What Broadway theaters will look like in 20 years.
In case you haven’t noticed, theater walls are falling down all over the place.
I’m not talking about construction disasters. I’m talking about a new era of theater that ain’t just a novelty anymore.
Earlier this month, Carnegie Hall, one of the most high profile places to perform, produced a show . . . outside of its famed four walls. (That’s like owning one of the biggest mansions in Beverly Hills and having your birthday party at a small nightclub in North Hollywood.)
The show? That street tough known as West Side Story, staged at a restored factory in Queens (which I imagine had a little different feel than the plush seats of Carnegie Hall’s home court on 57th Street). The environmental production was directed by rising regional theater star, Amanda Dehnert, known for setting Saint Joan in a garage, and also re-setting the ending of Annie to make it look like the red head had a dream.
And then there was the production of the classic Carousel set outdoors in Georgia, on the set of an actual carnival.
Need another example? When I was in London, more than my magic number of three people told me I had to fly to the Netherlands (!) to see Soldier of Orange, a new musical produced by Broadway Producer Robin de Levita, who set the show in an airplane hangar (it’s about WWII pilots) . . . but . . . get this . . . the audience sits in the center, and rotates on a turntable from scene to scene. Check the visuals out here. (In 2013 there was talk of a London production, but right now it appears to be like a Cirque du Soleil Vegas spectacular – you’re gonna have to get there to see it.)
And “spinning” off that idea, just last week, London’s new Wembley Theatre announced it’s going to be built in the round, but with the audience at the center of the circle, with the intention that they will rotate throughout their productions.
Environmental and immersive productions have always been a thing. Heck, I remember seeing Jonathan Larson’s J.P. Morgan Saves the Nation on the steps of a Wall Street bank in the early 90s (the show was just so-so by the way, but you could hear the developing strains of Rent in Jonathan’s sound). And of course, my first production was The Awesome 80s Prom set in a nightclub like you were attending an actual prom.
But those were just one offs. What we’re seeing now is the beginning of a new norm.
How the current and the next generation consume theater is going to change based on how they’ve grown up consuming other forms of entertainment. They’re going to demand more and expect more than just sitting in a seat and staring at a stage. And the Artists that create theater? Well, they’re going to have such grand ideas that a four walled theater ain’t gonna hold ’em.
Couple that with the current theater crunch that won’t even let so many of those Artists play on Broadway, and, well, I think in 20 years the definition of Broadway is going to change.
And it just might include your backyard.
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