The next generation is finding new places to do theater.

Violet Bus StanfordSite specific and environmental theater has always been a “thing.”  (I was one of the few that got to see Jonathan “Rent” Larson’s site specific JP Morgan Saves The Nation which was performed on the steps of a big bank downtown.)

But is it me, or do much higher profile productions seem to be finding their way into new and interesting spaces?  And do more productions in traditional spaces seem to be using the spaces non-traditionally?

Take the in-a-tent Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812.  Or what about the “360 degree scenic and video environment” seen in Here Lies Love?  Murder Ballad?  Sleep No More?  Then She Fell?  

And everyone’s talking about how Rocky (directed by Here Lies Love helmer, Alex Timbers) turns the theater into a boxing ring by physically moving the audience.

And away from The Great White Way, what about this recent production of the Jeanine Tesori musical, Violet, which took place on a moving bus?  That’s right . . . I said on a bus!

So what do all these productions have in common?

You guessed it . . . the creators could all be on an “Under 40” list.

Is it just because younger folks have to come up with cheaper performance spaces than traditional halls?  Are younger folks more likely to try something a little more out there?

Or, is it that the next generation of artists . . . and audiences . . . demand a different type of experience than the generations before it?  Is it that a revolution of how we consume theater may be coming, which doesn’t take place in old fashioned proscenium houses with only two bathrooms and uncomfortable seats?

If you’re 40 years old or younger, then you’ve grown up in the computer age.  And that means you experience the world in an entirely different way than the people who came before you.

And that means you’re going to create art in a totally different way as well.

And this generation is only just getting started.


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  • Jamie says:

    The ones I’ve seen from this list have all been incredibly imaginative, wonderful productions. Here Lies Love is perhaps my favorite show of the year (as was Natasha, Pierre when it was mounted at Ars Nova). It’s interesting to consider the circumstances that created these shows though. Given the cost to mount a Broadway show, the difficulty of securing a space, and the economic circumstances that favor more established artists, it’s no wonder that under-40s have started to think outside of the box.

  • Everyone on team of Violet at Stanford University is thrilled and honored to appear on a list of productions redefining the theatrical experience. Thank you for this post and for giving a shout out to eager young artists!

  • Sue says:

    “only two bathrooms and uncomfortable seats”

    Ken, you nailed it again.

  • Clair Sedore says:

    do not know if your younger audience remembers a play called “Tamara” (
    which originated in Toronto, where the audience followed the actors throughout a house, going along with whichever characters they wanted, so each member got a different slant on a story…a very interesting project in 1981

  • Scott Briefer says:

    Hmmm. I’m 56 years old and over 40 years ago I remember traveling south of Broadway to see amazing “immersive” productions. It wasn’t called “immersive” than, it was called “environmental” theater. I even remember Broadway’s attempt to stay current by transforming The Broadway Theatre for such productions as Dude and Candide.

    I don’t think breaking the traditional boundaries of the proscenium is new – not by a long shot. I just think that we’re having a rather exciting acceptance of these productions. And, I for one am extremely grateful. I loved experimental theater in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s… and I truly have enjoyed the shows listed in your blog.

  • George says:

    Hey ANYTHING to get away from Union Stage Crews!!! The Delware Opera House charges $35K for a weekend $20K just to cover Union contracts for total unneeded “coverage” back stage (paid $10K for the Opera House at Progress Center in Raleigh, NC) INSANE! And I’m sure NYC is far worse.

    I’m currently working with the Historical Society of renting to the downtown Old Colonial Town Hall (currently not being used… for anything!) I am staging “She Stoops to Conquer” at a theatre in the middle of no where (in the city) so I am looking at that as a Preview and actually running the play for a few weekends in the Old Building (after all it was dedicated in the year of the play!)

    And I have my eye on a GORGEOUS RICH French Restaurant (but I gotta leverage my rent the adjacent theatre for “Oliver” before I broach that subject…) The beauty of the Resturant is that the play was derived from “Le Reviellion” which means a “Dinner” Party… so why not the Best Restaurant downtown???

  • George says:

    p.s. Saw “Tamara” in a Hollywood Mansion back in the 80s – could have stage “Sunset Blvd” (w/o orchestra)

  • Scott Briefer says:

    Saw Tamara both in Los Angeles and later in New York at the Armory. Tamara included a rather delicious dinner for intermission. As stated earlier, you were required to follow an actor at all times, but you could shift which actor based on the interactions of the cast. It was definitely “experimental” for its time. It was also a lot of fun.

    And, in San Francisco there was Soul Hunt – also brilliant. Here you had an important role. You filled out a questionnaire at the beginning and based on your answers were assigned a character to follow and a role to play. I was my character’s best friend. It was very cool. Sort of like the privates at Sleep No More, but as each character had several “followers” we were more like a clique all associated with one main character. Also fun… There were tons of similar shows at La Mama and throughout the East Village in the 60’s and 70’s. I think the issue isn’t that this is new, but that our author, Ken, is young.

  • Andrew says:

    Let’s not forget the production of Sondheim’s “The Frogs” staged in the Yale swimming pool back in 1971 or so, I believe. And just this summer I believe that it was Shakespeare and Company that staged a production in a barbershop in Pittsfield, MA. The Transport Group has consistently found interesting places in which to stage productions, ranging from the Gym at the Judson Church to a downtown apartment for “The Boys in the Band” or a Soho loft converted to a music hall for “Hello Again.” We have “My Office” running now, which perhaps might work better say in the Empire State Building. I’ll bet that once “All The Way” opens this spring, someone will find a way to stage a one man show about LBJ in a bathroom.

  • Hi Ken,

    Here in the Netherlands, there has been lots of discussion about this topic, since the highest grossing longest playing musical ever in the Netherlands, is a production on a former air base, with a theatre that turns the audience in 360 degrees (it is currently still playing).

    This has been a huge a success mostly because the audience enjoys this experience (which includes a complete Dakota airplane in the set), it is more of a day excursion than just a theatrical performance. No other show has been such a big success in the history of musicals here, and transfers to London and other places are in the works.

    Really interesting to check it out, see this video:

    And this is their website:



  • Saw the Violet on a bus production, and was amazed by how much the environment complemented the action. Actors were on and off (allowing costume changes for another character) and several scenes played in 3 areas of a large room (we went outside to change areas, so they really seemed different). Questionable to do a commercially viable production with such a small audience, but terrific for those who fit on the campus shuttle bus! BTW, understand most of the students are not theater majors, but clearly had experience and training. Can’t wait for the next student-sponsored production at Stanford (Les Miserables).

  • ECP says:

    Oy. On this I have to say, Age is just a number.
    I must echo Scott Briefer (above) here. Everything old is new again? I’m perhaps an odd mix of Broadway Baby and immersive theater-goer since my teens. These productions question what is theater vs performance art vs whatever. Succeed or not, the talents staging these productions are seeking an audience, trying to engage them, and building a trusting following. Much respect.

    Fyi on this subject…
    Get a rare look behind the scenes of Japan Society’s landmarked building in Our Planet, our newly-commissioned theater production that whisks the audience through offices, gallery rooms, hidden stairwells and backstage areas. Directed by Alec Duffy, founder of the OBIE Award-winning company Hoi Polloi, this acclaimed play by young theater phenom Yukio Shiba juxtaposes the everyday life of an ordinary family with the galactic events of the earth’s birth and death. Duffy’s team includes OBIE-winning scenic designer Mimi Lien, costume designer Becky Lasky, lighting designer Jiyoun Chang, composer and sound designer Tei Blow, Japanese motion graphics master Nobuyuki Hanabusa and actors Julian Rozzell, Jr. and Jenny Seastone Stern. Performed in English.

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