Ben Holtzman (he/him/his) remembered music always around the house when he was growing up in Long Island just outside of New York City. He recalled concerts, children’s theatre, and him and his brother taking piano lessons. “My older brother is an incredible musician and composer. My parents sent him to French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts when he was nine. I fell so in love when we dropped him off that I wouldn’t leave. I made my parents go back home and pick up my stuff. I didn’t even know I was in a theatre camp.” Soon Ben auditioned for his first show and got bit by the theatre bug. He continued going to French Woods every summer until he was 18 and ended up studying Musical Theatre at Syracuse University.
It was at Syracuse he joined Groovestand, a co-ed a cappella group, where he met the subjects of many of our former Broadway Boxed Up features, including Ross Baum, Hannah Corneau, and Chris Dwan. “We had always talked about starting a group together when we moved to the city.” And soon, RANGE was born “We wanted to start a group and capture that creative spirit we could find at school. With no expectations, six months in we got to sing at the red carpet at the Oscars. It really remains this passion project that we all do and this platform we build for ourselves as artists where we can do other things. Not just a cappella, but a platform for people to share their artistry.” Ben himself not only sings with and arranges music for the group, but also serves as RANGE’s executive producer.
But what does it mean to be a producer, whether for a music collective like RANGE or for theatre? “Being a producer is being the CEO, team captain, the person that is able to bring the group of artists together to execute the vision. But ultimately, I like to be the person who is driving the ship. I get great satisfaction bringing artists together to collaborate who I think will do great things together.”
Ben’s journey to becoming a theatre producer involved taking part in the Syracuse University’s Department of Drama’s Tepper Semester, which is a program in which Drama students immerse themselves in artistic training in New York City for their final semester. The program provides classes with industry-leading professionals and networking opportunities. One of the people that Ben met during that semester was Daisy Prince, the daughter of renowned producer and director, Hal Prince. “Two years out of school, I was on the tour for Beauty and the Beast, and it became very clear to me that I did not like doing eight shows a week. I liked traveling, but didn’t enjoy tour life. I really understood I was more interested in being part of big productions instead of being in big productions. Six months into the tour I decided I was going to leave.”
At that time, Hal was directing The Band’s Visit. “I emailed Daisy, I know I don’t want to be a performer, but I want to be in the room, can I meet your dad?” Ben fondly remembers being called in to meet Hal, his theatrical idol, and spending almost three hours talking about the state of theatre, shows he liked and didn’t like, and his past experiences. They became friends very fast. “The next day he hired me. It happened very quickly. That was the opportunity for me to start spreading my wings.”
Ben worked closely with Hal from 2016 until his passing, including on the production of Candide at the New York City Opera as well as the Prince of Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Ben also worked with Hal on writing his memoir, Sense of Occasion.
In 2017, Ben co-founded his own production company, Holtzman-Lopez Productions, with his longtime friend and former roommate, Sammy Lopez. “We co-produced Be More Chill together, which was my first time producing on Broadway. It was a really informative experience and we learned a lot. That experience gave Sammy and I the know how to start lead producing shows ourselves.”
Currently, Holtzman-Lopez Productions are producers for Gun & Powder, which recently had its world premiere at the Signature Theatre in January 2020. Ben remembered that “what the Signature Theatre was able to provide on their own for Gun & Powder wasn’t going to cut it for this show. Sammy and I looked at each other and we knew we had to step up and enhance the show at the Signature Theatre. We needed a ten-piece orchestra and New York designers and actors coming in. We enhanced what they would have been able to offer and we sold the show out before it even opened.” Now, the show is gearing up to do a workshop in the fall and gunning for a Broadway run.
What’s been on Ben’s mind recently? “This pause is a real opportunity to actually look at how the institution is working and how the industry is serving the people who are working in it; and it’s very clear to me there are a lot of broken systems within the Broadway industry. We have the opportunity to promote real change and really allow the theatre industry to act on what it speaks to be doing.”
“We advocate as a forward thinking and inclusive industry, but I don’t think our actions always reflect that. We have a real opportunity to look at that and promote open-mindedness and inclusivity and accessibility and equity and I think we can build back a better industry after this pause. I hope everyone is thinking about this – producers, theater owners, gatekeepers on Broadway – are all committing themselves to building back better and not just snapping back into what was.”