Catherine and “Tony” on Broadway

Catherine Schreiber at her office in Pacific Palisades.	Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Catherine Schreiber at her office in Pacific Palisades. Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Between the time producer Catherine Schreiber left her home on Amalfi last week and arrived at her apartment on Park Avenue and 90th in New York City, she heard the news: she would be lead producer on a new play that will launch Off-Broadway.   This may sound strange for the recent Tony award-winner for ‘Clybourne Park,’ but it’s the first time Schreiber will be the big cheese. ‘I can’t announce this yet, it’s still new and papers need to be signed, but it’s just happening and so exciting,’ she told the Palisadian-Post. ‘Now I get to do the whole thing’get a director, cast’fun, fun, fun.’ Such is her life. Much like a pinball that must navigate circuitous obstacle-studded challenges, Schreiber speeds through the capriciousness of the high-stakes, money-powered entertainment business with the enthusiasm and hopefulness of a newbie. While her producer credits are relatively recent, Schreiber’s cluster of Broadway shows is impressive and includes the aforementioned ‘Clybourne Park’ and 2012 Tony nominee ‘Peter and the Starcatcher,’ and also this year ‘Stick Fly,’ a clash of culture drama concerning an African-American family who have a home on Martha’s Vineyard in the white section. Her 2011 Tony nominee ‘Scottsboro Boys,’ the final collaboration by musical theater giants John Kander and Fred Ebb (‘Chicago,’ ‘Cabaret’), is based on the notorious ‘Scottsboro’ case in the 1930s, in which nine African-American men were unjustly accused of a terrible crime. It arrives at the Ahmanson next spring. ‘There are different types of producers,’ Schreiber says: ‘One type simply wants you to bring money, not get involved at all. But because I’ve done it all, cleaning bathrooms, selling tickets, I want to do it all. I am also a collaborator. I figure everyone has something to offer; everyone has a skill.’ No doubt, Schreiber possesses the persuasive skills of a born producer, proudly recalling that she ran the auctions at Wildwood and Windward schools when her two children, now 21 and 24, were students. ‘I’m good at solicitations. ‘I figure wherever you spend money you can ask for money.’ Theater has always been an attraction. Schreiber was born and raised in Great Neck, Long Island and performed in plays through high school. An English major at Yale (1975), Schreiber stayed close to the stage, working with Wendy Wasserstein (‘Montpelier’s Pazazz’) and Meryl Streep, with whom she did a play at the Yale Cabaret. She also acted in original plays at the Williamstown Summer Festival in the Berkshires. After graduating, the next stop was New York, where she appeared in Off-Off Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Hudson Theatre Guild, while surviving by waitressing at the Bistro. In 1978, Schreiber moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and found work on stage and in film and television. She settled in an apartment in the Miracle Mile area and soon met her future husband, Miles Ruthberg, at a Yom Kipper Break Fast gathering. Now a corporate litigator with Latham and Watkins, he had noticed Schreiber years before while he too was a student at Yale. She was dating a fellow in the same residence house. They were married in 1986. The couple moved to Brentwood and started a family. Daughter Stephanie is in a post-baccalaureate program in medicine at Columbia and Jeremy is a senior in premed at the University of Pennsylvania. After several more moves, the family settled to the Riviera. While Schreiber intentionally shifted her focus towards her growing family, she had started writing, reconnecting with Joshua Grenrock her co-star in ‘Sleeping Giants’ at the Front Theatre in 1984. The collaboration has been productive, and from the sounds of it, lots of fun. Their breakout piece, ‘Desperate Writers,’ is only slightly exaggerated: A couple of writers have a script they believe in, a wonderful romantic comedy. Alas, rejection follows rejection, promises are made, but still no luck. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the female writer, Ashley, will do whatever it takes to get their script read. ‘Desperate Writers’ jumped Schreiber into a producing role. Anxious to get it produced, she raised the money and mounted it at the Edgemar Theatre in Santa Monica in 2008. ‘You can’t wait to make things happen,’ she says. ‘You just have to do it, otherwise we’d all be waiting a long time for things we truly want. ‘It was fabulous,’ Schreiber adds, referring to the gestalt of the opening night as much as to the success of the play. ‘Sidney Lumet’s wife was there and loved it, and I loved the fact that my kids were there and saw their mom on the stage.’ Catherine played in both the Edgemar production and the Off-Broadway premiere at the Union Square Theatre in 2011. Many theater impresarios dream of New York, America’s theater mecca, and so it has been with Schreiber, who finds herself these days thoroughly bi-coastal. New York is a theater town; it’s got the history, density and it’s not Hollywood. ‘Because New York is so dense and congested, people have your back,’ Schreiber says. ‘I felt included right away.’ She has developed a reliable list of theater contacts and has been able to raise significant amounts of money for shows she wanted to produce. Just this year, she was invited to be a full member of the Broadway League, the trade association of the Broadway industry, which qualifies her to join the 840 Tony-voting members. To qualify, you have to have raised at least $500,000. The 2010 production of ‘Scottsboro Boys’ offers insight into Schreiber’s zeal when she locks onto a story. ‘I got the script on a Friday,’ she recalls. I flew to Minneapolis (where the show was at the Guthrie Theater) and gave it to a young friend of my daughter’s to get her reaction. ‘I went to Alabama and met with the founder of the Scottsboro Museum and paid for her to come to New York for the opening in October 2010.’ After the performance, Schreiber had arranged a talkback moderated by news correspondent Jan Crawford that included Kathy Horton Garrett, the granddaughter of James E. Horton, the judge who risked his life and career when he refused to allow the death sentence be imposed in the second trial of Scottsboro defendant Haywood Patterson.   ’John Kander said it was the highlight of his life,’ Schreiber recalls. His collaborating partner lyricist Fred Ebb passed away in 2004. To top it all off, in March 2011, Schreiber was invited to give the keynote speech at the 80th anniversary of the Scottsboro Affair, and she was even presented with the key to the city. She would now like to see the story incorporated in school curricula, stressing that it’s a play of passion that remains true eight decades later. Schreiber’s future plans are swollen with ideas: she hopes to see ‘The King’s Speech,’ which she produced in London this year, make its way to Broadway. She has a film script that was developed at Disney that she says, ‘has everything in it to make a great musical. I want to get my films going, and I want to act in more shows’so much to do!’ Schreiber and her husband have carved out a life in New York that embraces city life’art, meetings, coffee with friends, and of course, the theater. ‘To relax, one of the best things in New York is the ability to walk everywhere,’ she says. ‘I take sneakers with me in my bags and try to walk a lot. I often walk from the Broadway area to my apartment. And she is really happy that her kids are on the East Coast. ‘Being bicoastal is very hard,’ she admits. ‘I wish the flight were shorter. I love the excitement of New York, but I love the bright light of the Palisades. I feel like I really relax when I come back to California.’