Actor Tim Dolan (Once Upon A Mattress, Altar Boyz) (he/him/his) founded Broadway Up Close in 2010 with the goal of telling the stories of Broadway theaters, crafting a tour that makes you truly look at the world of Broadway, whether you’ve only seen one show or know every single one. Since then, Broadway Up Close has become the preeminent Broadway-related tour company, with its own gift shop in the heart of Times Square.
“In starting the company, I really wanted to focus on the stories that we don’t learn, that aren’t in the Playbills. The history and evolution of history and real estate. You learn about Show Boat and Oklahoma, but you aren’t learning about the Ziegfeld where Show Boat premiered or the St. James where Oklahoma premiered.” And so, Tim’s focus has been to explore the larger context of Broadway as an industry, the stories of the buildings and the people who built them, and the history of the real estate and records – all in a one hour-and-45-minute tour.
“When I first started 11 years ago, I decided to include every theater in one tour. The first time I tried it out, it was a seven-and-a-half-hour long tour. So, we shortened it. That tour became three different one hour-and-45-minute tours.” And now, they currently offer six in-person tours with very little overlap. “Each tour is like a one-person show that is completely thought out. And the tour guides, all actors and stage managers, put their own spin on it by also incorporating their own personal stories.”
The biggest challenge Tim faced? People don’t go to a Broadway show or to Times Square to see a tour. When Broadway Up Close started, there was nothing like it. But eventually the company grew. Musical Theatre professors were coming on the tour and learning new things. Theatre fans would come on a tour, learn new things, and get hooked!
Another challenge Tim faced was building out his team. “I started out doing the tours with my own humor and how I looked at the tour.” When making his first hires, Tim had to learn to allow tour guides to put their own spin on leading a tour and trusting them to do so.
But on March 12th, 2020, when Broadway shut down, Broadway Up Close was actually super busy, since everyone looked to them as an alternative to watching a show. They did tours for three more days, but by the 16th, everyone had canceled for the next month. Soon one month became six months. And so, Tim pivoted, started doing virtual tours, posting frequent videos on social media, and bought machinery to manufacture their own unique wooden and acrylic merchandise, with many pieces inspired by Broadway theaters and their marquees. “The end goal is that we provide jobs that are sustainable income for artists, performers, and crew that live this volatile financial life so they can have financial pieces of their life that are not on stage but are still enjoyable and related to the arts.”
And what’s been on Tim’s mind lately? “I think there is so much joy in our world, and so much of our joy and our world is online. The in-person experience of theatre is meant to be very different because it’s live, but there is this idea of keyboard courage and internet trolls and people who go to the instant dark place first. The internet brings out darkness in people. I’ve learned it’s a beautiful online community if you really treat it with care and respect. Everyone is doing their best, and it’s so easy to critique and stamp all over it. Before you put that out there, why not put joy out in the world. Ultimately we all love theatre for the joy in our life we had when we first listened to Cats or Jekyll & Hyde or Wicked or whatever. Go back to that original joy of why you love Broadway, theatre, and artists. Define that joy and reconnect with that joy. When you tap into that pure theatrical joy, the world turns into a beautiful place.”