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Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley of BroadwayHD: “Why we should start the “Listen Up” movement”

We want to start the “Listen Up” movement. Let’s start small. Once a month everyone has to listen to someone with a conflicting opinion. Listen without judgement, without debate, without prejudice. The goal is to understand why this person with a very different point of view than your own has come to this conclusion and […]


We want to start the “Listen Up” movement. Let’s start small. Once a month everyone has to listen to someone with a conflicting opinion. Listen without judgement, without debate, without prejudice. The goal is to understand why this person with a very different point of view than your own has come to this conclusion and maintains this belief. You don’t have to change their minds and they don’t have to change yours. But we believe if you “listen up” very closely, you might be able to comprehend an issue from a different perspective, and that can make a big difference.


I had the pleasure to interview Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley. Stewart and Bonnie are the founders of BroadwayHD.com, an online streaming service on a mission to promote and preserve live theatre, extending the reach of Broadway and Broadway caliber shows to anyone, anywhere. BroadwayHD currently has a catalog of over 270 full length stage plays and for streaming, so when you can’t get to Broadway, go to BroadwayHD on your tv, phone or tablet! Mr. Lane and Ms. Comley have collectively produced over 40 films and 45 Broadway shows, garnering nine Tony Awards, and another 14 Tony nominations. They have, also, won Olivier Awards, Drama Desk, Drama League and Outer Critics Circle Awards for their stage productions. Lane has been a co-owner of Broadway’s famous Palace Theater for almost 40 years. The theater community has honored the couple for their philanthropic work including The Actors Fund Medal of Honor, The Drama League Special Contribution to the Theater Award, The Paul Newman Award from Arts Horizons and The Theater Museum Distinguished Service Award. The stage at Boston University’s new theater center is named in their honor, as is the Music Theater Program. The Musical Theater Society Room bears their name at Emerson College and the 500-seat theater at the University of Massachusetts Lowell is known as the Comley Lane Theater. Lane is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award at Boston University and Comley is Distinguished Alumni of both Emerson College and UMass Lowell. Mr. Lane is a theater historian and playwright and has written the critically acclaimed “Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way” (Square One Publishers), “Jews on Broadway” (McFarland Publishers), “Let’s Put on a Show,”(Working Arts Library), and the plays In The Wings (published in the spring 2008 by Hal Leonard), If It Was Easy (published by Performing Books and nominated for Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association), and the musical Back Home Again (with music and lyrics by John Denver) which he was awarded The 2011 John Denver Spirit Award for his work.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane:

We travel for work and pleasure and we have met many people who have heard about “Broadway” but have never seen a Broadway show. In 2018, 14 million tickets were sold to Broadway shows at an average of $125 each, totaling just under $2 billion — and that was just in New York City. What happens when you make Broadway accessible to the rest of the world? That is the concept behind BroadwayHD, to bring high-definition digital captures of live theater to the world through a subscription streaming platform. If people can’t get to Broadway, we can bring Broadway to them — streaming theater!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane:

When we launched BroadwayHD in 2015, we concentrated our marketing and publicity efforts in the US but within days, people from around the world were reaching out through our social media and customer service to tell us that they wanted to watch our shows but that our service did not accept their currency. We didn’t realize the tremendous appetite for the Broadway brand and just how underserved the global audience was for this type of content. So, of course, we changed our payment collection method immediately!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Bonnie Comley:

BroadwayHD is a multigenerational office. I am on the “lots of experience” end of the spectrum. In my effort to understand everything about my internet streaming business, I often found myself asking too many questions and using the wrong vocabulary at larger group meetings. Instead of being perceived as a leader with a lifelong thirst for knowledge, I looked like a boss who was micromanaging and desperate to fit in. Lesson number one, as long as I surrounded myself with the right team of experts, I could survive with a surface knowledge of some aspects of my business. Lesson number two, if I needed a deeper understanding of something, the best approach was to take the conversation offline and not waste the group’s time.

Stewart F. Lane:

Every Broadway show has its challenges and none is a slam dunk. I was working on a musical that had all the ingredients of a hit: it was based on a big movie, it had a tv star, it had a tony award winning Broadway baby, award winning composer and lyricist, plus tony winning director and book writer. People told me, “You can’t miss”. I’ve learned that when people tell you that, run for the hills and don’t look back. Never think you can kick back and take it easy when you produce a show. You are on watch 24/7 with opening night being just the beginning. Needless to say, that show was a flop.

Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane:

BroadwayHD is a global platform. We can amplify stories and voices from a single theatrical production and make them heard around the world. We can extend the life of shows by women playwrights, composers and directors. Lavish productions with diverse casts like Holiday Inn, Disney’s Broadway Hits, Lady Day and LGBTQ themed shows, like Falsettos had a limited life on stage but they are still enjoyed by subscribers on BroadwayHD long after their curtains came down on the final performance.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane:

Here’s a real email that we received after our live stream of Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of She Loves Me:

From Nicaragua:

Dear BroadwayHD,

Today, my co-worker, Osmar, and I watched She Loves Me on BroadwayHD. Osmar grew up in a rural community here in Nicaragua called Villa Catalina. When I met Osmar almost ten years ago, he was a passionate and hard-working teenager with a zeal for life. When we started a theatre program for youth in his community back in 2010, he quickly made his way to the stage and his natural talent for acting immediately shone through in each of the roles he took on.

In a country where a career in theatre is not commonplace, Osmar has made it his life’s dream and goal to become a professional actor. In a few short years, Osmar has gone from performing on the small stage in his community to touring the country with a monologue-troupe, directing several theatre productions of his own, and most recently landing a role in Aladdin: The Musical in the capital city of Managua.

Osmar watching She Loves Me on BroadwayHD.

Today when I told Osmar we were “going to Broadway” his face lit up with excitement. As we watched the full production of She Loves Me on BroadwayHD, I saw his brain churning and his emotions overflowing. About 3/4 of the way through the show, he looked at me with sincerity as he pointed at the screen and said, “Katie, someday that is going to me.”

And in that moment I said the only thing I knew how to say because I believe it with my whole heart, “I know, Osmar.”

So thank you, BroadwayHD … thank you, thank you, thank you for making Broadway accessible and for inspiring young people all over the world, like Osmar, to dream big.

Con mucho amor,

Katie F

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in film and television and its potential effects on our culture?

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane:

We love that your question includes the term “our culture” because it sounds inclusive and hopeful. The fact that there is no singular definition of American culture or a definitive measure for diversity and representation in the entertainment industry is part of the challenge. We tend to point to examples like Hattie McDaniel, the first African American entertainer to win an Academy Award in 1940 (which she accepted in a segregated hotel), or cast a person of color in Shakespeare and congratulate ourselves for how far we have come and think that we are on the road to dignity and total inclusion for all. Although, we may be heading in the right direction, the pace is glacial.

The US population is an international and integrated society and, although, the demographics are changing, the gatekeepers and leadership do not reflect that change — yet. But the tide is shifting, and we have seen with each new election, new voices are entering politics. Movie studios and production companies are being cleansed and restructured. The regional theaters are the feeding grounds for Broadway and there have been many changes in executive and artistic directors in American theater recently. Diversity at the top level of organizations means we are on the cusp of better representation.

BroadwayHD is a hybrid of theater, film and tv; a carefully curated library of streaming video content showcasing the pinnacle of live entertainment that is known as Broadway. Actors perform eight shows and often feel tired, sick or sore; the show must go on because an audience is counting on it. For that reason, Broadway provides actors a better chance at meritocracy where talent plus stagecraft wins out over gender, sexuality, race or age.

But show business is not just about the actors, it’s about the stories and the people telling the stories. Audiences are changing because the population is changing, and they will spend their money to see themselves in authentic representations. They also have platforms to boycott and protest disingenuous portrayals.

At BroadwayHD, we feel that we have a responsibility to share video captures featuring the best casts, creative teams, and storytelling in the world. We also feel it is vital to showcase diversity. Three reasons why?

  1. The population should have opportunities to see themselves reflected authentically in art, media, and social events.
  2. There is a tremendous pool of talent that is wasted if we stick to the current system.
  3. Economics. Businesses tend to follow the money and with each ticket and streaming subscription that is sold, data is collected. At BroadwayHD we are finding data that tells us that women and people of color spend money to watch stories by women and people of color, so we can put to rest the myths that say otherwise.

What impact does diversity and representation in media have on our culture?

We believe that there is a sense of pride that is felt by a connection to your racial, gender, and cultural identity. The ability to share your identity in authentic and positive representation through theater, tv and film gives a feeling of being part of something larger than oneself. Humans are social beings and we feel better when we are included in the community.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can to do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane

  1. Let people tell their own stories.
  2. Listen with an open mind, when other people tell their stories.
  3. Respect. Just respect.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane

“Leadership” is a series of actions which a person takes in order to move other people toward a goal. We think that “leadership” and leaders are often mistaken for the boss. A boss is an authority who enforces rules or actions, but a leader is the person who motivates a team to take action using their skills to the best of their ability to reach a desired result. People who work for bosses are generally the ones who don’t like their jobs, while employees under good leadership are happier and share their companies’ success stories with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane

  1. The internet will change everything
  2. By 2018, the world will have more people with mobile phones than people with indoor plumbing.
  3. Award-winning shows don’t always make money- and money-making shows don’t always win awards.
  4. A good story can be ruined by bad storytelling.
  5. The hot celebrity isn’t always the hot celebrity by the time the project is finished.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane

We want to start the “Listen Up” movement. Let’s start small. Once a month everyone has to listen to someone with a conflicting opinion. Listen without judgement, without debate, without prejudice. The goal is to understand why this person with a very different point of view than your own has come to this conclusion and maintains this belief. You don’t have to change their minds and they don’t have to change yours. But we believe if you “listen up” very closely, you might be able to comprehend an issue from a different perspective, and that can make a big difference.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Bonnie Comley:

My Dad always says,” Every day is a good day, but some days are better than others.” It’s a life lesson for me because it has taught me that you can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to the situation.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Bonnie:

I would love to spend some time with Malala Yousafzai. I think her story is just the beginning.

Stewart F. Lane:

I would like to meet Richard Branson because he is creative, bold, ambitious and thinks outside the box.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter:

@BroadwayHD

Facebook:

@BroadwayHD

Instagram:

@BroadwayHD

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