“You know, you’re taught in scouting that you leave a campsite cleaner than you found it. The hard part about the Broadway League is I can’t imagine it being any cleaner than I found it.” So says Thomas Schumacher, President and Producer of Disney Theatrical Productions and the newly appointed Chairman of the Broadway League.
He’s in the mezzanine lobby of the St. James Theatre, taking time in the middle of a busy day of previews for Frozen to chat about his new role. Chatty and affable, Schumacher modestly claims that his role, after so many years with the Shubert’s Robert Wankel in it, is that of a cheerleader.
“The League is efficient and smart and beautifully run,” he says. “So my job is to make sure everybody feels empowered to do what they’re supposed to do. That really is the job.”
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. The Broadway League—the national trade association for the Broadway industry in New York City and across the country—is heavily involved not just in the Tony Awards but in education, diversity initiatives, audience development, and every other facet of keeping the theatre a vibrant and essential part of American lives. Part of the latter involves talking to elected officials about the importance of the arts, while simultaneously providing the kind of arts access to educational institutions around the country that may lack funding.
For an organization with such a breadth as this one, the job calls for someone equal to the task. As Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, puts it: “Tom understands the needs of the industry from many different perspectives. He knows producing, in New York City and on the road, and he has played all of the roles: producer, theatre owner, presenter. He has an undeniable passion for the arts and for theatre. His creativity and love of entertainment are evenly matched with his business sense. He is dedicated to seeing Broadway thrive in New York City, across the country, and around the world.”
Part of that dedication is understanding what already works. “I come into an organization that does not need to be transformed,” Schumacher points out. “Here, I’m an agent of support and maintenance. I’m here to make sure that all these great programs get the light of day, that people can see what they are, that in the organization they get highlighted, and that people can continue to do the great work they’ve been doing. That sounds kind of dull. But it’s vital.”
He points to programs such as the Jimmy® Awards, which recognize high school musical theatre performers every June, and Broadway Bridges, which aims to bring every tenth grader in a NYC school to a Broadway show, as examples of what the League can do.
Yet, Schumacher believes the League’s accomplishments and initiatives—and its commitment to its members and the audiences they serve—are far more important than the organization itself. “I don’t think the League needs to advertise itself. The League needs to let audiences know that shows are here, that they’re successful, that we have policies to make it easier to see them. That’s our job. The League is here as a service organization and as a trade association. We don’t need people to say, ‘Yay, the League!’ I’d like them to say, ‘Yay, the Jimmy Awards!’”