Robert Viagas Interview by Jen Bush (Part I)
Robert Viagas is an editor, author, journalist and teacher with more than thirty-five years’ experience. Most of his experience has been working on Broadway with Playbill, Inc. where he has spearheaded numerous projects for them. He is the founding editor of Playbill.com, Playbill’s theatre news website. Mr. Viagas is an experienced broadcaster hosting satellite radio shows for Playbill. He’s a published author/editor of 22 books and is a nominator for the Tony awards. Topics of his books include biographies of Broadway notables, collaboration, The Fantastics and A Chorus Line. His latest book, Right This Way: A History of the Audience, puts the spotlight in the house instead of on the stage.
Art is created for audiences to enjoy. They remain in the shadows looking, listening and absorbing the art around them. They are not typically in the limelight. Robert Viagas changed that by honoring the people that support the art and the artists. Step right this way to learn more about this prolific artist who was kind enough to share some time and insights with us.
Mr. Viagas began wielding the power of the pen when he was a teenager. Working at a newspaper proved quite formative for him and informed the career path he would take. “I got my training as a newspaper reporter at Newsday, at various New York-area Gannett newspapers, and going all the way back to my teen, when I had a theatre-reviewing column in my late-lamented local weekly newspaper, the Franklin Square Bulletin. Along the way I learned discipline, how to do research and how to structure a large-scale project like a book.”
“No one-trick pony, I saw the potential of the online world to theatre and served as founding editor of the pioneering theatre news/features/etc. website Playbill.com. I created programming for the launch of the Broadway channel on what is now Sirius/XM and was its first newscaster. I also had training as a librettist in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop and have written several novels. But while my non-fiction has been published abundantly, my fiction has yet to face a printing press.”
“Right This Way: A History of the Audience, is my 22nd published book, either as author or editor. Virtually all my books explore different realms of the performing arts. Showing that theatre isn’t just something that happened long ago, but something that is very much alive and important now. Even my book of theatre ghosts deals with ghosts who are said to stalk darkened backstages today.”
“The process of artistic creation is fascinating to me. Humans are so flawed and fallible—yet they sometimes have the power to create something wonderful and practically perfect in every way. My goal as an author has always been to seek out the source of that power. I try to show how certain people of supernatural talent are able to spin the flax of human experience into gold.”
Being such a heralded name in the theatrical literary world, it’s no surprise that Mr. Viagas gets approached to work on projects. He develops other people’s projects and he creates his own. He likens his creative process to building a brick wall. “I’ve had publishers and performers bring ideas to my agent and to me and ask us to develop these ideas as books. But I also find that certain ideas just start whispering to me. My mind just makes up itself to tell a certain story. And then I simply become a researcher and typist for myself. Every big idea for a book is actually a bunch of smaller ideas that come in a cluster, just as a wall is made of bricks. I separate out those smaller ideas and arrange them in an order that makes sense. Each “brick” takes 30 to 90 minutes to write: basically, the length of time I can naturally sit still. I usually can do a couple of those a day. I just keep going until the wall is complete. Hopefully, it includes a picture window.”