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Broadway Blackout

Justin Nichols Play
Anne of Green Gables - The New Musical
Justin Nichols
Justin Nichols Broadway play
Justin Nichols Broadway play
Broadway Blackout
Q: Were there specific Tabor faculty members that cultivated your interest in the theater and nurtured your desire to pursue it in college and beyond?

I fell in love with theater doing community theater as a kid, and my passion for it absolutely grew at Tabor. Of course, being in the fall plays and winter musicals directed by Mr. Heavey, Mr. Howland and Mr. Horne all had a huge impact.

My senior year, however, Mr. Sanborn created an independent study for me specifically on musical theater, focusing on the history of the Broadway musical, as well as the structural and musical analysis of a musical. I still have my textbook from that class and use it as a reference now. My Tabor career also culminated in my senior project, where I produced (as well as performed in) a production of "The Last 5 Years." It was my first time producing a show, and on many levels, it is exactly what I am doing now, just on a slightly larger scale.

Q: For the uninitiated, what does a theatrical producer do and what’s your role in bringing a play to the stage?
A Broadway producer is the CEO, the person ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the production. Producing is choosing the show, making sure that the right creative team is in place, and ensuring that the show has the resources that it needs to create the best production possible. To do that, you need to raise capital and sell enough tickets to meet your budgeted running costs and continue paying the actors, creative teams, and investors.
Q: As the director of operations at Broadway Brands, publisher of Broadway News, you have a bird’s-eye view into everything happening on the Great White Way. What’s the outlook for Broadway in the short- and long-term?

There is no denying that Broadway has a tough road ahead. The entire current business model relies on a thousand people buying a ticket to sit next to each other for two hours. Until there is a vaccine, I don’t know that Broadway will be able to be operational. And while Broadway is dark, actors and Broadway professionals may be out of work for a year or more. That being said, artists will continue to be artists, and they will continually look for ways to create, entertain and enlighten. Theater artists and producers are already looking for ways to adapt. Broadway streaming options have been slowly increasing, and some choreographers have spoken about re-staging their work to help with social distancing. People will keep on thinking.

Once there is a vaccine, people are going to be looking for live, in-person experiences. We’ve been cramped up in our homes either alone or in small groups. We’re going to be looking for joy. We’re going to be looking for connection. I really believe people are going to need the theater emotionally and spiritually once we’re out of this, and Broadway is going to be there for them once it’s safe.

Q: Do you think theatergoers will see marked differences when Broadway reopens?

I am sure that there will be differences in theater etiquette and audience procedures, including the process of entering a theater, waiting in line and getting tickets. Hopefully, in the long run, we’ll be able to make them better than they were in the first place. Anybody who’s ever been yelled at by an usher to get to your seat faster knows that Broadway has room for growth in the realm of customer experience.

As far as what’s on stage, I imagine the content is going to shift a bit too, though I can’t say for certain how yet. For newer shows, there may be a trend towards performances aimed at a local NYC audience versus a tourist audience since tourism will most likely be down. We may see even more celebrity driven shows since that may help draw in audiences. And we’ll probably be looking at shows smaller in scale, with lower budgets and smaller casts. But even those examples are three completely different ways to attempt a successful theatrical
venture in a new landscape. I think we’re going to see some experimentation in what works best.

Q: Your new play, "Anne of Green Gables," is scheduled to receive its world premiere at Goodspeed Musicals in 2021. How has COVID19 affected the premiere, and what have you done to move the musical forward despite so much uncertainty?

For starters, we were originally scheduled to make our world premiere on July 10, 2020. We were fully cast, our set was about to be built in the shop, and the rehearsal script was locked. So, our first step was to postpone the production until next year. We immediately had to reach out to cast members and the creative team to put a hold on their calendars for the future.

The next question has been: “Now that we have an extra year, what do we do with this time?” We’re looking forward to taking the time to build a following for the show which will include releasing some music from the show and possibly some additional content.

Q: What outlets have you found your own creativity during this crisis, and how is the greater Broadway community coming together during the pandemic?

Honestly, thinking about all these issues has been exactly how I’ve been keeping up my own creativity. I’ve been thinking about the ways we can make Broadway strong again and perhaps make it stronger than it was before the pandemic. The Broadway community has been lending their time and talents to performing in and producing different online concerts and fundraisers. I think it’s been a way of giving back to the community, knowing that Broadway fans everywhere are missing the theater and missing each other. I also think they are doing it for their own healing. What is a performer who can’t perform? 

Justin Nichols is a New York City-based theatrical producer. He is currently the producer of "Anne of Green Gables - The New Musical," which will receive its world premiere at Goodspeed Musicals in 2021. He spent four years as the executive assistant to Jeffrey Seller working on the development and production of "Hamilton: An American Musical" and "Sting’s The Last Ship." Nichols is currently the director of operations at Broadway Brands. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and the Commercial Theater Institute.