The lights of Broadway might be a long way from the Sooner State, but for two local stage producers, the stars are shining bright.
Oklahoma theater veterans Jay Krottinger and Ryan Tanner recently joined creative forces to form Square 1 Theatrics, a production company that, despite its small-time roots, is making big-time waves in the New York City theater world with its off-Broadway production of Flipside: The Patti Page Story and the upcoming, much-anticipated Broadway revival of Pippin.
Although both Tanner and Krottinger have shared a lifelong passion for the theater, the two began their partnership with a very different collaboration: IQ Surgical, a health care marketing firm. But with their mutual love of the stage and every aspect of a production, it wasn’t a big jump for them to leverage their marketing partnership into producing award-winning shows together.
According to the partners, Square 1’s mission is to offer “compelling, powerful entertainment for a vast audience” with thought-provoking works that inspire change, including works from and about their Oklahoma home.
“It’s important to Square 1 that we have a strong commitment to producing local and regional works with other folks that we believe share in our mission and philosophy,” Tanner says. “Nothing is more exciting than hearing from someone that has a great, out-of-the-box idea. Of course, we can’t exist without investors, so we are always looking for Square 1 believers.”
Both producers were drawn to drama and the arts from a young age. An active participant in band, choir and drama during his school years, Krottinger performed professionally across the globe for years before landing at Square 1.
“Since the moment I stepped on stage as a kid, I knew that for the rest of my life, I was supposed to be in entertainment,” he says. “Like everything we do in our careers, our life journey places us in our niche. I laugh now because here I am, 10 to 15 years later, discovering where I feel most comfortable in my shoes, in entertainment. You ask why I laugh? Well, for almost every professional job I contracted as an actor or performer, the artistic directors and producers of the theater or the college professors always said I would make a great producer. I didn’t believe them, or for that matter believe in myself to go for it …
“Without sounding idealistic, I am pretty sure life directs us where we are supposed to be,” he continues. “It’s interesting how life comes full circle. I should have listened to all those mentors telling me to be a producer. Now, here I am producing my first two major productions.”
For Tanner, stepping onto the stage was more intimidating, so he chose other ways to enter the theater world. “As a young kid, I dreamed of performing and yet was scared to death of it,” he says. “So I did the next best thing: I volunteered for local theater productions in my hometown. I initially started by selling ads for the show program, and that grew into volunteering as a stagehand. I did whatever was needed to get closer to the production. I distinctly remember having an unhealthy obsession with the making of Anything Goes. It was then that I fell in love with each of the layers involved with theater and the amount of work by all involved to bring stories from paper to stage.”
The duo’s journey to forming Square 1 Theatrics began in 2010, when Krottinger, a master’s student at the University of Central Oklahoma, paired with UCO professor Greg White to work on White’s new musical. Flipside is the story of the Claremore native and 1950s pop sensation Patti Page, known for such hits as “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” and “Tennessee Waltz.” The musical premiered at UCO in the spring 2011 before going on to garner 17 awards at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, including “Best Musical.” Flipside then took off on a streak of success that would do its main character proud, embarking on an eight-city tour across Oklahoma before making its off-Broadway premiere in New York City this past winter. In 2013, the show will begin its world tour.
“The theater only had a two-week slot open at the end of 2012,” Krottinger says of the off-Broadway run. “So we jumped on it, signed the contract and partnered with the University of Central Oklahoma to co-present/produce Flipside at 59E59 Theater.”
According to Krottinger, it was the support of native Oklahomans who made the New York success of Flipside possible. “I am so thankful to those donors here in Tulsa and Oklahoma City who believed in our project,” he says. “It all happened so quickly – overnight, or at least it felt that way.”
It was while scouting the venue for Flipside that Tanner and Krottinger caught wind of a thrilling production opportunity: the first-ever Broadway revival of Pippin, the picaresque – and popular – tale of King Charlemagne’s wandering son. The original 1972 production was directed by Broadway legend Bob Fosse and won five Tony Awards upon its premiere. Recently, the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., revived the musical to wide critical and audience acclaim. The edgy new production – scheduled to officially open on Broadway in April – already has generated enormous media buzz and more than $1 million in ticket sales.
After Krottinger and Tanner were invited to co-produce Pippin, they went to scope out a rehearsal for the show and were stunned. ”We almost couldn’t believe our eyes, sitting here in this secret rehearsal space, watching this musical come together,” Krottinger says. “It was truly fascinating. As we are watching the rehearsal, the lead producer comes over to introduce himself. We start chatting about the show, the new concept of Cirque-like acrobatics, and the infusion of Bob Fosse’s original choreography by Chet Walker, the amazing new costumes and the direction by Tony-award-winner Diane Paulus … I was immediately sold.”
“Meeting the production team on Pippin, particularly producer Howard Kagan, and seeing the talent working together in real-time, sold me,” Tanner says. “I thought, ‘Okay, what’s this hesitation about? This is it. They probably aren’t going to ask twice.’”
In addition, Tanner was moved by the production itself. “I didn’t realize the magnitude of the invitation until I saw Pippin in rehearsal,” he says. “The experience was transcendent. Everyone, in every aspect of the show, is at the top of their game, even the costume design. It’s a masterpiece in its own right … so here we are.”
Of the chance to produce the Broadway revival, Krottinger says, “I feel like I won the lottery. Besides the production is already receiving so much pre-opening buzz, we are equally excited about our organization’s inaugural Broadway venture.”
“Needless to say, we could not find ourselves more excited and eager to be where we are,” Krottinger says.
“Jay says this fell into our laps,” Tanner says. “I say it’s a direct result of everything I’ve ever done and all that I have met. Clearly, we bring different ideologies to the table.”
But while the paths that led to the stage and New York success – and their philosophies on exactly how they arrived there – might be different, both Tanner and Krottinger agree on one thing: Oklahoma picked them.
Tickets for the production are available via www.telecharge.com/pippin.