PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jordan Roth

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jordan Roth
 
When Jordan Roth was named the new president of Jujumcyn Theaters, it was the biggest news on Broadway since, well, since Rocco Landesman stepped down as president of Jujamcyn Theaters.
Jordan Roth
Jordan Roth Photo by Jim Cox

Landesman, a force on Broadway for decades, left his post to become the new chief of the National Endowment of the Arts. The shift necessitated the early elevation of young Roth, who joined Jujamcyn only four years ago, in 2005, and was widely viewed as being groomed for the top job. Roth talked to Playbill.com in his small office at Jujamcyn headquarters above the St. James Theatre, which he will soon trade in for a much larger office.

Playbill.com: Is it fair to say that this promotion came sooner than you expected?
Jordan Roth: Well, I think it was unclear what the timing of it would be, but this timing feels right.

Playbill.com: How so?
JR: I think Rocco is off to tackle some really important and essential work for our country, and we're also proud of what he is embarking on, and we here are really ready to continue our work as Jujamcyn.

Playbill.com: Concerning the NEA, do you have an opinion on what the government's role should be in fostering the arts?
JR: I think that a vibrant arts culture is essential to a nation, socially, politically and, truly, economically.

Playbill.com: You are by far the youngest authority in the Broadway theatre-owning world. Without taking anything away from the people who lead the Shubert and Nederlander organizations...
JR: Indeed, and I think that's crucial to mention. Playbill.com:...do you think it's good to have someone who's 33 to be in charge of some of these theatres?
JR: Well, surely I do! (Laughs)

Playbill.com: Do you think it's something that Broadway needs, the kind of youthful perspective that you might bring?
JR: I clearly do. I think that, as an industry, we put a lot of effort into engaging new voices and artists and welcoming new audiences. And I think that a really important element to succeeding in those efforts is to include that kind of generational perspective in the leadership of the industry as well. I also think that this business has always been multi-generational. There have always been new people arriving on the scene with a new vision, a unique perspective, as well as — and this is essential — a deep love and respect for the legacy of the form and of the business.

Playbill.com: Do you intend to try and fill the five Jujamcyn theatres with forward-looking projects? If you have your way, would you book five Spring Awakenings?
JR: I think we strive for balance. I truly believe that Broadway is big enough to embrace all of it, and is a better Broadway for embracing all of it. When we can present a season whose arms are stretched wide enough to embrace Fela! and Finian's Rainbow, that's a Broadway I want to be an audience member of. And that's where I think we need to come from — we are all first and foremost audience members.

Playbill.com: Are you more a musical man or a play man?
JR: Oh, Robert, I would call myself a theatre man. I think that they fill different needs for us as people. To be lifted by a score, by the music, by the voice, by the collection of voices, by that feeling when that beat gets in your body, there's nothing like that. That is the unique experience of the Broadway musical. At the same time, there are moments of human condition that need to be experienced just through the human voice, just through the singular vision of the playwright. That is why a play can really bury itself into our souls. And, again, Broadway is big enough to present the biggest and best of both of them.

Jordan Roth
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Playbill.com: Would you ever produce something outside the five Jujamcyn theatres?
JR: I rarely say never. At this moment there's not a specific project we're looking at like that. Playbill.com: Do you see a lot of theatre? How many shows do you see a week?
JR: It really quite varies.

Playbill.com: On average.
JR: I couldn't say specifically — depends where we are in the season.

Playbill.com: What is your feeling on rising Broadway ticket prices? Is that an issue that concerns you?
JR: Absolutely. All the time. I think that we have to look at that issue with a wider scope on two issues. The question of rising ticket prices is married to the question of rising costs. So the effort to explore that is an effort to explore the entire economy of the theatre, which is both revenue and cost. The second wider scope is to explore ticket price as a continuum from the lowest to the highest. The goal is to make sure that there's a wide range of access points for all of our audiences at all levels of ability to pay.

Playbill.com: Do you have an opinion on the state of the Tony Awards, where it is right now and the direction it's going?
JR: For me, the Tony Awards are an honoring of excellence in the theatre and a celebration of theatre. And I think that second part is very crucial. I think this year's awards explored that, and I think it will continue in that.

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