“Crowdfunding is the way we fund art now. For someone who has a dream, that wants to be a storyteller, or wants to invent something, or bring something new to the world, it’s is the most accessible way it can be done. There’s just too much mishigas in the business.”
It was the end of a 15 minute conversation with Tony award winning actor, recording artist, playwright, composer, director and best-selling author, Sam Harris, who is hoping to bring his one man show, HAM: A MUSICAL MEMOIR to the Pasadena Playhouse this Summer.
The statement stuck. Crowdfunding is not new. Certainly, we’ve seen many theatrical productions use the crowdfunding option to support individual shows, festival appearances, construction expenses and even to offset the costs of full seasons – Deaf West Theatre’s 2016 Tony Awards rehearsal and performance campaign for Spring Awakening being the most recent example. However, according to Harris it is a necessity and also an evolution in theater, at least where HAM is concerned.
“If this was a million dollar budget then, I think we would be using investors. But we decided to fund it with a Kickstarter because it’s a way of getting the people themselves invested in the actual building of something.”
The evolution is part buzz, part audience demand. Harris intends to film HAM at Pas Playhouse in order to take this work around the world (we hope). As Harris explains, this is more than just a next level decision.
“I’m not going to be able to tour this all over the place for two years. I have an eight year old son. I have other projects I’m doing. So the idea of creating something that can be seen by more than 500 people at a time is just wonderful to me.”
After publishing his NY Times best-selling book Ham: Slices of Life (Simon and Schuster) back in 2014, Harris began touring around, doing readings of the show, in his most natural ‘wheelhouse’- theaters, instead of bookstores. Adding a few songs in order to give a more immediate reflection of the material HAM began to develop into the art of a theater piece. While in New York at 54 Below, a couple of Broadway producers came forward and asked, “Do you want to turn this into a play because you’re getting closer?” And of course the answer was, yes.
Harris worked with music director Todd Schroeder and director Billy Porter to develop the show which eventually became a ‘character’ piece. After the run in New York, it made its West Coast debut earlier this year at the Renberg Theatre in Hollywood and garnered amazing reviews across the board, “I mean, like the best reviews of my life! Our producer Suzy Dietz jokes that in her 30 years of theatre she’s never had a show that didn’t get any negative reviews.”
This all snowballed on a very natural path. And now HAM will be filming a total of three re-mounted shows live on July 9th and 10th in front of a participating audience at Harris’ favorite theater, the Pasadena Playhouse.
“…which is thrilling because, I love being where there are theater ghosts.”
It’s going to come up fast. And for Harris its more than just exciting. There’s a deadline. With Kickstarter it’s an all or nothing deal. He’s got to fund this project entirely or it’s a no go. The downside reality of crowdfunding. It’s a risk.
For now, Harris ends or rather begins, on a high note about the piece itself:
“I hope and think and have been told that the show is funny and fun and that it also means something. It has a purpose. It affects those who see it. It may be my story specifically but it is everybody’s story. Anybody who ever felt like they didn’t fit in or whoever dreamed beyond the scope of their environment. And you think initially that’s only a certain demographic or race or sexual orientation but you know everybody, EVERYBODY has been the outsider or has been afraid and that’s part of the overall theme. There’s a great deal of humor. The other part of it is about finding what is enough. And I think this is true for all of us particularly in America where it’s always ‘what is next, how can this be better, what more can I get’, and particularly for those of us who are in this horrible and thrilling business where you don’t know what’s next and it’s never enough. The show has a theme of finding that foundation – what is enough personally, not just materially. When you find what that is, what is enough, then your vocation and your gifts become what you do rather than what you are.”
HAM: A MUSICAL MEMOIR is the funny and poignant story of Sam, a boy growing up in the bible belt of Oklahoma, gay, an outsider, who finds himself through the escape of singing, writing, acting, and the drive that made him a success, but cloaked a constant need for something more.
Sam Harris first burst onto the scene as the premiere winner of Ed McMahon’s Star Search. He became the first singer since Judy Garland to claim “Over the Rainbow” as his own. Jimmy Fallon called this legendary performance, “One of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen ever aired on television ever!” Harris has appeared at Carnegie Hall and on Broadway where he starred in numerous Tony Award winning and nominated productions including Cy Coleman’s The Life, The Producers, and the revival of Grease.