Thursday, June 14, 2012

An Appeal for the Return of the Sitting Ovation

                Although it’s been sort of on my mind for some time now, I was inspired to further explore this recently.  I’ve even been audacious enough to act on it.  The topic?  Standing ovations.  I was moved by Ben Brantley’s recent article for the New York Times on the matter.   While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says (I think I liked Newsies way more than he did), I think he makes an excellent point.  Standing ovations have become an epidemic in the theater, and it’s not a good thing.  The ridiculous prevalence of the standing ovation has stripped it of its merit.  It hardly means anything anymore to give or receive a standing ovation.  I’m trying to see if we can do something about that – starting with me.
I don’t see as many Broadway shows as I’d  like (face it: I’d like to see them all), but I’d say I see significantly more on Broadway than the average American.  Also, because of work I do here, I see almost every show done in the Triangle on the local and regional level, as well as all the big national tours.  And I see a lot of standing ovations.
                One incident which really sticks out in my mind is when I saw Clybourne Park on Broadway.  I enjoyed the show, but it wasn’t my favorite.  I was all set to politely applaud, give a “whoop” for the actor I really liked, and be on my way.  However, I was sitting practically among a large group of high school students from southern Florida – all musical theater kids.  The very second that the curtain call started, every last one of them was on their feet, even the guy who fell asleep during act 1.  They gave a standing ovation like that’s what they thought they were supposed to do.  Maybe that is, actually, what they thought they were supposed to do.  But, really, was the kid who fell asleep for several pivotal scenes really moved that much by the production?  Probably not.
                Maybe that incident has a lot to do with what Ben Brantley was saying about out-of-town crowds versus New York crowds.  I get what he’s saying, but I think for the purposes of the rest of America, that can probably be expanded to people who see live theater every once and a while versus those who make a regular habit of it.  I don’t want it to seem like I’m looking down on the once-in-a-whilers; every theater patron is a wonderful asset to the community.  But there’s a difference.  Like people who go to every home baseball game of a season are, in many ways, different sorts of fans than those who go to one or two.
                I had been, up until now, one of those people at the theater who remained in my seat, eventually looked around at everyone standing, and begrudgingly stood, mostly so I could see the end of the curtain call.  But now, I’m taking a stand.  Well, actually, I’m taking a seat.  I’m the kind of girl who likes to go with the flow, so it’s been an interesting experience so far.
                I went to see the national tour of West Side Story on official business.  I brought a friend who hasn’t seen much live theater lately.  She agreed with me that the standing ovation was silly.  We sat.  We were the only ones, but it actually didn’t feel awkward.  I think I made my point.  I applauded and even cheered, because the production was good.  But, if anyone asks, I’m saving my standing ovation for the top 1%.  That’s what I’ve decided.
                I went to a local theater production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, also on official business.  Everyone stood.  I was gracious, polite, and seated.  Same goes for a regional production of Boeing Boeing I saw this week to review.  I loved the show.  So did everyone else there.  They stood.  I applauded from my seat.
                So far, there hasn’t been any fallout.  No one has approached me to ask me why I didn’t stand or why I didn’t like the performance.  I haven’t had to explain to anyone that I’m saving it for the top 1%.  When the curtain call is over, we all just go on with our lives.  Additionally, many of the shows I see are in a professional capacity.  I receive a comp ticket to review the show (in case you’re wondering, I review those shows elsewhere – this blog is reserved for shows I see in my free time).  Would it be professional for me to stand?  I don’t know.  I’m not quite sure where the line is.
                So, for now, I’m sitting.  I encourage you to join me in my sit-ins, if you will.  Let’s all, as a whole, give a standing ovation back its weight so that it truly means something to receive one.  Thoughts?

Tribes - Moving, Delicate, and Dynamic Theater

                I finished out my whirlwind trip to NYC with my fifth show in two days down in the Village at the Barrow Street Theatre.  Before the show, I took the subway down to Christopher Street, wandered around, got a snack at Amy’s Bread, and had a very pleasant time exploring the neighborhood.  Even though I love to go to New York as often as possible, and so desperately want to be a “local,” let’s face it – I’m a tourist.  I’m a girl who travels up from North Carolina to be amazed by everything New York has to offer.  This was my first time spending quality time wandering around the Village.  I had been to the Lortel Theatre to see Carrie, but I didn’t get to do a whole lot of exploring.  I love the neighborhood.  It’s eclectic and fun.
                The Barrow Street Theatre is quite unassuming – it’s in a building called Greenwich House.  Walking by, you’d never know it’s a theater.  I literally had to find the “27” on the building before I was certain that I was in the right place.
                The performance space itself is not big (it is, after all, an Off-Broadway house), but they do so much with it.  There were seats on all four sides of the square performance space in the middle.  The space was a living room/dining area with a gorgeously made “skylight.”
                Tribes tell the story of Billy, a young Deaf man, raised in a hearing family – a family which made no effort to understand that there is such a thing as Deaf culture, and did not teach him sign or anything like that.  He speaks well, and is a skilled lip-reader.  He meets a woman named Sylvia, who comes from a Deaf family, who introduces him to the Deaf world, but who herself is struggling with the fact that she is losing her hearing.
                First of all, I need to get one thing off my chest – I think I’m in love with Russell Harvard, who plays Billy.  Not only is the man an incredibly talented actor who took on a very tough role with Billy, but he’s also extremely easy on the eyes.  Harvard, a deaf actor who has made a name for himself with some key film roles, took on some extremely challenging stuff with Tribes.  He speaks for most of the show, but he also has to make mistakes and such when he speaks, which is challenging.  I saw a funny interview he did in which he reminded the audience to be kind, because he doesn’t actually know what a British accent sounds like.  I think he did a great job, and the folks I was sitting with and I agreed that the accent thing was totally irrelevant.  He did an impeccable job, as did the rest of the stellar ensemble cast.
                I was so compelled by this well-told (Drama Desk-winning) story.  It really presented the Deaf world as populated by real people with their own gifts and shortcomings.  Especially having seen Clybourne Park the day before, which showed such a one-dimensional portrayal of a deaf person, I was moved by how real these characters were.  Billy is desperate to find a place he belongs in the world, but also needs to lash out about who he is and the people he comes from.  Sylvia, his love interest and guide into the Deaf world, is such a dynamic and complex character, as she comes from a world which won’t let her mourn the fact that she’s losing her hearing.  The two meet in such a wonderful way that tells such a fantastic story.  Nina Raines (the playwright) never once presents Deafness as a handicap, but she does acknowledge its challenges.  People who are culturally Deaf do not generally view their Deafness as a handicap, but rather as a source of cultural pride.  I only know this from a nominal amount of research that I’ve done, but it’s clear that Raines knows her stuff.  She’s able to tackle big issues in such a delicate yet head-on way.
                I especially enjoyed the scenes of interaction between Billy and his brother.  His brother is battling his own demons, and Billy has been like his anchor for some time.  Truth time: I cried a lot when they interacted.  I was just so moved.
                Along with the beautiful skylight, there were some other creative elements of the show which I really loved.  There was need for some subtitles when characters were only signing and not speaking.  The projections were done on unique surfaces – the side of the window, the mattress, etc., so that it seemed an organic part of that world.  It didn’t seem like “translations,” but just felt like their words popping up.
                I met some really cool people in the audience, as well.  I sat with a couple from Los Angeles who have done a lot of work with a Deaf theater company out west.  We had an interesting chat.  I told them about how I teach American Sign Language to hearing primary students, and how I try my best to include as much about Deaf culture as possible.  We had some great chats, and at the end, we applauded in ASL together, which was pretty cool.
                I know that I make a lot of recommendations for shows, but I really, truly believe that Tribes is one of the best pieces of theater I’ve ever seen, and I think the Hearing world needs to see this play.

Arianda is a Goddess, and Other Musings on Venus in Fur

                So, I know that I’m hopelessly behind in all of this, so sorry to all 6 people who read this.  The end of the year stuff at school has been nuts, so I’ve barely had any time to write about the theater I saw in NYC over Memorial Day weekend.  But I couldn’t let it go any longer without discussing Venus in Fur!
                So, I’m a plan-ahead kind of gal, but I wanted to leave part of my whirlwind 2-day trip up to chance.  I left the Sunday matinee open, with plans to hit up TKTS and see what I could find there.  I got into the play express line, which was surprisingly long, and for the 45 minutes I was there (I got there before the booth opened), I debated what I was going to see.  I couldn’t decide between Venus in Fur and One Man, Two Guv’nors.  I actually asked one of the guys there handing out flyers, and he gave me good advice: see which one I could get a better seat for, and take that one.  He assured me that both shows were wonderful in their own way.  Well, the ticket-seller at TKTS was able to offer me a front-row seat to Venus in Fur, so I took it.
                The only problem?  It was 11 in the morning, and the show wasn’t until 3.  Luckily, I was in the center of the universe, so I took the subway to the Strand bookstore.  I browsed for quite some time, bought a new copy of How I Paid for College…, and wandered back to Union Square to take the subway back to Times Square.  I must have had an air of confidence about me, because that subway trip marked the first of several times that day that I would be asked directions for how to get somewhere on the subway.  One man asked me, “do you take this train often?”, and, not wanting to seem like a tourist, my response was, “not so often, no.”  How silly.
                The time to enter the theater finally rolled around, and I took my seat.  It turns out, I was sitting with some ladies I met earlier in the day in the TKTS line.  We had a lovely chat – one lady didn’t realize that some shows have performances on Sunday evening, and once she found this out, she began busily deciding which one she was going to see.  I guess my five-shows-in-two-days feat is an inspiring one.
                Venus in Fur is presented without an intermission (which was perfection), and the show is just marvelous.  It’s hilarious, deep, and true.  I still cannot get over how amazing Nina Arianda is.  The woman is a genius, plain and simple.  She brought the character of Vanda to life with so much depth and so much truth.  I was peeling with laughter, but also so intent on the arc of her character – how does she do it!?  No, really, I want to know.  I’m writing this after the Tony Awards, but up to the awards themselves, I kept telling people, “If there’s any justice in the world, Nina Arianda will win the Tony.”  I guess my faith in the world is restored.  Clearly I’m not the only one who recognized her genius.  The woman is a goddess.
                Nina’s not the only thing I loved about the show.  Clearly, Ives’ writing is phenomenal.  Hugh Dancy was a great partner for Nina.  I loved the stark set.  It had those little touches that made it real.  You know, like the faded spots on the bulletin board from when a paper is left there a long time, and coffee cups and packets of Equal next to the coffee pot.  My favorite was the sign that said “Your mother doesn’t work here, so please clean up after yourself.”  It’s those little touches that made it so real.
                Even though the show ends just as things are getting really juicy, I love what it does and where it goes in just over 90 minutes.  As the two characters are reading the script to the play-within-the-play, they go there.  Like, really there.  Like, there’s a dog collar involved.  They do things that I’m sure are not equity standard for an audition.  I love that they are so willing to let a piece of theater take them someplace so raw and emotional.  Clearly, they both have hang-ups to deal with – Vanda is either a stalker or clairvoyant, and Thomas is a kind of uptight guy who needs writing to be his release.  The interaction between the two is impeccable.
                I know I’m not giving you much time, but please go see Venus in Fur before it closes in a few days.  You won’t regret it, not one bit.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Unabashedly Gushing Over Peter and the Starcatcher

                I’m in love.  Truly, madly, deeply in love.  And I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.  The object of my affection?  Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher, of course!  I feel silly writing such a gushy post (hence the middle school journal overtones here), but I can’t think of anything bad to say about the show – it might actually be the best piece of theater I’ve ever seen.  Ever.
Photo from
                Actually, if I think really hard I could probably think of one negative thing to say.
                I got it.  My seat was in dead center in the front row of the mezzanine (there’s a gripe coming, I promise), and the seat was so close to the balcony edge that my feet were cramped.  But even that’s only because I’m 6 feet tall and I had already walked about 87 miles around Manhattan that day.  Normal-sized humans who take the subway to the theater won’t be able to find a single negative thing to say about Peter and the Starcatcher.
                I literally cannot remember the last time I felt so captivated by theater.  It’s like when kids who can’t sit still for ten seconds but when put in front of a computer can spend hours playing a video game.  I’m that ADD kid, and Peter is my video game.  Except it’s infinitely cooler than a video game.
                First of all, the acting is perfect.  Yes, I’m talking about Adam Chanler-Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Christian Borle, but I am also referring to the entire ensemble.  Every one of them is a genius.  Second, the design of the show is so lively, uplifting, and perfect in its simplicity.  At the very same time, it reminded me of when I would put on shows in my yard as a kid and made me wonder in awe at the way that simple things like ropes and ladders can truly become pirate ships and tropical islands.
                As you read this next part, please keep in mind that I have no personal stake in the merchandising department for the play.  Buy the annotated script.  Do it.  It includes wonderful insight into the show, yes, but my favorite part is the quippy and brilliant stage directions, like the perfectly penned “A Great Silence of Piratical Awfulness” (Act I. Scene 7. Line 7).  Genius, right?  Seriously, buy it.  But first you have to buy a ticket to the show, which is the best thing you’ll buy all year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To Be or Not To Be Offended? - My Thoughts on Clybourne Park

                I’m worried that I’m going to sound nit-picky, but I have something I really need to get off my chest after seeing Clybourne Park on Broadway on Saturday.  Let me start by lauding the play for its merits.
                The play makes some important points through its slightly overblown (on purpose!) characters who represent some things we don’t want to face about ourselves and society.  During my time spent as a sociology major (side note – actual job opportunities stemming from a degree in sociology: zero), I learned a lot about the sensitive issues surrounding changing neighborhoods, especially regarding gentrification.  I think the characters were fairly adept in expressing how reluctant we are, as a society, to face these issues.  I applaud the play and the playwright for presenting these issues without claiming to offer a solution.  There are merits and drawbacks to ethnically diverse neighborhoods, and we as a society (like the characters in the play) are more comfortable skirting around the issues than addressing them head-on.
From the script of Clybourne Park
                But I have an issue.  Although it is in my nature to shy away from conflict, I feel confident that Bruce Norris (the playwright) would want me to just come right out and state my grievances.  It might kind of be in the spirit of the play, in the context of who-is-allowed-to-be-offended-on-behalf-of-whom that I find my gripe.  I have been known to be too concerned with political correctness and too easily offended on behalf of others, but I think I have a valid (if inflated) point to make.  I was disappointed by the character of Betsy.  She is a deaf woman (and I use a lower-case d on purpose in this instance) who is the only character in the show who is one-dimensional and there for the purpose of being the butt of jokes.  I don’t think the writing is an accurate or respectful representation of the Deaf (capital D on purpose) community.  I’m not Deaf (or deaf), I’m not part of the Deaf community, I don’t have Deaf friends or family members, and I don’t speak on behalf of those who are/do.  I simply speak on behalf of me and my feelings.  And yes, I do realize that a large part of her presence in the show is to point out the ignorance of many of the other characters (particularly Bev, who has no idea how to act around a deaf person).  But I really don’t like the way her lines are written in the script (see picture), and I don’t think it’s necessary to write her in such a way.  The punch lines at her expense felt cheap to me.  I teach ASL to hearing K-2 students.  Generally, I start off with kids who don’t even know what it means to be d/Deaf.  A vital part of my curriculum is explaining Deaf culture and helping students to understand that Deaf kids are just like them, with one (minor) difference.  Deaf people (that is, culturally Deaf people) often don’t regard their deafness as a handicap, just a part of who they are, something worthy of pride.  Deafness is truly a culture in the anthropological and sociological sense. 
A lot of these thoughts occurred to me while I was seeing Tribes at the Barrow Street Theater, which shows such a multi-dimensional Deaf community of real people, with merits and faults.  Betsy is essentially lacking in personality of her own – she is her deafness, and for the purposes of this play, her deafness is a handicap (people actually swear at her to prove the point that she can’t her them – we get it!), and that handicap is supposed to be funny.  I might be too uptight here, but I didn’t like that.  You know what?  If that means, I’m uptight, I’m okay with that – read on.
                When I get in a fit of being all riled up like this, it makes me want to write off the whole play because of this one instance.  But I can’t.  Because it gets so many things right.  Because it made me really examine how I feel about race.  And, because of how I feel about Betsy, it really challenged me to think about my position and how racial attitudes and attitudes toward other communities than mine differ.  Why am I so quick to rush to the defense of people who are fully capable of defending themselves?  It’s a lot like the characters in act two – not sure if people need or want people of other races to be progressive on their behalf.  Even now, I worry about whether or not I should even be worried about this.  Is that silly?
But, at the end of the day, this work and these characters, including Betsy – no, especially Betsy, challenged me.  And isn’t that what the theater is for?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Newsies - Now With Cocktails

                 At the end of a whirlwind trip to NYC was Disney’s Newsies.  This was actually the first ticket we bought for the trip.  We had already been on quite an emotional roller coaster, going from NOW. HERE. THIS. to Sleep No More to Once to Carrie.  We were ready for some light-hearted awesomeness.
                The Newsies film was important to my childhood – I would assume this statement to be true for all folks who, like me, were born in the 1980s and grew up to be musical theater junkies.  I knew the songs, and my only lament was the fact that there weren’t any good girl parts.  Even when I was older, my summer camp friends and I watched the movie and sang along en masse – and by summer camp friends, I don’t mean childhood friends, I mean people I worked at camp with.  We were adults by then.  Upon hearing the news that Disney’s stage adaptation of Newsies was, indeed, transferring to Broadway after its run at the Paper Mill, I knew I had to be there.  It’s my childhood, come to life.
                As I sat down in my seat at the back of the orchestra with my windowcard (my collection is getting too big to handle, but still I buy one at every show), I had a moment of realization that not everybody was obsessed with Newsies as a child.  I can’t imagine a childhood without it, but a young lady in front of us turned around about ten minutes before curtain and said, “excuse me, but can either of you tell me what this show is about?”  Although I was shocked that there are people on this planet who don’t know Newsies, I must applaud her for going to a Broadway show that she didn’t even know anything about.  I filled her in, and I hope she loved it and is forever a convert.
                I must admit that I was a little bit nervous before the show.  I was worried that it would be like getting to meet your favorite celebrity and then finding out that they’re not really so wonderful in person.  It became clear after the opening number that I had little to worry about.  The new songs flowed in smoothly, and the classics were done to perfection.  The dancing was beyond ridiculous.  I, a 26-year-old grown-up was utterly mesmerized by a cast that is, largely, younger than me.  And, ten-year-old me would be delighted to know that they added a super awesome “girl part.”  I like the romance storyline – and would it really be Disney without it?  Another appreciated addition: Newsies-themed cocktails in the lobby.  I had a “Seize the Day;” it was delicious and came in a souvenir cup.  I’m a sucker for anything in a souvenir cup.  At intermission, we booked it to the merchandise booth to pre-order our cast recording (if you download it online, you won’t get the bonus tracks), and we got a complimentary poster with our pre-order.  Thanks, Disney!
                After an amazing show, I headed out to the stage door.  I usually like to visit the stage door, especially if I’ve seen a performer in something else (I saw Ben Fankhauser four times in Spring Awakening, and I was a fan of Jess LeProtto on SYTYCD), but this stage door was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  The crowds were crazy.  Also, I’m pretty sure we were the only two people stage door-ing who were even alive when the film came out, much less old enough to watch it.  However, we managed to brave the crowds and meet the cast.  They were genuine, though hurried, doing as best they could to sign 80 billion Playbills (I counted, that’s accurate).  There was even a “news crew” from some Disney Channel show that I’m too old to recognize.  Maybe my students will see me on TV.
                Newsies was absolutely worth it.  But, if you don’t like crowds of 15-year-olds, perhaps skip the stage door.

Resurrecting a Flop: Carrie

                 After a Sunday matinee performance of Once, we headed downtown to Christopher Street for an evening performance of MCCTheater’s Carrie at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.  I managed to convince my hesitant friend to see it by insisting that Marin Mazzie is simply the best, and that there were some folks from the Spring Awakening tour who I loved and knew to be crazy talented.  Thankfully, he agreed, because it turned out to be a fantastic night of theatre.
                The Lortel was dim, but not dark, as we entered, and the set was appropriately creepy.  They did a good job of setting up the vibe for the show.  I’m not really into horror movies (as I am the jumpiest person on the planet), but I saw the film Carrie some years ago, and I felt like I knew sort of what to expect.  It wasn’t scary in the way that a haunted house is scary – nothing jumping out at unsuspecting patrons, but it was intense and suspenseful.
                So, here’s what I liked: the set, the music, the cast.  The set was set up in such a way that it could go from one place to another without a hitch – the use of projection was inspired and not over-the-top.  The music was, as we discussed after the show, appropriate for a high school musical without being High School Musical.  The pop-influenced songs were perfect for the teenage characters.  The casting was spot-on, with the possible exception of one or two gentlemen clearly being too old to play high school students (I’m classy, so I’m not naming names).  I especially loved Christy Altomare as Sue – she brought it from start to finish, and she was just so kind and gracious at the stage door.  Of course, I loved Marin, but I knew I would before I even got to my seat.  Her voice absolutely filled that small theatre.  Molly Ranson did an excellent job of being the quirky Carrie, and was convincingly timid.  I think it was the little things – her eyes darting, her lips pulled in – that truly made the character convincing.  The ensemble cast did a great job of capturing the spirit of high school, and each “minor” character was well-defined and funny.
                As for what I didn’t like?  I’m having trouble coming up with anything.  I know that’s a total cop-out, but I really enjoyed the show.  And this isn’t the New York Times, so I don’t feel too terrible about writing a one-sided review.
                It’s unfortunate that MCC Theater had to scale back their extension for Carrie, because more people need to see it.  I understand why it might be a hard sell, particularly since the show lasted only five performances on Broadway in the 1980s.  However, this isn’t that Carrie.  I mean, it is, but it’s updated for a contemporary audience, and it, frankly, rocks.  Also, whichever gods are responsible for such things, I’m ready and willing to sacrifice my left hand for a cast recording.
                Oh, I almost forgot to share this awesome story with you:  after the show, we were headed down Christopher Street to meet a friend at a bar, and we realize that we had been walking for several blocks right behind Brian Stokes Mitchell!  He came to the show to see Marin, and we happened to be walking in the same direction.  Only in New York.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Simple Magic of Once

                My favorite thing about New York City is that you can wake up in the morning and have no idea what adventures await.  My traveling companion and I had planned go to the Book of Mormon lottery in hopes of getting tickets to the Sunday matinee, with our back-up plan being getting tickets to a different show at the TKTS booth.  Well, somehow we got wrong information about show times and missed the lottery completely, but it turned out to be a stroke of luck for us.  We headed into Times Square and got tickets for the matinee performance of Once – one of the best unplanned experiences I’ve had in quite some time.
Playbill with Autographs
                I am a true believer that theatergoing is an experience, not a passive activity.  The folks at Once clearly agree with me.  The show was truly an experience from the second we entered the doors of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.  The stage at Once is (before the show and at intermission) a real bar, where audience members are invited to come and purchase a drink.  We went right up on stage and bought ourselves a beer each.  I’ve never actually been to Ireland (sigh!), but it felt like we were in an Irish pub, right down to chatting with the bartender (he heard us talking about Sleep No More, so we filled him in on that as best we could).  We hung out on stage for a while and then took our seats (I like to have ample time to read my Playbill before a show).  Cast members came out onto the stage while audience members were still buying and drinking their beverages, and started playing and singing traditional Irish and Czech songs.  It was organic, like music that would truly spring up in a pub.  Slowly and without much fuss, the audience was directed off the stage and to their seats as the cast continued to entertain us.  I hardly even noticed the stage clearing of bar patrons.  The transition into the beginning of the show was perfectly seamless as Steve Kazee (excuse me while I swoon) began singing.
                I don’t want to give too much away, especially for those who haven’t seen the movie, but I’m willing to take the (possibly controversial) stance that this show is better than the movie.  I know I’m not the only one who thinks so.  The show was hilarious and heartbreaking in all the right ways.  I loved how natural and organic the music was and that the band and the cast were one and the same.  We had the marvelous experience of seeing Andrea Goss, the understudy, go on for Girl.  She absolutely blew me away.  I love to see understudies go on, and this experience did not disappoint.  The show was so seamless and the transitions were tight and natural.  There wasn’t a whole lot in the way of sets and props, which worked as a big plus for the show – no distractions for the audience for big set changes, etc.  The main thoroughfare for the characters was the very same pub where we had gotten our pre-show beers.
                In all, the haunting/delicate/gorgeous/moving music, the perfect mix of simplicity and complexity, the phenomenal acting and singing, and the flow of the book all came together to create not just theatre, but an experience which will be on my mind for some time.  Well done, Once.

The Theatrical Experience of Sleep No More

                 Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More isn’t just theatre, it’s beyond that – it’s a theatrical experience.  The number one question I got/get when telling people about seeing Sleep No More on my trip to New York was/is “what is it?”  As much as I’d love to help those people out, there really isn’t an easy answer.  I think even those who know the show inside and out might have trouble coming up with a succinct yet sufficient answer.  Yes, there’s Macbeth, but there’s more to it than that.  What I can say, without giving away any crucial details, and without blowing any mystery is that it’s an experiential theatre event in which “guests” self-guide themselves around the performance as they see fit.  There’s a lot going on at once, and no right or wrong way to “do” it. 
                My friend and I had tickets to the Saturday late-night performance of the show, which was actually perfect.  Somehow, just the fact that it was midnight seemed to add to the suspense.   I’m not used to being up that late – my day job is as a public school teacher, and I had traveled a long way to be in NYC, without a whole lot of sleep – and I think the actors must have wondered why I was yawning, but I was engaged and intrigued the whole time.  It’s truly a captivating experience, even when the actors aren’t actually in the same room as you.  There’s always something to discover.  Before the show, we went to an 8 pm performance of NOW. HERE. THIS. at the Vineyard Theatre.  We got some advice from the one and only Susan Blackwell, after mentioning to her that our next stop was Sleep No More.  She gave us two solid pieces of wisdom.  The first was that, while suspenseful, it’s not like a haunted house – no monster is going to jump out at you.  That was reassuring, because I happen to be one of the jumpiest people on the planet.  Her second piece of advice was to look up a Gawker article detailing how to see all the nudity in the show.  I won’t link directly to the article here, because certain people who read my blog happen to find me wholesome, and I’d like to keep it that way, but it’s easy enough to Google, if you’re so inclined.  We found the article to be hilarious (and true), but it also gave us a little heads-up (without giving too much plot away) about what we were about to see.  It’s a safe bet that if you’re not comfortable being mere feet from a naked stranger, then this might not be the place for you.
                    I’m going to be purposefully vague about what I saw during the show, but let me just say that it was honestly one of the most intense experiences of my life.  The experience begins right when you enter, and continues long after you’re done.  I was inside there for two and a half hours, and I can’t remember a time when my brain has been truly “on” for that long.  I was really thinking about what I was seeing, and it was fascinating.  I don’t want to make it seem like I actually understood half the stuff I saw, because the task of trying to piece it all together is half the battle and all the fun.  My friend and I went together, but we split up and explored on our own.  That’s definitely the best way to do it – we apparently saw almost two completely different shows, and we had a lot to discuss later.  He and I literally discussed it the whole walk back to our hotel on East 42nd, and all the way through Sunday brunch.  We are both aching to go back.  I’m willing to sacrifice a good deal of time and money for the opportunity to return.  I think it goes without saying that I cannot recommend Sleep No More highly enough.  It’s too difficult to explain, you really just have to experience it, so go!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Amazingly Awesome Emotional Roller Coaster of NOW. HERE. THIS.

                My journey to NOW. HERE. THIS. began over a year ago, when my friend and I saw [title of show] at Virginia’s SignatureTheatre.  We absolutely loved it, and became obsessed – we now know every word to the cast recording, and do the whole show on road trips, fighting over who gets to be Susan.  I never miss an episode of Side by Side by SusanBlackwell on, and I’m a self-admitted Susan fangirl.  The woman is, quite honestly, an idol of mine – I respect her so much, and I think she’s such an asset to the Broadway community in general.  So, when I saw that the [tos] foursome’s new show, NOW. HERE. THIS., would be playing the Vineyard Theatre, I convinced my friend that we needed to see it.  Well, perhaps “convinced,” is too strong of a word – I think it went more like this:
                Me: Hey, they’re doing NOW. HERE. THIS. at the Vineyard Theatre.
                Him: We are so going.
Now that plans were in place, we were ready.
Photo credit:
                This was, believe it or not, my first venture into an Off-Broadway theatre.  It’s strange, since I travel to New York several times a year, and I see so much Brodway stuff.  But, as we arrived at the Vineyard and took our seats in the second row (squeal!), I found that the Off-Broadway vibe really suits me.  I like the smaller house and the intimate feel.  As the show started, I had a lot of trouble containing my excitement – I’m pretty sure the cast could see me grinning and wiggling in my seat, not knowing what to do in the presence of four of the coolest people on the planet.  My excitement was certainly merited – the show was amazing!  We loved it so much. 
The show is less linear than [title of show], but delves deeper into the idea of finding the intersection of now, here, and this.  The basic premise is that the four are in the natural history museum trying to find how they can live in the moment.  The cast made me laugh at their hilarious stories and anecdotes, cry with them about touching personal and family moments, and laugh again.  I’m pretty sure there were several times when I was laughing and crying at the same time.  More importantly, the show made me think about my life and my creative endeavors.  Those four made me stop and think about what’s important, and how a person gets to the point in which they feel fulfilled.  It’s been on my mind a lot in the few days since seeing the show.  I’m also thinking, “God, I hope there’s a cast recording in the works.”
  The two of us (my friend and I) waited in the lobby to meet the cast after the show, and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.  I got to meet all of them, and they seemed so genuine.  We had a real conversation with Susan about seeing Sleep No More, which we were seeing later that evening - more on that in my next article.  They seem to really care about the people for whom they create, and that didn't go unnoticed.  I love when I meet people who I imagine to be really cool and I'm not disappointed.  They really are classy and awesome.
              In short, the odds of anyone not loving NOW. HERE. THIS. are about an Ann Jillian to one.