Home > Theatre > A theatre publicist who mothers new-born shows

A theatre publicist who mothers new-born shows

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

SANTA MONICA, California — It’s a boy.  Due to be born around August 30th and named Beckett or Jackson or Brady.

But then, his mother-to-be, Racquel Lehrman, has been “giving birth” for the past nine years.  “By the time a play that I’ve publicized or produced finally opens, I feel like it’s my baby being born,” she says.

Lehrman is the founder and managing director of Theatre Planners, a company that produces and publicizes theatrical events.  A transplanted New Yorker, she started out as a standup comedienne.  “There weren’t many women in comedy at that time,” she says, “mostly chubby lesbians.”  Her father, who owns and drives his own New York taxi, pushed her into it, she admits, “mostly because I think he would have loved being a standup himself.”  She did well on the comedy club circuit, playing such prime venues as Caroline’s, but she says, “I didn’t click in that environment.   I’m too normal.”

Having graduated from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts (in three and a half years, and on the honor roll), she was also an actress.  “Going to NYU made me who I am,” she says, “but The City can burn you out,”  and after 10 years in Greenwich Village, she left for California.  “I don’t know why I moved out here,” she says, “but I just knew I needed to go.”

Once here, she discovered  “the underground theater world—a whole subculture.  There were so many independent production groups, and some of them were really great, but mostly,“ she noticed, “the production values were very low.”

And so, on the spot, she transformed herself into a publicist and producer.  She had “no master plan, no business plan, and no experience in public relations.”  But what she did have was “faith in myself and instincts that I trusted.”  And thus her company, Theatre Planners, was born.

She laughs about her experience with her first client.  (“Of course, he didn’t know he was my first client,” she says.)  He asked her if she thought she could get a theater critic from the L.A. Times out to review his production.  Not having the slightest idea of how to go about it, she replied, “Of course.”  His next question was, “And how much would you charge to do it?”’  To which she replied, “Fifty dollars!”  When, through sheer persistence and charm, she actually did get the Times to review the play, her grateful client paid her what he thought the job was worth:  ten times what she had asked for.

She calls her work “making things happen for other people,” and she was so successful at it that she decided to start making things happen for herself.  Five years ago she acquired her own theater, a warehouse on Santa Monica Boulevard, next to where the Actors’ Gang used to perform, before they moved to their new space in Culver City.

 “It was a disaster,” she says.  “There was no backstage, no storage room, limited parking, and the entrance was on El Centro.”  But she had “this great feeling about the space,” she says, and began the renovation that turned it into The Lounge, a 50-seat theater with the entrance on Santa Monica Boulevard (“I knew I needed a Theater Row address,” she says.)

She signed the lease on July 3, 2005, “the same day I was picking up my wedding gown.”  Struck with momentary buyer’s remorse (about the theater, not about the wedding to E! Entertainment’s Mike Wilder), she turned “What did I do?” into “It’s what I do!”  and “you find a way to get through it.”

She tackled the project “as a producer rather than as an artist,” and insisted on a beautiful lobby, comfortable seats, and high ceilings.  “I wasn’t going to do it unless I could do it right,” she says.  Apparently she did things right, because six months ago she secured a second space, Lounge 2, which backed up to her theater.  “It wasn’t a theater, it was a warehouse, and we had to create it from scratch,” she says, “but the Universe said, ‘here you go, kid,’ and we took it on.”  She signed the lease in October, with two shows booked for January, and, of course, it took longer and cost more than she’d planned, “but at that point you’re under pressure and in denial,” she says.

Breaking through walls, she created two theaters with a single lobby.  “I wanted people to have a communal experience, being able to talk and mingle before the shows,” she explains, “and it does exactly what I wanted it to do.”

Her own “communal experience” includes producing, providing space for others’ productions, and participating in activities like Hollywood’s recent Fringe Festival.  “I loved the idea,” she says, “and I was on board right away.”  Inundated with submissions, she selected 11 different shows, including “four or five solo shows, which are always attractive to me.”

“I don’t take a show unless I believe in it,” she says.  “If I don’t like the show, I’d be doing everyone a disservice.”  Her job as a producer, as she sees it, is to raise the bar on production values—to see that the right actors are cast, that the right director is on the job “to weave his magic,” that the playwright and director are on the same page—to ensure that a show reaches its potential.  “I come to a show with clear eyes, whereas sometimes the writer and director are looking at it through foggy glasses,” she explains.

“In the beginning I couldn’t pick my shows,” she says,  “but now I can vouch for them.  The more you do, the more you know, and I don’t have disasters any more.”

Currently, her theaters are running Not About Heroes, a two-man drama set during World War II, directed and produced by Bill Hemmer, and Amy Simon’s one-woman show She’s History! The Most Dangerous Women in America, Then and Now… and she is looking forward to running Fielding Edlow’s Sugar Daddy, a play that was workshoped during the Fringe Festival, in October.

As for the future, “I’d like to produce in larger venues,” she says.  “Maybe in New York.  And to own more theaters.  I wouldn’t mind being the Laemmle of L.A. theater,” she laughs.  “But I’m not a guru.  I just love what I’m doing, and I work at it night and day.”

And so will little Beckett—or Jackson—or Brady.  “He’ll be coming to the theater with me and he’ll be in his playpen.  I’m going to be raising a little theater rat,” says Racquel Lehrman, producer and ultimate theater mom.

Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

  1. Michele Miller
    November 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Like to get her back to NY. Good work!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: