Friday, August 31, 2012

The DOs and DON'Ts of Broadway on Broadway


The summer music festival season may have come and gone, but there's one free outdoor event left for us theatre fans to look forward to: the 20th Annual Broadway on Broadway Concert!

Broadway on Broadway is a free concert in Times Square to kick off the new Broadway season. This year’s concert takes place on September 9th at 11:30 AM and features performances from both new and long-running Broadway shows. Kathy Lee Gifford of daytime television fame will be hosting, hopefully with a glass of wine in hand.
My friend Amanda and I
at the 2008 concert. 

Sadly I will not be attending this year’s Broadway on Broadway concert, but that won’t stop me from dishing out some tips to make the most of your experience. I attended the 2008 concert and had a great time, but I learned that there are some definite "dos and don’ts" to consider when planning your day at the event.

DO consider the weather. The sun is still very strong in New York in early September, so make sure to wear sunscreen as you’ll be outside for a few hours. Check the weather before you go and make sure to bring an umbrella if the forecast calls for rain.

DON’T weigh yourself down. You’ll be standing in the middle of Times Square for a while, and it’s not a great idea to bring bags full of stuff. Besides, if you put your bags down on the street, there is a possibility that you’ll never see them again. Pack light and only bring the things you absolutely need.

Times Square / dusk
Photo Credit: George Rex
DO arrive early. If it’s a sunny day, pick a spot in the shade or close to the stage if you don’t mind the speakers. However, make sure you know how to get out of the crowd in case you need to leave for whatever reason.

DON’T take too much free stuff. Promoters representing the different Broadway shows will be around Times Square handing out free promotional gifts like hand fans and lip balms. Five Lion King fans are nice until you realize that you have nowhere to put them. Pick and choose what you take from promoters, and don’t be afraid to trash some of it.

DO have fun! Make friends with the people around you, snap pictures, and don’t be afraid to take a break at an overpriced chain restaurant if you think you’re about to pass out. Make the most of your experience, and hit up the TKTS Booth for discount tickets to any shows that catch your eye! Happy New Theatre Season! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Science Fiction...On Stage?

With the premiere of the latest season of the cult sci-fi TV show Doctor Who just four days away, there’s little else nerds (like myself) can think about. Which of course begs the question: how do I combine my love of science fiction with my love of theatre? How exactly do the quirks of science fiction translate on stage?

Those quirks translate quite well, actually. Several science fiction plays have been written over the years that have delighted audiences and challenged them to consider how technology may change our society in the future.

One play that has had a huge impact not just on theatre but also on language itself is Karel Capek’s R.U.R. The title stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, a company that mass-produces robots to speed up productivity in an industrial age. Eventually, the robots start to out-number humans, and earth’s population dwindles. Written in 1920, the play has been highly influential to the science fiction genre, and introduced the word “robot” - which stems from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labor - to the world at large. Many science fiction TV shows such as Dollhouse, Star Trek, and Futurama have made reference to the play over the years. Though the play is not often produced today, the text is available on Amazon.

Other science fiction plays take their cues from successful science fiction novels. Last year at the National Theatre in London, Director Danny Boyle staged Nick Dear’s haunting adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein. This highly theatrical production features Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame and Johnny Lee Miller in alternating roles as Frankenstein and the Monster, and examines what it means to be human and the ethical qualms that come with the power to create. Sadly, the West End production has closed, but it is still being screened in movie theatres around the world through National Theatre Live.

Have you seen any science fiction plays recently? Leave your favorites in the comments! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Broadway Musicals, Now Available on Netflix


In this economic climate, it’s likely that you’ve missed some of the musicals and plays that have been on Broadway in the last few years. Some shows only last a few months and getting to New York can be expensive and time-consuming. But fear not, theatre fans! PBS has filmed some of the best Broadway shows of the last few years for their "Great Performances" series, and other companies have worked to film Broadway productions for theatrical release. Many of these filmed theatrical productions are now available online through Netflix’s Instant Streaming service.

Passing Strange

background lights
Photo Credit: Darwin Bell 
Passing Strange is the tale of musician Stew’s soul-searching journey through Europe as a young man. Stew has been making music for years with his band The Negro Problem and as a solo artist, but Passing Strange was his first attempt at theatre. The musical is narrated by Stew himself, while Daniel Breaker plays “the Youth”, the younger version of Stew. Passing Strange was nominated for several Tony Awards, and won the 2008 award for Best Book of a Musical, but closed after only 165 performances. Spike Lee directs this recording of the musical.

Company

This 2006 revival of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical comedy stars Raul Esparza as Bobby, a Manhattan bachelor surrounded by married friends. Bobby observes the trials of marriage and contemplates whether he’ll ever settle down. This musical features such classic tunes as “Being Alive”, “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Marry Me A Little”. In this particular production, the cast acts as both the actors and the orchestra, accompanying themselves on several musical numbers. Though Company closed after less than a year on Broadway, it won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

Memphis

Memphis the Musical
Photo Credit: Memphis CVB
Memphis is a musical tells the story of Huey Calhoun, a disc jockey loosely based on Dewey Phillips, one of the first white radio DJs to play black music in the 1950s. He encourages integration in a time where that is hardly an option and falls in love with a black artist named Felicia. Memphis has a lot to say about the United States’ troubled history with race and the part that music played in the civil rights movement. The musical had a healthy life in regional theatre before moving to Broadway in 2009 and winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2010. The Broadway production may have closed a few weeks ago, but the film is now available online.


What are your favorite movie musicals, or musicals available on film? Let us know in the comments! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Mauckingbird Theatre Company's "Much Ado About Nothing"


Changing and adapting the Bard's works is always risky. For one thing, the Shakespeare purists won't be pleased (but they never are). The tone of the play may shift so much that the entire production is an unrecognizable mess.

Luckily, this is not the case at all with Mauckingbird Theatre Company's new gender-bending production of Much Ado About Nothing.

In this new production, the genders of the main female love interests (Beatrice, Hero, and Ursula) and the family patriarchs (Leonato and Antonio) are switched. Aside from some conveniently changed pronouns, the original text remains intact. The play takes on the themes of jealousy, wit, and honor as they pertain to romantic relationships with a dash of camp and a great deal of heart.

The members of this young cast, many of whom are still in college, are incredibly talented and are definitely the highlight of this production. Sean Thompson plays Beatrice with equal parts sass and warmth that would make the Bard himself proud. Griffin Back plays Claudio, a young count in love with Hero, and is one to look out for in the Philadelphia theatre scene in the coming years. Cheryl Williams has the audience question their idea of authority and gender in her strong portrayal of Leonato, the governor of Messina. Will Poost and Philip Anthony Wilson make great comic turns as the crime-fighting constable Dogberry and his loyal sidekick Verges respectively.

One of the best things about this production of Much Ado is that it doesn’t treat the story as some big political statement just because it features homosexual relationships. Director Peter Reynolds achieves his goal of creating the gay romantic comedy he always dreamed of. It is sweet and simple and paints a picture of a society where homosexual relationships are treated the same way as heterosexual relationships. And that is definitely something to strive for.

Much Ado About Nothing runs through August 26 at the Off-Broad Street Theatre at First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom St. Tickets are $15 with a valid student ID. For more information, check out mauckingbird.org.

*Full disclosure: I am currently in a production for the Philly Fringe with Will Poost and have worked with Lindsay Mauck, co-founder of Mauckingbird Theatre Company.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Watch This! Theatre Web Series


Who says that theatre and online video can’t mix? In the last few years, some highly entertaining web series and viral videos focused on the theatre world have sprung up on YouTube and other video sharing platforms. These videos have managed to attract new audiences to theatre productions and have given actors and writers a new outlet for their talents. Here are just some of my favorite theatre web series. Maybe they can fill the void in your life between shows.


“The Battery’s Down” is a musical web series that follows struggling actor Jake and his friends as they try to make it in the Big Apple.  The show features original music from some of Broadway’s hottest composers and the best young talent in the musical theatre world. Creators Wilson and Gallagher also managed to bring in plenty of well-known Broadway actors to guest star in several episodes. Though the series ended in 2009, all of the episodes are still on YouTube and Jake now uses the channel to create viral musical comedy videos.




In this series on ticket and theatre news behemoth Broadway.com, Susan Blackwell of [title of show] fame interviews Broadway stars about their latest projects, favorite spots in New York, and occasionally what their costars’ mouths taste like. The show is a great way to get up close and personal with your favorite Broadway stars, and Susan Blackwell is also one of the funniest women on the planet (in my opinion). If you’re a fan of Susan, [title of show], or just Broadway in general, you’ll love this series.


Here’s an oldie but goodie. This show chronicles the journey of [title of show], a musical that documents its own conception, to Broadway. Each episode features irreverent banter between Hunter and Jeff, guest stars, and lots of charts (mostly from Jeff). I didn’t know much about the musical when I started watching "the [title of show] show", but by the time I saw [tos] during its short-lived run on Broadway, I was fully invested in the story of the little original musical that could. I’ll still watch an episode from time to time to get my nostalgia on, and if you’re at all interested in the musical, or theatre in general, I suggest you check this series out.



Do you have any favorite theatre-related videos? Let me know in the comments! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Everybody's Rushin': How to Get Student Rush Tickets

Being able to take advantage of student rush tickets is one of the best perks of being a student in my opinion. My university ID has afforded me some of the best discounts on theatre tickets out there, and has allowed me to see productions that I might not have seen otherwise. In my quest to find the best student rush offers in the theatre world, I’ve found that there is an art to “rushing” a show, one that I would’ve liked to know more about before I rushed my first show. So, dear reader, I present you with the three essential steps to acquiring student rush tickets.  

Step 1: Do your research ahead of time.

Visit the show or theatre’s website and find out when the box office opens and if they offer student rush tickets at all. Generally speaking, you’ll need to purchase the tickets in person, so figure out how to get to the box office. If the box office only accepts cash for student rush tickets, be sure to pay a visit to the ATM. Call the theatre if you have any questions that can’t be answered through the information on the website. And of course, don’t forget your ID!

Step 2: Arrive early.

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Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes
The definition of “early” may depend on the show you’re seeing. For smaller theatres, arriving at the box office fifteen minutes before it opens is usually sufficient. For Broadway shows or bigger productions, plan to get there three or more hours before if you want to be guaranteed a ticket. Bring a book or something to do while you wait, and don’t be afraid to talk to the people in line. Lots of people have met good friends waiting in line for rush tickets to their favorite shows.


And finally…

Step 3: Be flexible. 

I say this because it is entirely possible that you will wait for tickets for a while only to have the box office announce that the show is sold out when you are the next person in line. It is also entirely possible that the show will be sold out before you even get to the theatre. Try not to be disappointed if your original plan doesn’t work out, and have a back-up plan for the evening. There may be a fair amount of planning involved in rushing, but it is a process based on spontaneity and chance. And, to be honest, that’s what makes it so exciting.

Do you have any stories from the student rush line, or any tips for future rushers? Post them in the comments!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Know the (Nonexistent) Code: Is It Necessary to Dress Up for the Theatre?


As theatre has changed over the years, our ideas of what constitutes proper theatre etiquette have changed as well. What happens when someone's phone goes off in the middle of a play? Is it okay to sing along in your seat at jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys? And what the heck are you supposed to wear to the theatre?

This last question has been a hotly contested issue in the theatre community in the last few years. As audiences for commercial theatre are widening, their sartorial choices are becoming increasingly more casual. Despite this, there is still some unspoken expectation for audience members to dress up for a theatrical production, particularly at the professional level. This expectation can scare off young people who might be uncomfortable dressing up for a night at the theatre.

I asked some of my Twitter followers how they felt about dressing up for the theatre, and their responses were surprisingly split. Some enjoyed the process of dressing up as part of the general experience of going to the theatre, while others found that the expectation to dress up, “makes the theatre seem too exclusive.” One friend described her personal theatre fashion rules as, “Office-appropriate clothing a necessity; dressy clothing for openings, post-show receptions, and Lincoln Center/the Met.” Another said, “Although there isn’t an OFFICIAL dress code, I hate this sort of social requirement because it does keep certain people away from the theatre or at least makes them very uncomfortable or feel out of place when they are.”

So, what do I think about dressing for the theatre? I think that theatre patrons should be able to wear whatever they want to the theatre, within reason. Personally, I go for a smart-casual look when I’m going to a show. I’ll throw on a dress and a cardigan or a nice blouse and a pair of black pants. I do think that making an effort to look presentable shows respect to the cast and creative team behind a play.

However, the most important aspect to dressing for the theatre is comfort. In the end, you’re going to sit in a theatre for several hours, so while you still want to look presentable, you should wear something that makes you physically and emotionally comfortable. Your sartorial choices shouldn’t detract from your overall experience at the theatre.

How do you dress for the theatre? Do you expect the audience to dress up for a performance, or do you think we should be allowed to wear whatever we want? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Summer on the Fringe


For us theatre lovers, summer means blasting the original Broadway cast recording of our favorite musicals while driving down to the beach (or lake or other body of water), attending the final performance of every theatre camp in town, and heading to the fringe festival in our nearest city.

Now, you may be asking, what the heck is a fringe festival? By Wikipedia’s definition, fringe theatre is “theatre that is not of the mainstream”. The term can be used to describe smaller theatres that stage more experimental productions, but generally, it refers to the unjuried festivals that accept productions on a first come, first serve basis until all of the available performance spaces are full. The programming of these festivals usually isn’t limited to theatre. All kinds of performance art, from cabaret to spoken word poetry, are welcome at fringe festivals.

What makes the fringe festivals so attractive to young audiences is that tickets to festival productions are inexpensive and occasionally free!

The term “fringe” was first coined in Edinburgh, Scotland at the 1947 Edinburgh International Festival, when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited and staged their own productions outside of the festival, or “on the fringe”. Since then, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has become the largest and most exciting of its kind. This festival features performance art of all kinds, though in recent years it has been known to attract big names in comedy such as Ricky Gervais and Tim Minchin. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, one of the most highly acclaimed plays of the twentieth century saw its first full performance at the 1966 Festival Fringe. This year’s festival runs through August 27.

A more recent addition to the fringe festival scene is the Chicago Fringe Festival, founded in 2010. Featuring about 50 performance groups each year, the CFF, “unites daring theatergoers with emerging and boundary-pushing artists from around the world.” This festival provides a win-win situation for both the artists and the audience; tickets are only $10 and 100% of the proceeds go to the artists. Though it is a younger venture, the Chicago Fringe Festival is definitely one to check out. This year’s festival runs from August 30 to September 9.

The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe bring cutting edge art to the Philadelphia area for two weeks in September. Productions range from dance to film to things that defy categorization altogether. Tickets to many of the productions are inexpensive, and the festival offers great student discounts. This year’s festival will be particularly exciting for me, because I will be performing in MONUMENT, the Drexel Players’ first production in the Philly Fringe. The process of creating this piece has been exciting and we can’t wait to share it with the world. We also have a blog where we are documenting the creative process, which you are all free to check out!

Have you been to a fringe festival? What did you think of it? Comment below with your fringe stories!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: "Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown" by Bruce Graham


A ranch in Nebraska, a gun-slinging sheriff, an over-eager young journalist, and ... a Chicago Gangster? 

All four of these things come together in Bruce Graham's latest play Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown, now playing at Malvern, PA's People's Light and Theatre. But first, we pay a visit to the local historian of a small town in Nebraska, played with enthusiasm by Peter DeLaurier. He’ll take us back to the 1920s, where the ambitious young journalist Ambrose Healey (Michael Doherty) and a mysterious and obviously out of place city slicker from Chicago named Mr. Brown (Richard Ruiz) wait to speak with Richard “Two-Gun” Hart, the local sheriff played by Christopher Patrick Mullen.

Newspapers B&W (4)
Photo: NS Newsflash
There are some very interesting dynamics at play in Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown. Throughout the two hour play, Graham explores the concepts of nature vs. nurture, good vs. evil, and the ways that we may or may not choose to fight the way that people see us. Things get complicated, as the so often do in life, and we as an audience are asked to imagine both historical figures and ourselves complexly. This is what really sets this play apart from Graham’s body of work thus far.

Ruiz, Doherty, Mullen, and DeLaurier each give tremendous performances in this new play. Doherty, a younger actor, will definitely be one to look out for on the theatre scene in the coming years. He brilliantly portrays his character’s transition from a na├»ve young reporter working in a quiet town to a full-fledged adult forced to come to grips with the fact that real heroes are hard to find. This talented cast will be hard to beat in future productions of Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown.
Nebraska Sunset
Photo: Nebraska Helen

Graham likes to set his plays in one central space, and director Pete Pryor makes great use of the Hart’s yard on an Indian reservation, where much of the play takes place. The set is drenched in the sepia tone that the prairie takes on as the sun sets, and as the stage gets darker and night falls, we feel the sense of urgency that the situation brings. The tone and ideas of the play are very well executed by the entire production team, making it easy for the audience to lose themselves in the story.

Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown runs through August 19th at People’s Light & Theatre’s Steinbright Stage (39 Conestoga Rd. Malvern, PA). To get there by public transportation, take SEPTA’s Paoli-Thorndale line to Paoli and then either take a taxi (5 min.) or walk (26 min.) to the theatre. Tickets are $25-$45.