Rave Reviews: Jennifer Melin Miller Applied her Carlson MBA to Make Broadway History
Friday, July 12, 2019
Jennifer Melin Miller, ’08 MBA, may not have her name in the bright lights atop a Broadway marquee, but she is a force in the theater business. She has invested in some of the hottest shows on Broadway, including the new musical Hadestown. The show, based on Greek mythology, centers on the myth of Orpheus heading to the underworld to rescue Eurydice.
As a co-producer of Hadestown, Miller became a Tony-Award winner for Best Musical, one of eight awards the production took home this year. Growing up, her mother and grandmother loved the theater and they’d make frequent trips to the Ordway to see the latest productions, but never in her wildest dreams did she think she would win a Tony Award.
“It’s very surreal,” she says. “It takes a huge village of people to make a Broadway production happen, and I’m just happy to be a small part of it.”
Applying a Business Degree to the Arts
Miller’s foray into theater production started as a passion business, more than anything. Early in her career when she worked in media in New York City, she often visited the TKTS booth in Times Square to find discount tickets to various productions.
After a dozen years in the Big Apple, Miller relocated to the Twin Cities. After completing her Carlson MBA, Miller made her first investment in the theater on a show called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a play that would eventually find its way on Broadway and take home five awards at the 2015 Tony Awards, including Best Play.
“I thought maybe there was something here,” she says. “So I started learning more about the business and doing a lot of research, seeing a lot of shows, and networking.”
Miller started making her own investments in a variety of productions, and forming her own production company, North Star Theatricals. Shortly after she started a partnership called Stone Arch Theatricals, where, as managing partner along with seven others, she invests and produces commercial theater with the team.
It was with that group that she and two others co-produced Hadestown.
On a trip to New York City in 2016, Miller saw the now-Tony Award winning musical at the New York Theater Workshop, an off-Broadway theater. From the first scene, she was hooked.
“I went back to the ticket booth at intermission and said ‘These are the three other times I’m going to be in New York. I need a ticket for this show for these three days,’” she says. “I was that moved. I fell in love with the piece and have been involved with it ever since.”
Knowing What Makes a Broadway Hit
When she’s looking for a production to invest in, Miller has a list of about 25 different criteria that she’ll look for that she thinks might make the play or musical successful. As an avid theater goer who sees about 100 productions a year, she says it’s partially science but it can be difficult to predict what will be commercially successful.
Part of Miller’s mission is to bring new voices to the Broadway stage. Hadestown, for instance, became the first Best Musical winner in history with an exclusively female writer-director team.
“There’s a need for diversity in leadership on Broadway so if I’m going to be put my name on something, I want to support women and people of color,” she says.
She and her team also look for new works and stories that resonate well. Miller mentions what she calls “the cry test.” If she gets to see a production and she’s moved to tears, she knows it’s going to be a good show. Though it sounds silly on its surface, Miller has her reasons for using the test.
“People want to go to the theater and feel something,” she says. “I know that’s what I’m in the search for myself. What is going to be the story that’s going to make me really feel something and be touched and be moved? It could be the music or the performances are so amazing. It could be really relating to the story of a character. Sometimes you’re really surprised by something and sometimes it’s just sad. But it’s very cathartic when you have that kind of emotion. That’s one of the reasons why people want to see theater.”
“People want to go to the theater and feel something. I know that’s what I’m in the search for myself. What is going to be the story that’s going to make me really feel something and be touched and be moved? It could be the music or the performances are so amazing. It could be really relating to the story of a character. Sometimes you’re really surprised by something and sometimes it’s just sad. But it’s very cathartic when you have that kind of emotion. That’s one of the reasons why people want to see theater.”
Applying Carlson School Skills
Miller uses her MBA in all her production valuations by analyzing all the offering documents, including recruitment charts and budgets, to see if the show might be successful. Her degree added depth to her financial and accounting skills, while her participation in the Ventures Enterprise provided her best practices, frameworks, and methodologies crucial for identifying and evaluating new ventures.
“That experience really brought me to a different level and gave me the tools that helped me recognize opportunities, whether it’s a company I’m going to consult in or it’s going to be a company I invest in,” she says.
As a graduate, Miller continues to be involved with the Carlson School. She recently gave a generous donation to support WE*, a group that supports entrepreneurship and startups headed by women.
Supporting women-led ventures—not only in theater, but business as well—is a driving force for Miller and she wants to encourage more women to develop big business ideas and get the same access as men do.
“The more we can invest in women the better. I truly believe that women-led businesses are not only really important, but oftentimes more successful,” she says. “Anything I can do to help give women the confidence and resources they need to be successful that way.”
When she’s not at the theater, Miller is also an investor and strategic advisor for a luxury footwear company called Marion Parke Footwear. After graduating with her MBA, Miller joined her husband’s family business, Minnetonka Moccasin.
Meanwhile, she plans to continue to seek out that next big hit on Broadway.
“This whole ride has been nothing short of magical and a dream come true,” she says.