Theatre producer Adam Blanshay talks to Brian Butler about taking the pandemic by the horns and the business behind the boards I don’t know if Adam Blanshay has a trophy shelf – didn’t ask him – but if he does, it’s stacked. His production company has been involved in over 60 shows worldwide and he’s scooped up six Tonys and seven Oliviers along the way. If a production wins a Best Show Award, then it’s the producers who collect it – hence his trophy hoard.
So when I met him at Charing Cross Theatre, scene of his latest hit Pippin, I asked what exactly does a producer do? “You’re the chairman of the Board and CEO – a show is a company. The producer will set up that company and manage it: the finance, the investment, building a team, finding a script, finding a director, being involved in the casting.”
I was curious to know how the creative process starts. “I have ideas, but I struggle with reading, so I go to play readings, go see shows – I speak French and I’ve seen shows in French that I thought would work in English. People approach me with ideas. I produce with too much heart and not enough brain. I’m extraordinarily passionate about the theatre. Sometimes I just put on things that I’d like to see as a punter.”
That passion for theatre started in Canada when he was seven. “I was at my aunt’s house in the country outside Montreal – there was a double cassette recording of Phantom. I found the artwork interesting. I was told the story of the show. I listened to it over and over again, and at age nine I was taken to New York and saw the show with its first replacement cast.”
At an all-boys school where the emphasis was on academic and athletic achievements, he admits he didn’t make popular choices – preferring to sing along with the Phantom’s Christine! “It fuelled my imagination. I had a difficult time at school and musical theatre was a release, a fantasy world in my head.”
Outside school he joined a Yiddish theatre. ”In 1994 we did the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof, which recently reappeared on Broadway”. His next move was to study theatre at McGill University. It was the first time he met peers who were theatrically minded. Asked if he had a ‘coming out’ story, Adam smiled and said his mother caught him – well, let’s say, being physical, so he didn’t need to come out as such.
“I had a difficult time at school and musical theatre was a release, a fantasy world in my head”
Adam started a theatre club at McGill, and found himself constantly in rehearsal so was always late with his course assignments. You can guess that Adam feels his academic qualifications don’t match his practical knowledge of the theatre – one reason he says he’s about “to go back to school”, starting an executive business management course. ”Producing is a business, and I’ve still got a lot to learn. I feel I need that discipline now.” But he’ll carry on producing while he studies.
After McGill, Adam went to New York – where else? – but the first show he worked on, A Woman Of Will, shut after a week. It was, he says, a wake-up call. He started an internship with a producer and stayed five years – it’s here he learned the trade and its melange of artistic and business skills.
So how has lockdown been? “I’ve tried to make lemonade out of lemons. I’ve taught myself how to produce for the web and the screen.” One result has been the highly successful Theatre Channel, in collaboration with the Theatre Cafe, which has been streaming in episodes. Initially based at the Theatre Cafe in the West End, it’s more recently branched out on location using musical theatre stars and up-and-coming performers. Each episode can be bought to view online and the series now has a behindthe-scenes section with interviews. “We’re being educational about the history of musical theatre. It’s turning into an encyclopaedia of musicals.”
There are three more episodes in preparation, the next concentrating on Stephen Schwartz, with an interview where Schwartz takes us on a journey through his career – Pippin, Wicked, Prince of Egypt – quite a journey.
But Adam is clear: streaming is not a substitute for real-life theatre with a physically present audience. “It was an unprecedented opportunity, using the tools we had. It has a life of its own in the future as an educational series.” One thing is certain, if it can be made to work Adam will do it.
Asked what advice he would give to his 15-yearold self, he says: “Dreams do come true, but reflect on the consequences of a dream that is realised. My passion has metamorphosed into a profession. I struggled as a kid, but what a dream to come true.”
Episodes of the Theatre Channel can be viewed at www.thetheatrecafe.co.uk.
For more info on Adam’s productions, visit: www.adamblanshay.com.