Broadway bound

Dayton native Lindsay Meck helps guide plays to Broadway.

Lindsay Meck first learned to be a producer while still in high school when she organized and ran a drama camp for younger children.

The experience obviously paid off. Today the Dayton native is a producer with The Araca Group, a Broadway production company responsible for plays like “Wicked,” “Urinetown” and “Rock of Ages.” At the moment she’s especially proud of “Disgraced,” the Pulitzer Prize winning drama running on Broadway through March 1 that will embark on a national tour in the fall. Before coming to New York, “Disgraced” had sold-out engagements in Chicago and London.

Over the years Meck’s producing career has taken her from cabarets, rock concerts and benefits to comedy shows and fringe theater productions. Last year, she served as director of ticketing for the Tony Awards, a job she labels a “wild ride.”

“Seeing the biggest event of the theater industry’s year come together was pretty neat,” says Meck, who facilitated guest relations and ticketing for the ceremony and the events leading up to it. She says it was especially fun to work with the nominees and share their excitement, especially the first timers.

She also worked on the first-ever Tony Awards Pop-Up Shop in Times Square.

“We did all these great events there like a pop-up performance of “The People’s Song” with the cast of the Les Miz revival currently on Broadway,” she says. “I think the Tonys reaffirmed for me that Broadway really is such a small community and the ceremony becomes one large family reunion at Radio City Music Hall.”

Her early years

Meck’s initial exposure to theater came as an actor and writer at Dayton’s Human Race Theatre camps and at Talawanda High School’s Drama Club in Oxford. Her “amazing” high school drama teacher, Ryan Steffen, was a mentor.

Her own drama camp, held for a week each summer, culminated in a performance by the campers at Uptown Park in Oxford.

“My friends from high school theater were the counselors,” Meck explains. “My mother and I would write the play or musical that the kids would perform.”

After she graduated from high school, her camp was adopted as a fundraiser for the drama program.

“I loved managing the camp and staging the closing production,” Meck said. “My favorite musical my mom and I wrote for the kids was called “Chimps,” about the life of the primatologist Jane Goodall.”

She received a personal note from Goodall saying how much she’d enjoyed the play; now Meck is pursuing the idea of developing the script independently with the folks at Goodall’s organization, “Roots and Shoots.”

Meck said her parents, Kathy Ellison and Stuart Meck, fostered her career in a variety of significant ways.

“My mother played a huge role in my personal theatrical development,” she says. “Though she was a lawyer, she was endlessly creative and inspiring.”

“My dad, Stuart Meck, was equally supportive in my upbringing, taking me to concerts and theater — including my first Broadway show — all over the world. He’s an urban planner, but has a creative bent as well and is a talented drummer and saxophonist.”

Her family, she said, made the most of soaking up Southwestern Ohio’s artistic offerings. She was introduced to programs at Wright State University, Dayton Contemporary Dancer Company, the Paul Laurence Dunbar House, the Dayton Art Institute and more.

“You can’t go into theater if you don’t have a community behind you,” she insists. “The path is too confusing and sometimes terrifying. You need folks who get it and are supportive. “

After high school, Meck headed for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

“The student theater community is very active at Northwestern, with more than 65 productions annually,” says Meck. “I gravitated to a new role: producer.”

The job of a producer

Meck said in some cases the producer may come up with the original idea for the show and then find the writers, director and choreographer to create it.

“Other times, the producer sees a show or reads a script, and invests in its development,” she explains. “In this way, the producer shepherds the project from idea to production.”

That opportunity — to see a play through from beginning-to-end — sounded really exciting.

“I loved that idea of selecting interesting material, getting to be a part of every creative and business decision, uniting the team of designers, cast, and crew, raising the funds, finding the right venue to launch the production, and dealing with any hiccups along the way,” she said.

When Meck finished college, she moved to New York with the hope of finding some way to make a career of being a producer.

“Broadway is very much a business built on the concept of apprenticeship,” she explained. “You figure out someone who is doing the type of work you like and go assist them. I was lucky to find the folks at The Araca Group.”

The company, which she says was “started by a couple of nice guys from Cleveland,” has given her the opportunity to work on dozens of shows from Broadway revivals like “Lend Me a Tenor” and “A View from the Bridge” (with Scarlett Johanson and Liev Schrieber) to big musicals like “Cinderella” and new plays like “Disgraced.”

She’s also worked on a number of workshops and developmental productions of upcoming shows.

“The pipeline from page to production can be 5-7 years in some cases,” she said. “Patience and persistence, as well as passion, are key to seeing a show through to opening night.”

More about “Disgraced”

Meck cites the current production of “Disgraced” as a classic example. In 2010 the script — written by a new playwright by the name of Ayad Akhtar — was submitted to AracaWorks, a reading series Meck co-manages. The series celebrates new plays that have not yet received a full production.”

Akhtar, 43, is a novelist, actor and screenwriter who grew up in Milwaukee in a secular Muslim family.

“We in the small selection committee read it and devoured it,” says Meck now. ” It was one of those rare scripts that sort of shocks the conscience and forces you to question your beliefs, and manages to do so dramatically and intelligently. We unanimously agreed this play was important: daring, different, gritty and intelligent.”

The drama centers around a dinner party on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where the conversation among four friends — two New York professional couples — goes from polite to confrontational with subjects ranging from politics to religion. The lead character, a corporate lawyer, is a Pakistani-American born Muslim who has become very critical of his parents’ religion and is trying to distance himself from it.

“The result is shattering and challenges audiences who are not used to having their beliefs and identity politics shaken by live theater,” says Meck. “The curtain goes up and you’re not really sure how to feel. The play has to sit with you for a few days. That’s what I loved about reading it and experiencing it in all of its iterations. I enjoy hearing the conversations audiences have as they’re exiting their seats — what has surprised them about what took place on stage, who they sided with.”

Meck’s AracaWorks reading launched a four-year journey with “Disgraced” that has included a world premiere at American Theater Company in Chicago, an off-Broadway run at LCT3 at Lincoln Center, (the dedicated space for new plays) a London premiere at the Bush Theater, a Jeff Award, an OBIE award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Critics have labeled the drama — which in New York stars Josh Radnor, Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman and Jari Dhillon — “terrific,” “turbulent” and “riveting.” You may have caught playwright Ayad Akhtar when he was recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning and on the PBS Newshour.

“Ayad is such a brilliant mind and will surely be a force to be reckoned with in the American theater canon,” she believes. “I think everyone working on the show agrees that it feels important and specifically relevant given the unfortunate current events in France and in the Middle East.”

Meck feels especially fortunate to have been involved with the play from the get-go.

“To have seen the play since its beginning and helped steer it toward the Great White Way for longer than I was in college was awesome and incredibly educational,” she said.

She says it was especially thrilling to sit in Broadway’s Lyceum Theater on opening night and celebrate at the after-party with all of the others who worked on the show — actors, writer, director, producers, designers, crew and other friends. She’s also excited about the upcoming national tour.

“I’m so proud of this play,” says Meck, ” and am excited by how many people will now get to experience it.”

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