How I know when I’m seeing something great.
When I was a teen, I used to take day trips from suburban Massachusetts to the city to see shows. I’d drive to New Haven, CT and board a Metro-North train bound for Grand Central. My heart would start pumpin’ as we passed stations with those giant posters (which I now know are called “3 Sheets”) advertising Broadway shows. I’d catch a matinee of a show I bought tickets for in advance, and then I’d call my Mom and beg her to let her 16 year old blue-blazer wearin’ son stay in the city to catch an evening show.
She always said yes. I think she knew then that I was destined to do what I do, even though I didn’t have a clue.
I remember getting back from one of these trips and a fellow theater-nut friend asked me, “So was THE SHOW I SAW good?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, utterly confused. “It was a Broadway show. They’re all good.”
Ahhh, what twenty years and over three hundred Broadway shows will do.
Obviously I was still in the honeymoon phase of seeing Broadway shows back then, when Broadway could do no wrong. You remember what that was like, right? 🙂
Pretty quickly after I moved to the city for school, I started to see more shows and as a result my critical eye got sharper. And not every one of the shows was good.
And now, well, it takes a heck of a lot for me to say a show is good. And that’s because watching theater is a different experience for me than it was. I’m constantly analyzing, whether I’m listening for comic beats, or counting cast members, or looking into the grid to check for moving lights.
I don’t laugh as much as I used to. I don’t smile as much as I used to. But that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it. I just often find myself saying things in my head like, “That was funny,” or “This is a good tune.”
And when I do laugh? Or when I do cry? Well, damn, that’s when I know something is truly special. And usually I end up producing it (the upcoming Spring Awakening and Daddy Long Legs are two perfect examples of shows that got to the sixteen year old in me).
During my first year at NYU, I remember the Dean of Undergraduate Drama, the esteemed and awesome Arthur Bartow, said, “After decades of theater going, I know I’m enjoying something when I’m not analyzing anything. When I’m just sucked into the experience and when it’s over, I realize I wasn’t thinking about whether someone was a good actor, or whether the set adequately represented the director’s vision. I just . . . enjoyed.”
I didn’t think I’d ever understand what he meant. But I do now.
It’s hard for all of us to just enjoy the theater like we used to. And that’s ok. It’s a different experience. You’re older, wiser, and you’ve see Lestat.
But when you do enjoy something? Well, that’s when you should do something about it.
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