A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: Producer Daryl Roth
By Mervyn Rothstein
Meet Daryl Roth, the 2011 Tony Award-winning producer of The Normal Heart.
"I'm a risk taker at heart," says producer Daryl Roth. "I think my career is based on not being afraid to try things, not being afraid to suffer failure. I'm able to just be a tenacious person and do what I love."
Roth, 66, has combined tenacity and fearlessness to become a major figure in New York theatre. She has been a producer of six Pulitzer Prize-winning plays: Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, Margaret Edson's Wit, Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics, David Auburn's Proof and Tracy Letts' August: Osage County (the last two were also Tony winners). In June, her co-production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play.
Her long list of shows includes Caroline, or Change; Albee's The Goat or Who is Sylvia? (another Tony winner); and De La Guarda, which ran for seven years at her Off-Broadway Daryl Roth Theatre.
She has passed on her theatre genes to her son, Jordan Roth, president and co-owner of Jujamcyn Theatres, which owns five Broadway houses. (Her husband, Steven Roth, is a major Manhattan real estate executive.)
Daryl Roth grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of a car dealer. "My parents introduced my sister and me to theatre at an early age — mostly musicals. Show tunes were always playing in our house."
But it took a long time for her to consider a theatre career. "I loved theatre. For so many years, that was my thrill — to come in and see a show. But I didn't figure it out. It wasn't a career path I understood. I didn't want to be an actress, and I didn't know the options. But I was a wonderful audience member. And I was dedicated to reading plays."
Then, in the late 1980s, "my children were getting older, and I felt I could find some way to insinuate myself into the theatre business. For my first adventure, I became involved in producing [Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire's revue] Closer Than Ever. It was small, at the Cherry Lane Theatre Off-Broadway. I was tenacious getting it on stage, keeping it going. I learned a lot in a hands-on way. It was like the Nike commercial — instinctively, I 'just did it.'"
Roth says she loved producing "more than anything. I felt I had found my passion. I started looking for plays that were challenging, perhaps plays other people were not as drawn to. I figured out how to find my own path. I wouldn't be able to compete with people who had been in the business a very long time. I found plays closer to my heart. I went that route and it has served me well."
Bringing The Normal Heart to Broadway was very much part of that route. Kramer's passionate, heartbreaking play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, she says, "is full of everything we love about theatre, everything good theatre strives to be.
"I'm the mother of a gay son, and it was very important to me to put this play on for people to understand, sadly, that the subject is still timely. That sadly, we still need to learn how to respect one another. That freedom has still not been granted to all people."
Her goal, she says, "is to put things out there for people to think about. To hold up a mirror to society. I feel I can facilitate the voice of a playwright, of a brilliant writer. So doing that, it becomes my voice."
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