With Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, a woman assuming the nation's highest office is a stronger possibility than ever before in the history of the country. But whether she wins or not, Broadway is already way ahead of Presidential politics.
In 2006, the League of American Theatres and Producers — the powerful trade organization which represents almost all of Broadway's theatre owners and producers — hired Charlotte St. Martin as its first female executive director.
Setting precedents, however, does not faze this three-decade veteran of the Loews Hotels chain. "It's not the first time I've been the first woman," she said. "That happened several times in the hotel industry. I didn't really think about it until I started getting the question. It never was an issue in the search process. They were just looking for someone with the energy and ideas to embrace this organization with passion."
St. Martin was not looking for a job when the League opportunity came along. Rather, it seems like the job came looking for her. "I had just started my own business in marketing operations," she explained. Then a headhunter who knew St. Martin and had heard of the League opening called her and said, "Charlotte, this job description sounds like you." "But I just started my own business," St. Martin argued. "I know," said the friend, "but what would it hurt you to talk to them? You love theatre. You go to the theatre more than anyone I've ever known who wasn't in the business." St. Martin had to plead guilty to that charge; prior to this season, she saw on average 20 to 25 shows a year. So she went in for an interview. After that, as she puts it, "things just moved along." Relocation was not an issue; the Texas native had been a New York City resident since 1995.
Her first few weeks in the job could be called, à la Hillary, a "listening tour." She met with members of the League's board of governors and executive committee and asked them all the same questions: "If I was doing everything right, what would I be doing now?" Sometimes, she didn't even have to go to the industry's leaders — they came to her.
"The League has such a passionate group of members," she marveled. "I see senior CEO-types here almost every day at one meeting or another. They're running these companies, but they're at the League. It's been my biggest surprise."
There have been other surprises as well. Like many others who have encountered the sui generis theatre business for the first time, she found the way it operates is unique unto itself. "I haven't ever seen such a vertical organization, where all of the members are so interdependent on one another. The theatre owners have got to have the producers; the producers have got to have the road shows; the general managers are sort of the thread between all of them. You don't have all these outside forces you're dependent on. You're all in the same industry."
Her many nights in the theatre during the 2006-07 season also proved to be an education. "One of my biggest surprises was the diversity of offerings on Broadway. There's really something for everybody, for every age and I think that's one of the reasons Broadway is doing well. There are great offerings of new plays, of traditional musicals, some innovative new musicals. It's a pretty exciting time. As a theatergoer, I never looked at that."
Among St. Martin's first initiatives as executive director is a recharged effort to expand Broadway's brand recognition. To accomplish this, she has hired three agencies: New York-based cultural marketing company LaPlaca Cohen, to focus on strategy and media; West Coast agency Trailer Park of Hollywood, CA, to provide creative services; and another West Coast outfit, The Buddy Group of Lake Forest, CA, to handle electronic applications. Her goal is to not only develop new audiences, but to ratchet up the theatregoing habit of Broadway's core audiences. The campaign is expected to launch in late 2007.
"If you look at any of the biggest brands in the world, they don't quit advertising just because they have a good brand," explained St. Martin. "For the League, one of the key changes that has occurred over the last few years is our road members have gotten very involved in the organization. So, one of the key parts of the new branding initiative is to brand Broadway beyond New York City and have Broadway mean more across the country than perhaps it does now."
As St. Martin said these words, it was late March and she was heading into the busiest two months in the Broadway calendar: the rush of April and May openings and the run-up to the Tonys. "My schedule went from 12-hour days to 16-hour days," she said. But she's prepared for the onslaught.
"I've planned a July trip and an August trip," she jokes.
This piece appeared in the Playbill of the 2007 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.