David Garfinkle (T’83) studied public policy and economics while at Duke, but he’s always been interested in the arts – while at Duke, he subscribed to the Broadway at Duke series and assisted with the creation of an original show.

Now, Garfinkle is the CEO of Hello Entertainment, a production company he co-founded with his late production partner, Tony Adams.

He didn’t start on an artistic career path right out of Duke, however. First, he worked for a congressman in Washington, D.C., and then he went to law school at Boston University.

After law school, Garfinkle worked for a large firm in media and entertainment law before leaving to become the founder and managing partner of a boutique entertainment law firm where he worked with clients like Paramount, Oprah and people in the Broadway space.

“As an entertainment lawyer, I was always interested in the creative side, and I worked with all creative sectors,” Garfinkle said. “But theater was the sector that I loved the most because it was truly entrepreneurial – with theater, you can be in charge of everything from the ground up, from building a team to marketing the show.”

When Garfinkle met Adams at a show around 2000, the two decided to form a production company together.

Hello Entertainment was born, with a mission of “transforming meaningful, uplifting, inspiring elements of pop culture into extraordinary theater.”

They began to acquire permissions to produce works based in popular culture. An executive from Marvel approached them about the rights to Spider-Man, leading to Spider-Man: Turn off The Dark. Garfinkle has worked with many industry powerhouses – the lyrics and music for Spider-Man were written by Bono and Edge of U2 and the director was Julie Taymor, who also directed The Lion King. Ghost’s music and lyrics were written in part by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and the book was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who also won an Academy Award for the screenplay.

Adams passed in 2005. Shortly after that time, the company acquired the rights to produce Ghost the Musical. Garfinkle concurrently carried on with production of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Ghost.

To date, Hello Entertainment has produced 6 shows on Broadway and numerous productions in other markets. Many of Hello’s productions have been nominated for and honored with multiple awards. In 2014, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder won the Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical. That same year The Realistic Joneses won the Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble. In 2015, On the Town was a Tony Award nominee for Best Revival and won Astaire Awards for Best Choreographer and Male Lead. In 2012, Spider-Man was nominated for multiple awards, including two Tony Awards and four Outer Critics Awards, winning for set design (George Tsypin) and costume design (Eiko Ishioka). Ghost the Musical also received multiple award nominations in England and on Broadway in 2011 and 2012, including five Olivier Nominations (one for Best Musical), a Drama League Nomination for Best Musical and three Tony Award nominations. Ghost the Musical was recipient of the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design (Jon Driscoll, Rob Howell and Paul Kieve) and the 2012 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Lighting Design (Hugh Vanstone). In Manchester, England Ghost was the recipient of the award for Best New Musical in 2011.  

Garfinkle now teaches a course at Duke called Theater and Film Arts Entrepreneurship and Social Policy.

To be a successful entrepreneur, Garfinkle tells students, one has to be prepared for things to go wrong and be ready to adapt.

He thinks it’s important for artists to learn the business side of the arts because their work is so entrepreneurial.

“Every artistic venture is entrepreneurial by nature,” Garfinkle said. “Whenever I do a show, it’s a brand new startup every time. You have to figure out every component of the show, from creative to financing to marketing.”

To learn more about Hello Entertainment, visit its website.

To read about more Duke Entrepreneurs, click here.