OLD LYME — “I’ve been making budgets for 40 years,” said Lawrence Thelen, the new managing director for Musical Masterworks, who will oversee budgeting, budget management and long term strategic planning for the 30-year-old nonprofit.
“The organization is tremendously strong right now and so it’s my goal to maintain that,” he said by phone on Thursday. “When I produced [an] off-Broadway show, or even at Goodspeed, or when I was artistic director, you’re constantly making budgets. You’re always making sure that you don’t go over budget because that’s how theaters close. It’s the easiest way that theaters close.”
Thelen has extensive experience as a theater producer, including an off-Broadway revival of Ghosts at the Century Center for the Performing Arts in 1999. For the next seven years, he served as the producing associate and literary manager of Goodspeed musicals. Before and during his role at Goodspeed, he worked as artistic director for both the Thunder Bay Theatre and the Cherry County Playhouse.
“I think I can bring to Musical Masterworks an understanding of what it takes to mount a performance. I normally do it with actors, sometimes with an orchestra, but now we’re dealing with a chamber music group and so it’s smaller but you can still find places where you can save money without reducing the quality of the experience and that’s what I’m here to do and hopefully my experience will help me do that,” Thelen said.
Thelen said he was impressed with the ethos of Musical Masterworks, especially after the cancellation of the Beethoven violin concerto series, which had required extensive planning.
“One of the things that interested me most when I went through the interview process with them was here, was an organization, a small, 30-year organization and they were still going to produce because they felt a responsibility, an obligation, to their patrons to give them something, to not just shut down for a year. And I thought that was admirable, that was the kind of group that you want to be associated with.”
A single father, Thelen lives with his two teenage daughters in Haddam. He’s the author of The Show Makers: Great Directors of the American Musical Theatre and has penned several plays and numerous articles. He has published his fiction and nonfiction in Dramatics Magazine, Show Music Magazine and The Paragon Journal. Outside of the arts, Thelen is CEO of Mermaid Properties, a real estate investment and property management firm.
He said his first love has always been music. In school, he played an instrument and then discovered acting and that led to musicals, which led to undergraduate and graduate degrees in the theater arts.
“To be able to be part of a musical organization is right up my alley. I love that kind of music, and you rarely get to hear it nowadays,” he said.
As a result of COVID-19, the upcoming Musical Masterworks performances will be filmed to provide availability to a wider audience.
“We had a meeting this morning over at the church and all of a sudden instead of talking about where are we going to put the piano, it’s where are we going to plug in the cameras? Where will we put the lights?” Thelen said. “It’s a different element. We’re still doing the same thing, we’re still going to put on a concert, but we’re going to film it so we have to give or sell to people, [since] a lot of people are going to be wary of going out and we understand that,” he said.
The coronavirus has increased uncertainty about the future but has also created space for innovation, he said.
“In some respects it’s challenging because we were all thrown a curveball and nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Nobody expected us to be in this position last year,” he said. “At the same time, it allows you the freedom to rethink how you do things and from that by having to rethink and through creativity and imagination you might come up with things you never would have thought of before, such as filming these things.”
Originally filming the concerts was a one-year idea “just to get us over the hump to the next season,” but it is becoming a concept that may continue, perhaps building a library of performances that can be shared.
“We could conceivably provide this to people across the state or across the country,” he said. “But at the same time, I tamp it down by saying we don’t know what’s going to happen. These are the best decisions we can make for our organization based on today and tomorrow they may change, we understand that. We’re flexible, but we’re going forward.”