When I’m not doing things in theatre or literature, my fallback is tech. I do do theatre tech and love stage lights and sound, but I specifically enjoy following the consumer tech space to escape from the bubble of theatre in which I live.
Those worlds converged last week in Samsung’s unveiling of its upcoming phone, the Galaxy S4. In an effort to raise eyebrows used to standard corporate presentations, the powers that be at Samsung decided to appeal to Broadway.
They rented out Radio City Music Hall and designed their entire presentation around their concept of the theatre, hiring out a full orchestra (burying them in the pit, naturally) and somehow getting Jeff Calhoun (Tony-nominated director of Newsies) to produce the show. They were knowingly playing with Broadway conventions, on Broadway, with Broadway people to a non-Broadway crowd.
I expected the event to be awkward but relatively normal. (After all, how much controversy can one stir up while trying to sell a phone and vetting everything before performance?) What we would learn is what Samsung thought the theatre was.
Somehow, dizzyingly, we learned just what the theatre was all along— a bizarre expensive sexist dreamworld. ‘A parade of drunken women in Miami’ was actually a setting for one of their ‘vignettes’. At one point, a woman was incapacitated by freshly painted nails; at another, the sight of a shirtless man.
An actual transition line: “While the women are cooling off, why don’t you tell us about [feature]?”
Further inexplicable breaks from reality included an eight-year-old tap dancing boy (and his young affluent white family), a different eight-year-old boy who dramatically opened a box, a mini-cooper fully displayed on its side for no actual reason, a script that ended each vignette with the MC legitimately telling the actors to ‘return to your dressing rooms’, and a phone with the actual tagline ‘Life companion’.
I wasn’t the only person to catch the sexism: After writing a teardown for CNET, Molly Wood said that it was “rare that something is just so excessive. At first it was sort of hilariously bad, but then things kept piling up. I think they were going for satire, but that is so hard to do.” She told that to The Verge, who also interviewed Calhoun and the show’s writer Ivan Menchell and found that even the casting behind the scenes was sexist: “When we were looking for MCs, I made a list that included women, but [Samsung] wanted it to be a male.”
The Galaxy S3 is the most popular smartphone not made by Apple; the S4 will likely follow suit. With such a big audience, how can this kind of bizarre misappropriation happen?
What are we doing if this (a three story set that comes up from the trap and parading stereotypes so thinking is not required) is what non-theatre people think theatre is?
Please do not think that I am assuming that real Broadway is perfect and pure and free from defect; that is its own conversation. That said, this event was live streamed and is still watchable: it is populous and the form of art it was trying to be is our most populous form of theatre. This is where the people are.
Why is this what we are giving them?