Interview with Gail and Ralph Bryan, producers of world-known, award-winning shows

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Latitude Link is a theatrical production and licensing company led by Ralph and Gail Bryan. Their productions have won numerous awards, have been seen in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Japan and have been enjoyed by over 12 million people since the company's inception in 2005. Most of the shows are well known to everyone: “Jersey Boys”, “Memphis”, “Matilda”, “Rocky” and some others.

Latitude Link is a theatrical production and licensing company led by Ralph and Gail Bryan. Their productions have won numerous awards, have been seen in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Japan and have been enjoyed by over 12 million people since the company's inception in 2005. Most of the shows are well known to everyone: “Jersey Boys”, “Memphis”, “Matilda”, “Rocky” and some others.

How did it start, and how did it become so successful? How does an award-winning musical appear? What is the secret of a family business? Gail and Ralph Bryan share their experiences with Artdependence Magazine. 

AD: With more than a dozen world-known, award-winning productions, you are now very successful on Broadway. How did it all start? And was it luck or hard work?

Gail Bryan: It was a bit of both luck and hard work. It started for both of us with a passion for theatre, beginning at a young age and continuing through high school and the university. After graduating from the University of California at San Diego, we started becoming actively involved as donors with La Jolla Playhouse, which is a world-renowned non-profit theatre company founded by Gregory Peck, Mel Ferrer and Dororthy McGuire in 1947. We have a long history with the organization, and Ralph has been on the Board of Trustees since 1999 and served for several years as its chairman. Our involvement has exposed us to many shows and theatre artists over the years, some of which we have invested in or produced. Latitude Link was started in 1999, and the first show we produced was “Jersey Boys” in early 2005. We’ve done more than 20 projects since then. The show’s we’ve produced have been nominated for 35 Tony Awards and have won 15. Our company has won 3 Tony Awards for producing.

Gail and Ralph Bryan

AD: Is there any big difference between your productions and the first ones that appeared on the American scene at the end of the 19th century?

GB: There isn’t much difference in structure, really. Many of the musicals that ran at the turn of the century have enjoyed success in recent years as revivals and are often staples in smaller theatre companies across the US and the world. Perhaps the main thing that has changed is the acceptance of taboo subject matter. We have a hit show on Broadway right now called Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival (it had a life off-Broadway for a few years). This show couldn’t have been done on Broadway, even a few years ago…the subject was too edgy. And now, the theatre is packed to hear this unique, edgy story.

AD: When deciding on a new production, what are the key parameters you look at? Is it your intuition and heart, or is it business sense and cold-blooded calculation in the first place?

Ralph Bryan: When investing in a project, we first look for material that moves us emotionally. We invest in creative teams with passion and talent, who are willing to take artistic and creative risks. We also fund productions at their inception, often at the non-profit stage, when the future of the show is unknown or even necessarily defined. Sometimes, we’ll put some development money into an idea that may not turn into a full production, but gives the creative team a chance to spread their wings or try a new idea.

Gail Bryan: For commercial productions, a passion for the material is definitely key, but it’s also about the artistic team, producing team and whether the numbers make sense. If that all comes together, the next question is whether we think it will find an audience. Honestly, you never know until the show is up on stage.

AD: How many performances is your record for your productions? And what is th indicator of a success for a production: number of performances, nominations and awards or something else?

GB: Jersey Boys is the record holder for us. It is in the top 20 grossing shows of all time and has been running for 9 years on Broadway and in the West End for 6. The number of nominations and/or awards is great, but they may not always equate with financial success. We’ve been involved with shows that received great reviews and Tony nominations, but ultimately closed. So, success, in its most basic terms, really is the number of performances.

AD: Who is your audience? Has it become harder to win the younger generation?

GB: Our main audience for all Broadway-style shows in the English-speaking market is women, 40-60. They are the key ticket buyers and drivers of attendance. They take their kids, or for more adult fare, they bring their husbands or friends. The younger generation is still hard to pull into live theatre. They continue to represent a smaller part of the ticket-buying audience. We think this is driven by income, having many choices, being social and dating.

AD: Do you think the audience differs from country to country?

GB: Yes, the audience differs. A basic difference is acceptable audience reactions. In some countries, it is considered unacceptable to applaud during a performance, while in most English-speaking countries, it’s quite common. Standing ovations are more common in the US than elsewhere. And ticket buyers are different, too. In the Asian theatre, more young people attend, and they will often return to see a show multiple times (it’s not uncommon for two stars to be cast in a lead role and to rotate performances).

AD: Do you have any future plans to share with Artdependence Magazine? Do you intend to show something in Europe?

GB: As for the US, we will be producing Doctor Zhivago on Broadway this coming spring. We’re thrilled to finally bring this show to Broadway after touring Australia. As for Europe, our Tony Award-winning show, Memphis, will open in the West End in London on October 23. We also are touring Jersey Boys throughout the United Kingdom.

AD: In your company, Latitude Link, you are together with your husband, Ralph Bryan. Is it difficult to have a family business, and how do you find the balance?

GB: We each have our role in the company, and it is such a big part of our lives that we don’t really have the need to separate business from our lives. This is fun work, and we love what we do.

AD: What was the scariest moment in your career as a producer?

GB: There isn’t a single scary moment that stands out. There are a lot of scary aspects of producing...such as being responsible for raising millions of dollars for a production that could lose everything. Only 1 in 4 shows fully recoup their initial investment, which is why we take a portfolio approach to investing in theatre…we only invest what we can afford to lose (and we tell this to our investors as well) and spread the risk over several shows. It’s hard to pick which show will be the next big hit, but if you support the art, artists and the people with a fierce vision, you’ll come out ahead, more often than not.

AD: You are also an art collector. Please, tell us about your collection.

GB: We began collecting photography around 2000, and now, have quite a large collection. It’s almost exclusively contemporary artists. We love the idea of process and narrative, and that is a theme you’ll see throughout our collection. Much of the work tells a story, and the work that doesn’t involves a very interesting process, whether it’s modern tin types, hand-made cameras, hand-made paper, printing photographs on things other than paper (leaves, tin cans), using other objects as cameras, etc. Some favourites in our collection that always get big attention at our home during parties are: Hendrik Kersten’s Doily, Lev Rukhin’s Desire (a huge installation), Robert and Shana Parke-Harrison’s Visitation, and a beautiful Mike + Doug Starn tree piece. We also have a small, but very nice, collection of sculpture...among my favourite pieces in the world is a beautiful bronze bust by the artist Simon Toparovsky.

More information about the productions of Latitude Inc is here.

 

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Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995.  Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995. Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

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