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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

The Academy Abroad: Producer John Brant Helms ‘Come From Away’ ‘Plaza Suite’

John Brant (Class of 2006) has spent the last decade working in the theatre, not as an actor but as a producer, getting numerous theatrical productions off the ground. Following graduation from The Academy, where he received the Jehlinger Award, Brant worked extensively in the New York theatre scene as a director, helming new works throughout the city. It was almost by happenstance that Brant found his way to producing.

While at a luncheon with a friend (now a business partner with their company Smith & Brant Theatricals), Joseph Smith, the two discussed the new production of Sweeney Todd Smith was working on getting off the ground. Commenting to his friend, Brant, that he would make a good producer, he extended an invite for him to aid in producing Sweeney Todd. Within one week, Brant got the necessary funding together, getting the show off the ground. A year later, in 2013, Brant was asked to come on as a junior partner with Smith’s business. After six months, Smith’s previous business partner left, leaving The Pajama Game on the slate and an opening for Brant—one he took up. The duo has been instrumental in getting numerous productions off the ground: Cabaret, Plaza Suite, Come From Away, True West, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Spring Awakening, Memphis, and Betrayal, just to name a few.

When asked why he wanted to become a producer, Brant replied: “I didn’t really, is the truth. I never really wanted to be a producer, I just ended up becoming a producer… In this world, in this industry, you find your way to doing what you’re good at.” Not an unfamiliar path, many alums have followed down this path, with some landing in the world of politics, some in real estate, and, of course, some staying the "obvious" course and playing Ant-Man. For Brant, however, his journey to getting into producing was shaped by education in drama--the ensemble, the show, comes first.

For Brant, his process is driven by the text. It all begins with reading a play, a necessary first step that often gets the ball rolling. Reading a play gets the ball rolling, and then the question of commercial viability quickly dawns. Handling the investor resources, who expect a profitable return on their investment, Brant recognizes the necessity of selecting material to produce that has the potential for success.

The exception to this rule? Come From Away, the musical set in the week following 9/11, when 38 airplanes laden with 6,122 passengers and 473 crew were grounded at Gander International Airport. Falling in love with the musical while it was in its infancy after seeing the production at the La Jolla Playhouse, Brant knew he wanted to get involved with the project in any way he could. The show has had successful runs across the globe, nabbing numerous awards in various categories. Brant comments on the show, “We didn’t choose Come From Away, it chose us. We feel really lucky to be a part of it.”

Recently, Smith & Brant Theatricals produced the revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, the real-life couple bringing life to the 3 couples in the play. The cast and crew were lauded for their work, with a Tony Award nomination for Best Costume Design of a Play given to Jane Greenwood and particular attention paid to the star power of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. The show closed July 10th, 2022, after 110 performances—itself having received an extended engagement.

Producers make shows. Actors, the happy few we are, are granted a certain "permission" to take part in an ensemble created by producers and fueled by our collective idealism and artistry. A producer like Brant (and his co-conspirator Joseph Smith) seeks out shows that ring true to so many of us: giving us stories that provide an escape, some that remind us of our humanity, and others that give us a safe space to ponder our own beliefs. The jump from actor to producer is not a stretch—albeit with far fewer lines to learn.

Read more about Brant, and his extensive resumé, here.


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