting knowing that everybody can watch it. Cause that’s the idea, right, is to share it with people and have people enjoy it, especially in these turbulent times to have such a feel-good piece like Daddy Long Legs and Emma and Pride and Prejudice, things that are uplifting. I love heavy dramas and things that are challenging as well, but right now I want a little bit more of the lightweight than I normally would. And I feel like we have that to offer right now.
LL: [00:55:53] Very much so. This has been so wonderful! I could talk to you all day about filming musicals, but I know we don’t have all day, so I have a few quick questions to wrap us up. You don’t need to think about these answers too deeply. Whatever comes to mind is good; there are no wrong answers.
PG: [00:56:11] Okay.
LL: [00:56:12] What is your favorite musical?
PG: [00:56:14] A Little Night Music, followed pretty closely by Light in the Piazza.
LL: [00:56:20] Do you have a favorite filmed live musical?
PG: [00:56:23] Ooh. I’m not gonna name my own. I love She Loves Me. I thought that was filmed really, really well. I haven’t seen a lot. The filmed version of Sweeney Todd that I grew up to…
LL: [00:56:41] The Angela Lansbury George Hearn version?
PG: [00:56:45] Yeah, that production. And the Into the Woods that you mentioned. I love those captures. And they did a capture of Light in the Piazza that they only showed once, but I had it on TiVo and that was a fantastic capture and I wish I still had a version of it. I’d watch it every day.
LL: [00:57:01] It’s really interesting, the relationship between Sondheim and filmed live musicals, because I think he, like you, is like, “Just get it out there. [crosstalk 00:57:08-00:57:10] let people see it.”
PG: [00:57:11] And I love that they had the audacity to release his shows, because he’s the master.
LL: [00:57:16] Yeah. I know we’ve talked about this a little bit with Streaming Musicals, that a filmed live musical is something between a film and theatre, so what should we call it?
PG: [00:57:28] A soundstage musical.
LL: [00:57:31] What do you wish had been filmed?
PG: [00:57:35] Everything. But the interesting thing is most things have been filmed. They’re just at the Lincoln Center archive and we’re not allowed to see them. I mean, probably, for me, the original production of West Side Story is probably the show that I would most like to see with contemporary filming of that production that was done in 1957 or whenever it was done. I mean, that’s a life-changing show, certainly, for theatre. I think I’d probably like to see that one. I would also like to see the original production of A Little Night Music, the one that we have the original cast recording to. I saw the touring company eleven times in L.A., but I would’ve loved to have seen the original production.
LL: [00:58:23] I think I know the answer to this, but what would you like to see filmed in the future?
PG: [00:58:28] Everything. I mean, I have a list of ten of my shows. I mean, really, everything that comes out. I feel like every composer and writer, they should have their due. They should be able to have their work seen worldwide.
LL: [00:58:47] Absolutely. Estella Scrooge, it’s available now?
PG: [00:58:54] I think we’re a few days away from opening night.
LL: [00:58:59] For folks that don’t know yet what Estella Scrooge is, can you give us a quick overview?
PG: [00:59:03] Yeah. So Estella Scrooge is basically a Dickensian mashup, and we’ve taken the story from Great Expectations and merged it with A Christmas Carol and thrown in a little Nicholas Nickleby and every other Dickens novel, and it’s contemporary. Our Scrooge is Estella Scrooge, and she’s a Wall Street tycoon, and on Christmas Day she decides to foreclose on the heart house that’s located in Pickwick, Ohio, run by Philip Nickleby, who’s actually Pip from Great Expectations, and he runs a house for the disenfranchised. And so she travels to Pickwick and has her ghost experience while staying there, and there’s lots of characters from other Dickens novels. It’s really a lot of fun, but it’s also sort of an important story for our time, and it has a political message as well as an emotional message, and I feel quite good about that.
LL: [01:00:01] So make sure to check that out on streamingmusicals.com.
PG: [01:00:04] Yeah. And I think also Ticketmaster is releasing it, so you’ll definitely see it on streamingmusicals.com.
LL: [01:00:11] And where else can we find you online?
PG: [01:00:13] Paulgordonmusic.com is my website, and when you go to my website, I also hope you’ll check out Kitty Bennet, which is this sort of new episodic idea I had. She’s a character from Pride and Prejudice. She’s modern, and she’s a vlogger, and she’s a celebrity vlogger, and she has four crazy sisters, but I’m doing it with this wonderful actress named Juliette Goglia, and she plays Kitty Bennet, and it’s a series musical. It’s a little musical. It’s a form I’m sort of discovering as we go. We have the first three episodes online, and they’re all free, and we’re doing the next three now, and then we have three more to do after that, and that’s sort of gonna be season one. And it’s sort of a new foray into something that we can sort of control ourselves. It’s just her and I creating it and doing it, but it’s a lot of fun. So if you have a chance, check it out on my website.
LL: [01:01:16] Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time today, Paul.
PG: [01:01:19] Thank you so much! This was fun. I’ll come back any time.
LL: [01:01:22] Oh, wonderful.
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