Why I enjoyed Broadway shows more as a kid.
Arthur Bartow, the Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts when I was a student, said this to me when I was a freshman . . .
As a theater pro, I know I’m enjoying a show when I’m not thinking about what went in to making it.
I’m sure you can relate. I know I can. During most of my theater-going experiences I play a little game with myself called . . . “What’s the nut?!?” (If you’re not sure what a “nut” is, click here). That’s right, during the show I start counting cast members, musicians, even moving lights to try and figure out what the operating costs are. And when I’m really not sucked in to what’s happening on stage, I’ll even try to “guess the gross” based on the butts I see in seats.
That’s certainly not the same romantic emotional roller coaster that shows took me on as a kid, now is it?
But that’s an occupational hazard.
But there’s another reason I enjoyed shows more as a kid that might even be affecting non theater pros out there, which means it could be affecting those grosses I’m trying to guess.
I know way more about those shows than I ever did before.
As an out-of-the-tri-state teenage theater fan, I got my theater news once a year . . . watching the Tony Awards. Maybe my Dad showed me the ads in the Sunday Times every so often, but frankly, the sight of the Old Gray Lady as a trying-to-be-cool teenager made me throw up in my mouth just like the sight of . . . well, an old gray lady.
And even when I got to NYU, I wasn’t inundated with seventy four dot-com Broadway news sites, or Twitter accounts, or Broadway gossip columns that get emailed out faster than John Travolta can say, “Adela Dazeem.”
So what did this information dark age mean to me, a theater consumer?
- I didn’t know if shows were received poorly out of town.
- I didn’t know if shows weren’t selling well.
- I didn’t know if chat rooms thought shows were destined for the wall at Joe Allen.
And that blissful ignorance let me go and experience a show fresh faced . . . to have my own experience and judge it based solely on what was before me. Not on some info-induced predisposition.
In the age of all of us drowning in information (much of which we don’t even want but ends up in our inboxes anyway), we can’t help but walk into a theater . . . or any experience . . . a movie, a restaurant, a date (you google him or her first, don’t you?) . . . without some feeling of how it might go.
And if our minds are already traveling down one road towards one conclusion, well, Newton’s First Law of Motion says an object in motion tends to stay in motion. If you think something is going to be “bad,” how hard is it going to be for that show, movie, or date to reverse that opinion?
You know what’s worse than theater goers being prejudiced by all negative pre-opening news on new Broadway shows?
Reviewers being prejudiced as well.
You don’t think they have their ears to the ground to pick up all the chatter? I have it on good account that many even troll those chat sites. And there is no doubt that this has an influence on their final verdict on shows that they review.
What do we do?
Well, as a Producer, you and your press rep can try as hard as you can to control the flow of info about your show, but the fact is we live in the information age and, as a society, we can’t go back.
But as an individual, you can.
Try this . . . is there a show you’re excited to see? Something you heard about or saw an ad for and want to buy a ticket to?
Buy that ticket.
Then don’t read or look at anything else until you see it.
Experiencing a show without the editorial color of a zillion other sources may just make you enjoy it that much more.
And isn’t that why you go to the theater? To enjoy it?
I know that’s why I did. And I’m going to work hard to try to again.
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