By Leah Ferentinos
Broadway marketing guru and Harpur College alumnus Keith Hurd ’89 has made a career of promoting and producing theater. His work spans the gamut, from a four-year stint running the promotions for the most expensive musical in history, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” to immersive theater such as “Fuerza Bruta,” and other Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
Hurd, originally from Long Island, returned to his alma mater in the fall for a student/alumni-networking event co-sponsored by a Harpur College program, Harpur Edge, and the Binghamton University Theatre Department. Hurd took the time to dispense Broadway insider knowledge and describe his path to success for burgeoning theatre students.
“I grew up in and around music all the time,” he said. “My grandfather was a musical director and conductor and would hold rehearsals at our house. There were always singers and jazz musicians hanging around.”
Hurd explained how his family’s musical background, and particularly, his grandfather, Danny Hurd (musical arranger of “Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall” TV show from 1955–1961, Bob Fosse’s dance arranger, and musical director for “Hair” on Broadway), instilled in him a love of music and theater from an early age.
This led him to believe he’d follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, so he asked respected Broadway conductors how to break into the business. One of them recommended Binghamton. “He told me, ‘It’s a people business,’” Hurd said. “They expect you to have the talent, but in order to establish relationships with producers from all walks of life, you want a broader knowledge of liberal arts, too.”
And thus began his journey.
Over the years, Hurd has amassed a list of production credits and worked with a “who’s who” of theater royalty – with the likes of Victor Garber, Bebe Neuwirth, and Jerry Lewis in “Damn Yankees” (1994), Julie Andrews (and Liza Minnelli) in “Victor/Victoria” (1995), Audra McDonald in “Ragtime” (1998), Laura Benanti in “Swing” (1999), Mary-Louise Parker in “Proof” (2000), Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in “The Producers” (2001), Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out” (2002), Julie Taymor on “Spider-Man” (2010) and many others.
But he was once a college freshman, too.
“I still remember my first day,” Hurd said. “I knocked on the door of [the late] Susan Peters, who was the musical director of the Theatre Department at the time, and I said, ‘I would love to be your assistant, conduct a musical, work with you … anything.’”
Hurd followed through on that promise, volunteering for many Theatre Department productions as a pianist, assistant conductor and sound designer of plays during his time at Binghamton. But he didn’t end up majoring in theater, instead, choosing to initially focus on piano and composition in the music department, and then studying abroad for a year in Paris at the prestigious La Sorbonne.
Upon returning to Binghamton, Hurd’s academic credits from France transferred in under Romance Languages, so he finished his degree as a dual major in both music and romance languages and literature.
While in Binghamton over the summer taking one last class, Hurd began working for the Binghamton Summer Music Festival, an experience to which he credits much of his future career.
“That really prepared me for working in New York,” he said. “I was working with all these great artists and their managers — they didn’t know I was a student on the other end of the phone line.”
At the Binghamton Summer Music Festival, Hurd helped to promote popular acts such as Tony Bennett and Harry Belafonte, and to organize concerts in all genres, including jazz and classical.
“I was working from morning until night,” he said.
But Hurd rose to the occasion, successfully dealing with everything from contracts and logistics to box office receipts and marketing.
“This job afforded me the opportunity to work with the community, business owners, arts organization boards and musical artists, establishing deep ties and friendships with families in the Binghamton area that I continue to enjoy today,” he said.
After working there for two summers (1988–89), he realized that his strengths actually lied more in organizing and producing than composing. Despite having never envisioned he’d wind up in marketing, by graduation he’d already gained the skills of a professional arts promoter. This all happened outside the classroom.
“It shaped my life,” he said. “I had a unique and enriching experience at Binghamton because I had all of these professional experiences in addition to academic ones.” His big break in the world of Broadway came when good timing met preparation. He met a producer raising money for “Damn Yankees” and offered to help him. Once he’d raised the money, Hurd then went up to the musical’s lead producer and asked if he could be the production’s director of marketing and promotion.
“I just had no fear,” Hurd said with a laugh. But this was exactly what he’d been preparing for – and it paid off. The skills, experience and self-assurance Hurd developed at Binghamton have allowed him to work steadily on and off-Broadway for the past 25 years.
And now he wants to pay it forward, regularly helping up-and-comers get their foot in the door. In 2004, Hurd was awarded Binghamton University’s Distinguished Service Award for Fine Arts and Humanities. Recently, he took on a Binghamton University Theatre Department alumna as an intern to work with him on his newest projects, “The Marvel Experience” and the “Lord of the Rings” concerts at Lincoln Center; and his talk about giving back doesn’t stop there. For his presentation, Hurd also brought along actress Jennifer Sanchez to provide additional insight for those pursuing stage acting. Sanchez’s Broadway credits include leading roles in “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” and the 2009 revival of “West Side Story,” among others. They both took turns advising students on practical strategies for making it in the theater industry.
“You have to follow your heart and your passion, wherever that takes you,” Sanchez said. “If you get a great job that offers a lot of money, and you don’t feel invested, don’t do it.”
This can be universally applied to all careers, she explained.
“Be authentically you within the constraints of any industry,” Sanchez said. “The goal is not the job; the goal is to do your best work for any project. It’s your humanity, your talent, your gift; use it well.”
Hurd agreed, advising students not to sell themselves short. He explained how most production offices have great internship programs that can help you work your way up in theater.
“Theater is thriving right now,” Hurd said. “Every Broadway house is booked and people want to put money into shows. It’s still a good business to get into. It’s hard work but if you have the perseverance, there are jobs out there.”
Hurd explained there is more opportunity now because the abundance of stars in new plays, revivals of classics and historical jukebox shows are all bringing new audiences to Broadway. This newfound commercial success in theatre is one for which he’s incredibly appreciative.
“Broadway is an expensive ticket,” Hurd said. “The biggest compliment is having someone spend their hard-earned money — not on rent or food — but on a ticket to see your show to be entertained for a few hours.”
A sentiment he truly believes, as an avid theatergoer himself. In fact, during his work on “Ragtime,” Hurd can still recall moments when he slipped into the theater as often as possible just to hear six-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald perform a show-stopping number.
“I can still hear the audience’s response,” he said. “It was dramatic, gloriously musical, emotional and meaningful … and I knew why I loved being in this business.”
Last Updated: 3/1/17