Audible Theater at the Minetta Lane celebrated its fifth anniversary September 18 as an Off-Broadway institution. And some stage favorites were on hand to commemorate the audiobook giant's pivot into theatre. The event featured performances from Laura Benanti, Solea Pfeiffer, Sinfolk (Gabriel Ruiz and J), David Yazbek, and Erik Della Penna. It also featured remarks from Colman Domingo, Santino Fontana, Madhuri Shekar, and Michael Cruz Kayne.
At the event, Audible Founder Don Katz made some remarks, where he described his founding principles for Audible and why theatre was a key part of the company's mission: "The idea was always to invite the culture’s most gifted artists to cross over into a world that harked back to the primal pleasures of being read to as a child, and to create a mainstream media category defined by a singular aesthetic."
Since its founding in 2018, Audible has produced 42 live shows, released 114 theatrical works on Audible, commissioned 50 playwrights through its $5 million Emerging Playwrights Fund, and received 35 award nominations and 13 wins (including Tony, Lortel, Drama Desk, and Audie Awards). Audible was also a producer on a number of Broadway shows—include The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Fat Ham, Sea Wall/A Life, and Latin History for Morons.
The head of Audible Theater, Kate Navin, also announced an expansion of their programming—including that three of its upcoming shows will be recorded and released on Audible. Their upcoming fifth anniversary season will include its first-ever musical, Dead Outlaw (created by the Tony-winning team of The Band's Visit, Itamar Moses, David Yazbek, and David Cromer—with lyrics by Erik Della Penna) and a solo show by Tony winner Laura Benanti.
See photos from the event below.
Katz also provided Playbill with his remarks from the evening in full, which we have reprinted below.
The idea that became Audible began to distract and often consume me back in 1994. I could not stop thinking about the idea of conveying to others the music I heard when I read fluent prose or listened to profound soliloquies full of artfully composed words.
I was a writer then, lucky enough to have a full-time career writing for 20 years, and from this came a founding element of the original vision for the company: to unleash the power of well-composed and well-performed spoken words, and to do this by connecting directly to the professional creative class. The idea was always to invite the culture’s most gifted artists to cross over into a world that harked back to the primal pleasures of being read to as a child, and to create a mainstream media category defined by a singular aesthetic.
Early on, I managed to convince Audible Originals pioneers like Robin Williams and Ricky Gervais that their performances would be characterized by a seductive intimacy empowered by new digital devices and delivery systems Audible invented. I argued that their listeners would perceive their words as private performances.
During the early phases, Audible positioned books as scripts, and we invited many of the world’s greatest performers to offer nuanced interpretations. I remember preaching to our editors that we needed to look to the critical vocabulary of theatre when we described Audible books, because theatre’s vocabulary embraced not just the writer’s script, but the performance, direction and production values too.
Throughout 2016 I discussed the vision for Audible Theater with many people outside Audible I admired. I was able to gain insight from my longtime hero, Sir Tom Stoppard; from one-person show innovators like Whoopi Goldberg and Bette Midler; from future Audible Theater stars like Alan Cumming; always from my theatre-obsessed wife Leslie; and from notable theatre insiders like Page 73 Founder Liz Jones and the impresario and dramaturg Oskar Eustis.
In early 2017 we hired the theatre expert Kate Navin, and things began to roll.
Some of the greatest stage actors had already crossed over to become the most successful interpreters of books, and Kate and others all felt assured that underemployed and sometimes overly talented playwrights would be able to grasp the power of the Audible aesthetic—something screenwriters had often struggled to do.
A few months before the Audible Minetta Theater opening, after Audible had launched the Emerging Playwrights Fund, my friend Oskar Eustis introduced me at a New York Stage and Film event and thanked Audible for stepping up to support theatre while the government contributes too little. I got up and said that, actually, part of the vision for Audible Theater included providing theatre with a sustaining revenue stream it clearly needed. I noted that a ticket to a football or baseball game would cost thousands of dollars, much more than the then-recently-opened Springsteen on Broadway, If not for various electronic revenue sources like television. The Audible logo could be on any poster outside a theatre, like the old “Intel Inside” logos on PCs, helping shows to be heard by tens of millions of people.
For all of the progress we are here to celebrate tonight, that vision is still in the works.
But if I’ve learned anything as I reflect with pride and gratitude on my crazy idea born so long ago—as Audible touches the lives of so many millions of people in 47 languages around the world; as Audible has conveyed to listeners the work of 600,000 different performers and writers over the past five years alone; as Audible Theater has achieved 114 separate productions including award-winners and international Audible listener hits, releasing 40 during the 18-month COVID theatre lock down era alone … I’ve learned that our “missionary agents of change,” as the company’s guiding People Principles describes the kinds of leaders built to lead the Audible adventure forward, will continue to slalom around risk and even institutional resistance to chase great big visions of the possible like this one.
Thank you to everyone for being here tonight, and thank you to the stunningly talented artists and other theatre talent here tonight for being part of Audible Theater.
Audible is owned by Amazon.com and has more than 800,000 audio titles, ranging from audio books, podcasts, and Audible Original works.