From Meadows to Broadway
Three-time Tony-winning producer Will Trice (B.A. Music ’01) talks about ambition, luck and career kismet
Tony-winning producer and alumnus Will Trice (B.A. Music ’01) coaches Sabrina Goodman (B.A. Music ’18) during a recent master class. Photo courtesy of Sean Burrows (B.A. Music; B.A. Computer Science ’18)
When Will Trice left Meadows in 2001, he had a B.A. in music, a minor in business and a general idea of where he would end up.
He did not expect it would be Broadway.
“Most of my buddies were Cox business majors, and I kinda just went along with them and applied to a bunch of consulting firms through the SMU Hegi Career Center,” Trice recalled during a recent visit to SMU Meadows School of the Arts. “I went to work as a business analyst for McKinsey & Company in Dallas for a couple years. It was a great business education.”
His first assignment for McKinsey happened to be for the Dallas Opera, working on pricing and ticketing strategies. He didn’t know at the time that his experiences there would become a key piece in the puzzle of his career, one that would help him immensely years later.
After he left McKinsey, he thought about going to business school. But the Muse called: Instead, he moved to Chicago and earned a master’s degree in theatre at Northwestern. As he approached graduation day he thought the time might be right to apply to business school.
“But I got distracted and wound up doing some performing in school, and did their annual ‘Leagues’ – a showcase for agents and whatnot in New York – as a lark,” he said. The lark brought him an agent and a move to New York.
“Never thought I’d do that in a million years,” he laughs. “A million years! Never even wanted to live in New York, never wanted anything to do with it. I never thought I would be a performer.”
That instinct turned out to be correct. Trice persevered through the trials and rigors of auditioning and performing for six months, then came to the conclusion that acting was not the right path for him.
“I just didn’t want it enough to put in the years,” he explains. So, he started looking for jobs and was soon hired at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
“I wound up getting the Met job because a friend whom I had met at a McKinsey party used to work there – total dumb luck,” he recalls. “I worked in the artistic department helping with casting and season planning. They do 30-some productions a year and plan out five seasons in advance, so it was also a big education.”
Trice stayed with the Met for a couple of years, but then returned to the corporate world, this time as a strategic growth associate for hedge fund D.E. Shaw. But in 2009, when the U.S. dove into recession, Trice and many of his co-workers were laid off. With hindsight as a lens, he now says the layoff was the best thing that ever happened to him.
“I got a great severance package and it meant I was able to not have to make any money for a year. Between that and what I’d saved, I was like, well okay! Let’s check out the theatre business.”
He set his sights on internships (“I was a 30-year-old intern!”) and landed one at a casting office, hoping to eventually be added to staff, but the casting company wasn’t hiring. Then at his second internship at entertainment production company Jeffrey Richards Associates, his past business, theatre and music experience, connections, and dumb luck aligned. While he was interning, he got wind that the Richards company was creating a stage production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. As it turned out, he had worked on a related film project (which never went into production) during his casting company internship. He saw his opening and took a shot.
“I basically marched into my boss’s office and told him, first of all, I’ve known every single note of Porgy and Bess since I was two years old. Then I told him that, thanks to my work with the Dallas Opera, the Met and the casting office, I also know who every black opera singer is in the world. I said, ‘So, you’re promoting me. Boss, you’re giving me a job here.’ And he did. Porgy and Bess was really the first project I worked on in earnest. And then from that, everything just sorta grew and grew.”
In addition to the three Tony Awards Trice has earned while working with Jeffrey Richards and partner Jerry Frankel (Best Play, 2014, All the Way; Best Revival of a Play, 2013, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; and Best Revival of a Musical, 2012, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), he has been nominated for or won additional major industry awards such as Drama Desk and Drama League awards every year for the past five years.
With Jeffrey Richards and Associates, Trice has produced 17 Broadway shows, including Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Fiddler on the Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and You Can’t Take It With You, as well as two West End (aka “Broadway of London”) productions and national tours for Porgy and Bess, Blithe Spirit (starring Angela Lansbury) and The Bridges of Madison County. He has worked with actors such as James Earl Jones, Marisa Tomei, Zachary Quinto, Cybill Shepherd and many others.
“It’s been a crazy streak of amazing luck,” said Trice. “Life happened, opportunity presented itself, and I took it.”
Meadows and career preparation
While an undergrad student at Meadows, Trice especially enjoyed his classes with Associate Professor of Music History Dr. Donna Mayer-Martin † and Professor of Voice Virginia Dupuy.
Dupuy, said Trice, became like family. He recalls that as he worked on his B.A. in music, they both figured out fairly quickly that he was unlikely to become an opera or concert singer.
“She immediately encouraged me to figure out what my path would be here,” said Trice. “A great thing about Meadows is that I was able to carve my own path and my own niche, and people were supportive.
“I staged a production in Taubman Atrium my senior year; every faculty member on the second floor overlooking Taubman put lamps in their windows to serve as set accents. There was support for being entrepreneurial, even outside traditional structures.
“They let me direct a concert opera in Caruth Auditorium the fall of my senior year and just let me run wild with it,” he said. “It was “L’Enfant et les Sortileges, performed with the full orchestra. Just to take the reins on that was incredible.
“I’d say that being able to direct a show and produce it is the most valuable management education you could ever get. There are a lot of moving parts. A lot of people. A lot of different kinds of people. Getting along with everybody to get a task accomplished — that’s probably the most important career skill you can take out of any school. And it’s hard to find management leadership opportunities anywhere early on.
“My opportunities at Meadows were big ones. Big and valuable.”
Read more about Meadows alumnus Will Trice, SMU Meadows Division of Music, Professor Virginia Dupuy, SMU Meadows Division of Theatre and Jeffrey Richards Associates.