Central Indiana doesn't exactly scream “theatre hotbed.” But, thanks to Joel Kirk and Discovering Broadway, that’s about to change.
The first non-profit in America that exclusively works to develop Broadway-bound shows, Discovering Broadway is more than a new destination for the out-of-town tryout; the non-profit is less like Seattle’s 5th Avenue or Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and more akin to early-process incubators and creative retreats like New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar College or the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. “They fill a huge hole,” says Kirk of institutions like NYSF and the O’Neill, “helping artists who might not be thinking Broadway—many shows are not ever really thinking Broadway. We want to help people absorb that risky burden and that first step of creativity and birthing a Broadway show.
“We want to focus on their longterm vision and set them up for Broadway success.”
Still, there is no official qualification to earn the moniker “Broadway-bound,” so how do Kirk and co. make that call? “I treat it like when someone tells me that they’re engaged to be married,” he says. “I acknowledge that they’re engaged, but they’re still not married. We take that language and we say, ‘Why do we say this couple is engaged?’ Normally it’s because someone bought a ring, there are dates on the calendar.”
Kirk has conceived parallel questions: “Is this an experienced Broadway producer? Are they are a Tony-winning producer? Are they a producer that already has investors in this project? Do they own the rights? Is the creative team locked in? Is there a full draft? Do they have a clear understanding of the capitalization?” All of this comes into account as Discovering Broadway chooses their one show a year to support as a new grant-making institution.
And he’s been knocking on the doors of successful producers like Daryl Roth, Kevin McCollum, and more. “We think of these people has having endless resources, but they also want to create with theatre strategically and in a fiscally responsible manner,” says Kirk.
Discovering Broadway offers space and resources for a 60-hour lab (either Tier 1 or Tier 2) culminating in two to four show presentations—all at no cost. What’s more, “we’re location and venue fluid,” Kirk says. In collaboration with local government, Kirk has access to multiple venues in Central Indiana to choose from—such as The Cabaret in Indianapolis and the Hilbert Circle, and the Center for Performing Arts in Carmel—so producers can cater their lab to the final vision of their show. “Think of Once On This Island at Circle in the Square,” Kirk says, “it totally informed the process.”
Kirk wants to work with producers as if they are more like artistic directors. “Give me your ideal house, your ideal total capitalization and let’s plug in your piece thoughtfully to the community and city resources.” Though they have not yet announced the show, the first Discovering Broadway lab will take place in February 2020.
But more than facilitate the development process for producers and artists, Kirk wants to bring Broadway to the local Indiana community that can often feel distant from the bright lights of New York City.
“Theatre is not about just New York,” says Kirk. Tourists make up a huge percentage of New York audiences, not to mention the touring market, as well as the eventual licensing of shows that appear on Broadway for regional and community theatres. Kirk hopes that bringing shows to a Midwest audience will help remind producers and creators of the full breadth of their viewership, and that the change of scenery will inspire creativity and force artists to think in new ways.
“We are starting where Broadway is going to end,” Kirk notes. “So why not begin here?”