Producer on the run

Raquel Lehman lounging in the Lounge Theatre. Photo by Alan Castro
Raquel Lehman lounging in the Lounge Theatre. Photo by Alan Castro

Juxtaposed against her thin frame and bubbly personality, Racquel Lehrman plays a leading role in theater entertainment. Despite being almost 3,000 miles from New York, she is bringing Broadway to Southern California.

Theater is Lehrman’s greatest passion. Her goal is to help keep the art alive as she runs her own production company in Los Angeles.

She believes in the personable touch that theater presents to the audience as well as the many different manners in which they can express something. To her, sitting through a show is all about observing how the director chooses to convey a story without the shams seen on television.

“There’s nothing more real than right then and there. Someone is having a moment with another actor and telling a story in front of you. Anything can happen,” Lehrman says. “It’s truly magical. On any given night, it changes and there’s so many different ways to tell a story in theatre.”

Lehrman began her career in California after leaving New York for a change of scenery. She noticed there were more theater opportunities in California and that people were taking on more roles than they should. A single person may have been producing, directing and acting in one particular play. It was then that Lehrman recognized the need for more theater producers in California.

After posting flyers in a theater to advertise her work, she got her first gig producing for a show in that same venue.

“God knows what they paid me, I didn’t care. I was just happy that somebody was actually paying me for this idea that I had just thought of. It was a business idea that I thought, ‘I think this might work,’” Lehrman says.

This lone idea was what fired up her company Theatre Planners fourteen years ago.

With her first show under her belt, Lehrman’s business began to expand. Working on different projects provided more opportunities, which led to her philosophy of “shows breed shows.”

Shortly after, the producer’s unreserved exuberance landed her in a different business—public relations.

During a meeting with a potential client, Lehrman was asked if she worked in public relations and if she could manage to get the theater in contact with the Los Angeles Times. She responded yes. As the words were coming out of her mouth, Lehrman began to stress over the fact that she had never actually worked in the field before.

Following the encounter, Lehrman ran to her studio apartment, crawled under her covers and began to cry. Self-doubt began to poison her thoughts and sapped her confidence. However, her persistence pushed her to take on the challenge.

For Lehrman, the experience serves as a defining moment in life. She had two options: give up or start calling the LA Times and other major publications, and start a list, which she did.

“That’s how I landed in publicity. By opening my big mouth,” Lehrman says.

After eight years in public relations, her business had grown substantially. Lehrman began working on several different shows a year and was eventually faced with a decision: continue to pursue both public relations and producing or focus on one. She chose to dedicate her talents to producing after realizing she felt more fulfilled putting on shows than promoting them.

About 80 percent of the works Lehrman’s company produces are original pieces. She takes pride in the rewarding feeling she receives after fulfilling a client’s vision and making it come to life. Her day usually starts when a client comes to Lehrman with a script. It is her job to animate the manuscript and, in approximately three months, it is on stage.

“Creatively, we’re making a baby. You’re making a one of a kind. That’ll never be recreated again,” Lehrman says. “That’s why I love original work and that’s why I never get bored of opening night; because you just gave birth.”

Operating anywhere between 15 to 20 shows a year, Lehrman credits both her creativity and her colleagues for her success.

“From one moment to the next, I’m tuning my creativity to change how I’m thinking. There are so many creative people I interact with everyday, working with [them], they spark my juices and it gets me going everyday. It’s very cool to try to meet those challenges,” Lehrman says.

Lehrman believes the challenges she faces are what motivates her to keep going. With obstacles such as time constraints, budgets and, sometimes, limited resources, she enjoys that her career keeps her on her toes.

Lehrman also serves as both an administrative producer and a mentor for young, aspiring producers. Long-time colleague and associate professor of theater, Michael Gend touches on the tributaries that flow from her organization.

“Part of her company’s mission is to help artists who have an idea for a production and want to produce their first play, but don’t have the technical know-how or the experience,” Gend says. “She fosters new producers that then set off on their own and are very inspired by the process and want to continue further.”

Amber Bruegel, former Pierce College student and current venue manager for Lehrman, can attest to the claim.

“She’s very knowledgeable about how theater works and she’s a great company to work for. She loves teaching new young ones the ways,” Bruegel says. “You learn a lot working underneath her and it’s a fast-paced environment, which I think is great.”

Although she is a successful producer, Lehrman does not plan to pursue anything other than theater. She has no desire to move on due to her passion for what she does.

“My husband often says to me ‘you’re such a good producer, go make more money in television or film’ but that genre just doesn’t interest me. I don’t know that world, I don’t care to learn it. I’m a theater gal; it’s who I am. And anyone else that’s a theater person just understands that,” Lehrman says.

Despite living in an area with little to offer in the performing arts, others in the field have taken note of her success. Gend expresses his admiration stating that her “dedication and stamina is impressive.”

“I think she’s done really well, especially in a community like Los Angeles that’s really television and film dominated. To run a successful theater producing company is no small fee. It takes a lot of work on dedication because we’re not like New York City or some other cities throughout the country where theater is a more thriving culture,” Gend says. “Theater is more underground in Los Angeles.”

Theater is where Lehrman pictures herself for the long haul. It is where she constantly feels the adrenaline of being challenged and getting things done despite the obstacles along the way.

The performing arts allows her greater freedom to express herself everyday. Lehrman lives her life out of the norm, which she prefers.

“We’re creatures of habit. People don’t want to try new things but it’s an experience. In my life, I want to keep trying new experiences and every show is a different experience,” Lehrman says.