Why are we interviewing Jim Kierstead?
Because he’s a two-time 2013 Tony® Award-winning producer of the Broadway productions of Kinky Boots (book by Harvey Fierstein and music & lyrics by Cyndi Lauper) and the critically acclaimed revival of Pippin?
He also is involved with the international hit musical Matilda on Broadway?
Because he is a co-producer of the 2016 Broadway musicals Waitress, Natasha & Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812?
The Natasha part was groovy but that’s not it.
Because Jim Kierstead is STILL a powerful supporter of independent theatre. It all began for him with the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway premiere of Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story (nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical in 2005) and produced its original New York production in 2003 at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Mr. Kierstead supports and respects the work of the independent artist in laudable ways. He is currently producing DEAD BRAINS, a play by Erik Champney at this season’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
Additionally, Jim is in the process of developing a new musical entitled Unexpected Joy with book & lyrics by Bill Russell (two-time Tony® nominated for Side Show) and music by Janet Hood. Jim is on the Board of Directors of The York Theatre Company.
And that ain’t all:
So it’s not like he isn’t busy.
Sir, it’s an honor.
A couple of questions….
Tell us about yourself as an artist and a theater professional.
I began my career as a theatre producer near 20 years ago after seeing the original production of Side Show in 1998. Although it didn’t last long, it made a lasting impression on me and I realized that I needed to be a part of this world. From that day, opportunities began to present themselves and I knew that my destiny was to do a few things… the first was to bring my business experience and my love of theatre together to present important material that would entertain people while, at the same time, pass along important messages that as an individual I would never be able to get across on my own. I also wanted to help the voices of artists who I respected who may or may not have gotten attention to have their work heard and seen. And, most importantly, I wanted to treat my theatre collaborators as I was taught to do in the business world… with kindness and respect. Giving people a safe place to work and to create is the best gift I could give anyone.
Priase to you for supporting indie theater, what keeps you coming back?
Thank you. I love indie theatre because it gives me a chance to try out and “test drive” new pieces before the public. I’m not afraid to go to difficult subject matter and areas that may or not be seen to be work others want to see. But I only judge material based on what I like myself so I enjoy trying out new and edgy material in an experimental space. The first show I produced, THRILL ME – THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY, was premiered in the 2003 Midtown International Theatre Festival in a 50-seat black box at The Abingdon Theatre Company (where I’m now on the Board). It was originally directed by Martin Charnin and, due to its huge success at the festival, I presented it in an Off-Broadway run at The York Theatre Company (where I’ve been on the Board since then) in 2005 where it was nominated for Best Musical by the Drama Desks and Outer Critics Circle. Since it was published and recorded those years ago, there has never been a time when it has not been in some sort of production around the world. I firmly believe in festivals to present new work. I also presented a play called COVER at the MITF in 2014, which I’m working on for the futture. Sadly, the MITF no longer exists, but I believe the Planet Connections Festivities is a very worthwhile and special venue to present new work. This year, it gives me great pleasure to present Erik Champney’s (who I believe is one of the finest new playwrights of our time) new work in this experimental situation. I’m working with Erik on another piece which is forthcoming. Theatre does not need to be glamorous or extremely expensive…it only needs to be top quality. I encourage any experimental theatre to be boiled down to the basics so the material shines through. If you come to see DEAD BRAINS (and I hope you will!), expect the material to be showcased without any bells and whistles. Indie theatre supports me just as much as I support it.
What do you look for in a property? On and off Broadway?
I have one piece of criteria that I look for when presenting material. I have to LOVE it. Whether my love of a piece translates to Broadway, Off Broadway, or something else only relies on how much I believe others will love it as well (and how much they are willing to pay…sadly, that is the reality of commercial theatre). Each piece is unique and, since commerciality is a reality of our business and the world, I think and hope that I can find the proper place for a piece based on that. At this point in time, all I know is that I only want to be part of projects that I love. The few times I have gone against that rule I have regretted it. Choose to be a part of a show you love and, win or lose, you WIN!