Playwriting

Stars Schmars

I read a New York Times article yesterday morning that made me happy. It stuck a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Not a bad way to start the week.

The 39 Steps has lasted on Broadway for a year and a half. This is phenomenal for a straight play. In fact at this moment it’s the only play on Broadway in a sea of musicals. It has endured through three theatre changes. According to Playbill.com it played to 90% capacity last week. That’s more than phenomenal.

The 39 Steps has lasted on Broadway for a year and a half. Without ever slotting in a star or celebrity.

This is an anomaly these days on the Broadway stage. It goes against the grain, plays aren’t supposed to survive on their own merit. And indeed, there are certainly a ton of examples of plays that have come and gone on the great white way with hardly a whisper because they couldn’t survive on their own merit. There is a pervasive sense that plays need celebrity after C-list celebrity to recoup their investment pronto! This speaks to the producers, who even after a year and a half haven’t quite (they say they’re close) recoup their investment in the show. What does that say that a show is allowed to quietly hum along without the pressure of bringing in names?

The 39 Steps has lasted on Broadway for a year and a half. With four actors playing 150 roles, a bit of furniture, some props, and a couple of costumes.

Boy do I love theatre that does more with less. And it’s another Broadway anomaly. You’re supposed to get your money’s worth with a Broadway show. You’re supposed to see the money. There has to be glitz, and glamour and flying set pieces, and so on. There should be a real life sized train rushing across the stage instead of, heaven forbid, engaging the audience’s imagination. The audience (which I think has largely been pushed to the side) is and always should be a part of the experience. Which leads me to the next:

The 39 Steps has lasted on Broadway for a year and a half. I got nothing, it just seemed like the right time to repeat that. Moving on.

The next remarkable thing is that there is a sense from the article that ‘The 39 Steps’ wants to be a theatrical experience. It wants to include the audience. One of the actors notes that ‘the audience functions like a character in the play.’ I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The theatre that endures is the theatre that communicates, connects and creates community. When the audience becomes part of the experience you don’t need stars, you don’t need fancy sets. The audience becomes your marketing, your viral buzz, your word of mouth.

I still kick myself that I didn’t go see this when I was New York. Why? Why?

About the author

Lindsay Price