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Alumni Advise on Theater Industry

Broadway producers return

By Juli Min, Contributing Writer

New York City theater producers Edward M. Strong ’70 and David G. Richenthal, a 1974 graduate of Harvard Law School, shared their experiences of working in the theater industry to an intimate crowd of Harvard actors, writers, and producers yesterday evening at the Loeb Drama Center.

Strong, who co-produced the 2006 Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys,” as well as “Urinetown,” opened the presentation by saying, “Describing the journey from this perspective now feels a lot more coherent than it was.”

Strong started his career at Harvard as an actor, performing in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. From there, he pursued a masters in theater management at the Yale School of Drama.

“I didn’t really want to be an actor,” he explained. “I don’t have the psyche for it—to be rejected over and over.”

However, he said he was mistaken in his assumption that management would be different.

“I went to Yale for theater management, thinking that it would be more stable,” he said. “But as Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca, ‘I was misinformed.’”

Richenthal, who co-produced the Tony Award-winning play “I Am My Own Wife” and the 2002 production of “The Crucible,” took a less direct path, co-founding a law firm after graduating from the Law School, yet always dreaming of a career in the arts.

“Once I felt I had learned enough,” Richenthal said of the switch to theater production, “I stopped malpractice and went into this full time.”

Richenthal emphasized that the job of the producer requires a real resilience and passion.

“The thing about the business is that when it works, it’s like an oil well and pumps out cash pretty well and you make up for the losses,” he said. “But you have to be in it for the long term.”

To quell the doubts of the students present, Strong pointed out that he paved his own path to success.

“No one in our group had a trust fund,” Strong said. “We scraped to put together everything. So it can be done.”

Mary E. Birnbaum ’07, who invited the two producers to Harvard, was pleased with the outcome of the event. “Because I knew that these two guys are Harvard grads, and phenomenally accredited and talented, I wanted to take this opportunity in my senior year to bring them to visit Harvard,” she said.

Christine K. L. Bendorf ’10, who has acted and produced in Harvard shows, expressed her satisfaction with the night’s panel.

“It’s great to see professionals come to Harvard who aren’t involved solely in the performing aspect,” Bendorf said, “because it reminds all of us in the theater community here that there is more to the world of theater than being an actor on stage.”

Strong, asked to give some words of advice to the Harvard theater community, said, “Work with your friends. Take on something that you can achieve. The kind of imagination and passion at college is exactly the same chemistry professionally that is necessary.”

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