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‘New incarnation’ as a theatre producer

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Fresh start: widower and grandfather, Carl Paiva, has a new career in New York as a Broadway producer (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Carl Paiva has been a lifelong fan of Broadway musicals — but he never dreamt he would one day be living in New York and attempting to stage one himself.

The widower and retired travel agent embarked on an entirely new career as a theatre producer in Manhattan at the age of 64, with no experience whatsoever in the industry.

He now feels “more like a New Yorker than a Bermudian” and the musical he has dedicated the last three years of his life to is getting attention in all the right places.

Later this month, Sama: An American Requiem, will have a five-day residency at National Sawdust in Williamsburg, entitled “The Beginning Stages”, when attendees will get to see how a Broadway show is developed and give feedback. The initiative was recently reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

And, on October 13, the NYC debut concert-reading of the musical will take place at Feinstein’s/54 Below supper club.

“I think when you want something bad enough, you can get it,” Mr Paiva told The Royal Gazette. “It’s a whole new career. It’s a new incarnation.

“My mother [Marion Paiva] was the same. She lived to be 95 and was constantly on the go and that’s me. I cannot stay still.”

Mr Paiva’s new life in the US came about as the result of a “fateful” meeting in Boston in 2013 with Sama creator TJ Armand, an award-winning composer, lyricist and librettist.

Mr Paiva was in the city for treatment for prostate cancer, having lost his beloved wife Gwen to skin cancer a couple of years before and having sold his business, C Travel, to Worldwide View Travel.

“I met him in Harvard when he was doing a reading for a musical,” he said, of Mr Armand. “I decided at the time — I was 64 years old — there is no way I am going to retire and be sitting on the veranda. I had far too much excitement and vision.”

The pair instantly connected over a shared love of musicals, even though Mr Paiva was merely a fan and Mr Armand was a Berklee College of Music graduate, who had come to the US from Turkey on a so-called “Genius visa”.

Each time Mr Paiva returned to Boston from Bermuda for treatment, he would meet Mr Armand for dinner and, eventually, the pair hatched a business plan to bring Sama: An American Requiem to Broadway.

At the end of 2013, the Bermudian father-of-two and grandfather-of-eight rented an apartment in Manhattan and moved there.

His daughters Holly and Gretchen, who live on the island, were surprised and a little worried about potential terrorist attacks in the city, he said, but have supported his choices.

“I knew it was time,” said Mr Paiva, 67. “I’d been through a lot with my wife’s illness and I needed a change. I had no idea what the change would be, hence the reason why I was two years here [after Gwen passed away].

“What I knew after the two years: that there was far too much in life to enjoy than just hanging around and enjoying the beauty of Bermuda.”

He and Mr Armand, 46, formed Armand and Paiva, a company dedicated to developing contemporary musicals on and off Broadway.

While the composer worked on honing Sama — the story of a Christian-Lebanese immigrant who becomes a famous pop star in the US, featuring indie-folk rock and a choral requiem — Mr Paiva began to build contacts on Broadway.

“What I bring to the table is my vision, my business acumen and my experience,” said the 40-year veteran of Bermuda’s travel industry. “He brings to me a career of music and musicals. So combined, we are natural.”

Mr Paiva, a graduate of Mount Saint Agnes Academy, did a degree in literature and art at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and always loved the idea of living in the Big Apple for its “energy”.

But he married and began a family in Bermuda in his early 20s, entering the travel industry initially as a shipping agent at Watlington and Conyers.

He also worked as a waiter for a decade at Henry VIII, was vice-president of Meyer Travel for 25 years and launched C Travel with Lois Wilson in 2000.

He loved his work and his family life and saw as many musicals as he could every time he was in New York.

“I would literally run from corporate business meetings and tack to wherever, 42nd Street or wherever, and find a theatre as fast as I could, I didn’t care what it was, to get into a show. Musicals were my passion.”

Now watching every new musical which comes to the city is part of his job, as is getting to know other producers, as well as directors, choreographers and casting agents.

He takes it all in his stride and insists changing his life so dramatically at a time when most people are planning to put their feet up “wasn’t a big thing”.

“I adore my children but, you know, it was also time for me. I had raised my children, done everything I could for my grandchildren, taken care of my parents, taken care of my wife, I ran a company of 60 people. It was time for Carl.”

Armand and Paiva is co-producing two musicals opening in November: The Great Comet on Broadway and Merrily We Roll Along in Los Angeles.

And Sama has attracted investors, funding itself for everything it has done to date. It could take several more years to get the money to take it to Broadway but Mr Paiva is confident it will happen. He said the music in the show was “outstanding” and the feedback from the industry so far was overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been totally easy,” said Mr Paiva, of his transition from travel agent to Broadway producer. “It’s been exciting. I don’t feel challenged, not at all. I feel it’s a natural.

“Obviously, I’m learning the industry [but] I have no fear of anything. Well, I don’t believe in fear anyway. If you go down one path and it’s not working, take the other. I feel like I’ve always been there. In fact, most people say to me in New York ‘are you sure you are not a New Yorker?’ I feel like it’s more me.”

• For tickets to the five-day residency visit www.nationalsawdust.org and for the concert-reading visit https://54below.com.

New path: widower and grandfather, Carl Paiva, has a new career in New York as a Broadway producer