There is no linear path to a successful career in Broadway. It can often feel like joining the circus. But those who have a yearning to enter this industry can’t imagine any other path. In my opinion, it’s one of the most vibrant and inspiring careers out there.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Presser.

Michael Presser is the Founder and Executive Director of Inside Broadway, a New York City based non-profit professional theatre company for youth now celebrating its 40h anniversary season. He founded the organization was in 1982 at the invitation of Bernard B. Jacobs, the late President of The Shubert Organization, Inc., as an effort to create a student ticket program for the Broadway musical Cats.

Today, Inside Broadway develops and produces touring musical productions as well as a wide range of educational programs that allow students to interact with professionals in the field and experience theatre hands-on in the classroom. More than 75,000 students in 90 schools in all five boroughs participate each year in Inside Broadway’s programs. Over its 40-year history Inside Broadway had reached nearly 3 million students with arts and education programming.

Mr. Presser has also worked extensively in the commercial concert and artist management fields, having served as a consultant to the Geneva Opera, Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, The National Theatre in Prague, Theatre des Westens in Berlin, Theatre Aachen and Gaudi Musicals in Cologne. He has also served such notable artists as Karl Richter, Carlos Montoya, Peter Nero and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

He has been an active participant in New York City community affairs for over 30 years as a member of Manhattan Community Planning Board # 5 and has previously served as its Chairman. He has also served on The Mayor’s Midtown Citizens Committee: Times Square Alliance; 34th Street Partnership and for 20 years as a Trustee and former President of The Town Hall Foundation.

He is the recipient of the 2000 Heart to Heart Encore Award for community service in the Times Square Theatre District, the 2005 Theatre Museum Award for Arts in Education, the 2007 Broadway Beacon Award for his work with New York City schools and the 2010 TRU Humanitarian Awards for his efforts in developing new audiences for the theatre. He has also been honored by The Broadway League and the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds for over 25 years of service to the Broadway industry.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Philadelphia and was blessed to have outstanding cultural institutions nearby, including the Miller Theater (formerly known as the Merriam Theater and prior to that the Shubert Theatre), The Academy of Music, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Pennsylvania Ballet. When I was 10 or 11 years old, my parents started bringing me along to live theater. My earliest theatre experience was a pre-Broadway tryout of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady. As a young boy, it was an extremely exciting evening, and the show left an indelible mark on me. Introducing children to arts and culture and live entertainment at a young age is extremely valuable. You set the seed early and give the next generation the opportunity to experience the beauty and magic of Broadway.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia, I decided that I needed to explore life outside of the City of Brotherly Love. With Philadelphia’s proximity to New York City, I made frequent trips to see the NYC Ballet, The Met Opera and of course Broadway. I wanted to explore the possibility of a career in the arts, so I just started networking as much as possible after graduation and sending my resume to anyone in the industry who was kind enough to make time for me. My first position was with RCA Records in their “complaints department.” Every morning, my job was to open letters mailed from all over the U.S., read them, and then address each concern. While at RCA Records, I had the good fortune to also work as an usher at The Met Opera in the evenings, which I absolutely adored. Not only was I able to witness some of the greatest operas and performances, but also had the opportunity to observe different departments within the opera house, from set design to PR to development. That’s the way I learned how this business runs.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are several. And I feel very fortunate to have had several mentors and colleagues who have helped me throughout my career. No one person has had all the answers per se, but I’ve met various people at different points in my life who were great resources along the way. I do however want to mention the late Bernard Jacobs and Gerald Schoenfeld, President and Chairman of The Shubert Organization, who were very influential and significant leaders in the Broadway industry and gave me the opportunity to launch Inside Broadway.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Over the course 40 years there have obviously been many situations and individuals that could fill up this entire interview. However, in thinking back over these years, I fondly remember my very brief but important dealing with the record producer David Geffen. When we started to produce our educational video Broadway Backstage, I came up against a real problem: how to include music from the show CATS in the video. The rights to the music were controlled by Mr. Geffen’s record company Geffen Records, and I had no funds to purchase them. A video which was going to feature a Broadway show needs to have some music from the show. I was stuck. I decided to take a chance and write a request letter to Mr. Geffen asking for a donation to enable us to use the music. Remarkably, a week later, a $5,000 check arrived from his company. The video had been saved. Several months later I ran into Mr. Geffen at a restaurant and personally thanked him for his assistance. He was very gracious and wished me good luck with the project. The moral of this story, always ask for help, because you never know from what source it might arrive.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I started to assemble the CATS student ticket program, I had arranged for very important elected officials to be invited to opening night of the musical in October 1982 at the Winter Garden Theatre. However, I was stunned when I found out on the afternoon of the opening night when the show’s press office called to say that there was only one pair of tickets available and not two. I thought, ‘oh dear.’ Now, I’m in this uncomfortable situation of rescinding an invitation. I decided to make a personal trip downtown and stand in the lobby of City Hall to say in person that this elected official, who had been very supportive of our organization, could not attend after all. However, he was very gracious. We arranged for him to attend another performance and even to bring him backstage at CATS to meet the cast. There are often times when situations are out of your control — especially in theater. The best course of action is to be honest. And the show always goes on.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

From opening night of CATS and for 18 and a half years, I was fortunate to been given the opportunity from The Shubert Organization to create a student ticket program to welcome public schools across the five boroughs every week to attend a Wednesday matinee of CATS for free. From there, I launched Inside Broadway, a nonprofit introducing the magic and profession of Broadway to NYC public school students — many of whom have never seen a Broadway show — for free. Now that we’re in our 40th anniversary year, we are planning a number of events to honor the tremendous history of our organization.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

Rejection, lack of support and failure are inevitable in everyone’s career and in every business. It’s better to accept that and then look beyond it. For young people who are interested in Broadway, or any career, you need to plan for the long haul. Sometimes it’s a long game to get a sense of real achievement unless you see things through. And things often take time. I see folks starting off in the industry tend to hop around with a string of short-time jobs. You have to be committed and invest the time and energy, while also having a realistic sense of how to achieve the career goals that are fulfilling for you.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Professional burnout is no different in this industry than any other, and that comes when people feel their situation is unchangeable. When you’re feeling close to that ‘burn out’ moment, it’s a good time listen to yourself and take a moment to remember why you are doing this job. Most of us in this industry are in it because we’re passionate about what we do, our mission, and the beauty of Broadway. It gives us energy and the reason to continue what we do every day.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Identify the things you are most passionate about and pursue them. That will lead you to the right career path.

Jump in and get started. You won’t always get your dream job when you begin. But get your feet wet and see where it leads you. Life is often a domino effect.

Successful people in any industry are those who have a clear vision of their career and what they want to accomplish as professionals. So, see the path and opportunities that appear before you. And adapt as you need along the way.

Network, network, network. Be open to meeting new colleagues, contacts, and resources. And be sure to give back that time. If you’re fortunate enough to have had a mentor starting up in your career, be sure to do so with the next generation.

There is no linear path to a successful career in Broadway. It can often feel like joining the circus. But those who have a yearning to enter this industry can’t imagine any other path. In my opinion, it’s one of the most vibrant and inspiring careers out there.

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skillsets you need in a theater performance are different than the skillsets you need for TV or Film?

We have movie industry folks who make appearances on Broadway — some of whom are successful and some who are not. Those who are not successful often don’t fully understand the difference of being in front of a camera vs. performing in front of a live audience eight times a week. On TV or film, the director makes all the artistic choices. But in live theater, the actor has to recreate the character each night. It’s a real challenging acting situation that forces the actor to establish a relationship with the audience each night. Those who are able to make that successful transition between TV and Broadway, such as Hugh Jackman or Nathan Lane, understand how to talk to and work with a live audience.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

When Bernie Jacobs asked me to develop the CATS ticket program, I had no idea that 40 years later I would be sitting here and talking with you. I thought if I do a good job, maybe they’ll give me something else to do. I had no aspirations to create an institution at that moment. But, if Bernie Jacobs asks you do something, you do it. Since our nonprofit’s inception four decades ago, we have welcomed nearly three million New York City public school students to Broadway and introduced kids and young adults to the magic of live theater. It has been a privilege to have brought live theatre into the lives of so many young people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As the head of a nonprofit, I learned through observation how to lead an organization from the legendary Bernie Jacobs and Jerry Schoenfeld, who were attorneys and worked with the original Shubert brothers. They made it a point to always keep their office door open. While they may not always have agreed with everyone, Bernie and Jerry always listened to whoever would walk in. They wanted to be in the know. If there was a problem, they wanted to know about it and address it immediately, not in three weeks, when it may be a larger problem. This issue of accessibility and being in the know are extremely important for executives and decision makers. Always keep your office door open.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d be honored to have lunch with the great George Gershwin. Not only was he a tremendous talent on Broadway, in Hollywood and beyond, but he seemed to be bursting with ideas, information and talent and was always hungry for more. Gershwin, in addition to writing for Broadway and Hollywood, also wanted to compose classical music. He even went to Paris to meet the great French composer Maurice Ravel and proposed studying with him. Ravel declined, and said, “If I could write like a Gershwin, why would I want to be a Ravel?” An hour with George would be such an education in itself.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

Details on our programming and news can be found on our website at or you can follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.