For more than thirty years, the Delaware Theatre Company has brought an amazing variety of productions to Wilmington, from musicals to the classics and everything in between! Executive Director Bud Martin joined DTC at the start of its 2012 season, and under his leadership, the Theatre is flourishing. We grabbed a few minutes with the very busy producer, director and equestrian to talk tickets, “Tide” and the Tonys.
Town Square Delaware: You have been a professional producer and director for many years, but you also have a background in business. Please tell us a bit about your career and how you landed in Delaware.
Bud Martin: When I graduated college, I started teaching high school while attending graduate school. After I got my Master’s degree in Theatre, I taught theatre here in Wilmington at Delcastle Technical High School for four years, and I was leaving just there as the Delaware Theatre Company was starting. But my students all got involved in helping out the theatre, as stage crew and volunteers back at the old fire house days. I stopped teaching after six years so that I could produce and direct more professionally. But while I was working all of the time, I made about half the money I made teaching and my kids were looking a little skinny [laughs]. I realized that if I really wanted my dreams to come true, I needed to be able to finance them, so I got a job as an investment banker.
People wonder how a theatre major could get into finance and I say, “I played an investment banker on TV and someone offered me a job.” I have built a number of companies over a 25-year period and, quite frankly, each one was like producing a directing a play. I was fortunate enough to sell my last company five years ago and get back into the theatre full time again. My dream did come true.
I have also found that my years in business has brought a unique perspective to my artistic sensibilities. And that combination has enabled me to look at theatre as a business, whether it is a commercial venture or a non-profit. It has also enabled me to bring my business experience to help turn around two struggling theatres, Act II Playhouse and now Delaware Theatre Company. As a Broadway and West End producer, we only have one source of revenue: Ticket sales. So I am all about, “How do we make something great that we can sell?”
TSD: How do you select a particular show or performance? Is there a difference between the shows you have chosen to produce for the DE Theatre Company and those which you produced in the past?
BM: Selecting a season is perhaps the most difficult thing for me to do. You have to find a balance of plays people want to see and plays you want them to see. I try to make sure I have a comedy, drama, musical, and something that is edgy and provocative. One of the most important things a non-profit regional theatre has to do is provoke responses and not just give people want they want. But afterwards, they keep talking about it. Hopefully, that is why they keep coming.
There is a big difference between producing commercially and producing for non-profits. Commercial producing requires a keen sense of what will sell to a wide audience. When you run a regional professional theatre like DTC, you have to consider that, but not be governed by that. For the last several years, DTC has suffered from programming that has appealed to a limited audience, so my experience in what sells to a more popular audience has been helpful.
With regard to the process here at DTC, it is my responsibility to select and recommend the shows for the season. After I have a sense of what I think will work, I run it by the staff and ask them to read the plays. Having our esteemed education department opine is important to me, because we never want to lose the value of a play on influencing young people. After that, it is about how we can “sell” the show. Then I take it to the board of directors, whose responsibility it is to make sure that we can produce those shows within our budget.
TSD: Luring well-know actors Peter Strauss, Michael Learned and Ian Lithgow to Wilmington for ‘The Outgoing Tide’ was brilliant. Their performances were masterful. How did you do that?
BM: I felt that is was important that if we were going to do a new play that no one had heard of, we needed to have recognizable actors that would help us draw an audience. Plus, it was my intention to move the production to NYC for a limited, off-Broadway run right after the DTC run. I feel strongly that major talent will come to Wilmington for the right roles, especially if there is an opportunity to move the show to NYC. Peter and Michael loved the play, that is the first step in luring them, and in Peter’s case, he felt that “Gunner” was the role of a lifetime that would change people’s perception of him being a TV miniseries guy. Playing at DTC was an opportunity for them to get comfortable in the roles before facing a NY audience and critics. DTC is so close and easily accessible to NY and commercial producers are always looking for regional professional theatres to try out new work, that I intend to repeat the model.
TSD: You more than made your mark as Producing Artistic Director at the nearby Act II Playhouse in Pennsylvania. In the four years you were there, season subscriptions grew by over 50%, and single ticket buyers grew 33%. Do you have similar financial and subscription goals for the Delaware Theatre Company?
BM: I certainly do. I am sure that is why I was offered the job here. DTC has struggled over the last several years, like many non-profits, and has lost both audience members and contributors. My main priority is getting people coming back to the theatre. Happy audiences make for good patrons of the theatre. We are already up about 30% on single ticket sales over last year. And we need to build on that year over year going forward. Again, this is why the right programming is so important.
TSD: Heads of non-profits often have a “wish list” of ideas. What would be at the top of your list for the Delaware Theatre Company?
BM: I want us to be a place where major talent wants to work, where great writers want to have their work produced, and a theatre that launches new plays and musicals that enjoy a great life afterwards. And I want to stop worrying about money.
TSD: In your spare time, would we find you enjoying a performance at The DuPont Theatre or The Grand, or perhaps reading a good book? Please tell us some of the things you enjoy most about Wilmington.
BM: I am just discovering Wilmington, really. Even though I live in southern Chester County, I have never really spent time in Wilmington, mostly because I have spent so much time in New York, London and other major cities. So I am having a grand time learning more about the town and hoping to have some time to actually enjoy it. It is a great town in which to entertain out of town actors, because there are so many wonderful places for them to visit.
With regard to seeing a performance at the DuPont Theatre, for the most part I have seen those shows on Broadway because I am a Tony voter, so I have to see every show on Broadway (tough job!) and I rarely have the time to see a show more than once. I try to see locally produced plays so that I can get a good sense of local professional actors for casting purposes. But even that is hard to find the time to do. And I live on a beautiful horse farm, so when I have the chance to “put my feet up,” it is usually on each side of a horse. But I love reading a good book. It is nice to read something that is not a play every once and awhile.
Delaware Theatre Company’s next production, Nora Ephron’s “Love, Loss, And What I Wore,” begins its run March 6. For ticket information, visit www.delawaretheatre.org or call 302.594.1100.