Approaching Under-30 Theatergoers with Andrew Carlberg

Andrew Carlberg and Sharon Lawrence at Celebration Theatre's 30th Anniversary Benefit. Photo courtesy of Sean Lambert Photography.

Credit Sean Lambert

(Originally published in LA STAGE Times)

On a recent Monday, producer Andrew Carlberg rattles off his schedule: meetings about his latest film and television projects, a casting session, lunch with a reporter and a rehearsal for a theater workshop top the list. For the busy Carlberg, it’s a typical weekday.

“I don’t know when he sleeps,” says Karen Gutierrez, Geffen Playhouse director of advertising and promotion.

A look at Carlberg’s accomplishments over the past six years offers some idea of just how little sleep he must be getting. At 28, Carlberg has already had a hand in producing a variety of projects that span theater, film and television, and he has helped create multiple initiatives to support theater communities in Los Angeles. There’s no secret to his success, Carlberg says. It’s just a lot of hard work.

Carlberg was raised in Charlotte, where his father runs a community and business relations firm and his mother manages volunteers for a nonprofit healthcare service.  After graduating from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2007, he parlayed a television production internship in Los Angeles into a full-time job, working on shows including the hit ABC drama Castle. But Carlberg had higher aspirations.

“When I moved out here, I thought I wanted to be a director, but it was very quick for me to find out that I wanted to be a producer,” says Carlberg, who frequently attended Broadway shows growing up and was active behind the scenes in high school theater.

Carlberg met actress Sharon Lawrence at the end of his internship and the two bonded quickly. Lawrence says Carlberg has been primed from a young age for the entrepreneurial rigors of being a producer — Carlberg’s father used to write to notable public figures, asking them to write letters of wisdom to his son. The responses they received, Lawrence says, instilled an important confidence in the young Carlberg.

“Andrew grew up with this personal connection to people who weren’t necessarily in his social and/or cultural world, yet he felt that they were already part of his world,” Lawrence says. “I think that really set him up to believe that approaching anyone was worth trying.”

When Lawrence and Carlberg attended a star-studded benefit for the Geffen Playhouse in 2009, Lawrence introduced him to Geffen founder Gil Cates, who took an interest in Carlberg’s passion for getting young people interested in theater.

Carlberg quickly lines up some of the usual suspects for reasons why so many people of his generation don’t go to theater in LA:

“One, it’s too expensive. Two, they don’t know about it. Or three, they don’t understand why they should. They don’t understand why in a ‘film and TV town’ they should be going to the theater,” Carlberg says. “We set out to illuminate and change that.”

Carlberg met with Gutierrez and the two joined with other Hollywood assistants to form the 4th Wall Geffen Playhouse Arts Alliance, an outreach initiative that offers discounted ticket prices and special events for young theater patrons. The 4th Wall has since expanded beyond the Geffen to sponsor shows around Los Angeles, and Gutierrez says the following it attracts is extremely loyal, with attendees often bringing friends to shows and posting on social media about their new interest in theater.

But the 4th Wall hasn’t been Carlberg’s only venture by far. He’s producing Ron Klier’s Cops and Friends of Cops with Vs. Theatre Company. It premiered April 24. He just attended the South By Southwest premiere of the independent film he co-produced, Some Girl(s), starring Kristen Bell, Emily Watson and Adam Brody and written by Neil LaBute, based on the LaBute play that received its West Coast premiere at the Geffen in 2008.

Carlberg’s other theater credits include Wish I Had a Sylvia Plathwith Rogue Machine, The Mercy Seat with Vs. and a Geffen reading of 110 Stories that benefited the Red Cross.  He also teamed up with actor Devon Gummersall to create the Piece Project, which stages readings with celebrities to raise money for theaters.

Carlberg says the relationships he has formed in the arts community of Los Angeles, from his television experience to his outreach for the Geffen, propel him from one project to the next. Especially in theater, he says, cultivating a community of peers and supporters is key to getting his work off the ground.

“More than any other medium there’s definitely community in the theater,” he says. “It’s hard out here, everybody knows that, and this is a group of people that can rise in the ranks together. You’re figuring out how to make ends meet while fulfilling your creative desires.”

Each project may require Carlberg to adapt to a different role, he says. Sometimes he’s  involved only in deal-making, other times he may be overseeing casting, securing locations and managing ticket sales. But for each production, Carlberg says he tries to be a calming influence within the team — which is often composed of many strong personalities — and do everything he can to help each collaborator achieve his or her goals.

Gutierrez attests Carlberg’s success at such a young age to his “old soul” personality and his sincere, passionate commitment to every project he takes on.

“I see him comfortably talking with his peers, 20-somethings, and then comfortably talking to a playwright double his age, or a donor that’s triple his age,” she says. “That’s a quality that will serve him and has served him very well.”

Not to mention, she adds, “He just has really good taste.”

Lawrence agrees that Carlberg has good taste, but more important, she says, he is simply committed to making sure productions he cares about come to life and find an audience. He understands the importance of allowing large theaters to co-exist with smaller ones and is able to find new ways to make things happen instead of relying on traditional methods.

“He is the way of the future, for his ability to seek new talent, to identify it, and to not let the old ideas of what it takes to bring something into the public’s view slow him down,” Lawrence says. “He loves connecting people with performance, however that is possible, and that’s why he’s exciting to me.”

It’s not an easy lifestyle, Carlberg makes clear. His job is 24-7, he says, because when he’s not actively working on a project he’s seeing as much film, television and theater as he possibly can in order to stay informed of everything happening in the industry. And the communication never stops — even over lunch, Carlberg pauses subtly to check his email more than once.

But when everything goes right, there are high rewards. He counts the opening night performance of Celebration Theatre’s Ovation-winning The Color Purple, for which Carlberg helped produce a fundraiser benefit, and attending the South by Southwest screening of Some Girl(s) with his parents as two of his proudest moments.

Specifically, “seeing the look on my mom’s face when the movie was over,” Carlberg recalls. “I’m sitting there with my mom on one side of me and Adam Brody on the other side, and it’s a blast to get to share that with them.”

Carlberg says he hopes to continue working with artists he admires whom he hasn’t worked with yet, but he mostly just wants to work on “good projects.” It takes only one amazing performance, he says, to make the producer’s job worthwhile.

“It’s the one job where you get to work to make other people’s dreams happen,” he says. “It’s not very glamorous. But when you deliver something, whether it’s a cast member or a location or whatever, something that someone really wants, there’s a great feeling to that.”

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