Why Running Theatre Like a Start-Up Works

Outside the Theatre   Why Running Theatre Like a Start-Up Works
 
Zach Laks, who runs production and theatrical management company Form Theatricals, explains the start-up model behind his business and Michael Urie’s Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.
Zachary Laks
Zachary Laks Hannah Vine

Who: Zach Laks, Producer and Theatre Manager. Co-Founder of Form Theatricals
Outside: The Barrow Street Theatre, where Drew Droege’s Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is currently playing, directed by Michael Urie

Tell me a little bit about Form Theatricals—your production and theatre management company.
ZL: About five years ago, my business partner Anthony Francavilla and I were looking to create change in the theatre industry. We really wanted to do something that would resemble a start-up in theatre management, so we created Form Theatricals based off a tech start-up model.

Zachary Laks
Zachary Laks Hannah Vine

What was your background at that point?
ZL: I’d studied theatre management at Ithaca College and worked in theatre throughout New York City—I’d been at Metropolitan Opera doing estate planning and I’d worked with the executive producer at 59E59 Theaters. I felt like it was time to start my own company; I wanted to produce and manage the work that I felt passionate about.

Did you feel like there was a gap in the market for what you wanted to offer?
ZL: Yes. We look at things differently than most other theatrical management and production companies. We see things as a test: How can we get this show up? Particularly with budgets—because I think budgets get over-inflated—there are ways to test shows to see if the budget is valid.

What is the difference between theatre management and production?
ZL: We manage a couple of venues at the moment: the Gym at Judson and 64 East 4th Street. Theatre management is multi-faceted. General management involves the soup-to-nuts production of a show, from the very beginning—the idea to the closing night. That includes overseeing the books, payroll, marketing, basically everything. Then, we also produce. So in the case of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, I saw it and loved it. I’d never heard an audience roar with approval like I did when I saw it at Ars Nova. It was so inspiring and I said: “I have to be a part of that.”

So you approached Drew and just said, “I want to produce your show”?
ZL: I reached out to him and then ran into him at The Color Purple. I said, “I’d like to work with you,” to which he replied: “Let’s talk.” I think what attracted him to me, was that I wanted to support his vision. There was a trust established very early. We did a try-out run Off-Broadway in September, which practically sold out, and now we’re back.

What would be your advice be to someone who wants to start their own production company?
ZL: Find a company that you like Off-Off-Broadway. Find a company that needs help—it’ll be a volunteer gig and you won’t get paid, but you will learn everything. I worked with the Amoralists for two years and it was the best experience of my life. They were producing work that I was extremely passionate about, they were an incredible group of people, and they gave me opportunities that I never would have had at a larger theatre company. It doesn’t matter whether you’re getting paid or not; you’re building a career and your skills. The biggest asset that you have when you’re just starting out is your time.

My advice would also be this: After a show, take your Playbill and reach out to one person and tell them something you thought about the show. We all want to have conversations in the theatre—that’s why we create art—but I think so often, people take their Playbills and they just let them sit on their nightstands. Take it and start a conversation. When people reach out to me, I’m so touched and I love it. We’re all theatre kids; we’re inspired by the work and want to help each other.

New York City is huge, but the theatre community here can feel quite small and inter-connected. How important is it to maintain good contacts and relationships?
ZL: I think connections are everything if they’re genuine. I think you have to show warmth and interest. You also have to support the theatre—there are so many discount programs and ticket offers available that there are no excuses. The most important thing is supporting each other and continuing to have a conversation.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, a comedic solo show about gay marriage, is currently playing a return engagement at the Barrow Street Theatre through December 30. For tickets and more information visit brightcolorsandboldpatterns.com/

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