A few weeks ago, I wasn't feeling so great. My allergies were bothering me and I was tired, as I often am this time of year. Then I went to the theater. Miraculously I felt better during Act One.
Lincoln Center is pretty much my favorite place to see a Broadway show. I have always loved it. I love the fountain and the ability to avoid the Times Square crowds. I have this tradition of donating a couple of bucks, picking up a LCT Review and reading it on the subway home. I enjoy learning more about what I've just seen (well, that is, unless I've hated it). And, seriously, everyone should go to see something at the Claire Tow Theater (the rooftop home of LCT3); arrive early and have a bite or a drink up there, enjoying the peaceful outdoor area.
Act One is about how the magic of theater inspired Moss Hart. I sat there thinking: Are we doing enough to encourage young theatergoers? During intermission, I saw Robert Viagas. When I was first starting out, I ran into Viagas and Harry Haun almost weekly. Those guys had spent years, already, at Playbill covering the theater. Like Ken Mandelbaum (a personal favorite of mine), they had stories to tell. I happily listened. See, my mother instilled the importance of theater in me at a young age. I always say I am the only one of my friends who grew up thinking Harvey Fierstein was a great cultural figure. Before my brother or I was born, my mother and father used to go to discount previews. Sadly they don't really exist anymore, but, back then, previews were a way for people to see Broadway for cheap.
Before I began writing about theater, I used to go to Stars in the Alley and Broadway on Broadway. It was a great way to get a taste of Broadway musicals for free. Broadway on Broadway was cancelled last year because of budgetary constraints, the Broadway League instead hosting an event all the way downtown at Brookfield Place. Thankfully Stars in the Alley is making a comeback -- it is today in Shubert Alley, starting at 11 a.m.. Please go support it. We need more events like this because it is these events that allow people who may not now be able to afford a ticket to catch the theater bug. One day in the future, that same person standing in Shubert Alley, with no money, might be able to afford a full price ticket to see a show. But we have to make them interested in the theater. That interest has to be cultivated from early on.
I am encouraged when I see the success of Jennifer Ashley Tepper, who is under 30 and has such a love for theater and its history. I get excited when I see all the girls outside Wicked, who love that musical so much. That musical has single-handedly done more to engender the love of theater than the Broadway League ever will. I wouldn't have predicted it, but it is true. I personally encourage everyone to take their kids to Matilda, a favorite of mine, because I think it will inspire the next generation of theatergoers. I'm not that old, but I've covered this industry for over a decade, and I've seen interest in it wane. I don't want to discuss unions, producers and costs, but every year the theater becomes both more populist and more elitist. It costs so much to mount a show that producers have to try to appeal to the widest audience possible. It costs so much to go to a show that only a chosen few can go more than once a year, if they can even go once a year.
But, wait, my readers may know there are ways to go to theater for cheap. There are the TKTS booths and TDF in general (if you qualify). There are rush tickets (see this list on Playbill). There are papering services to fill empty seats. There are apps now that help you with all of this. As a community, we don't do a great job of promoting these things. Why not? Because we want people to pay full price. We know that producers need to gross over their running costs to keep a show open. We don't want people spending $30 when maybe these same people could afford $150. This leaves people out though. Yes, you can Google and become educated, but it's actually not as easy as it seems. You search "cheap Broadway tickets" and you get Broadwaybox.com and some outdated stories. You don't get a current article regarding all your options. (I don't know them all or I'd share here!) Everyone knows about free Shakespeare in the Park, but not everyone knows that the Public Theater offers $20 tickets to every show. The Public Theater did such interesting, rich work this season -- and you could have seen it all for $20, as long as you were willing to wait in line.
Theater has always had a restorative effect on me. Sitting there during Act One I was reminded of my youth and the power of theater to captivate and capture a child's imagination. We all need to support programs such as TDF's Open Doors (founded by Wendy Wasserstein and stage manager Roy Harris). We need to encourage the Broadway League to do more events like today's Stars in the Alley and more corporations to support and fund these types of events. We need to ask (nicely) producers to give some tickets to school groups. I could go on, but I won't. Anything I write would be too simplistic anyhow.
Moss Hart had an aunt who loved the theater. Hopefully everyone has someone who loves the theater and can afford to introduce them to it. We need to remember those who might not.