Indy Vs. Broadway

Dan Dinero left me a comment on my thoughts about the Gallery Players production of Caroline, or Change, (his fantastic review here) and when I get chastised on my blog, particularly about a rhapsodic and passionately positive review, I feel like I need to pay attention. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to have someone who cares deeply about the artistic value of Broadway theater take the time to comment on my blog. Our two worlds very often don’t intersect (as I explain later), and after visiting Theatre Is Easy I was really moved that he took the time, even if he was a bit aggressive and snarky. (What would the theater be without snark?!) (He also left the comment at about four in the morning, and it’s impossible to write a blog comment at that hour without being snotty…)

You write that independant (sic) theatre, unlike Broadway (which fulfills an obliquely “different role”), leaves one “transported and transformed.” Independant theatre provides “a revelation” and lets us “know that something is happening right here, in the same room, that we are both witness to and participant in.”

This is an extremely simplistic division- “independent” theatre does this (occasionally), but commerical Broadway does it as well. Both types of theatre can be as intellectually and emotionally stimulating as they can be midn-numbingly dull. But you wouldn’t know this, because you write that you rarely see Broadway theatre.

Dan is going on what I wrote and he’s absolutely right to hassle me into a clarification. My point of view about independent theater is muddy, to say the least, in comparison with Broadway theater, so, just on the off chance that anyone care what a guy like me thinks, let me be a lot clearer about this.

It’s a huge mistake, one I honestly try not to fall in to, to claim some sort of superiority of independent theater. We don’t make *better* plays or *smarter* plays at all. My feeling, when watching Caroline, Or Change, is that this material is utterly brilliant, the production was fantastic, and it was made available to me for less than $20. For me, that was only the beginning of the value of this production.

I have said that I don’t see Broadway plays very much. The extrapolation that I ought to not speak about Broadway plays until I “learn a little bit about” them first is an honest mistake. To clarify, I’m going on 23 years as a theater professional, and I have moved from being an avid member of Broadway audiences to being an avid member of independent theater audiences. I have done so because I feel the rewards more richly.

This is not because the plays are better. In this case, the actual play was identical, Caroline Or Change was actually on Broadway a few years back. But my play-going has a relatively simple bit of algebra to it. I don’t make enough money to afford the outrageous Broadway ticket prices… but that isn’t the whole reason. One can always find a half-price, or less, ticket to a Broadway show.

The truth is, I don’t feel that my investment as an audience member means anything to the Broadway community, and my time is extremely limited.

I have kids, I have several freelance jobs, I have a wife and I have a community that needs my support. My nights out are preciously rationed, like a Desert-Island chocolate bar. When I go to a show at The Brick, or at Here Arts Center, or at Manhattan Theatresource, I will have access to the producer, the playwright, the cast, the venue director, the press person… all of these people will be there, sleeves rolled up, hands dirty.

When I go to a Broadway show, the actual *production* is likely to be as good as anything I will see in the independent theater world. I am a witness to brilliant writing and brilliant acting, as well as incredible theatrical innovations and advances. There may, in fact, be a helicopter or a set three stories high. But my experience has led me to believe that when the show is over, it’s over. My investment in the production as an audience member is utterly overlooked by the producers.

When I go to an independent theater production, there will be no helicopter. But, comparing the best of one to the best of the other, there will be brilliant writing and brilliant acting, as well as incredible theatrical innovations and advances. And, in the very show we’re discussing, there was even a three story set. And I will very often get a personal email from the producers, thanking me for coming. Often the actors will write to me, the playwright too… many of my acquaintances are relationships made of purely mutual artistic respect.

I’m sure the same thing exists on Broadway, that Tony Kushner probably has Stephen Sondheim’s phone number somewhere. But, you see, I live in New York, and there are 300 shows going up at any given time here, and for 275 of them, the production deeply cares that I show up. And for the off-off, independent theater productions, the cast and crew and stage manager… even the *lighting designer* care that I show up. And they ask for $18 and two hours of my time.

So, if my new friend Dan is right, that “Both types of theatre can be as intellectually and emotionally stimulating as they can be midn-numbingly dull.”, then all things being equal, I’m going to continue to invest in the community where my investment seems to be paying off.

Where Dan and I agree is about the actual show. (As an interesting juxtaposition, I didn’t see the show on Broadway because it ran for four months the same summer I did my first Fringe Festival show. During that festival, I saw up to four shows a day, and wrote blogs about a lot of them. Most of the people I saw, some six years ago, I’m still associated with today, and my relationship with the Fringe Festival has become, as I recounted below in my last blog, one of the most important relationships I have in New York. Every show I saw in the Fringe Festival cost me $5. I would have had to exchange 15-20 shows for one ticket to the Broadway version of “Caroline, Or Change”.)

But Dan and I both love the show deeply. His review of it is far better than mine… which is probably because he actually writes reviews and I just talk a lot of shit. As much as he may be offended by what I wrote, chances are we both saw it the same night, (as I’ve actually gone twice now) and we were sitting in different sections of the theater, utterly transported. If you take nothing else from this blog, or his comments, please take this away-