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I was reading an article this week (and by “an article” I mean Buzzfeed) about Hollywood actors taking the stage in New York. Like any semi-pretentious, semi-entitled college theatre student, I rolled my eyes as I clicked the link.

Great. Another 2010 Tony Awards waiting to happen. Hollywood invades Broadway. 

The tagline for the article was “Hollywood’s A-listers are trading in the silver screen for the stage”. Another eye roll.

When I saw the list, I was almost surprised. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart? Are they really considered “Hollywood A-listers” before well versed and well trained stage actors? When I read, and reread the list, I realized that many of the actors there started onstage. I consider many of these actors good actors–even great actors. So why do I feel pangs of resentment when I hear Hollywood and Broadway in the same sentence.

Growing up, I had a sense of entitlement about the theatre that I think every high school musical theatre geek feels. Broadway is much more honorable than film and television. This is the stage. It’s different.

Within my two years and two weeks of college, my image of “Broadway” has changed. I no longer revere it as a prestigious and noble beacon of art. Let’s be real. Broadway is the Hollywood of theatre.

I’m not saying these productions are not valid. Trust me, that’s the last thing I want to say. To be honest, I’d probably give an arm and a leg to see Waiting for Godot this year. I suppose though, I’m beginning to understand that with any major art form comes major commercialism and major business. My problems with the commercialism of Broadway now is not because they’ve plopped countless Hollywood actors in countless plays, it is because those plays are advertised like films.

Come see (insert household name here) star in…

(But I don’t think that’s anything new).

I have a proclamation that most of you are already well aware of, but it’s something the fifteen year old girl in me needs to hear:

Younger-version-of-myself, listen. Broadway is not experimental. Broadway is not avant-garde. Broadway, especially today, is not really doing anything groundbreaking. Broadway today is the stage equivalent to Hollywood today. It’s okay to be a little disappointed in both.

Now, younger-version-of-myself, don’t let that jade you. It’ll  be easy (and, admit it, kind of fun) to prance around proclaiming that Broadway is dead and theatre is dead and creativity is dead dead dead…but let’s try to avoid that. There are still so many avenues to explore.

What isn’t on Broadway? What isn’t off-broadway? What isn’t off-off broadway? What can you create and how can you create it? Why do you want to create it? Also: what can you take from the theatrical commercialism of today? How is it something you can learn from? How is it something you can love?

I am excited for so much of what is to come this season on Broadway in the same way that I am excited for the films that will come out this year. I think I know what I will see. I think I know what I will like. I think I know what I won’t.

I suppose the most exciting part of this all, is the prospect of being surprised.

One comment on “Broaaaaadwaaaay

  1. I think a dangerous implication looming here (and I very well might be reading into something you didn’t intend to imply) is that film is somehow less-than stage, and though I love stage theatre, I think that’s a mistake many people make. Film is an art in and of itself, and comparing it to theatre is much like comparing painting to music; you can’t really say one is better than the other. Film is much like painting in that it allows the artist to put the elements down in a way that won’t vary or change. Theatre is like music, in that it’s live and no performance will be the same from night to night. No one art is better than the other, they’re all apples, oranges, limes, and other fruits that serve this metaphor.

    That said, I think you hit upon something that’s important to be talking about: commercialism. It’s something we shiver at, because the commercial and the artistic are so often diametrically opposed, but another article on the blog raised important questions that are relevant here. (Read it here: https://dramalit.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/celebrity-stains-or-artistic-gains/) The conflict falls in whether using celebrities for their status, and thus their influence, is acceptable if it helps the message get across and if progress gets made. Here, a similar conflict exists with using star-power, namely these stage-actors-turned-Hollywood-turned-Broadway-again performers, like Sirs McKellen and Stewart, to increase viewership of plays. On the one hand, it reeks of the commercial, and you’re right to point that out. On the other hand, I can guarantee you that someone who likely wouldn’t have seen Beckett without those names on the Playbill walked out with new ideas of what theatre is. For that reason, I have no issue with the use of names to increase the spread of theatre to new and hopefully excited audiences.

    My issue isn’t with the star-focused world of Broadway, but with the price. I think Broadway’s greatest failure as an arts center is that it fails to make itself open to anyone without the wallet to afford it. You can’t afford $75 tickets for the nosebleeds? Too bad, someone else can. But the fact is that the person who CAN afford them likely has more access to theatre than anyone who, say, might be struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. This is the reason that I think drama is hurting so badly and suffering the negative stereotype of being only for the upper class. It’s not that the drama being produced on Broadway isn’t worth it, it’s that it’s not worth it if it makes it inaccessible to 75% of the population.

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