Proctors invests in Broadway. It sounds like a convenient tagline, perhaps a bit of advertising copy, but it’s true. Over the past 15 years, Proctors has invested in over two dozen shows, including original Broadway properties, first national tours and international road companies.
You’ve seen many of these at Proctors, including hits like Spamalot, On Your Feet!, Waitress, The SpongeBob Musical and The Band’s Visit, which lands in Schenectady for a week starting New Year’s Eve.
“We’ve had a couple of big winners,” says Proctors Collaborative CEO Philip Morris. “We’ve had half a dozen disasters—just wrote them off to zero—and we’ve had some that keep trickling in. So, for a mixed bag investment portfolio of shows, yeah, we’re probably doing right on par with everybody else in the business.”
Why invest? Why is a former vaudeville hall in Schenectady‒a nonprofit at that‒putting money, energy and effort into big Broadway beyond what comes through its doors?
Because it makes sense.
Morris previously served as executive director of the Arts Council for Chautauqua County in Jamestown, in the far southwestern corner of New York state. When he arrived in Schenectady in 2002, he found pretty much what he expected: a solid, if not exactly thriving, roadhouse, presenting tours that it could afford and that it could host in its 76-year-old digs.
But Morris saw possibilities. Broadway, at the time, was changing, and so, fortuitously, was the road, a show business term for touring Broadway. By the time a new state-of-the-art stagehouse was completed in 2005 as part of a $40 million expansion and renovation project, Proctors was ready to play a role.
Not only could it offer the biggest, boldest shows available—Hamilton, anyone?—but it could take steps to put those shows on the map, by investing, and, on the road, by hosting technical rehearsals (techs), which began with Ghost the Musical in 2013.
Even before the landmark renovation, Proctors had joined the Independent Presenters Network (IPN), a consortium of independent theatres and performing arts centers.
The original goal of the organization, Morris says, was to protect indies in “conflicted markets,” where unaffiliated PACs were vying for titles with the massive Broadway Across America, itself a network of 40 presenting venues, which the John Gore Organization purchased from Live Nation in 2008.
“At Proctors, we’re not in a conflicted market,” Morris says, “but it was really a group effort to support one another and to stand up to what looked, at the time, like a big monster.”
Contributions from IPN members vary, but each constituent is expected to chip in on a burgeoning production at least once every two years; Morris says Proctors invests almost annually. The deep connections are especially important as Proctors and Capital Repertory Theatre are so close to New York City. Proctors, for example, recently began working with New York Stage Originals to develop, in Schenectady, new properties bound for off-Broadway. When the REP’s dedicated facility opens in spring 2020, with a black box space in addition to the MainStage, it, too, can join more closely with producers on new works as well as those premiered through its own NEXT ACT! New Play Summit.
In 2006, Proctors also joined Elephant Eye Theatrical, a smaller, but quite ambitious, collective. The road was rapidly changing, and Elephant Eye’s charge was to create content that could launch from Broadway to feed the touring circuit, benefiting all partners.
The Addams Family, which played Proctors in fall 2011, was the first such effort. Two other pieces—Bruce Lee: Journey to the West and Saved—were nurtured but eventually dropped before the group mounted An American in Paris in 2016. That show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won four.
Morris worked with Paris from the beginning and encouraged additional local investors to come in under the Proctors banner, which made the State Street venue an above-the-title producer. The tour also teched and launched in Schenectady. Despite Morris supporting state legislation for tax credits to make upstate more attractive to key producers, that likely would not have happened without Proctors’ financial affiliation.
With Paris, Proctors also began, in collaboration with Capital Region BOCES, its Broadway Tech program, bringing students together with professionals to learn skills and habits necessary for today’s expanding entertainment workforce.
“We’re teching Disney’s Frozen in November because they are aware of our investment—literally and figuratively—in touring Broadway,” Morris says. “And they are thrilled that our Broadway Tech students will have the opportunity to work with the best in the business.”
Morris believes investment in Broadway has paid off. “We are where we are today because we invest,” he says.
Here is a select list of Broadway and touring property investments Proctors, as a member of the Independent Presenters Network and Elephant Eye Theatrical, has supported.
Spamalot (and subsequent international touring productions) (2004-2008)
Dr. Doolittle (2005)
Edward Scissorhands (2005)
Legally Blonde(and its first national tour) (2006-2008)
Elephant Eye Theatrical (including The Addams Family and An American in Paris) (2006)
9 to 5 (2008)
Leap of Faith (2010)
Sleeping Beauty (2012)
On Your Feet! (and first national tour) (2015-2017)
The SpongeBob Musical (2016)
Waitress (and London production and first national tour) (2016-2018)
The Red Shoes—New Adventures (2016)
The Bodyguard (2016)
War Paint (2017)
The Band’s Visit (and first national tour) (2017-2019)
The Cher Show (2018)
By Michael Eck
The Collaborative is published by Proctors