In any field of endeavor as rife with disappointment as theatre, true professionals distinguish themselves by turning setbacks into successes. One person who knows all about that is Clayton Phillips, the new managing director (technically, "interim managing director") of the York Theatre.
Earlier this year York hired Phillips to take over the direction of "Postcards on Parade," a musical by Kenward Elmsley and Steven Taylor that unexpectedly lost its original director. Although Phillips diligently worked to bring the show to fruition, it was closed during previews when everyone involved agreed it was not ready for production at the time. The future of "Postcards" is still unknown (the authors have begun working on changes), but the experience established a future for Phillips at the York. At the time, York Artistic Director James Morgan was looking to fill a vacancy on staff created by the departure of Bob Buckley, who left his job as managing director to pursue a law degree.
Although Phillips' resume looks less tilted toward "managing" than "director"— he is a longtime assistant to legendary Broadway producer-director Harold Prince and currently represented by a national tour of "Show Boat"—Morgan offered him the job, based on their "Postcards" experience.
"I gained a lot of respect for Clayton by watching him step into the breach and work so hard," Morgan told Back Stage, "and that formed the basis of trust.
"We worked very well together. We still do."
Phillips agreed with that assessment when speaking with Back Stage.
"I do everything," he said in a telephone interview this week. "Day-to-day functioning, like filing, correspondence, and payroll, and working with Jim as he's making artistic decisions, like hiring." Some of what Phillips will contribute in those meetings will be typical managing director input—financial perspectives, etc.—but he said, "It won't just be financial realities; it will be more of a consultation."
As a music theatre fan, Phillips is especially glad to be working at a company that is increasingly thought of as a springboard for new musicals. For years, York was best known for its intelligent revivals of intelligent musicals—its "Sweeney Todd" revival is the only Off-Broadway spoof in "Forbidden Broadway"—but lately has devoted more attention to original works.
"I have always wanted to work with a small theatre that develops new work, and that's what York does," he said. "This year we'll be doing three new musicals: 'Fermat's Last Tango,' 'Suburb,' and 'The "It" Girl.' "
Phillips said he has been interested in musicals since his childhood in Pittsburgh, and credits Prince with providing him with "valuable experience I can take to York."
"He's been a great supporter," he said. "Hal listens, really listens."
Prince is currently in Europe and was unable to comment for this story, but his press representative, Mary Bryant, said of Phillips, "We all adore him."
Certainly James Morgan adores him, and said he hopes the board will remove the "interim" from Phillips' title soon.
"I have great hopes for the partnership," he said. "So far it feels like he's been here for a very long time."
One more thing: Morgan and Phillips said that York is not finished with its hiring, and is still looking for an administrative assistant and a grant writer.