Long Island City may be a quick subway jaunt from Midtown Manhattan, but for a lot of New York’s Broadway-centric theater industry, it feels about as far away as Long Beach, Calif. That’ll change, if RWS Entertainment Group has anything to say about it.
Currently specializing in shows and experiences for resorts, cruise lines, theme parks and brands, and operating out of a 40,000-square-foot complex in Long Island City, RWS turned Broadway heads in 2016 when it purchased Binder Casting, the 35-year-old agency that’s cast Broadway successes like “The Lion King” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Now, with the launch of a theatrical and development department, plus two new divisions for Binder and the transition of that agency’s founder to a new role, RWS has kicked off an ambitious plan to turn itself into a bigger player on Broadway, Off Broadway and beyond.
Tapping general manager Joe Christopher to serve as VP of commercial theater ventures, RWS aims to take on lead producing and co-producing roles on the projects it develops. At the same time, the company said it can streamline, accelerate and reduce costs of the average development cycle through a combination of its existing rehearsal, casting and production infrastructure, plus the young talent that passes through the RWS campus every day.
“We have actors on salary for the week; we have rehearsal space; we have musical directors and pianists that work for us full-time,” said CEO Ryan Stana, who founded the company 15 years ago. “We can pull together a reading in two days, and essentially we can do it for $1,000.” He added that the company would concentrate on developing projects that would “appeal to the masses.”
The push into development includes big changes at Binder Casting. The agency’s founder, Jay Binder, will become RWS’ director of theatrical development (although he’ll still consult with the casting team on certain projects), identifying and developing new shows. Binder’s transition is part of an overall face-lift for the casting agency, which is launching commercial and film divisions and making a round of new hires to spruce the place up. “Our goal is to make Binder Casting recognizable for being an outstanding service and not just a person’s name,” Stana said.
In all of its activities, Binder Casting will work alongside RWS’ internal casting department, which annually travels to 54 cities around the world scoping out talent.
Currently, RWS produces live entertainment at 32 theme parks, on 17 cruise ships and at 10 resorts, as well as 100 corporate events set for 2018. Meanwhile, the company’s new developmental activities include a musical with director-choreographer Warren Carlyle and Jack Viertel (the duo behind “After Midnight”), a new play by a best-selling author, a development partnership with a university’s regional theater and a branded arena tour, among other projects.
“They have access to a lot of venues, they have experienced management and they seem to have financial resources as well,” said Viertel, who’s working with RWS on a new revue along the lines of “After Midnight.” “You could absolutely develop a Broadway show there.”
Led by Stana and chief operating officer Bruston Manuel, RWS brings assets to the table that include that 40,000 square feet in Long Island City, which unites administration and general management offices, casting, rehearsal studios and performer housing. Those are a lot of internal resources under one roof, and RWS wants to use them to shake up the way commercial theater and arena tours are developed and produced in New York’s fragmented theater world.
To hear it from RWS leadership, the company is just creating a development model that can finally keep up with exploding demand for live content. “There’s a real opportunity to develop things in a much faster fashion,” Christopher said. “I think I already have six or eight projects that are going into readings in the next month.”