Shubert Organization CEO Robert E. Wankel Shares Hamptons Favorites
As chairman/CEO of The Shubert Organization, Robert E. Wankel presides over an historic American empire of 17 Broadway theaters, six off-Broadway venues, Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre and several more related entities.
Growing up in Merrick, he visited the Hamptons with his family. Meanwhile, his wife, Helen, raised in East Meadow, always wanted a Hamptons house.
“We discovered a place in Amagansett we loved, and we have been there for 28 years so far,” says Robert. “We spend quite a lot of time there during the summer. Even during the winter, I am usually there every other weekend.” He can be caught enjoying a steak at the 1770 House in East Hampton, while he and Helen also enjoy Nick & Toni’s and the East Hampton Grille.
From his office above the Shubert Theatre by Shubert Alley (44th-45th Streets) in the “heart of Broadway,” Wankel oversees some 1,500 employees, and for many years has attended every opening night at his theaters. His all-time favorite show is A Chorus Line, which ran for 15 years. “This was a game-changer for Broadway theater,” he says.
Wankel began his career as a CPA with the firm that audited the Shubert Organization. He was offered a financial planning position with Shubert in 1975, and he has been there ever since.
“Theater is a very glamourous business, exciting,” Wankel observes. “Every day is a new experience. More people come to NYC to see Broadway theater over any other form of entertainment. I welcomed this challenge, and never regretted one second during my 48 years at Shubert.”
For someone who aspires to a career not necessarily as an actor or performer, but on the production, management side of theater, Wankel advises: “There are lots of behind-the-scenes jobs. A candidate should get involved with various trade associations in our field like broadwayleague.org. We welcome everybody to the theater — the best form of entertainment ever, because it is live with interaction between the audience and the performer. There are mentoring opportunities, with the different trade unions in our field, and with the theater owners.”
The Shubert Internship Program offers paid opportunities to graduating high school seniors and first-year college students.
In 2023, The Shubert Foundation has awarded $37.9 million to 635 arts organizations nationwide — America’s largest source of unrestricted funds for nonprofit theaters and dance companies. Both organizations emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion.
Wankel and the Shubert Organization have emerged from the once-in-a-lifetime COVID crisis. He assesses how: “We were closed for 20 months starting March 2020. We thought we would be closed for four weeks or less! It was a seriously challenging time and most of our people were out of work. Fortunately, the federal government did help with funding to bring back a lot of our shows. We have recovered a good portion of our audience. NYC and NYS recognized how important the theater is to the economy. Many businesses were closed when we were closed because they depend on the vitality of the theater.”
Technology has made a huge impact on Broadway theater in the past two decades. Tickets, which were traditionally sold by hand at individual theater box offices or perhaps through the U.S. Mail, are now accessed (including choice of seats and printed documents) within several minutes through a computer or iPhone. It makes the opportunity to obtain tickets to a Broadway show open to all whether they are in NYC or some other part of the world. The Shubert Organization owns Telecharge.
Social media is influential on Broadway; people discuss, converse, debate, praise and criticize in blogs, online publications and other forums about the latest activities surrounding a production.
Wankel still believes in the importance of the traditional Playbill, and how many in the audience enjoy waiting outside the theater to greet the cast members as they exit. He boasts a huge collection of Playbills, many with autographs and where he has saved the tickets from the show!