In a midtown Third Avenue office building, Robert Silman stood at one end of a conference table staring at some figures on an overhead screen. Balding and bespectacled, he had the serious and disheveled look of a scientist-which, in fact, he was. A neuroendocrinologist who had worked at London University’s St. Bartholomew Hospital, Mr. Silman, according to his biography, has published research articles in major scientific journals “on the roles of the pituitary hormones ACTH and endorphin in human pregnancy and the pineal hormone melatonin in human reproduction.”
But Mr. Silman had come to midtown Manhattan from his native Britain to discuss a subject much murkier than science, and yet one that was closer to his heart. In 2001, he left medicine to become a full-time theater producer, and though he had only a few small successes to his name, his ambition, he said, “is to move the funding of theatrical productions from their current medieval state into the 21st century.
“As a general principle, there are only two kinds of theater financing,” the 64-year-old Mr. Silman said in his ashy voice. “It’s either the multinational, immense corporation funding its own project-like Disney-or it tends to be these producers who’ve got these coteries of angels or investors, which are sort of medieval.” A look of distaste passed quickly across his face. “Everything’s so secretive and kept under wraps. And nobody knows what’s going on,” he continued. “If you’re a theater producer with no money people around you, where do you go?”
Mr. Silman, who said he speaks from experience, claimed to have another alternative. In the course of his hormone research work, he explained, he became acquainted with the venture-capital fund model for raising funds for the high-risk business of biotech start-ups, and now he’d like to apply those same principles to the high-risk business in which he currently operates. Mr. Silman envisions a trans-Atlantic theatrical venture-capital fund, structured to encourage investments from both England and the U.S., where investors’ money-and risk-will be spread over a portfolio of several productions.
Mr. Silman called his concept “the future of theatrical productions,” and on Oct. 31, he filed to patent a number of the key concepts of his idea. And in keeping with his scientific background, he’s going to make himself a guinea pig in the experiment.
For the next year, Mr. Silman will seek to raise between $4 million and $23 million for his Tambar Transatlantic Theatre, a kind of beta test of his venture-capital idea. T3, as the venture is also called, will be a limited-liability partnership registered in England and Wales (thereby making it “transparent” to both U.S. and United Kingdom tax authorities, according to the business plan). Depending on how much he raises, Mr. Silman, as the director of T3, will use the money to mount and manage anywhere from seven to 10 productions both here and in the U.K. The productions, a number of which Mr. Silman produced to positive reviews at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, range from Broke and Alone, a one-woman show starring Joan Rivers, to Weekend in Rio, one of three comedies in the package by the playwright Steven Froelich, to They Can’t Black Out the Moon, a big-budget musical about World War II.
Though Mr. Silman acknowledged that some theatrical producers do get their angels to invest in a slate of productions rather than a single play, he contended that his concept is different because, under the rules of his fund, the profits from a successful play in the portfolio cannot be used to prop up other productions that might be foundering, thus protecting the producers’ royalties for both productions. “You can’t borrow from any of these other [productions in the portfolio] to do that,” he said.
According to the presentation that Mr. Silman made to The Transom, investors could potentially recoup their entire investment if even one of the shows in the portfolio was a success. And though he conceded that it’s possible for an investor to lose his entire investment in T3, he pointed out that, as the director of the fund, T3 won’t get a cent until the investors make a profit. “All capital return and all profit from any production goes 100 percent back to the investors until the moment from which the investors have recouped 100 percent of their investment,” he said. After that T3 splits the profits with the investors.
All this, of course, is hypothetical so far. And there’s no harder reality than Broadway.
For instance, did his model provide for cost overruns?
“It can’t happen, because what we’re doing in the budgeting is having immense reserves,” he said, adding that the operating rules of the fund will dictate that the “show must close at the moment at which it is running at a loss such that it’s going to consume the reserves within a certain period of time.
“What you can’t have is an Urban Cowboy situation, where you actually have a show that is doing terribly and the producers decide they want to throw more money at it to keep it going.”
But Mr. Silman said that his venture-capital model did not mean that a producer’s gut instincts would be eliminated from the theatrical equation. “The example I would give is, a show is doing badly, but not that badly,” he said. “Our forecast tells us that we’ve got to close it at the end of two months because it’s running at less than break-even. But our instincts say that if we can keep this going, we can make this a success.” In that case, he explained, the manager of the fund would not be precluded from finding another partner to keep the show going.
If Mr. Silman is successful with T3, he said, “my intention is to set up a venture-capital fund” for commercial theater that would work on a much grander scale, “raising $100 million, $200 million” from institutional investors and the public; a fund “where you would get a committee of experts-producers, theater owners, Shuberts, actors, general managers-to trawl through the submissions, the costings and the capitalizations associated with each of them, and to actually draw up a short list for a venture-capital fund … and to treat it just like a biotech fund or dot-com fund.”
The result, he said, would mean that “producers now no longer have to rustle up angels. They’re going to have their product assessed on its merits against others. A good producer today is a producer who can raise money; I believe a good producer might have altogether different attributes and qualities.”
Ms. Rivers called Mr. Silman “honorable, top-notch and a great producer,” and said of his venture-capital plan: “I think it’s very clever. He’s an amazing man to do this.”
Of course, the Shuberts and the Nederlanders and all the other producers who’ve been raising money the secretive and old-fashioned way are apt to wonder if Mr. Silman inhaled some brain-altering fumes from his chemistry set, but the neuroendocrinologist has endured his share of naysaying and controversy. Back in 1963, when he was a philosophy student at the Sorbonne, Mr. Silman and a fellow student published, under the pseudonym of Ben Abro, Assassination! July 14, a political thriller about an assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle and the volatile French political scene at the time. The novel blurred fact and fiction, and its inclusion of Jacques Soustelle, the real-life former governor general of Algeria, triggered a nine-year libel battle. Soustelle ultimately agreed to drop the case against Mr. Silman and pay his legal costs. The book was republished in 2001 by the University of Nebraska Press.
Even during his student days, Mr. Silman was a theater buff who invested “fun money” in a number of plays on London’s West End. The only return on his investment came from the first production of Sleuth, which turned a £12.50 investment into a profit of over £2,000.
Mr. Silman said that he got into producing largely because of Mr. Froelich, whom he met in San Diego in the 80′s. When Mr. Froelich went out and wrote the play that Mr. Silman had encouraged him to write, Mr. Silman said he felt compelled to get it made. In 1998, he produced Mr. Froelich’s They Offered Bob and Wilma Cash at the Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold. In 2001, he brought Mr. Froelich’s follow-up, Weekend in Rio, as well as Ms. Rivers’ and Ms. Miles’ shows, to Edinburgh. “I used Edinburgh as a showcase to show that I could produce things,” he said. “After Edinburgh, I decided I wanted to create something that was as financially interesting as my productions were artistically interesting.”
Mr. Silman said he’s already got some interest from London-based investors, but added that he has no illusions that the theater community will embrace his newfangled idea. “My guess is, until I’m successful, I will probably be ignored,” he said. “And then if I am successful, it will be too late.”
Sex’s Ménage à Trois
The producers of Sex and the City, the HBO series currently shooting its final eight episodes, are taking strong measures to protect the secret ending they have concocted for the show.
While production of the final season is scheduled to continue into January, sources involved in the production said a scene identified on the set as the “final” one of the series was shot last week at Silvercup Studios in Queens.
And then it was shot two more times.
The sources said that the Sex and the City’s producers decided to write and film three different endings, each consisting of conversations between the women at the coffee shop-a costly and time-consuming measure meant to confuse the crew members and background actors who were allowed to remain on the closed, no-visitors set during the shoot. The sources said that copies of that final script had much of Carrie’s voice-over blacked out as well as conversations among Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte at their coffee-shop hangout.
Speculation has swirled as to what happens to the four rapidly aging divas who spark fashion trends across the flyover states. It has been reported that uptight-lawyer Miranda settles in Brooklyn for a life of domestic bliss, while trampy Samantha battles health problems.
The big question, of course, is whom, if anyone, Carrie will end up with. The show’s producers are rumored to be in Paris scouting locations for the final two episodes and auditioning cast members to play the ex-wife of Aleksandr Petrovsky, Carrie’s current boyfriend, played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Others close to the production have suggested that Carrie is likely to end up with a more patriotic future.
Merry Christmas to Me!
On the evening of Dec. 11, Steve Kroft, the rosy-cheeked 60 Minutes correspondent, was waiting for a dinner reservation with actress Martha Plimpton at Nice Matin on Amsterdam Avenue. Mr. Kroft, wearing a dark navy suit and brown tortoise-shell glasses, arrived shortly after 9 p.m. and deposited two large red holiday-shopping bags from Saks at the coat check by the maître d’.
“What did you get?” asked Ms. Plimpton, who was holding a cocktail tumbler and wearing a full-length sky-blue coat and short-cropped blond hair, as she watched the attendant struggling under the weight of the bags.
“You know, I always go to Saks before the holidays to get gifts for my friends,” Mr. Kroft said. “But I always end up buying clothes for me.”
She’s Gonna Make It!
On the evening of Dec. 4, the wraithlike, hat-throwing actress Mary Tyler Moore walked off the set of Neil Simon’s latest play, Rose’s Dilemma, after Mr. Simon sent her a note lambasting her for not being able to remember her lines (even after she reportedly resorted to having them fed to her through an earpiece). On Dec. 15, three days before the show’s opening, Ms. Moore got up on another stage a few blocks away and mocked the whole thing.
The actress was the first of several dozen theater people to take the stage at “Great Joy!”, a benefit for the Actor’s Fund of America New Amsterdam Theater, where actors and singers (among them Tovah Feldshuh, Ricki Lake, Nathan Lane and Marisa Tomei) read essays and haikus relating to the holidays and sang every Christmas song that’s ever been written-including one, sung by a man in drag, about getting drunk. Displaying all the moxie of the television character she made famous, Ms. Moore stood at the podium and said, “I’m so happy to be here tonight at this, at this … line?” A stagehand came and handed her a bulky headset. “At this theater!” she said. Then she started repeating taxicab C.B. radio feedback.
-Anna Jane Grossman
It’s Christmukah! And this year, all the good little girls and goys have one thing on their mind: black T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Jewcy” on one side and “Shalom Motherfucker” on the other. Created last year by Jason Saft, a 26-year-old member of “the tribe,” the shirts are available on his Web site, Jewcy.com, and they’re quite the hot item. He’s sold several hundred T-shirts, hats, thongs, and stickers so far this year, all decorated with the Jewcy logo, which uses the Hebrew letter shin in the place of the W. “Being Jewcy is a lifestyle,” Mr. Saft’s Web site proclaims. “It’s pro-Manischevitz, pro-Jewfro, pro-Barneys Warehouse Sale. It’s knishes with a knasty attitude!”
Sarah Silverman is among the Jewcy shirt-owners out there. “She has a thong, too,” said Mr. Saft, “but she doesn’t really wear thongs, she said. So she uses it as a chew toy for her dog.”
Harvey Fierstein of Hairspray gave the shirt away as a Hanukkah present last year, although he couldn’t wear one himself as the largest size didn’t fit him. (Mr. Saft eventually custom-made one for Mr. Fierstein in XXL.)
Also among the Jewcy is Guy Oseary, Madonna’s partner at Maverick Records and author of the book Jews Who Rock. According to Mr. Saft, Madonna owns a pink-and-burgundy Jewcy shirt that was given to her by Mr. Oseary. “Madonna …. ” Mr. Saft trailed off. “It’s every Jewish boy from Long Island’s dream.”
The idea for the “Shalom Motherfucker” shirt came to Mr. Saft two years ago when he picked up a copy of this paper and saw a headline bearing those words. The article that followed was about the soon-to-be-released film The Hebrew Hammer, which has the line “Shabbat shalom, motherfuckers” in it. In the latest issue of Time Out New York, Hebrew Hammer star Adam Goldberg wears the shirt in one photo.
Back home in Levittown, Mr. Saft’s mom is laughing it up over the shirts, but his bubbe and her friends don’t really get it.
“They say, ‘That’s nice,’” said Mr. Saft. “‘As long as you’re happy.’”