Tony-winner Greg Nobile has produced shows on Broadway like “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder ,” the revival of “Sideshow” and the current, site-specific “Sweeney Todd” at the Barrow Street Theater. He has invested in musicals like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Fun Home” and “Spongebob Squarepants .” He has produced multiple shows in the West End, including the Imelda Staunton-lead revival of “Gypsy,” and the film “India’s Daughter.” He is the managing director of Legacy Theatre , a fledgling company on the shoreline of Connecticut, and runs Flying Horse Hospitality, a group that recently opened their first restaurant and are already working on their second. Did I mention that Greg is 25 years old?
When thinking about who would be a good first interview for Opening Doors, a new monthly series I’m writing for OnStage profiling twentysomethings working in all facets of professional theater, I immediately knew Greg would be perfect. He has accomplished a tremendous amount in the last five years, has an astonishing breadth of work in his portfolio and gives back to his hometown of Branford, Connecticut in a myriad of ways. But even though we have many mutual friends and I have been asked a variation of the question “you know Greg Nobile, right?” seemingly dozens of times over the years, I had only met Greg in passing. To rectify that, he happily agreed to meet up so we could chat about his fascinating journey. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Were you always involved in theater growing up?
GN: [When I was a kid, my friend] Ryan Bloomquist and I had a dear friend named Brian Kelly who was born with this rare disease called Adrenoleukodystrophy. We wanted to do something to help but we were five and six, so we started selling lemonade on the street corner every summer. We dubbed ourselves "The Lemonade Gang." As we got older, both Ryan and I had this common passion for music and theater. We started putting shows on in the backyard and charging our families five dollars. As we got older, the scale and size of that grew. By the time we graduated high school, we'd raised over 100,000 dollars for the research foundation. That was my first entre into realizing that theater can be used for a larger purpose.
Did you have a plan after graduating high school to work in theater?
GN: I didn't really have a plan. I was a bad student in high school. I knew I wanted to be in theater but I originally thought I wanted to be on stage. Sometime around my senior year, I had the realization that I was good in town but that was probably going to be the end of my journey on stage. My father was an entrepreneur, he had a construction company, so the idea of entrepreneurship and business had always been around. I applied to one school and I went for Arts Administration. It was the thing that got me to New York City, but it was very clear that I was not going to succeed in the college setting. So, I dropped out after four weeks.
Not long after leaving school, Greg was invited to the opening night of the 2011 Broadway musical “Lysistrata Jones" by Jana Shea, a childhood friend’s mother who had invested money in the production. It was at that show that Greg started thinking about how a musical comes to Broadway and how he might become involved in that process.
How did you begin producing?
I thought I wanted to be an agent, so I went to work at a talent agency. We were representing the costume designer on a new show that was starting in Hartford called "A Gentleman's Guide to Love And Murder." I went to go see a rehearsal of that show and just totally feel in love with it. I immediately knew that if I wanted to go the producing route, this was something I was interested in. Jana was my first call. I said, "I got this thing. It's crazy. It's going to Broadway but we can join them as a co-producer." Around 2013 when the show was taking off, I approached Jana again and said, "I want to leave the agency. I want to do this full-time. Would you want to partner on a production company?"
She agreed and the two formed Seaview Productions . Since then, the group has worked on dozens of shows.
What attracts you to the projects you want to produce?
GN: I think for me it's mainly the models are that interesting. I mean, the art needs to be compelling. But moreover, the economic model of Broadway is so broken. It costs so much money to put shows on. A play can cost three million dollars now and a musical, the average is 18-20 million. Only one out of four shows recoup their investment. But we're a million-dollar business on the revenue side. There's just a better way to build shows, I believe. The model for "Sweeney Todd" was taking a title that every decade has a huge Broadway revival of and producing it for 130 people every night so we can keep inventory low and demand high. It recouped its investments in 24 weeks. We brought over a new musical by Anne Kauffman called "Hundred Days ,” which is a small chamber piece that really should never be on Broadway. We started at New York Theater Workshop and are now putting out a commercial tour. So, I'm most interested in shows that are two steps adjacent to the traditional business model. Thematically, I think seeing stories of people we don't usually get to see on stage. We're doing an adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast" with a disabled performer [Mat Fraser] and Miss Coney Island [Julie Atlas Muz]. It's an extraordinary, raw, dirty, sexy story about how they met and fell in love. These are just stories we don't usually get to see on stage.
What is the day to day duties of a producer?
GN: I'll share two stories, because they're different. "Sweeney" was what it was. They had done it in London, we were responsible for being logistic producers and making sure the thing came over and looked exactly how it did in London. Everyone came over to do the remount. But the show did not need any dramaturgical feedback from me. Now, the show's been running for almost a year and it’s all about maintenance. It’s about marketing and press, making sure that [the cast and crew are] happy and healthy. Because we are on six-month contracts with our cast, it feels like we're almost always in casting sessions. The best way to think about it is that the lead producer is the CEO of a big company. We really treat each show like a different company. And we're responsible for the global aspects to make sure everything is running within the organization. With something like "Lempicka ," which is a brand-new musical we’re working on with director Rachel Chavkin, it’s very much about coming up with everything from scratch. You're really starting with a blank page. The producer is responsible for going out and finding all the money. Then it's about finding the right designers, orchestrators, etc. It's populating the table with what will be 100 to 200 people. With “Hundred Days,” I sat in on every single preview and continued to tweak the show dramaturgically, musically and aesthetically until we froze the show for reviews.
Do you have any advice for people who might want to follow in your footsteps?
GN: The great news about being in theater is that no matter if you want to be on stage or producing or whatever, there's no formula for how you get there. We're not doctors. In all creative spaces, there are so many ways to do it. I had a really unconventional path. There are more conventional paths where you intern and then become an associate company manager and then assistant company manager and you go up the ladder. There’s no set way of getting into this space. You should be looking for artists or shows you want to champion. Find people you want to be in a community with. Making community theater and making professional actually aren't at all different. Eric Ting [current artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater] once told me that the only difference between community theater and professional theater is the number of zeros in the checks you give your friend hanging the lights. But you're still calling your friend to design the lights, you’re still calling your friend to be in the show. It's the same thing. Just surrounding yourself with people you want to make art with is the most important thing.
To learn more about Greg Nobile and Seaview Productions, visit seaviewprods.com. Do you know a theater professional with a fascinating job who is under 30 who would be perfect for this column? Contact NoahTheGolden@gmail.com