Headliners in Education
“It shouldn’t go away just because it wasn’t as big as ‘Hamilton,’ ” said Brendon Henderson, host of “Wait in the Wings.”
From “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” to “Beetlejuice” to “Rocky the Musical,” the “Wait in the Wings” YouTube channel has shared the previously untold of Broadway’s greatest hits, biggest flops, and most forgotten shows.
“All the shows they don’t really teach you,” said Henderson. “You can come to my channel, and you can learn about the disasters.”
The channel, which features the Philadelphia resident’s detailed and well-researched videos, accompanied by his commentary and visual aids, has racked up more than 90,000 subscribers.
Headliners in Education spoke with Henderson via a Zoom call July 21, 2022. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Headliners: What is the story of starting ‘Wait in the Wings’?
Henderson: Back in college, I was in the acting program, and every day we would come in and talk about the same shows. It’s great to learn about those classics and get a foundation of things, but during my senior year, I left the acting program because I wanted to have more of a broad interest and explore some of the other areas of the program. So I just did the regular theater degree.
I took this contemporary theater class, and it was like a complete 180 from what we’d been doing because we were talking about “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” We had to give reports on the history of them, and [they were] incredible because there’s a lot of stuff that went on behind the scenes.
After I graduated, it was kind of like, “Well, what am I gonna do now?” I just thought back to my theater class and how interested I was in the shows that didn’t work out, so I just made a podcast episode as a throwaway thing because I didn’t think anybody was going to listen to it. I published one on the history of “American Psycho,” the musical, and that got up to 60 [listens]. And I just decided, “Hey, let’s try the YouTube thing again. Let’s film it, let’s edit it, let’s set aside two weeks to do this and see where it goes.” People just had the same morbid curiosity and now the channel, three years later, has passed [90,000] subscribers. Pretty cool.
Headliners: You were at the 2022 BroadwayCon in New York City, where you shared the story of “Superbia,” an obscure musical by Jonathan Larson. Why did you decide to share that story and how did you go about researching such an unknown production?
Henderson: It’s absolutely one of the most confusing musicals that you will ever encounter. It’s interesting because it’s kind of a flop, but then also not because he never really staged it anywhere. I decided that I wanted to get to the bottom of it and share as much as I could, and in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., they’ve got Jonathan Larson’s entire paper collection. Any paper that he ever wrote in his life is in this, and so, you go through and you see all of these scribbles and all of these notes. I flipped through like 10,000 pages of stuff — just scanning everything that I could and trying to figure out what part of the timeline it shows up in.
But then they have the media archives. That was incredible because those are Larson’s cassette tapes. You get to hear him in the workshops, getting feedback from Sondheim, and you get to hear just intimate conversations with Stephen Sondheim. They’ve got the only preserved footage of the show at the Library of Congress, so you can see a pretty amateur staging of the show, but that’s the closest thing Jonathan Larson got in the performance. He shows up every so often, and I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it.
Headliners: What is the process of creating one of your videos?
Henderson: Days would be spent solely on research — doing interviews, reading books, and getting as much information about the subject as I can. Then, I can piece together a timeline of what led where and what connected to the story because, oftentimes, you’re recapping a 10-year journey because it takes so long to do a Broadway show. So, that is just dedicated to getting all the information. [Then] let’s write. The script will be 30 pages, and I have to edit that down to 20, and then go into the audio editing — so that’s recording the vocals.
I like to have music underneath of it just because I think it heightens the emotion, and it keeps things moving. And I’m probably just self-conscious of having my voice alone, so I try to mask it with music.
Last is the video editing, and that’s gotten a lot fancier after I decided to challenge myself and start playing around with finding out how to do all the graphics and then incorporate it [into the video].
Headliners: While the channel mainly focuses on Broadway flops, you’ve covered musicals with a variety of results. What would you say is the purpose of the channel?
Henderson: It started out as just flops — let’s be super negative, just bash on these shows because negativity gets clicks. And thankfully, [I] changed my mind-set of instead of trying to bash on these shows, how about you just really pick them apart and figure out the mechanics of it.
It’s really just turned into this whole project of looking at these shows, where there’s not that much documented about them, and just finally making sure that they’re heard and that their stories are saved because it’s like 10 years of work that people are putting in. It shouldn’t just go away just because it wasn’t as big as a “Hamilton.”
Headliners: What was the most difficult video for you to research for?
Henderson: I did a video on the musical “Rebecca,” which was a multi-million dollar con that closed three days before it opened because there were fake investors. There were mysterious e-mails and all this sabotage — it was true crime behind the scenes. [I] was going through court documents, going through all of these old e-mail chains and then, just so many interviews and trying to piece together that whole timeline.
That was probably the most difficult video that I’ve ever made on the channel just because it was so intricate. If you mess up one spot, you throw off the entire timeline and then it’s ruined.
Headliners: What software do you use to make your videos and do you have any editing techniques?
Henderson: [I use Adobe] Premiere Pro. I started off just with Vegas [Creative Software], which is really good for getting you into Premiere. There are a lot of great classes on Skillshare and stuff if you want to pay to take classes, but honestly, what I find is if I want to do an effect, just [use] YouTube.
I wanted to make this picture of Vince McMahon blink, and I just googled how to make pictures blink and then 20 minutes later, Vince McMahon was blinking. YouTube is great for just figuring out those things.
Watch everything you can and steal from the best — take what they’re doing but then put your own twist on it. I watched this really great documentary, [and] they actually showed this shifting timeline. When I was doing “Rebecca,” and I didn’t know how to show the timeline because we were jumping around so much, I thought, “That’s it! Pull that, let’s do it.” So, it’s really just seeing what they’re doing and then trying to figure out how to do it your own way.
Headliners: What is the main way you make money for your work?
Henderson: I’ve got a Patreon and that’s really nice because that’s a monthly payment where people who want to support the channel can, but I use it more as a way to build the community there, get new ideas for videos, hear feedback, and just really use it as like a place to put a face to that [subscriber] number.
I’ve got a Discord, and every week we just come in and we hang out, we talk about theater, we play games, stuff like that. That being said, a lot of people do like being involved in the process, so I’ll do polls asking people [for] feedback on stuff, I’ll post all of my research notes so they can go through and see what my chaotic brain looks like as I’m trying to piece together all of these things.
Headliners: Are there videos exclusively for Patreon supporters?
Henderson: The way I see it is if I’m putting too much time into making the Patreon videos, then I’m neglecting the YouTube side of things, to which I think that’s the more important side because it’s free. If there’s something to be said about Broadway and theater, it is infamous for being inaccessible. People either can’t see it because they’re not geographically in an area where they can, or they just can’t afford to do it, so I really like to put all my energy video-wise towards YouTube so that people can watch it and at least get a little bit of that theater stuff.
Headliners: Many YouTubers make money through ad revenue. How do you get that revenue?
Henderson: On YouTube, you have to have 1,000 subscribers and you have to have 4,000 watch hours. The first thousand is the hardest. But it was super rare in my case, where all of a sudden, the YouTube algorithm, that’s the thing that determines, “OK, this is what the video is [that] we’re going to push it out to these people,” found my “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” video, and it pushed it out so it literally went from like 900 subscribers to over 10,000 in a month.
That’s the most difficult thing with YouTube — it’s such a crapshoot, but there are definitely things you can do to get the algorithm on your side.
Headliners: We know you’ve had recent sponsorships. How do you decide which sponsorships to take?
Henderson: I have an advantage to where I got a double degree in college. I did theater and marketing, so I’ve got the business side of things. It comes down to time, and you have to think about yourself. You have to think about the impact [the sponsorship is] going to have on the video because I know full well that when people get to that ad, they’re going to skip ahead to where the ad is over and then just keep going. That affects your retention level, which then that messes up your standing in the algorithm, so YouTube is going to push it out less.
It helps as you keep going on, and you get more and more sponsorships and you can see how well the videos are performing. But then, you just have to be bold, and you have to say, unashamedly, “If they come at me with one number, I’m going to counter with a higher one.” When you’re doing it [YouTube] full time too, it becomes a necessity because you’re like, “I gotta live now; I need to eat.”
Headliners: Has there ever been a dry period where you felt like you couldn’t come up with new content and if so, how did you circumvent that?
Henderson: The past three months of my life have been a dry period. It helps that I have got a Discord set up so I can go through and see what people are saying in chats [and] what shows are coming up there, and then also, Twitter is huge for helping me come up with new topics too.
I just released one on everything that’s been going on with “Funny Girl” when that wasn’t the original plan. I just changed direction last week because I’m like, “People are asking for this. I need to do it.”
But, I think the best method for getting over a dry period is I’ll just go through anything I think of. You write down 100 ideas that you’ve got, and then from that 100 ideas, look at the first 12 and just cross them out because those were probably to get you going. And then, from that 100, you’ll probably walk away with six good ideas.
(To watch “Wait in the Wings,” go to the free YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/WaitintheWings.)
–July 30, 2022–