Larry Little is a producer and storyteller who created “Numbers Nerds” which is a play based on actual people who all have a passion for numbers. The play was based on Larry’s career as a Certified Public Accountant and it is also his 100th theatrical production.
Larry is also the lead producer of CPA Theatricals, an organization that produces plays for under-served populations and he is also the publisher of the blog “Everything Musical Theatre.” This play holds the distinction of being his 100th production.
Larry recently discussed his career, his plans for the future, and more in an exclusive interview:
Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: You are an accountant and a theatrical producer and you wrote the story for “Numbers Nerds,” so which came first and how did you get into both of these fields?
Larry Little (LL): Showbusiness came first. I went to a high school for the performing arts, and then I was a theatre major in college. Then I had a career in showbusiness until I was about thirty years old. I was an actor, singer and dancer and I then turned to directing. Finally, I took over for a friend as the producer for an area dinner theatre.
While I was directing and producing, I was also going to auditions for film, television and print ads. At one point, I booked a big print ad; it appeared everywhere in Chicago and around the state. And it made me some serious money! I realized having money is nice, so I set out to add a more stable career. My day job, while I was in theatre, was as a bookkeeper. So, one day I asked the CPA who supervised me if I should go back to school to become a CPA. She said that if I did, she would hire me! So, I left showbusiness, cried for a week, and became a CPA.
I was a CPA for over twenty years, first working for others, and then starting my own firm. But I never completely lost the bug so, after I had a chance to sell my CPA firm, I returned to showbusiness as a producer.
MM: “Numbers Nerds” is about young women and math, so what are your personal feelings about numbers?
LL: As I toyed with ideas that I could pursue as a producer, I realized I’d never worked on a “new musical” from the ground up. That idea intrigued me: to come up with an idea and shape it, move it along, and bring it to life. But I realized I had a lot to learn. I did a lot of research and the truth is that I had done a lot of favors for my theatre friends and theatre companies when I was in accounting. So, I called in a lot of chips! I talked to everybody I could find – my friends, and their friends – a wide range of theatre professionals, I read everything I could and one piece of advice kept coming back: start with what you know and, well, I know numbers!
Numbers make sense to me. I always loved that when you are finished with a math problem or an accounting issue, you know when you are done. But there’s more and as I brainstormed with all these friendly consultants of mine, I got a deeper insight. In the end, accounting is not just about numbers. It’s about using numbers to solve problems. In fact, I realized I was good as accountant because I’m good at problem solving. So, all of this started to distill into a key idea concerning a musical about numbers….and about problem solving…and about facing challenges and succeeding!
MM: “Numbers Nerds” is about an almost-all-girls team, so why did you do that?
LL: When I was getting advice from all my contacts who produce theatre, I asked them what kinds of shows they needed and over and over, they replied: “Get me a show with good roles for females.” In most musicals, a majority of the roles are for males but in high school and college programs, and in community theatre groups, a majority of the participants are female. We need more shows with lots of female roles. I thought it would be fun to develop a show for a largely female cast. But then, along the way, things shifted a bit. I had started by just focusing on a show with performance opportunities for women. But inevitably, as we shaped a plot for these actors, the story itself couldn’t help but focus on the special challenges for young women. From being a show for women, “Numbers Nerds” became a story about women. And finally, as we started workshopping the show, I discovered from the audience feedback, that I had landed at a story that is really important!
MM: Why is the story of “Numbers Nerds” so important today?
LL: Our show is about high school girls and math. After one of our workshop performances last summer, a woman came up to me and she said: “Thank you for doing a show like this. I taught math in high school. Now I teach math in middle school. And in my classes now, I have a lot of girls, smart, insightful, confident girls. But then something happens as they get older. They get into high school, and the girls drop out of math classes. They start to hide their talent, to doubt their ability. I wish all of my young students could see this show.” Well, this just blew me away!
Then, during the last school year, a theatre teacher was helping us develop the show by presenting a workshop version of it in her high school. After the show closed, she called me to tell me something very amazing had happened. She told me that the rest of the faculty usually ignored her work in theatre. But with this show, as the word spread around the school, the math and science teachers started asking her about it. They got really excited about the prospect of a show featuring girls and math. She told me the presentation of “Numbers Nerds” became a true school-wide event!
And one more example: After she saw one or our workshops, a teacher wrote me: “Your show gives voice to the young women who have struggled to find their way in the world.” That’s why this play is important!
MM: You have stated that some of the characters are inspired by actual people, do the inspirations know this?
LL: Some of the people do. I started with all the people I have met in my life, and who made impressions on me and, of course, people who made me laugh and were interesting. Along the way, as the show was in readings and workshops, some of the people who inspired aspects of the characters did come to see the show. And, I reminded them of the circumstances which inspired some of the ideas. The characters are really combinations of many people who have been in my life. Some are from my early childhood; others are from my high school and college years and afterward. Some of the people have passed on and some, I don’t know where they are today.
MM: Did you create this show all by yourself?
LL: Absolutely not! I’m a producer. I’m not a composer or a lyricist. So, after I wrote the original story for “Numbers Nerds” I went looking for a composing team My nonprofit organization, CPA Theatricals, ran a national search. Over fifty teams of composers, librettists and lyricists submitted examples of their work. Then, I hired some theatre professionals to guide me through the process of finding the right team. Based on their past work, we invited several teams to create a couple of songs that would serve this story. In the end, we found a great composing team in Chicago! Laura Stratford wrote the book, David Kornfeld wrote the music and Alex Higgin-Houser wrote the music. They are such talented writers! And as we were developing the show, Dylan MarcAurele came in to help write some additional music.
MM: You are the lead producer of a non-profit company called CPA Theatricals, what kind of plays do you mostly seek and how do you find scripts?
LL: Our mission is to bring musical theatre to an under-served audience. We started by doing a summer theatre workshop for high school students. Loyola University, who has been very generous to us, let us use their theatre. As the company is developing, I’m currently exploring several options for the next project. I’m delighted that I’m also getting approached by other theatre professionals with ideas for production.
MM: You’ve said your company serves under-served populations, how does this most recent play achieve that?
LL: When I did the research about creating a new musical, I decided that wanted to create a show that could go right to the secondary market – high schools, community theatres and colleges because that’s where those under-served populations are. That’s where the girls and women who want to perform and who lack enough vehicles are. That’s where we’ll contact the young women who can be inspired by the Nerds, their struggles, and their victories. So, from early on, my target has been that secondary marked. There are no plans for a Chicago or New York main-stage production. I want to get this show to the 40,000 high schools and 25,000 colleges, and 15,000 community theatres. That’s our target, because that’s CPA Theatricals’ mission.
MM: You also run a blog, so what might readers expect from that?
LL: I very reluctantly started this blog. I hired someone to help me with marketing and promotion and she insisted (rightfully so) that I needed to build my audience. And, since “Numbers Nerds” took a few years to develop, there was no audience yet. So, she told me I had to start a blog about musical theatre – all aspects. After all, I do have more than thirty years of experience – on both sides of the footlights. So, twice a week, I write this blog. So far, I have written about 150 blog posts, and they are about everything from lighting, make-up, casting, auditioning to Tony Award trivia. My favorite blog post was titled, “Ooooo My Eyebrows Hurt” – it was about someone I met who had their eyebrows tattooed! That led to a discussion about how theatre makeup is so important. And it prompted an interesting reply. One of my readers said, “My wife has been penciling in her eyebrows for forty years, I wish she knew about eyebrow tattooing back then – think about the time she would have saved. The rain is her enemy!”
MM: What are your goals for your play at the New York Musical Festival this summer?
LL: Since our ultimate goal is to bring this show to the secondary market, I am hoping that a licensing company will see the show and say, “Wow, this show is perfect for high schools, community theatres and colleges” and then give us a contract to license the show.
Let me add that, to meet the needs of licensing houses, we’ve developed two different versions of the show. The show that will be performed at the New York Musical Festival has six cast members (five girls and one boy). We have also developed the same show for a large cast – up to thirty. It’s the same story, same lead characters, same music, but with a chorus. So, there are several ways to sell the show and share the story of SMART GIRLS ROCK!