We have given up a lot to the coronavirus. For our own safety and that of those around us, we voluntarily restricted our freedom of movement (#Stay_Home) and our love of congeniality (#SocialDistancing). We traded our daily routines of work and cocktail hour for being at home and meeting via Zoom. We have become shutins and anti-social. We don’t go out except to walk six feet apart from others, just for the sake of getting some air.
What we give up when we indulge in at-home theater viewing is
1. the live-actors-in-real-time theater experience
2. the 4th wall
2a. “great seats”
3. the chance to go out, dress up and make a night of it
4. the spontaneity of a flubbed line and a good save
1. The action is pre-recorded, or, if contemporaneous, involves only one actor
2. The distance between you and the stage is filtered through a screen.
2a. You still have the best seats in the house.
3. You may well be in your pjs, as so many of us are these days, or workout clothes.
3a. Your dinner may have been oreos or a box of mini-wheats.
4. If there is a flub or a falter, it ceases to be spontaneous once taped.
5.. You are likely watching alone on a laptop or tablet.
5a. At most, you are likely part of an audience of 2.
The privacy of your home is a sanctuary into which you are bringing a sacred event. Cool. But not the same as experiencing theatrical expressions in a theater space.
As I said in a recent post, theater artists also yearn to stay active, contribute and engage in what they love. Audiences are part and parcel of what they love to do. Broadway World is sharing updates about shutdowns and “Living Room Concerts” with me as well as “Songs from the Vault” and “157 Musicals and Shows You Can Watch Online.” Their “Broadway Rewind” took me down memory lane to some productions I really enjoyed over the years.
Roundabout Theatre Company sent an email with encouraging tidbits, including this montage from last season’s Kiss Me Kate:
Dance Theater of Harlem reached out with a newsletter on their 50 Forward which includes a video of a signature dance by Louis Johnson, who died in March, created by him for the company in 1972. Forces of Rhythm remained in the DTH repertory alongside works by Arthur Mitchell and George Balanchine.
New York Theatre Workshop’s email announced Virtual Programming; it is no great wonder that these companies are also looking for donations to help them tide over in these tough “shutdown” days. It is remarkable how much creativity is being put to alternative use!
“The past is prologue….” It’s a saying that suggests we learn from what has transpired before. At the theater, we certainly try hard to look at history and see where it has gotten us, how we approached our problems, what solutions were on offer. Great thinkers–and dramatists are definitely philosophers in action– have made their suggestions clear.
Shakespeare confronted every manner of political upheaval as well as all the dystopias of the soul. We regularly worship at his altar. This year, The Public Theater puts on a summer in the park season with his Othello and Twelfth Night.
George Bernard Shaw looked at askew the world from a totally original perspective. The Gingold Theatrical Group celebrates his musings in their regular Project Shaw series at Symphony Space and with Shaw Club meetings on Mondays. Manhattan Theater Company and the Roundabout folks have tackled Shaw over the years with productions of Major Barbara and, currently on stage at MTC’s Friedman, Saint Joan.
The roiling and effervescent stories told by James Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake are part of the annual Bloomsday readings, here in New York with one at Bloom’s Tavern and the other at the above mentioned Symphony Space. The Bloom’s Tavern event is coordinated through Origin Theatre Company and includes both celebrities and an Irish breakfast. To be more exacting, it also features a of the Joyce period costume contest.
Our lives, no matter how long their time spans, are all just one continuous moment.
If this premise had been posited before the party that is the first scene of Time and the Conways, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre through November 26th, how much more endurable the charades the family played would have been!
Time and the Conwaysrattles on, not unagreeably because as it does it gains depth and perspective. J.B. Priestley’s play, written in 1937 has a timelessness. It endures for us under the direction of Rebecca Taichman, who might have given it a brisker flow.
Gabriel Ebert, Anna Baryshnikov, and Anna Camp were standouts in an excellent ensemble. Paloma Young’s lovely costumes are as true for 1919 as for 1937. The set design, by Neil Patel, is both solid and ethereal in keeping with the tone of Priestley’s story.
Please pardon the spoilers unspooled in our description and review below.
Alan Conway (Gabriel Ebert) is the soul of this family. His sister Kay (Charlotte Parry) is its brittle intelligence.Carol (Anna Baryshnikov) carries the family’s heart. Hazel (Anna Camp), in contrast to her brothers Alan, and Robin (Matthew James Thomas), the family’s ambition. Robin, Mrs. Conway’s (Elizabeth McGovern) favorite child, is a self-destructive wastrel. The giggly girl who marries him, Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts) is deceived into thinking there is more to him by his swagger.
The self-important tyrant Hazel marries, Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer) is obscenely mean-spirited. Madge Conway (Brooke Bloom) is the polemical sister, idealistic and down-to-earth at once. Her thwarted interest in Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narcisco) may have soured her and etched her practical preferences.
For tickets to Time and the Conways, please visit the Roundabout website.
Ticket prices are a frequent topic of discussion among theater-goers. Not much wonder when the cost of a seat to see Hello Dolly!or Hamilton for instance can go as high as $1600+. Of course, the savvy buyer will find tickets for these attractions at better prices as well. Even the less hyped Broadway show sells in the range of $99 (discount for the orchestra) and $239 (premium). I get it, it’s expensive to mount a Broadway attraction. When a show closes before its scheduled time, the producers don’t get back their investment.
The fact that the arts are a business in no way detracts from their art. In any given season, despite the iffy-ness of ROI, there are some 35+ (this 2016-17 season, it’s 39) productions put on the Broadway stage.
For the for-profit theater, revivals and transfers of off-Broadway hits seem like the better bet. Musicals always seem to drive the market, although I read a stat that those who go to musicals, generally go to 4 vs those who like a straight play see 5 in the same period. The not-for-profit houses have different mandates: Playwrights Horizons produces new, often commissioned, work, for instance.
On the other hand, The Mint revives plays that have not seen the stage for a long while, with the motto, “Lost Plays Found Here.”
The struggle to get investors to back a project can be complicated. Predicting the public’s taste can be a risky business. For producers, raising money for each production involves looking beyond their own pocket. Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), for instance, has an annual bootcamp for perspective investors. This past February the workshop was called Raising Money for Theater: Who, How and When to Ask. TRU offers seminars on the business all year round.
Ticket prices at the profit-making theaters are certainly a ticket to recouping the cost of mounting a production. How do the not-for-profit productions–both on and off-Broadway– make ends meet? Concerns over government defunding of the arts makes this year a particularly critical one for the not-for profit theater and its counterparts in dance.
Asking for money becomes an art of its own. Inventive ways of getting donations crop up all the time. A gala is, often, called for, and will attract a reasonable amount of money. Galas usually include dinner and a chance to mingle with the talent after a performance. Some galas have themes, like for instance the Ballet Hispanico’s 2017 Carnival Gala Celebrating Trailbrazing Latina Leaderswhich honors Rita Moreno and Nina Vaca. The black-tie event is on May 15th at the Plaza Hotel.
The honored guest is a standard approach. Keen Company, a subscription house with a long history off-Broadway, for instance, holds its 2017 Benefit Gala on May 22nd with guests Molly Ringwald and Amy Spanger. The Pearl Theatre Company and Playwrights Horizons are under similar constraints to raise funds beyond the monies brought in by subscribers by throwing parties for patrons and offering opportunities to support them. The latter brings Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole and Kelli O’Hare to the Playwrights Horizon gala on May 8th. The Pearl offers classes through its Conservatory.
Most of the dance troupes hold Galas at season kickoff; for New York City Ballet this corresponds with the Fall and the Spring openings. Paul Taylor American Modern Dance generally has theirs on the second night of performance each spring at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. (The theater is in itself an example of major fund-raising efforts, with Koch having paid for a renovation of the house which is home to @NYCballet and visiting dance cos.)
Youth America Grand Prix galas are a little like a serues of awards ceremonies. (We’ve talked of past YAGP galas on several occasions at VP.com.) The American Ballet Theater, although they have a gala as well, takes a slightly different approach to year round fundraising. It has patrons supporting dancers, an individual member of the troupe can be billed as being sponsored by a donor.
Subscription tickets are supplemented by sales of regularly priced tickets but that is far from enough to cover the costs of running a theater. Roundabout Theatre Company and MTC hold benefit evenings, inviting their subscribers and other patrons to dine with theater luminaries. Second Stage are holding their “Spot On” gala with honorary chair Bette Midler on May 1st. They also hold an annual bowling with the artists event; you can’t spell fundraising without fun.
Subscription houses depend on membership support (see the Pearl’s program of offers) to be able to offer their programming; subscribers are asked to give a little more. Seat-naming is another popular–and fairly democratic– way to bring cash into the house; the average donor can generally afford to put a plaque on a seat. On a grander scale, we have patrons who fund an auditorium or a theater (see David H. Koch above) or a patron’s lounge. Sometimes the sponsor is corporate like American Airlines for whom Roundabout’s 42nd Street house is named. With sponsorship come other perks, of course, like good seats, and access to staff.
Theater is a demanding artform. Give a little, get a lot.
For the Fischer family in Steven Levenson’s new play, If I Forget, closing at the Laura Pels on April 30th, the realities of their identity are fraught.
Of the siblings, Michael (Jeremy Shamos), sees the Jewish Studies he teaches at an university from the perspective of liberal politics gone awry. He is not observant, and his book on Jewish ties to Israel is causing a rift with his sisters, Sharon (Maria Dizzia) and Holly (Kate Walsh) and their father, Lou (Larry Bryggman). Michael also feels that the connection to Israel that his non-Jewish wife, Ellen Manning (Tasha Lawrence) encourage in their daughter is not in keeping with his beliefs.
To suggest that this is a controversial position for a play on a Jewish subject to voice is a gross understatement. The subtlety of Michael’s arguments is lost on his family, but not on the audience.
Rounding out the cast of characters in this excellent production under Daniel Sullivan’s direction are Holly’s husband, Howard Kilberg (Gary Wilmes) and her son Joey (Seth Michael Steinberg).
If I Forgetis thoughtful and thought-provoking, although it loses some credibility with a mystifying and seemingly mystical ending.
For tickets and information, please visit the Roundabout production’s website.
“Staying out of the dark ages,” as Michael would have it, may be the cri du coeur for secularists of all stripes.
In The Profane, playing at Playwrights Horizons through May 7th, identity is as much a tetter-totter for the Arab-American Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) who has distanced himself from his heritage, and his daughter Emina (Tala Ashe) who is running to connect with it, as it is for the Fischers.
Zayd Dohrn’s intelligent play is inspiring and provocative. (For my more in depth analyses, click here, or here, or here.
For moe information and tickets, please visit PHnyc’s website.
We are often distanced from a theater piece by the curtain, the proscenium, the conventions of the fourth wall. These theatrical traditions are all well and good, and extremely pleasing.There is also another path that theatrical productions can take.
There were always immersive entertainments. In the 1960s, stage craft incorporated randomness as it never had before.Improvising and enveloping the audience in the event that was theater was truly what was Happening!
Some performances can use both the protocol of the curtain, and the range of the theatrical space. The Debate Society’s The Light Years is an excellent example of a show that uses both distance and intimacy; the play opens behind a plush red curtain and winds up using every nook and cranny of the Playwrights Horizons auditorium to engage. Characters walk through or speak from above the stage. This is just one example of a production that immerses.
For instance, opening soon, theater activist and provocateur Tom Block’s new play Sub-Basement is having its world premiere at Athena Theatre Company, beginning March 24th through April 15th. Block’s absurdist theater-works often feature his art as part of the set. In this production, the artwork is in the lobby.
Roundabout’s production of the wonderful The Mystery of Edwin Droodhad cast members mingling, in character (of course) with the audience before the show, and wandering through the aisles. Some patrons, in the front rows at Studio 54, were addressed by The Princess (Chita Rivera) or The Chairman (Jim Norton.) The capper, it was the audience that voted on who killed Edwin Drood.
It’s not for everyone, but Target Margin Theater invites 70 theater lovers (at a time) to participate in their 6-hour prodution of O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. The staging under the direction of David Herskovits offers an immersive theatrical experience that takes the audience through the spaces of the Abrons Art Center to witness the entire Eugene O’Neill trilogy. The marathon Mourning… runs from April 26 through May 20th.
At its best, all theater– the novel and inclusive, the long-practiced and habitual, in the round or squared– involves and captivates.
For more information and tickets for on the Playwrights Horizons/TheDebate Society production of The Light Years, please visit the @PHnyc website.
Here are three shows playing “off-Broadway” but in the Times Square area you may find of interest: The Wolves at the Duke on 42nd, Yours Unfaithfully at the always brilliant Mint at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre, and Rancho Viejoat Playwrights Horizons.
Sports-themed stories are compelling because they are usually about fair play and, well, sportsmanship.
Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolvestakes place during practice sessions of a suburban girls’ soccer team as they chat, gossip, and warm-up. Part of the appeal of this show is that The Wolves is in a reprise production at The Duke on 42nd Street through December 29th; its last sold-out run was this past August and September. It made an impact then, and it looks to make one this holiday season as well.
If you love something, set it free
The Mint is staging Yours Unfaithfully, the never before produced comedy by Miles Malleson. The play was published in 1933 but never staged until now, when it will get its world premiere beginning on December 27th and running through February 18th at Theatre Row’s Beckett.
Malleson, an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and freethinker seems to have written about the open marriage in Yours Unfaithfully from his life experience, but this production offers much more than voyeuristic interest. Bertrand Russell reviewed the published play as being full of “humor and kindness” and “free from any taint of propaganda.” The high standards of a Mint Theatre production should bring this “well-constructed” work to life.
At Playwrights Horizons, Dan LeFranc brings Rancho Viejo, a small-town and its relationships and interactions to the stage. If his earlier play, The Big Mealis any indication of where he’ll be taking us, this should be an interesting journey.
Rancho Viejo, through December 23rd at the Mainstage, explores how what we do affects our friends and neighbors, who may be total strangers to us. (Check out our review of this very entertaining new play.)
Over at the American Airlines Theatre, Stephen Karam tweaked Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard, which closed on December 4th, is a challenge, as is much of Chekhov. There is melancholy mixed with hilarity in the oeuvre and it does not always play as either funny or tragic. Diane Lane (Ranevskaya) and John Glover (Gaev). the plutocratic and impoverished owners of the property at the center of the play, achieve some level of mixed despair and hysteria.
The production had its faults, and some highlights which included the second act masquerade ball with musicians (Bryaqn Hernandez-Luch, Liam Burke, Chihiro Shibayam, coordinated by John Miller) on stage. There is original music by Nico Muhly.
And most interesting is the color-blind casting in which Chuck Cooper is Pischik, a landowner always looking for a handout, and Maurice Jones is Ranevskaya’s favorite Yasha. Harold Perrineau as Lopakhin, the son of a serf who wins the estate at auction, is a particular standout in the cast.
News from the annoyance front: Impolite theater-goers of the umpteenth degree spotted recently at a matinee of The Cherry Orchardwere talking quite loudly. When asked to sush, the response was “Other people are talking.” The other people in question were the characters on stage, I swear.