The right to live, the right to breathe, the right to be ourselves—without interference, without interrupting our lives. And that's what I want to write about. That's what motivates me: to have all of our rights interruption free.
Hello, it's Tony Howell and I want to welcome you to Conversations with Changemakers. Thank you so much for hitting play. In this month's conversation, we speak with producer, librettist, and lyricist, Tegan Summer.
The CEO of Timeless Stage & Screen, he is perhaps most known for his unique focus on bio musicals. Tegan is the worldwide stage theatrical rights holder for the properties of James Dean, Bettie Page, the Nicholas Brothers, Amelia Earhart, and many more.
I wanted to have Tegan on to speak to us about leadership, creating art, and legacy. I am deeply honored to call this man a friend, but also to build his official website and digital legacy. I know that no matter what kind of artist or human you are, this conversation is going to resonate with you. Enjoy!
Tegan Summer! Thank you so much for being on the podcast. I'm excited to chat.
Yes, Tony. Thank you. It's an honor to be here and great to speak with you. Thank you.
Thank you. Well, I wanted to have you on because clearly we're creating the bio epic of — I don't even know if that's a word… you have to like, explain the terms for me — but we're creating TeganSummer.com. And I think people can go there, they can go there right now the full website will be live in August. And you've got so many shows happening. I really don't know how you juggle all of this every single day. But tell us about what I believe is the next show, which is Mozart: Her Story?
Oh, wow. Yeah, Mozart. This has been one of the most pleasurable experiences I've ever had in theatre. And that's 30-40 years now. This show was born just prior to the pandemic. And of course, we're all coping during that time. And this gave me so much comfort to work on. It brought so many wonderful people together to work on it. Of course, we're all looking for a reason for our day to day, especially 2019 to 2020. And apart from the onstage collaboration, which I just marvel at every day with these incredible people, it brought us all together as friends. New friends became trusted, bonded long-term friends, and those that were close to me anyway became work family. We all really came together for this. Mozart: Her Story - The New Musical. It's largely about Nan Mozart, Wolfgang’s sister, who was arguably the greater musician, the better composer, taught Wolfgang, and four years older. But of course she was a woman in the 18th century. So forgive the phrase, she had to “get barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” and as she wasn't allowed to compose, “never to compose again” were the phrases.
And so our musical, our story, is about what happens to her. First of all, on what she does to get herself seen and her music heard, and everything inherent in that quest. We fuse Mozart's (Wolfgang's classics, Wolfgang's classics—cause she’s a Mozart) with contemporary Broadway originals alongside my writing partner, Gregory Nabours, a fantastic, prodigious composer. I'm Book & Lyrics, Greg is Music & Additional Lyrics. I've collaborated with Greg before. We have a wonderful working relationship and the tapestry here, the platform for this musical, is fusing history with what is happening today in the female empowerment space.
I was raised in a home with many sisters and my mother, my auntie, most of my friends are strong women. And I've just had so many stories over the years from a child to now and I just wanted to tell some of those stories. And when I was researching Wolfgang, I came across Nan. And I’m like, with my dramaturg and dear friend Colette Freedman. Well, Colette said, “Tegan: there she is. Here's the story.” I'm like, “Absolutely! This is our story.”
So it's a deep dive into what women have to go through day by day to get an inch of the mile that men receive. And these wonderful collaborators with whom I'm working. We are the vessels for that story. Choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson—legends themselves. They've brought so much fever and heat and onstage glory to this story with their contemporary ballet style. And Ferly Prado, who is an innovative choreographer as well in her own right, all bringing their collective expertise to the table to tell Nan’s story.
Now, of course, I've had some creative license in telling the story, Tony, but only in as much as she's now a composite character of all the stories that I've heard. So it is reality. It was Nan’s reality, combined with the realities of other women with whom I've been acquainted with for the last 30-40 years, and in history as well, read up upon. So here we are.
I love that. And one of the things that I've taken away from interviewing other guests is that sometimes, you know, the timing of a particular show is just as important as the content, the subject matter. So I'm excited for you and the company. I also want to brag on you because you understate this, but you're an Ovation Award Winner and NAACP Award Winner. So can you tell us when those awards happened?
Yes, no. Oh Tony, you are sneaky. That was many, many years ago.
I'm writing your bio, like I have to do my research.
Well, I cherish those times. That was when I was acting. In theatre, mainly, the Robey Theatre Company, Danny Glover's Theatre Company, I was working with them. Ben Guillory, Artistic Director, we worked on a Haitian slave trilogy called For the Love of Freedom written by Levy Lee Simon so it was well awarded, well accredited, well credited that show, and I worked with a company for a while when I was writing. I was… I've always juxtaposed my acting with my writing, and then obviously thought, well, these are hand in hand.
I've always been writing since I was a kid, always wanted to write, and I would sneak into West End theaters, Tony, after school let out at 3:30pm. Junior high, I believe, obviously American, the American school system calls it junior high, I would run home, no one's in. Great! I'm a latchkey kid, and then I would scurry away to the West End and sneak into either matinees or watch rehearsals as an afro child. You know, little did I know it's, it's an Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh show or a Bill Kenwright, it's Lea Salonga, Jonathan Pryce, Colm Wilkinson. And then, I didn't realize the significance of a Les Mis or Miss Saigon that I'm watching or sneaking into rehearsals, or Richard talking to me about lyrics. And when they would break, they'd say, “Hey, Tegan come and hang out and play on the piano.” And that's how I learned the art of musical theatre by watching it in reverse. I was the Benjamin Button of producing and writing. I was just learning through running from school, at the end of school, to theaters and hanging out until, honestly, until curtain in some instances. Then they finally said, “Yes, this is great. You need to go to school.”
And as soon as I graduated, that was obviously my major. I moved from acting, to writing, producing, and here we are today. But my love of theatre came from theatre. I like to think it's as organic a process as one can get, because I've never wanted to do anything else. Because we are certainly framed by what and how we are nurtured. And that's all I cared about.
I got giddy at a billboard. I got giddy at an opening, and no one around me could relate to it. Apart from my wonderful family members, I was ostensibly raised by modern day carnies. And I consider myself a modern day carny. If we went back in the 30s, 40s, or even before, we are modern day carnies, right? [Yeah.]
My life is blessed. I'm writing pretty songs for a living. And I look at that with sincerity. And because that is such an honest space. I'm thinking to myself, well, now you have that Tegan. Look at what you can do with that. What messages can we further? Can we make a change? We know the harmonies, we know a stanza now. We know how to write an arc. We know what our act breaks are, the 11 o'clock number; the fundamentals are there. This was me about 25 years ago. And now I'm saying, “Well, what can you do with that?” You have some, a pair of sneakers, or trainers on with my American English self. Where are we running to? Where are you going in those? Now we have the tools.
So that is why I have a business model of writing stories of the human condition. I only write bio musicals. I only want to write bio musicals. I want to tell people’s stories that I'm invested in emotionally. I'm a bit of an eclectic hodgepodge myself being a black Brit with Barbadian parents being raised in London and New York. And there are so many facets and assets to me of commonality that I see in the iconic personalities. And icons. Yeah, I just said iconic personalities. They're simply icons. But how do they become icons? What was that fall from grace? How does one get to here from there, and what lessons today are parallel to the lessons they shared? We can't get that information, Tony, in our every day. We go to work, we go home. But we can in the theatre. It's a great educator, it's a great storyteller. And we can certainly move the dial in someone's thinking, if that is the case, with a line, with a lyric, and it lives forever. That's why these shows live forever. That's why it's heartbreaking when a show is canceled, or it goes down, or the audience just hasn't resonated with it. There's so much more to tell. And there are so many to reach.
You're a poet. I'm like, sign me up! That was beautiful. We're gonna keep diving into these things. But just in case someone didn't pick it up. You are from the UK, currently living in the US. And I know, at least from what I've garnered from research and working together, you spent some time on the West Coast, now you're on the East Coast. [Yes.] Can you just tell me, and again, you're researching icons and legends worldwide? So what should people know about the differences and the similarities between different places, different markets, different mediums, but the through line here that I just have to put neon lights around is it's all the human condition. So what have you learned and all of your travel and your work experience?
It's fluid. There are no divisions, no boundaries. I can relate to every single person’s story in every single city and town that I visit, every estate’s farm, or home that I visit. The stories are universal, they're just dressed differently. They're just thinking differently, but they have the same outcome. It's not just Dorothy on the yellow brick road, it's the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Those are the different avenues and lives and geographic locations, but we're all going to Oz. That's the key. We're all heading in the same direction; sometimes on the same path, but in a different way and style.
What I mean by that is growing up as a Black man, with an English accent. I had so many varying opinions about myself, from lines of sometimes, “Oh, he isn't really Black, because he has an English accent, etc.” And I would have to justify my heritage, my culture, until I stopped justifying it, until I stopped caring about that aspect of life, that we all have from time to time. But then I would go have a different experience of that; in the States, in different cities in the States, a different perspective just depends on again, how we are nurtured and perspectives. And I'm talking: New York and Nashville were two different experiences. So there's a new song, “New York to Nashville.” My point is, everything that I'm writing, I've noticed has a through line of commonality. It’s just perspective, how much we care, and reaction. What do we do about that? Are we doing anything about the comment? Are we doing anything about the cause? Let's say.
What I mean by that is this: I've just been awarded the rights to Harvey Milk. We're just about to develop a Harvey Milk musical. The Harvey Milk Musical with the estate, with the family, it’s called You’ve Got to Give Them Hope. One of Harvey's great lines. You've Got to Give Them Hope: The Harvey Milk Musical.
And I was asked a question the other day as, “Tegan, why? You're a heterosexual Black man from England.” I'm just quoting, “Why would you want to write The Harvey Milk Musical?” And it was such an organic answer that I analyzed when I went home.
Oppression is universal. Again, what I was saying earlier, it doesn't make a difference how we get down that road. It's what we do… it's our methodology is how we cope. What's our coping mechanism? What's our reaction? And oppression is universal. Prejudice is universal, whether it's LGBTQ+, the African American diaspora, female empowerment/inequality. It's how we react and what we see day to day.
How can we make this… how can we shine a light on this? And that's my tagline, that's my, for our website and what we do, “Illuminating Legacy.” I want to shine a light on everything that is not how one would like our children (If we have kids. I do not. But if I did, I want my children…) to live a better life by having an example illuminated: to the negative now, so we can work on it together for a positive future.
I know that was somewhat cobbled together. I have two thoughts in one there, but do you understand what I mean by that?
I do. Absolutely. And I'll reflect it back to you and say that you have many children, and they're all listed on TeganSummer.com. [Yes.]
So speaking of “Illuminating Legacy,” and sort of using your spotlight to teach lessons, do you want to highlight another show that you have in the canon and particularly the message, or the intention, or the thesis behind it?
Yes. Well, just spoke about Harvey Milk, obviously, with regard to the LGBTQ+ community, which is very near and dear to my heart. [Mine, too.] Yeah, absolutely. You know, growing up in New York and London in West End theatre and musical theatre, particularly as well. It's just been a joy and a blessing to be working with, in, and around; side-by-side with the LGBTQ+ community. So I'm extremely blessed to be able to have a platform to help the LGBTQ+ visibility and causes, number one.
And Malcolm X. I'm about to develop the official and authorized Malcolm X Musical. I'm working with the estate, the Shabazz daughters, CMG Worldwide, Inc., Mark Roesler. And, obviously, with regard to the African American diaspora in history, I see little Tegans every day, you know? I just turned 50. And that crept up on me, and I'm going into my old schools, I'm going to shows and seeing young performers. And again, I want to shine a light on what went historically so we can pave the way for a better future for my African American and Black British and Black Diaspora brothers and sisters. And we can do that.
It's never forgotten Tony, what our ancestors and those that went before us went through, but sometimes in the zeitgeist of our everyday hustle and bustle, the theatre is a beautiful house of remembrance and recognition. And that's what I love. And that's why this was very much a significant property and personality for me to write about. It's not about gathering the brand. It's about gathering experiences, it's about sharing experiences. And Malcolm X's experience is one that I would like to put a familiar and familial touch on. It's not about what we'd get in documentaries gone by, it's not just about the sensational headlines.
You know, we often get in an email the subject line? I want to look at the body of the text: the man, the family. What you ate at breakfast? Cereals? How you spoke to your children? And what Malcolm X thought about growing up. So in an environment where he had to raise himself and become this leader, what's behind the smile? What's behind the gesture? What's behind the cause, especially as a Black man growing up in England and America, it's fascinating to me, that story. And it's taken a year to secure these rights, and we want to do it justice. And I'm blessed and proud to be on this story.
I'm gonna go off book and what I mean by that to our listeners, like I prepped questions, I gave you them, but I'm just gonna…
I didn't read them, I didn't read them. No.
I'm curious to know, because this is something that I'm skeptical about with all of the bad news coming out of the United States. But, you know, I believe that artists are Changemakers. And I believe that, you as well, that like the theatre is a place to make change. But for someone who I don't know, like… do you believe that? That like… your work is the way that you are an activist and making change? How does one be a Changemaker in 2022?
We are simply being ourselves, aren't we? We’re trying to be ourselves. And what's our strongest lesson? You might be a methodology. You might be a painter. So you go paint the mural, a mural of note. You may be a dancer, so you have a beautiful piece that speaks to you and maybe can speak to the audience. I'm a writer. I write scripts, I write lyrics. Now that may be offensive to some, but to me, it's my way.
My communication, my way of moving my thoughts forward as a vessel of change. And I'm very happy and blessed that it's in the theatre, because it's given me a home for it. It's so strange. Theatre is oxymoronic. It really is, because we go to the theatre for something on a rainy Wednesday afternoon matinee to a blockbuster Saturday night. We go to the theatre for something of comfort as in, “I'm going to see a show! I'm going to see a Broadway show! I'm going to a West End show!” We get dolled up: our jackets and whatnot. And we go to something that's warm and familiar. It's a Broadway show. But there's a part of us. And it's often that we want to be surprised with the familiar. We want to take away something new, of change, with the comfortable. And what that does, it allows us the writers freedom, because truly, there is no expectation, there is no risk. As a writer, there is no fear. So it's almost a spoonful of sugar, or the most immaculate, literary Trojan horse. Let's have the stories brought in, that will entertain, a little maybe didactic, in terms of the educational pill, let's say. And we can all have a fantastic and wonderful experience if we combine the two. And I really believe that's what the theatre is doing every single day.
We all take something, it can be something as innocuous as a pirouette. But what if that reminds you of your mother, who grew up as a dancer who fought for you, day after day after day, and what in turn, if that triggers, or alerts, or pushes you to fight for what she fought for? What if we're looking for something in our lives as sometimes we often are, or we sometimes are looking for something a change out of our daily, I won't say a drag, but out of our daily routines. Something like a pirouette, if we track what I just said, something as innocuous as a pirouette can move mountains. And you never know.
I've had people come up to me with my lyrics or songs and or I've had emails and forums. And it just gives me, Tony, joy every day to carry on, when we sometimes don't want to move forward with our duties of the day. That's what keeps me going. That gets me up at 6am for my routine. That keeps me going the next day, when I think about that, or the joy in collaboration. Because I know what the end goal is… something that can move. And I'll let everybody else fill in the blank. I just want to put that out there. And if it touches you in some way, that's the goal for me. That's the blessing. Everything else will come.
Bettie Page is another one. We've finished writing the Bettie Page musical. And her story is incredible to me. On the outset, she's just a pin up, for titillation, etcetera. For those that don't know her story, which is not true, obviously. That was my pathway there. But what I marvel at with Bettie Page is as a pinup, in the 60s, 50s, she was looking for the opportunity and the right to do what she was doing. Not that she did it, she was looking for the right to do it. And look at us today in a post George Floyd era. Look at us in the post Trans abuse, post Asian abuse. When I say post, I mean highlighted. It's still going on. They're all current. But the common thread there is the right to live, the right to breathe, the right to be ourselves—without interference, without interrupting our lives. And that's what I want to write about. That's what motivates me: to have all of our rights interruption free.
So whereas these stories may seem random: what do I have in common, Tegan, with Bettie Page or Amelia Earhart? I have to drop myself into a woman's right: a woman from Kansas, her right to be this pioneering pilot. How am I relating to that? There is a common thread in everything. It's humanity. And that's what I tap into. I reverse engineer that as well. So everything else is veneer. It’s skin, it’s hair, but your mindset, your brain, your life, Tony, it's universal. And it's just love and understanding where you come from and why you're going where you are going. Then I can tap into that writing, then I can tap into the song. I personally don't believe in writer's block—that’s just me. I don't mean everybody else. So I'm sure it exists. But in my universe, in my head, with bio musicals, it's about understanding. And if I understand where you come from, then it's not writer's block. So if I stop, I'm like, “Huh?” It's their motivation. It’s their motivation: Amelia’s, Marilyn Monroe, Harvey Milk, Dorothy Dandridge, Bettie Paige the Nicholas Brothers. What stopped you there? What interrupted you then? I just need to learn that and drop myself in.
So I think your tools are empathy and compassion. I'm sorry, empathy and curiosity, which you know, all of these are synonyms. I've been wanting to highlight kind of going back to what you just said, like, and this is also for our listener, like, I think that regardless of what it is business wise, creation wise, you know, entrepreneurship, whatever it is that you're building, we have to balance tradition with innovation. So you are honoring the past, but you're saying I don't want my bio show to be like the documentaries. We're doing something new. That's something that I've taken away in my own research on storytelling. And I think it's… I just wanted to highlight that's what I took away from what you just said.
Thank you. It is about that. Look, we’re also in show business. And again, I mentioned it's heartbreaking when shows are canceled, or they go down. Even if they had a 100 performances and X amount of previews, it's still gone. So I have to be mindful of investors and the work and the business of what we do. So that's why with Mozart, it's a beautiful hybrid of contemporary music, work, and dance fused with Mozart's classics—Wolfgang Mozart's classics. I'm mindful of that, as well, with Malcolm X. We're talking to a fantastic composer, who is going to bring the hybridity of the music of Malcolm X, let's say that, the era, with his own flair and style today, world renowned name that I'm so excited to work with him on this project, but again, it's bringing it today with specificity. That’s oxymoronic, again. With specificity, but on a commercial level—because we do have to sell seats. And again, otherwise I wouldn't. I would be making documentaries, but we're in the entertainment business. But this is a Trojan horse. It's a Trojan horse, you know, we really should be called Trojan Horse Productions or something. If you're out there, I'm so sorry. But that’s how I see it. I’m merely a vessel. And I just want the best and most wonderful kind hearted, hardworking, talented humans in that boat with me.
I love this and I'm doing this interview early. Usually I interview my clients like after, but I'm getting to know you so that I can make you the best bio show possible. And you've touched on it, you keep saying theatre, theatre, theatre, but your company's name is Timeless Stage & Screen. So tell me about the screen side? And maybe, you know, do you have aspirations that these then move from Broadway into Netflix land? Like what's going on?
Yes, I have deals with, on and with everything I do in terms of post-stage, or similar, or simultaneous to screen rights. Streamers, obviously, are growing today. I 100% see all that we are producing to be on a streamer at the right time. At the right time. We're not rushing, we need visibility first for it to succeed. Once we have that visibility on stage, then yes, 100%, we are looking to make movie musicals out of our stage properties. And that's again why I've been working on the iconic personality track because we have embedded marketing, no one has to ask me what James Dean: The Rock Musical is about. We do have that in house, the embedded marketing. And it's just about all tenacity and execution at that point.
I'm going to be the devil's advocate here just like trying to be my listener. So wouldn't you say that like if something was on a stream, that gives you the visibility for Broadway? Or why do you believe theatre must come first?
Because there are other properties that are similar. I mean, there are various James Dean elements out there. We are known for theatre. We want to hybridize the genres and formats and transcend them as well. But look at Hamilton, a great success worldwide. And it can then transfer to a streamer successfully. Other shows have not done that as successfully. I know Hamilton's a unicorn, but the premise is the same. We do want visibility first, because that is our first love also. So I mean, let's just be honest, we are children of theatre. I have known theatre since I was a child. A chair in the auditorium gets me giddy: looking at the stage, looking at the auditorium. It’s our first love. It’s as simple as that. And I do also think it's smart business to have a track record first, and then go to a stream. I may be wrong. But that's where we are today.
And I do think you need to transpose sometimes, like look at In the Heights or Rent—like you change it up. And you do… we'll see what happens.
It also allows the writer and the team to add to it. You always see “Three additional songs!” It's not because we're trying to mess with the business model, or what's tried and true, or what people love. It's a chance to further the story. Isn't that all we're trying to do? To further our stories, trying to write something that can relate to us, and sometimes after preview lock on a show it’s too late. You know, you think of it in the shower six weeks later. I've done that, and here we are. So it gives us an opportunity to expand our universe and I love that.
I adore you more and more every day that we are texting, and emailing, and whatnot. But you've touched on a little bit about what you think of as a writer and as a producer. But I want to think about some other people at the table creating these stories. So maybe through the lens of an actor, through the lens of a designer, what can the companies working on your shows do to bring these icons to life with truth?
Visibility, you know. It takes a village, you know. We're creating the material, we need the platform. So in terms of the agencies, the venues, the theatre owners, etc., we want them to look at us at what we're creating as opportunities as well. Because you can have the best product. And if only your bedroom, and your mother knows it, you're in trouble in terms of getting moving to the next phase. And I really want us to have the opportunity with what we're doing to be seen by as many eyes because that's the goal for us: to be relatable, to have someone look at us and say, “I see me there. That's what I am going through.” So collaborators please, contact us. Bit of strange advertising now. There is, if you go to TeganSummer.com, there's a contact link at the bottom: any of our properties, iconic personalities, shows relate to you or it touches you, please be in touch from theaters, again, to obviously investors, any of us, anyone in our field and industry that would like to collaborate, please do. It's all about visibility. And let's all play in the sunshine together.
I want to be myself and a younger version of me. So I'm listening to this incredible interview, you're inspiring me. What do you want me to do as an actor in your company to increase visibility? Like give me a checklist? How can I… how can I help?
As an actor? Yeah, I have a unique perspective because I started as an actor, stage and screen; England and US. So I'm sure many actors hear most days, most classes, “Don't stop. Always put your best foot forward. Give everything for the craft.” The biggest lesson I learned was just to be myself.
We're always folding ourselves into what we believe society wants of us, be it peer pressure, pressure from the screen, or with regard to, “I don't look like that. I don't sound like that. This is something that will never be in my life. It's 100% unobtainable, I will never achieve this.” If I could go back or speak to actors today, it's all about what you are now is exactly what we need to see. So be yourself 100% and never stop, never look back. Eyes forward, eyes front, and you will get there. The insecurity of life where we always look backwards. Obstacle? It’s their biggest fear. But that's tough, especially when it's 3am thought waking you up. So we need like minded people to say you are enough 100% to the nth degree you are enough, the essence of you in your craft, in your lines, in the sides, in libretto, in a stanza, in a song, in the 11 o’clock number, and we will see you. We will see you.
So beautiful. It's not where I was expecting it to go. But I'm like, “Yes! Speak the truth.”
Now I want to think about some people that I've worked with, that are creating their own films, they're creating their own musicals as well. So can you share maybe a secret or two about how you get investors involved? And on the flip side of that, it's just the nuance of like, its fundraising, but with larger donors. So yeah, how do you raise the money, Tegan?
It's specific for me, and I'm sure others can take something from this. I don't believe I'm, you know, the only person in the universe doing/thinking as I do. But it's horses for courses for me. Just the business side of me says if I'm producing a project about the Nicholas Brothers or Malcolm X, I go to the African American diaspora more so, I would say more so, not completely, of course, because I'm not that myopic, in my view. But this is common sense. I would like to relate, move the projects to where they're most relatable, I say most, not completely, because these projects, as I've mentioned earlier, have a universal theme. But there are some. The woman that was inspired by Marilyn Monroe as a child who is now the head of an organization, a company for the health and wellness and empowerment of women, she is more inclined to invest in a Marilyn Monroe project that I, one that I've produced, she would have been a prime candidate of at least exploration and consideration, then others, let's just say that.
So I've always raised funds on that: on specificity, on applicable, like mind, and then we just see where that goes. And then we just let it go and see what the universe brings us. But it's a universal pitch because we believe that we have universal themes, but also that woman who cherished Marilyn as a child and grew up with her themes and sensibilities of life, and is trying to instill them in young females, I think we have at least a fighting shot of funding. And that’s all we need in our lives is a shot. That shot gets us up in the morning, to bring out the pro forma and the budget and the deck and the demo reels that we obsess over, sometimes in the small hours. So we all need that financial light at the end of the tunnel. And I try and create that tunnel by looking at like minds with the properties that I've acquired, and the themes and writing that I'm putting into the final draft. If we align, there's a shot,
I love that you always introduced me to phrases that I have to like, look up later or ask you about. I saw horses for courses, we’ll all look that up. I'm gonna just like… you don't have to explain. That's our homework for everyone listening. But another thing that you said to me that I had to ask you about was a concept of leading from the front. And so I'm just wondering if you could teach our listener this concept, and anything else you want to pass on about leadership?
Oh, yeah, it's, it's just through osmosis really. I say that casually. I don't mean to be as dismissive as that suggested. I've just had great leaders and great mentors in my life. And I've just watched them. I've just shut up and used my ears and eyes rather than my mouth. You know, from junior high, college, companies, bosses, leaders. I've noticed something, everyone with whom I've worked in that capacity: I've taken lessons from, I've become godfather to their children, et cetera. And that says something to me, because leadership is not just about knowing where to cross the T's dot the I's, how to engage a room. It's about who you are as a human being, as a person. And are you someone that I want to be around every day? That's true leadership for me, because you are leading by example. My day to day footsteps—are they akin to yours? And if they are, do I want to be in your shoes? That's leadership to me: leaving from the front in this context is that.
I've wanted to be my mentors growing up so badly, I adopted some of their mannerisms, early days without meaning to because it looked good. “Oh, that gesture was great! He commanded the room when he did this.” And I've tended to pick up on small things organically without meaning to. You know, I am an amalgam of the best experiences and I try to learn from the challenges, truly.
Leading from the front, in terms of growing up and finding out, investigating, exploring who we are as human beings. It's about fear, acknowledging it. It's everything we've seen in every story of who am I? Do I fit? Or even do I work as a human being, which is a far deeper exploration for me and living from the front more accurately is being who you are as best as the demons on every shoulder can allow us to. Soon we'll flick them off. But in the meantime, as best we can, keep walking forward, keep looking forward. And if you want to look behind Orpheus, I'll catch you, I'll be there for you. So that's what we're about. If you do stumble, we'll pick you up. Because so many people Tony have picked me up. So many people have helped me, honestly, from Esiaba Irobi, bless his heart, Gloria Gee in London, Stephen Leahy. So many mentors I've had have helped me. I know the phrase that we all say and think is “pay it forward.” I want to strip it down. It's not even that. I just want to be there for you. I just want to be there. It's not even about seeing myself in you. No. You are you. I just want to be there. And it's as simple and as clean as that. So because I am there, we are there, our stories are there, our tribe is there. Feel free to walk, we've got you.
I just want to give you a hug! It’s so great. I love making this podcast, too, because I hear throughlines from different guests and the way that you phrase it is so beautiful.
I want to also talk about being your own boss because you are running the show. And you've done this again in different places, different markets, different career paths. And I know from working with you and then putting on these big shows that you are an incredible collaborator and kind of what you just said: you allow people to walk forward and you're there with them. Anything else that you can share, maybe things that you do to take care of yourself. How does one become a healthy CEO? That's the mission of my company.
A healthy CEO? That's an interesting question. I've been blessed enough to work with my friends who are amazing. I'm talking Tony Winners, Tony Nominees, up-and-coming, bubbling unders, just I'm talking just pure craft for the moment: people, those at the top of their game. They've been so generous with their time. I’m blessed that they've seen enough of the material to want to do that because there's a traffic issue in our industry. Everyone has a libretto, everyone has a screenplay. How do you permeate that traffic? That's the goal. That's the key. Again, I like to think that iconic personalities help the green light as opposed to the amber or the red light with the embedded marketing. So when you're working with these dearest of friends, it becomes a pleasure every day. Don't get me wrong, we have our ups and downs like anyone. We have our challenges, and differences of opinion. But because at the heart of us, we care about each other deeply, or at least on a work family level differences of opinions, more often than not, they do not turn into personality clashes simply I think we should hire her. I don't. Well, then why don't we have a meeting. We’ll set up a Zoom or an in-person, listen to this material. Let's get more information. And then let's see where we land. Now, that's another story for another day what that tiebreaker would be. But these elements are broken in that trajectory, not the end result, before you get to the decision about her the relationship is either intact, or it's broken. I'm talking in extremes. But I'm speaking of the pathway, the relationship is more important than sometimes the decision. Sometimes. With your team, how you walk in every day on a Monday morning: “Hi, how are you?” coffee in hand, That first indication, that first hello, is an indication of how you get on and whether you will survive in a group of individuals every single day. I have Executive Producers, obviously. In production, Company Managers, GMs, all have a voice and contributing factor to this beautiful family of theatrical crew and roles. I often say this, there's a lot of air in this room to breathe. Breathe. I don't need all of it. I don't want all of it. I have enough, trust me. As Book Writer, Lyricist, Producer, and sometimes to 100% degree, my own Co-Producer, bringing in the funds, I have enough roles. I'm not that person. I don't need to be the head cook and bottle washer. I'm done. So let people do the jobs that they’re best at. I am the antithesis of a micromanager. I love my team to thrive in what they do. In fact, it's a joy to watch people excel and have the credit where sometimes they do not. But I make sure they do with us. Visibility is key for me. I love my team. Honestly, I could go on about them. If you look at the posters or the postings at above and below the line crew, I mean, take a look at the above and below the line crew in our posters, etc. and other places. You'll see the wonderful people, the wonderful collaborators, and I'm really blessed because this is the toughest market in New York. I truly believe that. Especially as there are so few of us, Tony, that produce our own work. Producing your own work is more prevalent in LA, where you see it all the time, “Written and Directed by” etcetera, or “Executive Produced” in television. You know, sometimes that's bifurcating wages. But often it's all about their status on a show. I can count on one hand, the amount of Book Writers, Lyricists, Co-Producers that are producing their own work on a published level. So I don't want to wait for the phone to ring for my own career. I was like that as an actor, and I've taken that as an actor into my writing and producing life. I am not sitting by the phone. I am getting our projects made. I am breathing life into our projects. In between as well, if someone says “Hey Tegan! Can you come and help us mount this show?” I will. I will stay busy. And in the evenings, I will still be writing two songs. That's an exaggeration. One song that evening, but I will keep working. No, I don't. I do not want to look at my phone halfway down the street saying please call, please call, or keep monitoring my email for someone to drop in of note that I've solicited. No.
I can't stress this enough. In my youth, back in the day, when they would say, “Don’t Phone, Don’t Visit” in all the actor phone books? I called. I visited.
And I remember, I bring this to today. This lovely Casting Director back in the day (that when I was acting, not that she's back in the day, when I was acting back in the day, again someone else ago, is why I call it) Judith Holstra in LA, she was casting a show at the time called Strong Medicine, I believe. And she was generous and lovely. But she was definitely a don't visit person. So I remember packing up my headshot and going down there and like, “Okay, this role is for me.” I used to sneakily get the Breakdown Services. And it was so strict in caps, not even sentence case as the others were: DO NOT VISIT… blah, blah, blah… AGENTS ADMISSION ONLY.
So I went down, and I knocked at the Casting Director door in the morning, because I was an Agent Assistant for a while. So I knew what they did. And when the breakdowns… the whole thing. And in my, my heaviest English accent that I could muster, gave this pre-prepared elevator speech about me, not even the role. “New in town, I've done this, that, and the other.” And I ended with, “I just saw this.” And she just looked at me—didn't respond to any line. And she said, “What's the role?” And I said, it's for Xavier Towne. I said Strong Medicine, it was For The People on Lifetime. It was, I was playing CCH Pounder’s son, against Lea Thompson. And she said, “What's the role?” I said for, I gave her the line, I gave her the show. And she looked at me, said “Stay there.” Went away, came back, and said, “Who's your agent?” I gave her my agent at the time. She says “Come back at 2:00. Here are the sides.” And closes the door… and I booked it!
And that was honestly the greatest lesson for my professional life at the time. Because, Tony, it was something from zero to fruition. And I want to take that lesson and I hold that so dearly with our projects in theatre. This is what I love. And this is what I will always do. We are creating something from zero to the stage. People often ask me, “Tegan! Oh, are you excited?” I’m like, “Not yet.” I get excited at the red carpet. Not because it's a red carpet, because it's indicative of us finishing the goal. Finishing that project. The red carpet is not for the glitz and glam for me. It's for finality is for we did this we raised this child together. So that acting story I will never forget. And plus CCH Pounder was the most wonderful woman on set. And she helped me a great deal as well because I just graduated when all this happened. So that was a long story. It's near and dear to my heart. And that Tegan, as an Actor, while I've closed that chapter, reincarnated in me as a Writer, Producer.
Some of the properties we have people ask me all day long, how do I get… how did I own the rights for Marilyn Monroe theatrically? With exclusivity Malcolm X, Harvey Milk? We call, we visit. We do.
Now we have to be the goods. We have to be the goods when that door is open. And that's the hard work. But we needed the gumption. The thought, the creativity, the dare sometimes to get that door open but everybody, children, I mean those growing up in this industry. I will say this, be the goods when that door is open. Be prepared to the nth degree. Be better than anyone else in that room. Any pitch. Master your elevator pitch. Master everything. Be the best you can be when that door is open.
Thank you, Tegan and thank you for joining us for this special conversation. Now I tried to share a few things that stood out to me within the episode. But now I want to know what stood out to you? What spoke to you? Take a screenshot right now or share this podcast and let us know. Be sure to tag @TeganSummer and @TonyHowell so that we can amplify your thoughts on leadership, art, and legacy.
Check out the episode description if you want to go further because Tegan has shared with me some exclusive behind-the-scenes content, including some incredible photos, videos, special links, all the goods, including ways to connect with Tegan further to get your questions answered.
Now, I need to ask you one small favor. Please, please, please take just a moment to rate and review this show on Apple Podcasts. Your words help other people choose to listen to the show. So if you enjoy these conversations, I would greatly greatly appreciate it if you would let the people know. Now while you're there, you can check out past conversations. Like I said in this episode. It's really kind of incredible to do these interviews and see the through line from different artists and changemakers. And I have to be honest with you, you need to subscribe because I know next month's conversation, and I'm super excited to reveal that and share it with you in just a couple of weeks.
So thank you so much for listening. Now I invite you as Tegan said to use your work to change the world, or at least your corner of the world. Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you and I get to have a conversation about that very soon.