Meet Your Westchester Neighbor: Jane Dubin, Producer of the Tony Award-Winning “The Norman Conquests”
The theater buff and self-proclaimed “math nerd” nabbed herself a Tony in 2009, and hasn’t slowed down since.
Producer Jane Dubin (above) strives to work on conversation-starting works of theater, like Peter and the Starcatcher (below).
photo by Debbie Allan Photography
Jane Dubin’s first Broadway production won a Tony award. The Norman Conquests—three separate, full-length comedies, each depicting what was going on in a different room of the same house at the same time—won for Best Revival of a Play in 2009, and Dubin was one of the team who stepped up on stage to accept the award.
When the Tony winner was announced, Dubin says, “Harvey Fierstein said ‘The winner is The…’ and we were the only nominee with ‘The’ in the title!” The exhilaration, she says, was something she’d only experienced once before, on a trip to Alaska, on a calm and gorgeous day, in a sea kayak right down at water level. “We heard this noise, and about one hundred yards away was a whale,” she says. “I’ve never felt an adrenaline rush like that.” And she hadn’t again, until, of course, she heard that “The.”
The awards show being a black-tie event, she decided it was special enough that she could, for the first time, wear a treasured diamond bracelet that her late mother had given her. She found out later—in a barrage of cellphone messages—that, as she stood onstage, just visible on camera behind the team member who spoke, when she moved her hand, “the light caught the bracelet and shot right up. It was like my mom was present, saying, ‘Way to go!’”
Dubin has lived in Sleepy Hollow since 1994, close to the river and to the train station with its convenient access to the City. She’s busy on the production team of two plays at the time we speak, Ann and Peter and the Starcatcher.
Ann is a one-woman tour-de-force written and performed by Holland Taylor, in which she portrays the late Ann Richards, popular one-time governor of Texas. Dubin says of Taylor, “She’s worked on this for years, doing research on Ann Richards, meeting her family, staff, people who worked with her. She has ‘channeled’ her.” Dubin’s excitement is clear when she tells me, “It’s scary when you see pictures,” of Richards and of Taylor in costume, because the resemblance is so strong. The show’s run at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater was originally set to end on June 9, but was extended through September 1.
Dubin was as excited about getting involved with Peter and the Starcatcher, a grown-up prequel to Peter Pan, after she saw an early production of it at the New York Theatre Workshop. The show was described by Ben Brantley of the New York Times as a “blissful exercise in make-believe.” When Dubin and I speak, it has just moved from Broadway to the nearby New World Stages. “It was so magical, so transforming, which is what you want from theater, kind of a lost art. It’s brilliant storytelling,” she says, noting that the play is slated for a national tour, beginning in Denver, Colorado, this August.
Despite the fact that she’s a vivacious and entertaining conversationalist, Dubin insists that she has no onstage talent herself. “My one theater experience was at age 11 or 12, in camp. I was in Guys and Dolls, in the mission band. They sprayed our throats with Chloraseptic before we went on, so our voices would be okay. It was exciting, like I was a star, but it was good enough for me. Backstage was more exciting than onstage.”
Before there was any stage, professional or otherwise, however, there was a desk. Dubin worked in financial services for 20 years, including a period as an “actuary in an insurance company—sort of a math nerd of insurance.” Actuaries, she explains wryly, “are accountants without personality.” She later became a principal in an investment firm.
Life changed in 1997, though, when her mother died of lymphoma less than a year after her father succumbed to the same disease. “It just sucked,” Dubin says. “But every cloud has a silver lining. It forced me to look at what I was doing with my life, and that’s when I left the investment business. My parents were important to me as leaders, guiders, and it created quite a void to suddenly not have them.” Her mother had been a professor at CUNY in secretarial science, and her father an attorney. She wanted to “do something that had more impact on the world in a positive way.”
In theater, she says, “Even though everything is from the heart and soul, putting on shows is ultimately a business. You need a marketing plan, financing; you need to manage the process. In that sense, where I came from isn’t really a stretch.”
The transition came via what she describes as the equivalent of graduate seminars. The Commercial Theater Institute, a collaboration between The Broadway League and the Theatre Development Fund, she says, “is one of the few entities geared towards training producers, a sort of graduate course of producing.” Dubin found out about it when she approached highly experienced producer Jack Viertel, a Tarrytown resident and senior vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns and operates five Broadway theaters. He’s also artistic director of New York City Center Encores!, which produces three concert versions of Broadway musicals a year at New York City Center, and a speaker at the Institute.
Viertel nominated Dubin for admission to the Commercial Theater Institute. “What I saw about Jane right away,” Viertel says, “is that she’s tremendously committed and passionate in a combination of arts and politics-slash-ethics. She was committed to a particular idea about the arts, which was that they could change people for the better and expose information about cultures that we don’t know as much about as we should.” He recommended that she attend these classes because people like her “stand a good chance of succeeding, because they’re passionate about accomplishing a specific task with the arts. I don’t run into that every day.”
People who have taken these classes, Dubin explains, leave with credibility to work as producers—and great contacts. “There’s an alumni network, and your colleagues will be your connections for a long time. That got me kick-started and empowered me to call up someone and say, ‘I’m interested in your show. I’d like to be part of the team.’”
Tom Smedes, one of the lead producers of Peter and the Starcatcher, says Dubin’s business background has been a great help. “A lot of people who work in the theater, whether they become producers or managers or something else, are either actors, or from some other theatrical path that just didn’t work out for them,” he says. “Jane is different. She sees things as a businessperson and a theater person. She’s married the two very nicely. She can make us think differently—as a consumer—and say, ‘Okay, if we spend this money here, that means we’re not spending money here. And which is the better place?’ She brings that to us, to be able to look at Peter and the Starcatcher through those eyes.”
Hudson River Rising, another Dubin project—and one that was closer to home—was part of One Billion Rising, the 15th anniversary of V-Day, a global initiative that Eve Ensler developed out of the success of her The Vagina Monologues. Ensler wanted to do something special for to highlight the issue of violence against women. So, Dubin and coproducer Elyssa Feldman Most created events for the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow area. “Eve decided to get everyone up and dancing—women and the men who love them,” says Dubin.
Hudson River Rising had three events: a wine tasting, which attracted more than 50 people through social media campaigning; a “Dance Your A** Off Party” attended by, she estimates, more than 100 people; and a dance (the “Rising”) down Tarrytown’s Main Street, which, Dubin says, probably had several hundred people either watching or participating. Both Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow proclaimed February 14, 2013 to be One Billion Rising Day. “Money, awareness, and fun were the goals,” she says. The funds raised went to benefit Hope’s Door, a Pleasantville-based organization that helps victims of domestic abuse and seeks to prevent future victims by educating teenage girls. The party was at The Purple Crayon in Hastings, last year’s location for the group’s performance of The Vagina Monologues. Special guests, including Dominic Chianese of The Sopranos, attended, Dubin says, and many in the Broadway community were among the hundreds who donated or volunteered. The total raised so far, Dubin says, is more than $27,000, with even more raised from several large items they contributed to the Hope’s Door Gala that took place in May.
According to her co-producer, Elyssa Feldman Most, Dubin was surprisingly easy to work with. “I was intimidated at the idea of working with a Tony Award-winning producer,” Most says, “but she never made me feel that way. She’s very open, she has ideas, and she’s a real creative thinker even though she’s amazing with numbers. You’d think someone who uses her brain that way wouldn’t be creative, but she is.”
Aside from her brief childhood stint in Guys and Dolls, Dubin’s other star moments came years later when she worked for Equitable Life Assurance Society and played softball on its team. They won a lot, she tells me. “The chairman of the company used to come to the games,” she says. “His limo drove into Central Park, he’d loosen his tie, watch, and once a year, take us out for a meal. We were like little stars because he was such a big fan.” Her production company’s name, Double Play Connections, comes from her love of baseball, though golf is her game now, usually played at a course upstate.
Dubin’s life partner of almost 30 years is Margaret Liston, playwright of MentalPause, Dubin’s first production, which she describes as “a dance-theater piece about a woman’s early journey through menopause.” At the time, she says, menopause “was not a word that was allowed to be said in public.” The couple has a rescue dog named Jezzie, a Golden Retriever/Border Collie mix that, according to Dubin, has lately been “discovering more and more of her—super-active—inner Border Collie.” They enjoy socializing in the local dog park.
“I try the best I can, in the theatrical productions I put my name on, to have it be something that starts conversation,” Dubin says. “It doesn’t have to be super-serious; I just want people to walk out of the theater and say, ‘Ah, okay,’ and talk about it rather than say, ‘Where are we going for dinner?’”
Ronnie Levine is a freelance writer and artist. She recently finished writing a mystery novel, set in Tarrytown, about an artist who helps a charismatic cop investigate phony masterpieces—and murder.