Randy Adams is a Tony and Olivier Award-winning producer and developer of Broadway musicals. Together with his partners at Junkyard Dog Productions (JYD), he created and produced the internationally acclaimed musical Come From Away, the recipient of four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical of 2019, not to mention Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Helen Hayes and Dora awards. In addition, he and JYD produced Memphis, which won four Tony Awards in 2010 including Best Musical. He’s a member of the KU Department of Theatre & Dance Professional Advisory Board and a generous supporter to the Department.
In addition to the annual PAB lunch, which is open to students, our Jayhawks had two other opportunities to talk to Randy this past academic year. He hosted a post-performance reception for Come From Away at the Kansas City Music Hall and some students heard his heartfelt testimonial about what receiving scholarships meant to him as a student at our Friends of the Theatre fundraiser.
Q. Randy, what are the most common questions our KU Theatre & Dance students have asked you and what do you tell them?
A. I get a lot of questions about what New York is like. How do you get seen by casting directors? What should they be doing once they get to New York? Are there places in the city not to live? What advice do you have for someone new to the city just starting out?
I have mostly the same answer for all of this: you need to first get to the city, find a place to live you like, connect with as many KU alums and friends as you can. There are alums much closer to your age that can help about places to live, what parts of town, how to get into auditions. I am fairly removed from all of that as I have lived here a long time and I am old! Ha!
Once you get to New York you should get to know the city as well as you can–know how to get to various parts of the city. Get to know as many people as you can both in the industry and in other fields. You need to have a life as well as a career. Make sure that you are feeling good about your living situation as well as what you are doing when you are not working. The better attitude you have about your life is going to allow you to do better auditions and ultimately, better work on stage.
In addition, see as much theatre as you can, doesn’t matter at what level: Broadway, off-Broadway, off off-Broadway. It allows you to see the kind of work and quality of work on all levels whether you are an actor, director, designer, stage manager or whatever. Get to know the field that you are working in. It helps to provide perspective about the level of talent in town. It also helps you think about yourself and your place in this industry. Don’t be afraid–it is what you have trained for–now keep training and get to work!
Q. What is an average day in the life of Randy Adams, the producer, like?
A. There is no average day. Every day is different depending on what is going on. It is odd writing this now during the pandemic when there is hardly anything going on so I will talk about what it was like right before the pandemic hit.
With five companies of Come From Away running around the world (Broadway, Toronto, National Tour, London and Melbourne), there is always plenty going on. The span of day given the different time zones can be long. Some days it is casting for replacements in one of the companies. Some days it is planning for celebrations around anniversary time–six months, one year, two year, three year and so forth. Sometimes is is talking about what might be the next production in what country. Sometimes it might be talking about an audiobook for the entire show random and out of the blue. Sometimes is a markeing/PR meeting with one of the companies, laying out strategy for a new campaign.
Some days it is traveling to one of the companies for a check in. We are fairly hands-on producers, and we like seeing the show and checking in to see how everyone is doing. You think that between all the companies Come From Away is employing over 500 people. We are a small show, but each production has their team: on stage, back stage, general management, marketing, PR, social media/digital. Keeping up with the various companies is half the fun.
All of this is to say, there is no average day. Each day presents its own new set of adventures and possibilities.
Q. What is your best advice to our students for the creation of new work, something you know quite a bit about?
A. Creating new work is the most exciting part of theater for me. Helping to create something that didn’t exist before is the absolute best. I would say that anytime you create something new, do what you love! Start with something that you are passionate about–you must do it! Find the very best people to do the work with you. Create an environment that allows each person to do their very best work. Make sure that you spend the time and resources needed to make it as good as it can possibly be. Be very excited about the work you have done because you are going to see it over and over! It is the greatest to bring something new into the world. It is even better when it turns out that everyone is glad you helped bring it into the world as well.
Q. Any theatre trends you are monitoring or interesting reactions you’ve seen from theatre companies regarding anti-racism, Black Lives Matter, and the protests?
I am glad this conversation is happening! I am energized by the passion of everyone and what changes are happening so very quickly. I think we as a theatre industry have a lot of work to do. I have been very fortunate to work with artists of color my entire career and to share their stories with the world. I think this moment will make sure that more companies and artists are seen and given voice. There are incredible stories to be told from every culture. We all learn so much when those stories are told-–be open and listen! Respond and engage–there is such an amazing world out there that is changing dramatically!
Q. As Covid-19 hit KU in early March, classes went online and commencement was postponed, what was happening, in general terms, to Come From Away at the Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway and out on tour? What was the vibe on Broadway and in New York City in general?
A. In early March, we went from having five companies around the world to having none. Within the span of a few days, every company shut down because of the pandemic. It looks like now it will be almost a year before everyone goes back to work. New York City was shut down, Broadway was like a ghost town, and Times Square has never been so empty. I think when it first started people thought it would be for a few weeks, which was devastating enough, but now it appears that it will be much longer. An entire industry was shut down and will most likely be one of the last to return.
Q. What now? Business-wise, what does resiliency look like for a multi-million dollar theatre operation?
A.The good news for Come From Away is that all the companies will return. We are in a fortunate position that allows for the shows to hold on until the reopening happens. Unfortunately, some shows were not as fortunate and closed for good. We don’t know what the reopening will be like, but we will be there ready to take it on. It continues to be a great adventure. We are ready for the next adventure and we will meet the challenge head on.
Q. What message of hope can you share for young people in uncertain times?
A. I am sure all the journeys you have all been on recently have only heightened your need and your want to be able to do theatre and the joy that it brings when we all gather together and we have opportunity to do the amazing things that we have trained to do and love to do with our friends and collaborators.
Hopefully this is going to bring us to new heights and we’re going to find new ways in how we can do theatre in different ways and different ideas. And the class of 2020 will be the next forebears of change, the people who bring it. I’m old. I’m not going to see a whole lot of new stuff in terms of me producing, but you are going to be on the front lines of figuring out what’s next, how are we going to do this, and what kinds of things can we do above and beyond what we’ve been doing.
Start thinking “what does this all mean?” “What are we going to do?”
It is an interesting time in theatre, dance, and any of the arts around the world because I believe more and more people than ever before sort of understand what they miss when they are not there. Everyone craves that opportunity to get together in a room and enjoy those things together, and we will. It’s going to take a little while.
Q. Could you share about a time in your career when you were proudest or your parents were the proudest (not necessarily mutually exclusive)?
A. I have to say that one of the great highlights of my career was prior to the Broadway run of Come From Away. We decided to take the entire company, band, support team, general management, marketing, PR, social media, etc., to Gander, Newfoundland to do two benefit concerts of the show. We wanted to share their story with them before we shared it with the world. It was truly the most magical time when 2,500 people for each of two benefit concerts in the Gander Hockey Arena erupted, clapped, cheered, and didn’t want to leave. We knew that no matter what we were good–we had told their story well. In addition, all the proceeds from the concerts went to the five communities mentioned in the show who had taken care of everyone. It was a life moment as well as one of the most stunning theatrical events of my life. Winning the Tony Award and the Olivier Award were also pretty amazing nights that made me incredibly proud. I think my parents were probably most proud when I became the first person in my family to graduate from college.
Q. Could you share about a time your career when you received feedback from a mentor/peer/funder that fell under the “risky, but turned out fine” category?
A. I think many people would have looked back at my career at times and said ‘what were you thinking?’ But you know what, each time I made one of those decisions it seems to have ended up alright, and I ended up in a good place. You know what, sometimes it’s not the most lucrative thing that you are ever going to do in your life, but sometimes that thing may take you to something else that is going to be. And along the way make sure you have a good time.
Don’t ever forget that love. Don’t ever forget why you are doing this. When you do what you love it will be the best. People helped me along the way. Our job as we graduate and move on to the next stage in our careers is to help the next bunch, and the next bunch, and the next bunch after that.
Q. What makes you so passionate about being a Jayhawk? Why return to the nest, as they say?
I had a great two years at KU. I got to do some incredible work while I was there. In addition, I was inspired by the incredible staff and faculty at KU. It was an exciting time being surrounded by great people and great ideas. I have some lifelong friends from my time at KU. Overall, it was a great school that allowed me to continue on my path as a theatre artist. I wasn’t totally sure where I was going after I left KU, but I knew that I was well-prepared for wherever my career path took me.
Q. Any parting words?
A. I wish I would have been able to spend more time back at KU and see more work from this year’s graduating class, but you know what, I think I probably will see their work in the future and I’ll enjoy it even more.
Stay open to the possibilities. You never know where it’s going to take you.
RANDY ADAMS is a Tony and Olivier-award winning Producer and Founding Partner of Junkyard Dog Productions (JYD), a theatrical producing company dedicated to the development and production of new musical theatre. JYD is currently represented on Broadway with Come From Away which is the winner of the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Helen Hayes and Dora Award for Best Musical of 2017. In Toronto, it is beginning its 3rd year at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. In addition, Come From Away is currently touring North America for at least the next three years. Come From Away, winner of four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical of 2019, is running at the Phoenix Theatre in London and in Melbourne, Australia. Come From Away won Best New Musical, Best Choreographer, Best Sound Design, and Outstanding Achievement in Music. It tells the story of a small Canadian town of 9,000 people that took care of almost 7,000 stranded airline passengers immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. JYD’s first Broadway production Memphis is the winner of the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical of 2010. First Date premiered in Seattle prior to its Broadway run. Since its inception in 2006, JYD has also produced Make Me A Song, The Music of William Finn off-Broadway (Drama Desk nom., Outer Critics Circle nom.) and in London. Prior to creating JYD, he was the Managing Director at the Tony-award winning TheatreWorks Silicon Valley from 1984 to 2006. Randy holds an M.A from the University of Kansas (c.1980, emphasis in directing) and a B.A from Otterbein University. He is a member of the KU Department of Theatre & Dance Professional Advisory Board and a generous supporter to the Department of Theatre & Dance.