So, Who is this Tony Person?

The 71st annual Tony Awards air June 11, 2017 from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The ceremony honors achievement on Broadway for the 2016-17 season, and we’ll certainly be tuned-in and on-edge as they announce the big winners. Like us, perhaps you’ve wondered “why are they called the Tonys?” We did some research, and the answer uncovered a rather fascinating story.

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Actress and director Antoinette Perry, c. 1910. (CSU Archives—Everett Collection)

Let’s start here, at the American Theatre Wing.

Actually, that’s not the beginning.

Let’s start here: 1917, and America is about to enter World War 1.

Somewhere in New York, seven established women in theater meet to discuss how they could provide war relief. If they could provide aid, what would they do? What did they have to give?

They form the Stage Women’s War Relief, an organization that raises more than seven million dollars for the troops and sews countless articles of clothing for soldiers. They become one of the most significant relief organizations in the world.

The war ends, life goes on, yet here comes World War II looming on the historical horizon. By 1940, the Stage Women’s War Relief revamps with an extra personality in tow: Antoinette Perry.

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Stage women’s war relief poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1918. Depicts a woman on stage, throwing off her cloak to reveal a white volunteer’s uniform.

You can see where we are going, yes?

They regroup and form the American Theatre Wing, which sponsors Stage Door Canteens throughout the United States and in London and Paris. Theater stars work the canteens as wait staff and dishwashers, also putting on shows and other entertainment to keep up the troops’ morale. Money from a movie made about the canteens funds the production of touring hit shows for the troops. On the home front, the Wing’s Victory Players inspire civilians and their “Lunchtime Follies” entertain defense plant workers.

By the end of that war, Antoinette Perry is the driving force of the American Theatre Wing and spearheads the American Theatre Wing Professional School, a rigorous veterans’ art program to train anyone who served in the Allied Powers stagecraft and theater performance. Students include Charlton Heston, George Burns, Geraldine Page, Pat Hingle, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Tony Randall, Bob Fosse and many, many more notable notables of stage and screen.

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On June 28, 1946, just a few days before her 58th birthday, Antoinette Perry suffers a devastating heart attack and dies. She and others had decided that American theater needed a set of awards dedicated to honoring excellence. For Antoinette’s service to her country, to Broadway and to the theater community as a whole, the new award was named after her.

The night of the first award ceremony, a small dinner banquet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, a presenter handed out an award, calling it a “Tony.”

The name stuck, and that’s why they’re called the Tony Awards.

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During the first two years, there was no official Tony Award. In 1949 the designers’ union sponsored a contest for the award. The winning entry, a disk-shaped medallion designed by Herman Rosse, depicted the masks of comedy and tragedy on one side and the profile of Antoinette Perry on the other. It continues to be the official Tony Award.

Want to know what Antoinette Perry was doing before World War II? Trust us, you’ll want to know. Get the scoop from a Playbill interview with her daughter, Margaret, in 1998. For the Tony Awards’ history of Perry, check out their bio by Ellis Nassour.

 

Everything the Light Touches is His Kingdom

James Earl Jones receives the Lifetime Achievement in Theater recognition at the Tony Awards this year.

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In 1957, during his first week in New York as a wannabe actor, James Earl Jones saw these shows:

Night one: Tosca starring Leontyne Price
Night two: Swan Lake starring Margot Fontaine
Night three: Pal Joey
Night four: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

What a week, right?

This remarkable itinerary was put together by his father, the actor Robert Earl Jones, who wanted to give his son a taste of la crème de la crème on stage at the time (and probably of all time).

By night five, James Earl Jones, an unknown actor adrift with thousands of other unknown actors vying for a spot on Broadway, knew, one day, he would be in the glow of the warm stage lights.

One year later, he was. Jones landed the role of Edward in the FDR bio-play Sunrise at Campobello.

We feel safe assuming Jones did not know his career would land him the indelible distinction of being the voice of both the worst and best of fatherhood. And, really, who among us hears James Earl Jones speak and doesn’t automatically think, “[heavy breathing] I am your father” and/or “Look, Simba . . . everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

(Editors’ note for the benefit of diehard Star Wars fans who will surely mention this in the comments if we don’t: The classic line from Star Wars is often misremembered as “Luke, I am your father,” as even Jones’ mentions in the clip below, though the line is “No, I am your father,” as you can hear in the excerpt from the film.)

Jones, who continued to work the stage in New York after Sunrise at Campobello for the next decade, emerged as a man who would carve his place on the monument of Great Actors with his mind-blowing work as a heavyweight boxing champ named Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope in 1968. In Clive Barnes’ review, he noted that as he was leaving the theater, Jones was “receiving a standing ovation of the kind that makes Broadway history.”

Jones won his first Tony, in 1969, for that role. His acting prowess and newfound fame steered his career straight to Sesame Street, where, also in 1969, he was the very first celebrity guest. As for another Tony, his work in the original production of August Wilson’s Fences (the role recently revived by Denzel Washington in the 2016 film) earned him his second award in 1987.

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The Great White Hope also won the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Jones reprised his role in the film adaptation and received an Academy Award nomination.

In between, there was a little $7,000 gig voicing a character for George Lucas’ intergalactic war movie. What would Star Wars have been without Darth Vader? And what would Darth Vader be without James Earl Jones? (Rick Moranis in Spaceballs — if you don’t believe us, watch this short clip of David Prowse, who played Vader, saying the dialogue in that giant, plastic helmet-mask).

Jones, who stuttered, spent eight years of his childhood in relative silence, speaking to the animals on their farm in Michigan but avoiding talking to other human beings. Encouraged by his English teacher to recite poetry in front of his high school class as a means of overcoming the stutter, Jones eventually gained mastery. The last public return of the stutter popped up during a performance of Sunrise at Campobello when he stuck over the “M” in “Mrs. Roosevelt,” though Jones says the stutter remains, even now, at 86, which is notably ironic considering Jones’ fame emanates partly from his deep, clear, bass voice.

Try saying “This is CNN” without hearing Jones. It’s impossible. His voice is that powerful. In a little-known anecdote, Jones, who is by nature a merry jokester, used to pretend to be Darth Vader on his CB radio on long car trips. When he realized the truckers were genuinely getting scared, he quit. Best to use one’s powers for good, especially when you’re James Earl Jones. As evidence of his ability to still have fun and use his powers for good, he teamed up with Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) in a series of Sprint commercials where the two former Stanley Kubrick actors performed texts and Facebook messages dramatically, on a bare stage and in tuxedos:

Congratulations, Mr. Jones, on your sixty years of valuable, funny, unforgettable and powerful work in the performing arts.

Want to see James Earl Jones receive his award? Then mark your calendars: The Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at 8 p.m.

Traveling Family Road Show

The fascinating story of Clark Transfer

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Photo courtesy of Clark Transfer.

In 1948, Henry Fonda gave up a Hollywood contract to star in a Broadway play about sailors in the South Pacific. That play, Mister Rogers, won the Tony® for best play that year. One year later, it garnered another place in theater history: it was the very first Broadway show to launch a national tour via the highway.

The same trucking company that hauled Mister Rogers loads in the majority of the touring shows at The Straz today. In fact, Clark Transfer has been bringing shows to our stages since we opened our doors.

Not only that, but Clark Transfer invented the idea of taking Broadway shows on the road. In no small way, this humble, family-owned trucking company revolutionized the entire performing arts industry in the United States.

And it all started with the Spanish Flu.

After World War I, a global influenza pandemic laid waste to one-fifth of the world’s population in two years, killing 675,000 Americans (10 times the number who died in the war) and more than four times the number of people who died during the Black Plague. It was an awful time, and no city in the U.S. was hit worse than Philadelphia, which lost 28% of its population during 1918-1919. There were bodies everywhere, and if you owned a few trucks, there was work.

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Louis (Whitey) Molitch and his wife Sylvia. Photo courtesy of Clark Transfer.

So the family story goes that Jim Clark happened to own a few trucks, and the son of Ukrainian immigrants, Louis “Whitey” Molitch, happened to need a job. The two men met amid these gruesome circumstances, formed a friendship, and ten years later formed Highway Express Lines, a high-integrity, family-owned and operated Philadelphia-based trucking company that would become Clark Transfer. Jim bought the business, and Whitey rolled up his sleeves to help make it a success.

“My father was Jim Clark’s right hand,” says Norma Deull, the current president of Clark Transfer and Whitey Molitch’s daughter. “I grew up with Jim. He bought me my first car.”

The men had their roles in the business, and Jim eventually became a power player in Philadelphia politics while Whitey focused on the logistics of their enterprise. In the beginning, the company mostly hauled movie prints, magazines and newspapers. But, Whitey was that particular brand of post-war entrepreneur who had a vision of what trucking could do as more and more highways filled the national landscape.

However, he faced two formidable obstacles: the federal government and the way things had always been done.

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Photo courtesy of Clark Transfer.

At that time, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) controlled what materials went on trucks and trains and who was allowed to cart them from state to state. The ICC allowed only trains to transport Broadway shows, with trucks getting the sets, costumes and equipment from the station to the local theater. Even more impenetrable than government regulation was the Old Boy theatrical network of Broadway producers who did not believe they could make any money by mounting New York shows in places like Omaha.

However, Whitey had a vision. He’d seen small town America, he’d seen big city life: he knew he was on to something. “He went to the ICC,” Norma says, “with the idea that theatrical material could be moved by trucks. It was not easy convincing them, and he had to go many times. But, they gave him the rights in the United States to truck shows anywhere except within a 50 mile radius of NYC. He invented the industry. I can say that without a doubt.”

Whitey figured out who to know and how to get in with the Old Boys network in New York, and his impressive chutzpah and acumen eventually convinced the Broadway producers to take a chance on touring their shows around the country.

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Photo courtesy of Clark Transfer.

“He had to convince that Old Boy network to do something different than they’d ever done before,” says Jonathan Deull, Norma’s son and Whitey’s grandson, who earned his company chops loading and unloading trucks as his first job while still in high school, and along with his brother, Charlie Deull, now serves as Clark’s executive vice president. “I grew up in New York, and I remember that my grandfather would come every week to the city – schmoozing, deal-making, persuading and twisting arms of producers to be able to do this. He made remarkable changes.”

The transportation changes revolutionized show business, ushering in a new era of industry, opportunity and profit for an unprecedented number of people. If Broadway shows could be trucked for touring performances, so could ballet, opera, rock and roll . . . anything. Regions and mid-sized towns built state-of-the-art performing arts centers to accommodate the scale of Broadway shows. Performers and technicians had an entirely new field of work opportunities. As Ralph Hoffman, the noted ballet dancer and stage manager of Washington National Ballet, said: “culture and live entertainment to your doorstep, wherever you live . . . it was Clark Transfer that really made [it] possible.” When Jim died, Whitey bought the business, ever seeking to find better ways to do what Clark Transfer does best: getting the show on the road.

“And doing what you say you’re going to do,” says Norma.

“And don’t be late,” Jonathan adds.

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Four of the trucks that brought The Book of Mormon to Tampa in 2015.

Following in Whitey’s footsteps, Norma saw another family-based opportunity for Clark Transfer, but one for the modern age: dealing with the climate-change consequences of the carbon emissions produced by millions of miles per year of show-touring in diesel trucks.  In the 1980s, Jonathan’s wife, Sheryl Sturges, had been a pioneer in developing the idea of carbon offsets, and in 2007 Charlie took the leadership in partnering with with likeminded Broadway folks to create the Touring Green Initiative, a pool of offsets to complement their efforts to reduce emissions. Soon after, Charlie became co-chair (with Susan Sampliner, Company Manager of Wicked) of the Broadway Green Alliance.

Now with four generations of Whitey Molitch’s clan working at Clark Transfer and the fifth generation currently learning to walk, the Deulls intend to keep Clark a family business. “That’s the vision,” says Jonathan, “that this continues its tradition as a family operation. We don’t do the glamorous stuff, the stuff that gets names on marquees. The thing that drives us is bringing live performances to people who may not have the opportunity to see that – people whose lives can be transformed by that power and magic. Being able to bring that opportunity to people is enormous.”

The Theater Above the Theater

Fly systems, rigging systems, whatever you want to call them, just know there’s a very serious show happening in the 60-plus feet of air above the show on stage.

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Looking up into the “fly space” on the side of the Morsani stage. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

One of the wondrous aspects of theatrical life, even from its beginnings, is the delightful mix of labor, craft and personalities required to pull off a show soup to nuts. In the performing arts world, the blue collar meets the sequined collar, toe shoes meet steel-toed boots and the Type A work ethic unites all the players from the star of the show to the spotlight operator. If you understand theater as a living organism, you understand that everyone is equally vital.

However, what remains seen on stage normally gets the lion’s share of attention. But what about what (and who) you can’t see?

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A micro-view of the intricate knots used to anchor the Morsani Hall fly system. Theater fly systems were modeled after seafaring lines and rigs used for large sailing vessels. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

A show – especially at the scale of Broadway and grand opera – simply cannot happen if the “theater magic” isn’t engineered with mathematical precision. Often, enormous, heavy set pieces float up and down, in and out of scenes to denote setting changes or to enhance show numbers. For fans of The Lion King, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, you know the primal thrill of seeing the beloved characters take flight, spin through the air, leap across rooms or glide into the show via umbrella.

These theatrical feats execute through the fly system, or rigging system, which is an elaborate superstructure of ropes, pulleys, bars, weights and fasteners that make lighting, scene changes and flying people possible. From the audience, the fly system remains invisible, but if you’ve ever wondered why professional theaters are so ungodly tall, that’s why: there needs to be a tremendous amount of space above the stage to store the show’s pieces out-of-sight, suspended over the stage to be released and hoisted on cue during the performance. We have about 70 feet of “fly space” in Morsani Hall to accommodate the large-scale theatrics of Broadway and opera.

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Along the side wall of Ferguson Hall stage, you can see the ropes and weights on the flyrail.

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Further up the wall, almost to the top of the fly system.

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At the very top of the Ferguson stage “fly space” are all of the pulleys.

Our production team, the “boots on the ground” who rig each incoming show, sends a schematic called an “advance” to the show that outlines the technical capabilities of Ferguson or Morsani (or whatever house the show will be using). The show, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I which will be in Morsani May 2-7, then gives our team a detailed blueprint, similar to an architectural rendering, of measurements, dimensions, set pieces, weight of each set piece, etc., so our team will have a heads-up for what to expect when the show loads in.

Here’s where it gets mortally serious.

Rigging a show – that is, hooking hundreds or thousands of pounds of equipment to hang over the heads of human beings walking underneath – is no joke. The riggers themselves (often noted as the cowboys of theater) often must work at death-defying heights to secure the heavy set pieces, hang lighting and load counterweights for each metal bar that brings objects in and out of scenes.

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Side lights hanging from a bar.

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About half way up to the grid above Ferguson stage.

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Almost to the top of the “fly space.” You can see the metal bars and curtains hanging and the grid directly above.

“Communication is very important between the flyman, the carpenter on the deck, the weight loaders and the rigging crew to work safely and not hurt anyone,” says Straz Center flyman Dave Reynolds. “Many of these moves are made during the show, and they’re done in blackouts with cast and crew on stage. Any massive piece of scenery that moves needs to be coordinated properly for safety. I get to do something I love every day as well. I take my job here very seriously and strive to be one of the best flymen the country.”

The most dangerous job in theater is setting up the rigging for a show and taking it down at the end of the run. If an opera uses a 700-pound backdrop, that backdrop is hung on a “pipe” or metal bar that is controlled by a rope or “line.” The line needs 700 pounds of counterweight on it to achieve what is called a “balanced load.” The rigger sets a hand brake on the line to secure it in place. When it’s show time, the flyman pops the brake, guiding the line with the balanced load, and the audience sees the smooth, light entrance and exit of a 700-pound backdrop. What the audience never sees is the extreme safety precautions riggers take to make sure they never drop 50-pound counterweights from a catwalk 45 feet in the air or drop pipes from the same height. Or miscalculate and drop a 700-pound backdrop on Lieutenant Pinkerton.

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View of the side of Ferguson stage looking down from the grid at the very top of the “fly space.” See that tiny piano on the stage?

So, the effortless appearance of scenery or characters swooping in from the wings or down from the “ceiling” actually requires quite a bit of effort, engineering, safety expertise and chutzpah from men and women who don’t get dressing rooms but do get to star in one of the most important roles in any theater production.

As If Going to the Theater Wasn’t Fun Enough, They Had to Invent the Lottery

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A crowd of people eagerly await the results of a ticket lottery for Book Of Mormon at The Straz.

It all started with Rent.

When that show blew up and became the hottest ticket in town, the producers tried a radical idea to make the show more accessible to as many theatergoers as possible: sell the first two rows of orchestra seats for a scant $20 a pop on a first-come-first-served basis. In no time, students lined up at dawn to purchase these “rush” tickets when the box office opened, and the idea – like the show – was a huge hit.

Since then, producers have been concocting fun ways to get massively discounted tickets into the hands of the widest possible audience. Recently, one of the most exciting pre-show events to emerge for these ultra-affordable tickets is the lottery.

That’s right. A good, old-fashioned luck of the draw: go to the theater, write your name on a card, drop in in a box, then wait. Competition is fierce, and hope runs high, with sometimes 200 people vying for up to one pair of coveted tickets to shows such as Matilda, Kinky Boots and Wicked.

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A few hours before curtain, a representative of the show (or theater) passes a hand over the box as the crowd of fans holds its breath with anticipation. The person reaches in the box, draws one card, then reads the name to the waiting crowd. Most groan, but there is one cheer – if your name comes out, you’re the lucky winner of one or two seats to the big show at a fraction of the box office rate. As technology advanced, the old-fashioned ways included a new-fangled digital lottery, where patrons can throw their proverbial names in the hat via a cell phone app – and be notified by text if they are winners.

One show hosting a pre-curtain lottery is Wicked*, running in Morsani Hall Feb. 1-26. This thrilling game of odds gives all people a chance to buy a ticket and take a ride to the other side of Oz. And if you lose … who cares? You can always come back and try again tomorrow. But you gotta show up in person; there’s no app to get you to Emerald City on the cheap.

*A limited number of tickets will be available by lottery for the performances of Wicked. Entries will be accepted at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office two and a half hours prior to each performance. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $25 each – cash only. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid identification to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.

Straz Staff Highlight Reel: Our Fave Moments from “Carpool Karaoke”

James Corden stars in the next filmed theater performance from National Theatre Live, One Man, Two Guvnors. We think this is a fine time to mention our favorite bits from his hilarious skit on The Late Late Show.

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James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors, for which he won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

The awkward Britney Spears one. The somehow-they’re-wrestling-on-a-stranger’s-lawn Red Hot Chili Peppers one. The LOL and then cry when Stevie Wonder calls his wife one. Oh! And the FLOTUS hand-dancing to Bey one or the road tripping to the Super Bowl with Chris Martin one. We give up. Just pick one. They’re all hysterical. Of course, we’re talking about James Corden and “Carpool Karaoke.”

James Corden struck gold when he managed to launch the now cult comedy skit on his late night talk show, The Late Late Show, which he took over when Craig Ferguson left in 2014. The first episode of “Carpool Karaoke” aired in 2015 when Corden asked a “friend” to help him get through traffic to work and the go-pro pans to Mariah Carey. [*wild audience applause* team-singing to “Always Be My Baby” ensues.]

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Mariah Carey helping James Corden get to work in the first episode of “Carpool Karaoke.”

The formula has more or less been the same, whether the passengers are One Direction, Gwen Stefani or Lada Gaga: Corden in an SUV, needs company driving somewhere, famous person gets in car, they sing together. They may pick up friends (like George Clooney and Julia Roberts for Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”) or stop to play dress-ups (Justin Bieber) or, as mentioned, pull over to the curb for some “good man grappling” on a Los Angeles lawn (Anthony Kiedis won).

Most Americans don’t realize that James Corden, this lovable fanboy host, was a gigantic theater and television star in Britain before crossing the pond to headline the vamp-hours CBS talk show. Despite his recent Rolling Stone cover and Tony® Award for One Man, Two Guvnors, Corden continues to find himself pigeon-holed by Yanks as a talk show host although he spent several years hounded by British paparazzi for his fame as the character “Smithy” on the sitcom Gavin & Stacey.

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Along with Ruth Jones (left), Corden (right) co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in the BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey from 2007-2010.

We admit, we love him most for “Carpool Karaoke,” too (we are looking forward to the upcoming skit with Madonna almost as much as we looked forward to Lin Manuel-Miranda on Drunk History). In honor of Corden returning to his more auspicious comedy roots when he stars in the filmed version of National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors, we asked some of our dedicated Straz Center staff to reveal some of their favorite “Carpool Karaoke” moments.

Here they are.

“My absolute favorite was Adele. When he called her and said “Hello, it’s me . . . I was wondering if after all this time you’d like to meet” and then she comes and gets in the car. I also loved when he advised her she could have a better squad than Taylor Swift with Beyonce, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. He also got her to rap the Nikki Minaj “Monster” song which was classic!”—Jeanne Piazza, programming manager

“Favorite: when Adele double-takes directly into camera, artfully crafted eyebrows raised, as Corden starts belting out her own song, pleasantly surprised by his talent.”—Shannon Darby, production manager

“My favorite is when he had JLo (Jennifer Lopez) on his show . . . not that I’m a fan of hers, but because he asked her who was the most famous person in her phone and then she allowed him to send a text to my boy, Leonardo DiCaprio. The end result is totally hilarious and adorable.”—Amber Russell, ticket office supervisor

“My favorite moment was with Jennifer Hudson when she ordered the cheeseburger in the drive thru line for James Corden.”—Nicole Pockrus, production coordinator, education

And, of course, the “Broadway” one was a huge hit.

“Love the Broadway one, for obvious reasons. Growing up in NY as a professional actor, it captures exactly what I love most about being part of the Broadway/Theater community. Plus, it makes me miss NYC.”—Bill Rolon, corporate relations manager

“It’s the most amazing one ever. ‘One Day More’ at the end . . . Audra McDonald for the WIN! They are the perfect ensemble in this. You couldn’t have staged it better.”—Dr. Lauren Murray, music department chair, education

“The ‘One Day More’ pre-Tony Awards bit with Audra, Jesse, Lin Manuel and Jane. It hit at an inspiring time, considering we’d just begun rehearsals for Patel Conservatory Theater’s Les Miserables, School Edition.”—Suzanne Livesay, vice president of education

Virtual Sensations

How social media and television talent shows changed performing arts programming

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iLuminate placed third on the sixth season of America’s Got Talent.

Some baby-faced tween covers a Chris Brown tune on YouTube. It goes viral. R&B superstar Usher sees the video. Signs the kid to his label.

The kid’s name? Justin Bieber.

Beliebe it: so much of our culture rapidly evolved and adapted once folks figured out the marketing and promotional power of the internet, a virtual worldwide “people’s media.” Suddenly, everyone with access to a recording device, an internet connection and a computer could launch their own free channel on YouTube and be connected to billions of other people. There was absolutely no quality control, but the YouTube market and social community could, would, did and does—make people famous.

YouTube and other social media like Facebook, Instagram, Buzzfeed and Twitter remade pop culture into its current, over-saturated, digital shape, creating a parallel virtual world to real life, with many of us living in both—and almost everyone capitalizing on “see-me” wonderworld of the internet’s mass media platforms. On social media, it’s obvious what people like because videos go viral, shared repeatedly on Facebook or re-Tweeted, until hundreds of thousands or millions of people have viewed someone’s song, rant, dance performance, comedy routine—you name it. Then, sometimes, if you’re a Justin Bieber, you land on Usher’s iPhone and become a megastar.

The show business part of performing arts programming overlaps with pop culture because tickets must be sold, and there must be an audience who wants to pay money for the tickets. This fundamental formula of supply and demand eventually pushed performing arts centers to mine the talent fields at play on social media, following audience trends and taking social media seriously as a legit launch pad for performing artists with popular appeal.

Perhaps one of the biggest acts to launch itself onto the real-life stages of great performing arts centers is Postmodern Jukebox, a YouTube sensation of talented musicians and vocalists who make retro adaptations of popular songs. We had them here at The Straz last season, and the tickets went like hot cakes. YouTube also brought attention to musician Bo Burnham, who also performed here last season, and many of our Club Jaeb artists rely on YouTube and their self-promotion platform online to demonstrate their selling power when programmers, like our director of programming Chrissy Hall scouts talent.

“Well, the influx and prominence of YouTube has greatly increased the number of stars, but it tends to create a 15-minutes-of-fame-scenario,” she says. “So, the trick is finding a measure for whether the success will be more than a flash in the pan. A lot of it comes down to their prominence on social media—if they have a strong number of followers. Those numbers could indicate success in a live performance experience.  I watch the views their videos have on YouTube and the likes they get on social media, which informs the decision to book them or not. This process for fame is still relatively new, so a lot of it comes down to instinct, but, as analytics become more reliable, they help.”

The forerunner to social media, of course, was the TV talent show, an old-time game show template resurrected by Star Search, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. The same populace-meritocracy thread—that average people’s votes determine the winner—laid the foundation for the success with social media since winning-the-Internet depends on mass popularity.

A very interesting connection between these types of TV shows and live performing arts exists between American Idol and Broadway. Several contestants on the show later found a place for themselves on the Great White Way thanks to their ride on Simon Cowell’s gravy train. Constantine Maroulis, who ended up in sixth place in season four, pulled a Tony® nomination in 2009 for Rock of Ages. Jennifer Hudson made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple this year, and other notables include Clay Aiken in Spamalot, Jordin Sparks in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton hit In the Heights and Todrick Hall, who took over the lead role as Lola in Kinky Boots on November 1.

In our season and in the seasons of other prominent performing arts centers, you’ll find artists and acts from America’s Got Talent, The Voice and other road-to-stardom television talent shows. iLuminate, a dance performance company performing here November 20, stunned studio audiences with their high-tech, minimalist lighted costumes and hip-hop dance. Their talent and popularity was the right balance to propel them to a national tour. “We try to see if these groups from TV shows have the ability to convert their popularity to a following of ticket buyers. I monitor them on social media as well, but the sure bet is always peers in the industry. They’re the best resource for knowing who of this type of artist is best to book until our analytics processes get more developed,” Hall says.

With the cancellation of American Idol this year, it’ll be interesting to see what next-big-thing emerges from the screen-based entertainment industry and how that may affect what we see on performing arts stages around the nation. While we wait, we’ll just mind the gap with YouTube dance videos.

NOTE: Remember, fans, take a few minutes to learn about what is fair use and what is copyright infringement before you become famous on YouTube. Wired breaks it down in this article or you can just read over YouTube’s explanation.