Profile: The Song of the Unsung Dallas Theater Patron

On most days, Lloyd Fruge is a roofer. He is 62 and has a head of wispy hair and brown-blue eyes. He wears a work shirt, sleeves rolled up around his elbows and glasses in his breast pocket. He is a roofer, but once a month he travels to New York City to watch musicals and talk to directors, producers, and investors on Broadway. He reads one or two scripts a week and serves food to touring production companies at Dallas Summer Musicals. He is on the board of Dallas Summer Musicals and the board of the Dallas Summer Musicals Guild. He is well spoken, and though his face shows his age (he is 62) he will tell you that he can go another five to seven years roofing. He will also tell you whatever you’d like to know about Broadway, theater, and just why it is that his two primary outfits are a work shirt and jeans, and a dark suit for the theater. This is Lloyd Fruge’s story, as told to Harrison Smith:

I’m from East Texas. I was born in Nacogdoches, raised around Longview. I moved to Dallas in ’79 and I’ve lived here since then.

I started out in the oil business, but by 1985 I’d been laid off seven times. I realized then that I had to find something where I had control of my future.

So I got to thinking: okay, why don’t I think of something where I don’t get laid off, where I’m in control of what I can do. I was going to a lake house, and I saw these guys roofing and thought, “I bet I could do that.” I was only going to do it for a few months and it’s been 26 years.

The thing about roofing is this: the reason you work is to enjoy your time off. My passion is the arts and the theater. I can’t perform, act, sing, or anything, but I can be a patron and I can also invest.

Lloyd Fruge

See, I invest in shows—I’m in lots of shows. You make good money as a roofer, but when it’s a hundred and fifty on the roof everyday what drives me is my passion for the theater. It blows people’s minds because they see me out there working hard, and then at night I change clothes and I’m in a black suit, dark suit, going to some theater function.

I’ve been interested in musicals for over forty years. The first show I ever saw was in 1964. South Pacific—it was a university production in Nacogdoches. After that my aunt took me to my first real, Broadway-type show. That was at Dallas Summer Musicals, back when Tom Hughes was the Managing Director.

I’m on the boards of the Dallas Summer Musicals Guild and Dallas Summer Musicals itself, though I don’t do a lot on that board. The DSM board has really a money function. It’s a prestige-type deal, though they do a lot of work on different committees and help run the entire Dallas Summer Musicals for the season.

On the DSM Guild board, though, we do two things: one, we serve the cast between shows. That’s the part that I’m involved in. The second thing is that every single show that opens at Dallas Summer Musicals gets an opening night cast party.

What I do is I’m in charge of feeding the cast between the shows. The Dallas Summer Musicals is the only theater in the country that feeds the cast between the matinee at 2:00 and the evening performance at 8:00. We’ve been doing this for about 40 years; I’ve been in charge of the buffets for probably eight years, nine years.

This all happens in the Green Room, about 40 feet from the stage. What’s interesting about this is that while we’re preparing the meal, the cast—well, you can smell it on stage. Nearly the entire cast will come back there and see what’s for dinner that day. You get to know them one-on-one, which no one else in the country really does. At the stage door you’ll have people waiting in line just to get an autograph, and we’re back there hanging out with them.

I was doing this long before I started investing in shows. The first time I ever invested was about four years ago, in a road show called Vanities. Michael Jenkins, the president of Dallas Summer Musicals, got me involved. The man is a genius, and definitely my mentor.

I’m invested in ten shows right now, four on Broadway in New York and six shows on tour, including Memphis and Hair.  Memphis (about the birth of rock and roll) will be at the Dallas Summer Musicals next summer, through Hair would not be considered because of the adult content (it is about hippies in the 80’s and there is one totally nude scene just before intermission) this show will be at the ATTPAC.  I am also in the Lincoln Center and traveling productions of War Horse, a play.  After reading the script and realizing what it was i felt like it would be financially a good decision to invest in – and it was.

I’m currently looking at five shows to invest in. To invest in a show depends on a lot of things—if there’s a star in the show, who the lead producer is, who the creative team is, what the storyline is, what it’s about. I read between two and three scripts a week and go to New York once a month.

When I go to New York, number one I see every musical that opens on Broadway. I want to know about it. (I think there’s 36 musicals and plays on Broadway right now.) Number two is that the shows start at 8:00 at night, so that leaves me breakfast, lunch, and the afternoon to have drinks and meet with people about shows. I’ll hear about the shows from lead producers—when they get ready to do a show then they will go out to their investors (or get associate producers to go out and get investors) and ask them if they’re interested. They’ll send out packets of financial information and I’ll see if it’s worth investing in.

What I look at is what are they paying these people? What are the principals? When you have a star you’re going to pay them a lot of money—but a star brings in a lot of money. I can look at these and say, Okay, wait; that’s too much money. We’ll never get our money back, that’s not reasonable; I’m not going to invest in this show. Producers want you to get in for a unit—a unit usually runs $25,000. I have $25,000 in some shows; in some shows I have $75,000. It just depends on how much I like the show.

On Broadway, most of these musicals that we’re looking at right now are 15 million dollars. New York’s the most expensive place there is to build a set. London would be half that, and that just opens it, that doesn’t run it. The weekly running cost could be anywhere from $4-500,000 a week. Of course, the capitalization of an Off-Broadway show is a lot cheaper. I’m looking at a musical comedy right now called Jurassic Parq, p-a-r-q. The capitalization of it is around $800,000.

If a show they want to take on tour is still playing on Broadway, then they’ll remount another show, build another set and actually recast the entire show for the road. A regular tour, usually they go out on the road in September or October. Normally before a management company will send one out they usually have it booked for at least six months to a year. Minimum. A good show like Wicked will tour and tour and tour. Right now there’s five companies of Wicked travelling around; Phantom toured for 18 years. The good ones will travel forever.

Now sometimes Broadway just doesn’t like a show. I invested $25,000 in Wonderland, a show that ran on Broadway for four weeks and didn’t get any Tony nominations. I wont lose it all, because this is the mother show that has the rights, and on the road it was selling out over 90%. It’ll probably make back most of our money on the road, it’s just going to take several years. So we haven’t lost everything. The people that invested in Wicked—if you put a hundred thousand dollars in Wicked you would’ve gotten back over 4.5 million dollars so far. And it’s still going strong. I would say that if somebody had put in a hundred thousand they would easily get 10 million by the time it’s over.

But it’s the love of the show, the love of being part of it. My true love and passion is musicals and Broadway, but to get there, being that I’m not a wealthy person, I have to work for it. I climb on my first roof at 7:30 in the morning and usually do anywhere from four to seven jobs a day. I work all the way to dark every single day, and then I do paperwork from then on. The day is extremely hot. The tools are so hot you can’t pick them up. If it’s a hundred degrees on the ground, it’s going to be a hundred and forty to a hundred and fifty degrees on the roof. It’s a dangerous job. But what drives me, what really drives you on this, is knowing that I’m going to get to invest on another show, I will get to go to New York again, and I will get to maintain the standard that I’ve enjoyed. Think of it this way: the love of being able to do my passion—investing in Broadway shows, being a part of Broadway, and getting to go to the shows at the Dallas Summer Musicals—is greater than any discomfort, pain, or irritation that I would have from roofing.

Photo: Dallas Summer Musicals will open West Side Story at the Music Hall at Fair Park on Oct. 4

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