Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Tom Schumacher
Disney Theatricals' president Thomas Schumacher talks about his new theatre book for kids, "How Does the Show Go On?"
Thomas Schumacher
Thomas Schumacher Photo by Aubrey Reuben


Every theatre professional was a child once. (Some would say many are still children.) Disney Theatricals president Tom Schumacher remembers those days when he was a stage-struck kid and recalls wishing he knew more about the art form he loved.

As an adult, and one of the most powerful people in the theatre, he has decided to do something about it for the next generation of Tommy Schumachers. The result is "How Does the Show Go On? — An Introduction to the Theatre" (written with Jeff Kurtti) a colorful, photo-filled, information packed hardcover book geared toward curious children from 8 to 13. Inside, chapters ask and answer such basic questions (to theatre pros, I mean) as "What's Theatre?" and "What's It Like to Be Up Onstage?" and lead the reader through the Front of House and Backstage universes, with introductions to all the professionals found therein. Schumacher talked to about the book he wished he had way back when. How long has this book been in the works?
Tom Schmacher: I had been thinking of the book for a number of years, the kind of book that I wanted to have when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I subscribed to Theatre Crafts magazine. We're talking the early '70s here. That and The New Yorker. That was my connection. Most of what's in this book was shaped over the last 30 months or so. As you're probably aware, I have a job. So a lot of this book was written in tech rehearsals, on airplanes. The final draft was happening on flights between Johannesburg and Amsterdam, because we were simultaneously rehearsing The Lion King in South Africa and Tarzan in Amsterdam. I noticed that a lot of the text is written in quite a personal voice.
TS: What I wanted kids to get a sense of is: A) There's a lot of stuff inside the theatre that you can do. The theatre is not just about actors. It's about people coming together in all different disciplines. I thought it was important to touch on all the different elements of the theatre. But I also wanted to touch on them from my own personal point of view. They're all things I know about. I thought I would share that from my personal perspective. I also wrote it from a voice that I thought would be appropriate for a young person. Is it your hope that kids will read this book and consider which of these theatre jobs they might want to go into?
TS: I talk about that at the top of the book. The theatre is a profession. But so many more people go into the theatre as an avocation. I grew up in community theatre. We did all those musicals with adults. And it was just their hobby. That's a great thing to do. So you can look at the book as: here's something you might want to do as a hobby, or here's something you might want to do as a profession. Or, it's good for just knowing what's inside something. The number of people who want to go backstage at our shows are great. There's a natural curiosity to peek behind the curtain, to go into the wings. All of that is there. I noticed a lot of familiar faces from the industry in the book. Designers, casting agents and press agents and such.
TS: There's a lot of people in the book and everybody who's in it I promised to send a copy. I just sent them all out. Almost everybody has responded with a note or e-mail and without exception everybody has said, "This is the book I wish I had when I was a kid." Yes. It's a perfect little primer on the theatre. You also made the book interactive. Inside is an actual Playbill, a fake ticket stub, pages from a scene —
TS: There are a couple reasons for that. There's a theatre company called Comediance that I had tried to bring to America and I couldn't get it to happen. They had sent me a big book — this was easily 25 years ago — on their stuff, and it was full of things like envelopes you could take things out of. There was just something enchanting about a book that had surprises in it. But also it's a great way to demonstrate. You do want to see that this is a ticket. They can hold a ticket in their hand. It may seem obvious to you what's on a ticket. But if no one's explained it to you, you might say: what is an aisle?; what is a row?; how do I find my seat?; what does that mean? To put together the book, I did a couple things that are not my things. I went to a Knicks game. I wanted to see how confused I would get. There were things. I wasn't sure what "section" means. I was a little comfortable. It's not obvious when you go someplace else. You've set the price very low at $20. Obviously, you want this book to be bought.
TS: That was a commitment of mine. And if you look on Amazon, the price is amazing. I think you can get it for around $13. The reason for that is, normally, a book like this would be reasonably expensive to make, both on the production side and the creative side. But there was no money paid on the creative side and there are no royalties paid on the book. Because of that, we can keep the price very low. I get no money for this, for the good of the cause. I've dedicated my whole life to doing this. This is something I believe in.
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