BWW Interviews: John Capo - From Broadway's PR to the Internet's RAs
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by Joseph F. Panarello
When a person handles public relations for legitimate productions that are running in New York City or elsewhere, they are accustomed to setting up in-person interviews with various cast members of their shows and the media. These interviews result in positive exposure and become a vital form of publicity for the vehicle which is being promoted.
John Capo, of John Capo Public Relations, represents such shows as the long-running THE FANTASTICKS and PERFECT CRIME, as well as such seasoned Broadway performers as Ron Raines who is currently starring opposite Bernadette Peters in the much ballyhooed revival of Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES. Very often Capo will sit in on an interview he's arranged but when it came time for him to talk about a new project that he's created, he expressed a certain amount of trepidation. This was a bit awkward as he would be talking to someone he's worked with on many occasions. Still, he would be in the proverbial "hot seat" and he expressed his wariness.
Meeting for dinner at Joe Allen's, right in the heart of the theater district, Capo did seem a tad uncomfortable in the first few moments of the conversation. That changed, however, by the time the first course was brought to the table and the young publicist relaxed into what almost amounted to a stream-of-consciousness about himself, his career and his new venture into writing and directing the web series called THE RAs, which was set to premiere on September 8th on iTunes.
Born in the borough that Betty Smith immortalized in her charming novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Capo still resides there by choice. "I was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn," he says, "but we quickly moved to Bay Ridge when my brother was born. Our apartment wasn't big enough and we needed a house. At that time Bay Ridge was basically Italian and Greek -particularly Greek-and it had very much of a ‘neighborhood feel' to it. By that I mean people came out of their houses with pots of coffee and sat on their steps to enjoy it. We knew everyone on the block and there were kids everywhere. Everyone was trusted and every family was respected. It was safe and we'd go outside in the summer at nine in the morning and not head back home until dinner. Dinner wasn't always at your house, though; it could have been a friend's home and the place was set for you at the table. It was a nice feeling."
"There's a joke I hear that goes, ‘People from Brooklyn don't leave Brooklyn'. I don't know how accurate that is but there's a very nice feeling when I leave my office in Manhattan and travel by subway for an hour to go home. Across the street from my apartment building is the Narrows Bay with the Verrazano Bridge to the left and to the right is the Statue of Liberty. There are sailboats going by and who thinks of that as Brooklyn? It's a really special feeling. I love Manhattan and the pulse of the city but it's really good to go home and be on a different wavelength," Capo states.
There are many people who have horror stories to share about their experiences as students in Catholic schools, but not John Capo. "I went to parochial schools for a full twelve years. Grammar school was very strict," he says. "It was run by two nuns; Sister Lora and Sister Jean--who I have come to respect. They did a lot of great things which I didn't realize the value of when I was going through it. Speaking from a strictly non-religious point of view, they pushed us to do our best and I was lucky to get that encouragement. When I was experiencing it all, it did seem a little strict: especially when my friends in other schools were not getting that same sort of experience. It sounds corny but twenty years later, it matters. It made a difference."
Capo pauses and sips his drink before continuing. "I realized that on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. I was home talking to my mother and someone's name from elementary school came up. Mom asked if I'd heard from So-and-So and I had because of Facebook. Then another name came up and before we knew it we were looking through Facebook and checking out twelve or fifteen people and every single person seemed to have an amazing life. Whether they were married with children or whether they were lawyers or in the entertainment business or the Marines, everyone seemed to be doing well. Literally. I looked up twelve people and every single one of them has, seemingly, a successful life. That's not a coincidence."
Capo attended a parochial high school and took part in their plays during his freshman and sophomore years. In his junior and senior years, though, he was directing. He doesn't remember the exact conditions of how this happened. "My first play was THE ODD COUPLE and my second was A FEW GOOD MEN-something that wasn't the usual fare for parochial high schools, but it was well received," he recalls.
Going on to SUNY Purchase, Capo joined their film and theatre conservatory. "I got a BFA in Dramatic Writing," he explains. "I concentrated in film and stage writing." He continues, "I graduated from Purchase and started my own theatrical Production Company which ran for about five years. We produced my original plays as well as plays written by others and some revivals. We were in all the festivals as well as in small and medium sized houses around the city. We did well and got a lot of good press. You know, it's a constant hustle and it's a lot of money; you put up plenty of money to put up a show the right way and you don't make it back because of certain unions and their contracts. I did it for five years and I realized that I was tired of begging people to come to see the shows. Oh, the artistic stuff is wonderful but the business side isn't that much fun. So I stopped."
Capo found himself employed by Theater Works USA, a touring company that specializes in children's theater. "They do some of the best work I've ever seen," he recalls. "Some of their shows were downright incredible. Kids would watch the shows and never even realize they were being educated. They were just that entertaining. I worked in their Development Department where I did my share of fund raising and grant writing-whatever needed to be done, basically."
While he was involved with Theater Works, Capo began to realize he really did love the theater industry and began to assess his strengths. "My number one skill," he discovered, "is that I loved to write. I wanted to stay in the business end of the theater. Most of my experience was in creative writing at that point or dramatic writing. I felt that I could probably transfer my skills over to the business side of show business. I'd been doing PR since I was sixteen because that's when I started directing. I thought I'd learn how to formally do it and looked around at various schools. It turned out that NYU was starting a Master's program in public relations. It was something that not too many schools offered. So while I was involved with Theater Works I was going to NYU. It was a decent program where I learned the basics on how to write a press release and plenty of things about what NOT to do as a publicist. In many instances, it came down to gut feeling but there were plenty of nuts and bolts that I was able to learn. It was a two year program and I got through one year and felt really confident, so I began to apply for jobs. The first ad I responded to was for some Off Broadway shows that were looking for a publicist. It turned out to be the shows playing at the Snapple Theater Center: THE FANTASTICKS and PERFECT CRIME. I submitted my resume, I went in for an interview on a Thursday, got the job on Friday and started working on Monday. I also dropped out of NYU on Tuesday."
Capo has since branched out and formed his own business. "I represent several Off Broadway shows, theater companies and some individual personalities. It's going really well. Working Off Broadway is a challenge for everyone; actors take a big pay cut, you know. Off Broadway is not a desirable place to work unless you really love theater. I love to work. I don't want to be the publicist who's a gatekeeper. I don't want to be the guy who's pushing you away from my clients, either. I want to be the guy who's coming up with innovative ideas and pitching different story angles that perhaps no one has thought of before. It's hard."
John Capo's penchant for writing has led him to explore yet another aspect of writing: he'swritten and directed the new web mini-series called THE RAs, which premieres on iTunes starting on September 8th. What sparked Capo to develop something like this? "About a year ago I got an e-mail from SUNY Purchase advising me that effective immediately they were abandoning the dramatic writing program. Now the way Purchase is set up, it's a conservatory with concentration on acting, dance, film, design and writing. Their reputation is based on some outstanding alumni: Parker Posey, Melissa Leo, Edie Falco, Stanley Tucci -they are all people who have come out of the school in the past 20 or 25 years. When I went there I was really excited that I was accepted. There were about eight of us in the program It was all new and I got a lot out of it. Here we were nine years later and they were giving up on dramatic writing. I felt it hadn't been given a fair shake like the other programs which seem to turn out some really celebrated people. It really pissed me off because I loved the school and could easily say that my four years there were the best four years of my life."
Capo pauses for a moment before continuing, "I thought about what I could do to try to perhaps give some credibility to the select few people who had graduated from the program in the last nine years. At the same time I had been hearing about this nebulous area of entertainment known as the ‘Web Series' or ‘Web TV'. I didn't really know what it was.. I soon found out that people from all walks of life-including some very established Hollywood people-- are writing, directing and self-producing these shows on the internet. Believe it or not, lots of people watch them! Now maybe the people who view these things don't look like you or me-they're probably a lot younger and they don't care if they're watching a good show on the web or on the TV, or on their cellphone. They don't care where they're watching. They're just watching a good show. Lisa Kudrow has done a Web series and so has Zach Galifianakis. These are performers who don't need the exposure or the money. There's a market for this. I view this as what Off Broadway used to be, meaning that it's a place where you can go and be independently creative. It's also a place where the writer can really control the story. In this case, I'm also the producer and supervising the casting as well. I've had control of the whole thing."
Capo continued, "The best thing about it is that it's on the web for free and you don't have to beg your friends to come see it. You don't have to rent a theater, either. It's for the whole world to see completely free of charge. I've got to tell you, though, we've got some great actors. Jackie Hoffman is in my cast. I knew her manager through e-mails and that sort of thing and I mentioned this to him. I'd written the role of a crazy, eccentric acting teacher who was hyper-sexual and knew she'd be great in it. He asked for a copy of the script and sent it to her. Within a week she'd joined our cast."
Working with Hoffmann was a real delight for Capo. "She just did it," he says. "She came in like a total pro and filmed her scenes. She worked beautifully with all the young actors that she'd never met before and didn't ask a question about it. She totally ran with it. She was absolutely lovely about it. She's really funny!"
The cast of THE RAs is quite large. It consists of 45 people who have Broadway, soap opera and reality TV experience. "It's a big show," Capo states happily. "We run for ten episodes and it really amounts to being a feature film that has been broKen Down into ten segments. It's nearly two hours of content. You know many Web Series are comedies, but this is not. It's a drama about a group of juniors in a performing arts college. They come of age against the backdrop of all the events of the late 90's. You have the Columbine massacre, the death of Matthew Shepard, OJ Simpson, Monica Lewinsky, Timothy McVeigh -all the things that defined my generation until 9/11. Those were our cultural touchstones. An older generation might remember where they were when man first walked on the moon, I remember where I was when they said, ‘Not guilty' to OJ."
Obviously THE RAs has given a genuine sense of artistic fulfillment. Not only did his enthusiasm for the project bubble over in his conversation, but a few days after the conversation he posted on Facebook :" Well, just sat back on the couch and watched The RAs for the first time, from the pilot through to the season finale. Six months of writing, producing, casting, filming and post. A cast and crew of more than 50 people, done. There it is, a real-life DVD on my coffee table." All of his work, artistic sense and commitment to the project seem to have paid off in the finished product. It won't be the last creative project for John Capo either. Surely he'll be giving many more interviews to promote them.
THE RAs begins its life on iTunes on September 8th.