Danny Feldman, Managing Director of Labyrinth Theater Company
Danny Feldman is the Managing Director of Labyrinth Theater Company in New York. He has produced numerous plays and musicals, including the original Los Angeles production of "bare," which won an Ovation Award, and the LA premieres of McNally's Corpus Christi, 40 Days, and 12th Premise. He oversaw the organization of over 26 productions for Reprise Theater Company in Los Angeles. Danny received a California Educational Theatre Association Award for his work in theater education and received his degree from UCLA, where he studied music. A pleasure to speak with, He recommends balancing one's time and being able to articulate how passionate you are about your work.
What advice do you give to graduating students? '"It's sort of advice that I was told by my parents, by other people, that I have found has worked for me, which is always make yourself as invaluable to your employer as possible. Work as hard as you can, make it so that they can't imagine them doing their job without you. I've always realized and had the opinion that other people might be smarter, but I can always sort of win with good ol' hard work and putting time in and putting effort in. And that's been successful for me so far, I would say. No one gets paid in theater that much, and so if it's not fun and if you're not enjoying what you're doing, then it's kind of not worth doing."
If you could go back in time and speak to your college self, what would you say? "Ah! What are you thinking going into the theater? I actually started in college in music, so I wasn't directly on a theater path then. I was not only doing music studies but I was producing theater in LA on a 99 seat contract while I was still in college. I think that as much as it propelled my career to this day by having that experience, I also sort of didn't have a normal college life. There's always a balance. I don't think I was good at the balance. I don't know if I would go back and do it differently, because I think I am where I am in my career at this time at my age because of that. Sacrifices were made."
What was your biggest mistake in your career? "I don't know. I don't believe in mistakes. You learn from things that you do that don't turn out the right way. There were maybe times where I was too gossipy or maybe hurt someone or this or that. We were working in the theater, our work is very important to me, but in the scheme of things, we're not brain surgeons, we're not rocket scientists. And the work that we do is not necessarily life or death. Of course I value what we do, what theater professionals do. But one time someone came in and said, 'We have a huge crisis.' My boss said, 'Let's put this in perspective. A war is crisis. This is just producing theater.' When you have a little bit of perspective, it helps you get through it."
Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? "My first job I sort of created by myself. When I was in college, it was early in my college career, I produced a production of Little Shop of Horrors, along with a couple of others shows. One of them was sort of a big hit that eventually was transferred to off-Broadway. And I got a little bit noticed for that and confident; it really sort of launched my professional theater career. My first real gig was at Reprise Theater Company, and I applied right after college, and I got the job as assistant to the managing director which quickly became a company management position."
What are three habits that contributed to your success? "1) Definitely dedication and commitment. Putting in the hours, putting in the sweat, putting in the overtime, and not complaining about it. 2) Passion is hugely important. Not only being able to do the job and being dedicated and committed, but being able to passionately articulate why it is important to be doing what you are doing to others, communicating the excitement and really channeling that and creating an environment of a theater company where audience, funders, everyone alike sees the value of it. The passion is contagious, and starts from the top down. 3) I think my ability to have both the business side and the artistic side in balance. What specifically benefited me, I think, is that I have a very good knack for communicating with the artists I'm working with. And at the same time, I'm a head of the business organization. I think I bridge the gap well, where I'm seen as not just the business guy, but I'm seen as a friend and fellow artist in some way."
What are you working on now? "We have a play that just opened last week, and we're in the middle of the run - a brand new play called The Atmosphere of Memory. It's the first play in our new space, which is exciting. Our annual gala is in two weeks, and if anyone is going into arts administration, that's a huge piece of their job. It's just been a stressful time. Someone said to me after that it's like having a child, it's one of the most painful things you've ever had, but once its happens and a few months go by you want to do it again. But it's a necessary part of it, so I'm not going to complain."
Any other advice? "There is a theater teacher of mine that once said something that has always stuck with me, and I reiterate it to people all the time. 'Dumber people than you have done this and done it well.' I think it's a funny thing, but I think it's true. Whether it's talking to an actor, negotiating a contract for the first time, whether it's producing a Broadway show, there's a lot of things that seem very scary. And reminding yourself of this a good to way sort of get over yourself for a second."
1) Be Invaluable: If your employers can't imagine themselves working without you, they are more likely to appreciate you and potentially promote you.
2) Balance Your Time: The delicate balance of upholding both the business and creative side of one's job is necessary, should you choose a field where that is applicable.
3) We're Not Rocket Scientists: As important as our work as artists is, sometimes it's necessary to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that if something goes wrong, at least this isn't life or death.
4) Express Your Passion: If you can articulate how passionate you are for your work, the enthusiasm will be contagious.
5) Remember This: 'Dumber people than you have done this and done it well.'