The Gift of the Pivot // by Douglas Carter Beane
Throughout his career, playwright Douglas Carter Beane finds the optimism in plans B, C, and D.
“Hold On, Don’t Let Go!
In the morning when the lights are low!”
It was a fragment of a lyric with music Lewis Flinn had in a folder of studies that he was keeping for a “rainy day.” As fate would happen, it was raining that day in his Chelsea apartment. It started the whole thing rolling.
But let’s go back wayyy back to where Lysistrata Jones all began and how it wound up on the Transport Group-a-manger menu. It was the dawn of a new millennium and baby writer Doug was in Hollywood meeting with all the studios (there were more than three back then). I was discussing what I might have as an idea for a movie. Of course, the first studio president I visited had just seen the success of American Pie so before I spoke, she asked if I had any teen sex ideas. I was very quick-witted then and extremely smart of ass so I wryly suggested a teen sex movie about high school cheerleaders who wouldn’t put out until the team won a game. I said I was calling it Lysistrata Jones. I waited here for laughter but instead heard an enthusiastic “Let’s make that movie!” Every studio head had the same response, so I wrote the screenplay as quickly and funnily as possible and had it ready to hand out to execs in a few weeks. My agent sent it out on a Friday for everyone to read over the weekend and we would have a bidding war by Monday. Perfect. OH—and they all had plane trips that weekend, so they’d have to read it. Perfect perfect. Or was it? All the studio heads were on planes all right and headed to Washington, D.C. where Congress would implore them to stop making teen sex comedies. What do you call it when something perfect is about to happen and fate bitch slaps you? I call it my career.
So, I put Lyssie J. on a shelf until a literal rainy day when Lewis was showing me some of his song fragments and I thought of this script. Let’s make a stage show of Lysistrata Jones. Lewis would create songs and I would adapt the screenplay. Most musicals are just movies anyhow, I just would eliminate the part where the movie got made. We had a blast writing the show and we put together a series of readings. What was remarkable about this show and this process was that all roles were open to all races. Jackie Hoffman was Hetaira one time, then it was Liz Mikel. Lampito would be white, then South Asian, and then East Asian. We would just change lines or references to support whoever was playing the role. It was a policy I would carry on for future shows and has given me the most rewarding experiences. After all these readings, no producers bit. Or even licked. So, Lewis and I set it aside for a bit.
Then the director/choreographer Dan Knechtges came aboard, and he forged a wonderful regional production at Dallas Theater Center. The final weekend of which, when all the Broadway producers were slated to attend to see if they wanted to move it to Broadway? We had a blizzard. In Texas. My career.
We did another reading in NYC and everyone said “No, not right now.” But Lewis and I continued to hold on. Over a lunch at The Westway Diner (or as I prefer to think of it, The Actors Equity Cafeteria), I pitched it to Jack Cummings III (Transport Group Artistic Director). Left him a script and a CD of the tunes. The call was fast. Play ball! We found the gym at Judson Memorial Church. An actual gym in Greenwich Village. Producer Paula Herold came on board to help out and we had a show to be proud of. The critics came and made absolute fools of themselves they loved it so much. Soon we moved to Broadway and again massive love from the critics. And sadly, new producers, not enough publicity. Oh, who knows why the show closed. But it did. The mystery of the season. My career.
But there was so much more to the show than that. There were the friendships and professional relationships bonded. There was The Gym at Judson that we found and restored and was home for Transport Group for years. It’s still there on the theater landscape. There was the production assistant we all rallied to bring with us to Broadway. That was Cody Renard Richard. There was Jason Tam and Josh Segarra sliding into the show when two members of the Dallas cast couldn’t join us. Oh, and when one actor dropped out early Off-Broadway, he was replaced with Ato Blankson-Wood. There was Patti Murin. The continued relationship Lewis and I get to share with Transport Group. The gifts are endless. And I think there are even some more waiting around the corner. My career. Would not change it for anything.
About the author:
Beane’s book for the musical Xanadu ran on Broadway for two years and was nominated for a Tony for Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical. It received the Drama Desk Award for Best Book of a Musical and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. Beane’s new book for the musical Sister Act ran on Broadway for two years and was nominated for the Tony for Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical. He wrote the book for the Broadway musical, Lysistrata Jones and received both the Drama Desk and Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical. His adaptation of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella ran on Broadway for two years and was also nominated for Tonys for both Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical Revival. He wrote the book to the stage adaptation of MGM’s The Band Wagon which was produced at Encores and the summer show for the Rockettes and Radio City Music Hall. His libretto for Die Fledermaus debuted at the Metropolitan Opera. Beane’s play The Little Dog Laughed opened on Broadway where it was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play, starring Julie White. It then opened in the West End at the Garrick Theater where it starred Tamsin Grieg, Gemma Arterton, and Rupert Friend, and was nominated for the Olivier for Best New Play. Beane’s play The Nance opened on Broadway starring Nathan Lane, where it received five Tony nominations and won three. It was filmed for PBS Live from Lincoln Center and was shown in movie theaters and then broadcast on PBS. His other plays include The Country Club starring Cynthia Nixon and Amy Sedaris, Mr. & Mrs. Fitch which starred John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle and As Bees in Honey Drown which won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award. His first play Advice From A Caterpillar was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award and was made into a film starring Cynthia Nixon and Timothy Oliphant. It received the Aspen Comedy Festival Best Feature Award. His memory play, Shows for Days, was produced by Lincoln Center Theater and featured Patti Lupone and Michael Urie and his most recent play Fairycakes opened Off-Broadway this season with Jackie Hoffman, Julie Halston, and Mo Rocca.