Fran Weissler admits she had little exposure to theater as a kid and was not the best at counting change, according to Playbill. Now she is one of the city’s top Broadway producers in partnership with her husband, Barry, and doesn’t have to worry about counting money.
“An Evening with Fran Weissler,” funded by the College of Mount Saint Vincent Center for Leadership, welcomed students of all ages, professors, theatre junkies, musicians, dancers, community organizers, alumni, and even Riverspring Hebrew Home who had guaranteed front row seats in Hayes Auditorium to get the inside scoop behind-the-curtain stories of Fran’s producing career.
It all began when she met Barry, who dreamed of becoming a Broadway theater producer. She was 37, and he was 26, and he “continues to be 11 years younger than me,” she said.
“His dream became my dream.”
Weissler and her husband together ran the National Artists Management Co., also known as Namco — an entertainment company based in New York City. Its mission was to present classic children, elementary school, high school and college audiences to professional tasks.
But the problem was, they had no money and didn’t know anything about the position.
“We didn’t even know what we didn’t know,” Fran claimed. She eventually thought they should settle for high schools if the duo can’t produce on Broadway.
Fran and Barry hit rock bottom when they found out that producing for public schools would not work out because public schools can’t charge students during school hours in the United States.
Fran called her best friend, who happened to be Catholic. Her advice was to try Catholic schools. “I said that’s great, but we both happen to be Jewish, and I never met a nun or priest,” she said.
But religion didn’t matter. Fran drove to Jersey City to meet Sister Mary.
For 16 years, Sister Mary and Fran produced shows based on the writings of Shakespeare, Sophocles, and George Bernard Shaw. Within that time, they sent study guides six months in advance. In addition, after each show’s termination, there would be discussions with the students.
Eventually, Fran wanted to go big and take a chance. They went to Broadway. Their first production was Shakespeare because that is what they knew. In 1982, “Othello,” starring James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer, ran for three months with over 100 performances and won a Tony.
It was successes like this that led to Fran being recognized by the Sisters of Charity and the Mount.
“We are thrilled to commemorate her lifetime of achievements and services that reflect a profound dedication to the principles of our founders, the Sisters of Charity, and the values of the college,” a recent Mount news release said.
Susan Burns, president of the college, expressed that Fran’s actions were part of the college’s vision and mission. Working within Catholic schools provided access to quality education for the arts. Working together taught some students how to start a career and what it takes to produce a show.
On Wednesday, April 12, Fran shared similar stories exclusively for students in Cahill Theatre on campus. Afterward, she interacted with some students and faculty.
“A couple of theater majors came up to her and said, ‘I love these shows, these are incredible shows,’ and Fran asked them if they had seen Chicago, and they both said, ‘No I haven’t seen it, but especially after this talk I want to see it,’” Burns said.
“When I first heard this story, I was like, that is absolutely incredible.”
College trustee Pamela Newman brought Fran over to her house along with others who might be interested in hearing Fran’s story.
Burns approached her and said, “First of all, I’m so inspired by your stories and persistence. And your risk-taking in ways that were incredible.”
“I also would love for you to come to speak to our students because the students that we serve at The Mount are also very persistent, entrepreneurial and take risks by seeking education. Many of them are the first in their families to go to college.”
Eventually, Burns asked Fran the big question. “Is there any possibility we can honor you at our scholarship tribute dinner?”
Fran couldn’t believe it and didn’t understand why because she would be honored next to entrepreneur and founder of Medical Excellence Capital, John Prufeta, and the college’s founders, the Sister of Charity of New York. Fran allegedly asked Burns several times if she was sure the college made the right choice. Ultimately, she accepted.
The annual scholarship tribute dinner is the biggest night of The Mount’s community. Its goal is to support dreams through scholarships and financial aid rewards.
The dinner is also a way to celebrate students and honor people, including awarding scholarships to deserving students. This year the college is changing locations from Cipriani to Gotham Hall on Wednesday, May 3 at 6:30 p.m., at Gotham Hall.
The dinner will bring together industry leaders, government, health care and social services, and theatre.
An alumni ticket is $400 while a patron ticket for two goes for $3,000. There is also $25,000 for dinner sponsors, which includes a table for 10, a full ad in the journal, and recognition during the program.
The school has raised between $500,000 and $700,000 in scholarships for students.
“Last year, we gave over $37 million in institutional aid to our students,” Burns said. “Knowing for many of our students, it is a stretch for them to attend our institution. And we want to make it affordable and accessible to them.”
“Sometimes there are beliefs that private higher education is unattainable because they think it’s unaffordable — please don’t ever discount private higher education,” Burns said.
She encourages students to continue studying in high school and get involved with activities they are passionate in. Then apply for a scholarship.
“Many times, students just don’t apply,” she said. “And so really seeking out the opportunities, they should ask questions about the scholarships available,” she said. “But don’t assume you can’t afford private higher education.”