From the Bar to Broadway

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Everyone who works in the arts has been on a journey to get to where they are now. There are the actors whose careers started waiting tables, or the writers who lived out of shoeboxes for years before they penned their first Pulitzer Prize-winner. However, unlike the humbler origins of many other creatives, for Tony Award-winning Broadway and West End producer, Richard Batchelder, his pathway to an arts career began as a big firm lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts. As a litigation partner at Ropes & Gray, one of the leading firms in the world, Richard was perhaps more familiar with the courtroom than the famed boards of Broadway and the West End, where he now works to help lay on some of the great theatre of our time.

I ask Richard how he goes about choosing which show to back. His face instantly lights up, and Richard is remarkably frank: “If I enjoy it personally, I’m happy to back it . . . Profit is important but secondary.” What really matters when deciding to back a show, according to Richard, is that he feels “pleased to have my name associated with it.” Richard muses on his love of Shakespeare, and how his recent West End show, The Motive and the Cue, will have a lasting impact “perhaps twenty years from now”, in part due to its focus on the politics of a rehearsal room (in this case John Gielgud’s storeyed 1964 Broadway direction of Richard Burton in Hamlet) and the relationship between art and celebrity. Richard finds his work as a producer inexorably bound up with his own love of theatre. Richard says that: “I remember distinctly, as a child, my father playing show tunes at home”, going on to remark that, “Theatre leaves an indelible memory . . . I could speak for hours about theatre history.”

“Theatre is a tightknit community, where actors, producers, and everyone who works there, from the ushers to the stagehands,  work collaboratively.”

Richard clearly loves the theatre world. He says that: “Theatre is a tightknit community, where actors, producers, and everyone who works there, from the ushers to the stagehands,  work collaboratively.” Having worked in both Broadway and the West End, I ask Richard which he prefers. Richard flashes a wry smile, immediately suspecting, perhaps with good reason, that I may have been invoking that ancient and (usually) friendly rivalry between my country and his. Richard, ever the diplomat, is very complimentary about London’s theatre scene. Admitting that it lacks the size and scale, and the funding, of Broadway, Richard remarks that the West End feels more inclusive. “In Broadway you have much higher costs, it’s very expensive to put on a show, and it can be very hard to break into; that is also a problem in London, but less so.”

Before becoming a stage producer, Richard spent more than three decades working as a Ropes & Gray litigator. While practising law had its own set of challenges, Richard got involved in producing just as Covid shuttered theatres around the world. Revenues dried up and many faced collapse, or struggled on via government subsidies. Rather than walk away, Richard decided to stick with it, noting we all have a role to play in supporting theatre. Indeed, theatre can be transformative. Theatre can better connect us, can calm our shaken nerves, and heighten are lives.

Before becoming a stage producer, Richard spent more than three decades working as a Ropes & Gray litigator

Richard now spends his life between two cities separated by the Atlantic Ocean. On his native coast is the gleaming lights of Broadway, on the other is London and the famed West End. I ask Richard if the theatre world will always revolve around these two cities. He believes so, but notes that shows that originally opened in Broadway or the West End are now being produced all around the world. Theatre, in spite of the manifold challenges it has faced of late, is still flourishing, on Broadway, in the West End, and beyond, and it will take more than a pandemic to sound its death knell. Long may it continue.

Richard’s recent work has included the Broadway smash hit Merrily We Roll Along, the highly anticipated 30th-year revival of The Who’s Tommy (also on Broadway) alongside the West End hits The Motive and the Cue, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, and Opening Night. Richard’s two Tony awards are for Parade (Best Revival of a Musical, 2023), and The Inheritance (Best Play, 2020). Richard serves on many charitable boards, including the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. (Board of Governors). His main residence is in Boston, Massachusetts, and more information on his shows can be found at www.cousinbenproductions.com.

Image credit: Holly Nicholls via National Theatre Productions

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