I just spent a couple of days in New York. It truly is an observational paradise. There is something unique happening on every street corner and I always leave with my mind reeling. And if you’re into theatre, there are so many vital experiences to be had. You can see actors at the top of their game. See triple threats in action. You can choose from a vast variety of theatre genres from musical to drama, abstract, to new plays, to classics. All in one city! So if you’re taking students, how do you pick and choose which theatrical experiences will have the most impact? It can be overwhelming. I believe there are three types of show to see.
The Broadway Show: Of course, if you’re taking a group of theatre students to the Big Apple you are going to see a Broadway show. It’s inevitable! I rarely have been disappointed in the Broadway shows I’ve seen and always amazed at the scale from the quality of the dancers, to the details in the set, to even just sitting in the theatres. If you have the ability to choose which show you take your students to, try to focus on the actors. Try to avoid shows with movie stars. While there are certainly crossovers and many “stars” who started on the stage, it’s mostly just stunt casting. Look for actors who have excelled on the stage such as Sutton Foster, Michael Cerveris, Raul Esparza, Norbert Leo Butz – the list goes on. Yes, you can go for the splash and the dazzle, there are some amazing things that Broadway can put on the stage. But if you’re taking theatre students, show them what the Broadway actor can do.
The Away from Broadway Show: Do not limit your theatrical experiences to Broadway! I’m lumping in a number of different areas here, which is why I say ‘away’ from Broadway and not ‘off-broadway.’ Because there’s off, off-off, 99 seat, cabaret… you get the picture. What ends up on Broadway is quite limited – musicals, re-mounts, material that attracts tourists. So if you want to compare and contrast, you need to go off the beaten path. You can go slightly off to find something off-broadway, you can head farther afield and go downtown to the New York Theatre Workshop where plays such as Peter and the Starcatcher and Rent started out. And you can choose from dozens of small theatres where you can see something abstract, something experimental, something that takes theatre in a whole new direction. Shouldn’t that be a part of the New York experience? Seeing theatre in a new way? Seeing a play you’ve never heard of and may never see the light of day again?
My number one suggestion for an ‘away’ from Broadway theatrical experience isn’t exactly theatre per se. It’s called Too Much Light makes the Baby Go Blind by the New York Neo Futurists. The show is only done on Friday and Saturdays at the Kraine Theatre in the East Village. It’s an hour long and shows 30 short plays in 60 minutes. There’s a timer and when 60 minutes is done, so’s the show – even if they’re mid-line. The audience gets a menu of play titles as they enter, and there is a clothesline with the numbers 1 to 30 hung across the stage. The order of the plays is determined by the audience. At the end of the night a die is rolled and the number that comes up is the number of new plays that have to be written for the next week. The plays run from personal monologues, to abstract non verbal pieces, to parody, to short scenes. It is ever-evolving, ever-changing. It is an exceptional theatrical experience.
The Improv Show: Every high school drama class does Improv. So why not see how the professionals do it? In New York that means going to UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade. They’ve got shows every night in varying forms and most shows are only $5. Have students write reflections on what they see, what games are played. Have they ever done a Harold?
It’s impossible to contain the breadth of what New York has to offer in terms of theatrical experiences. There are so many to be had, and I feel I’ve never done the same one twice. I’ve sat through bizarre shows in closet-sized theatres in Queens, gone to massive extravaganzas on Broadway and many things in-between. I do think it’s important not to solely equate New York with that Broadway experience. There are so many more experiences to be had.
What has been your favourite New York theatrical experience?