It’s Not A Contest

February 7th, 2011 § 0 comments

I have never seen a production of the following plays:

1. Antigone by Sophocles (or by Jean Anouilh, for that matter)
2. Medea by Euripides
3. Scapin by Moliere (or Scapinoby Frank Dunlop)
4. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
5. The Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg
6. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
7. The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill
8. The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams
9. The Price by Arthur Miller
10. Betrayal by Harold Pinter

On the other hand, I have seen:

1. The original Broadway productions of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney ToddPassion,Into the WoodsSunday in the Park with GeorgeThe Frogs and Assassins.
2. Angela Bassett in multiple roles in Pericles by William Shakespeare
3. John Ritter in Battle of Angels by Tennessee Williams
4. Ralph Fiennes, Kevin Kline, Jude Law, Richard Thomas and Christopher Walken, among others, in various Hamlets
5. John McMartin in This Story of Yours by John Hopkins
6. David Hyde Pierce and Bronson Pinchot in a Yale undergraduate production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
7. Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters
8. Ron Leibman as Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, as Cassius in Julius Caesar and as the title role in Tartuffe
9. The seminal Steppenwolf Theatre productions of True West and Balm in Gilead
10. Estelle Parsons in Bertolt Brecht’s Man is Man, Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, and Ira Levin’s Deathtrap

So am I confessing to shocking gaps in my theatre knowledge or boasting of unique and often short-lived opportunities in my theatergoing history? After all, the first list is unquestionably distinguished, loaded with classic, while the latter contains a few obscurities, leans towards the 20th century and cites many famous actors.

I’m really just trying to make a point, which is that unless you treat theatergoing as a chore, with a checklist to be completed, you are perfectly likely to miss some of “the big ones” and equally likely to have some singular experiences along the way.

I was not a theatre major, so I wasn’t even required to read many plays in my life, apart from the occasional Shakespeare in high school, roughly a dozen plays for a drama survey course in college, and a handful more for a set design class (during which the professor announced to the entire class after one assignment that I had “no imagination,” but that’s another story).

I am in some ways an autodidact when it comes to theatre, since I’ve forged my own curriculum through the plays I’ve chosen to see, the plays I’ve been required to see during my tenure as a Tony voter, and the plays I’ve worked on at various theatres. On the other hand, I have a wide variety of teachers – every playwright, actor, director, designer and craftsperson who has worked on the roughly 2,000 to 3,000 plays I have seen over 33 years of vigorous theatergoing.

Why bring all this up? Because at the end of 2010, I saw various tweets and blogs in which avid theatre fans chronicled the number of shows they’d seen in the prior year, and I’d even fallen prey to this cataloguing once or twice last year, when I trumpeted some fairly busy months of theatergoing. But the fact remains, I am an amateur theatergoer compared to some absolute die-hards, and my “numbers” pale compared to those racked up by critics or judges of various Off-Broadway awards, which have a wider field of contenders, as well as many fans who haunt BroadwayBox or the TKTS booth here in NYC and their equivalents elsewhere.

I am driven to see a great deal of theatre because I continue to love the form and because it is so fleeting; it is not something I can place on a shelf or access via Netflix. As a result, I have had wonderful experiences (and some abysmal ones), but they are predominantly self-motivated. With rare exception, I do not see plays because “I should” but because “I want.”

I write this after taking a two week blogging break, and at the start of a week in which I currently have plans to see only one show. I have no guilt about either, and indeed wonder what may have been saved to my DVR that I can catch up on; what will be in this week’s issues of New YorkThe New YorkerTime OutThe Village VoiceThe New York Times and USA Today; and dammit maybe I’ll finally get to that Edward Hopper exhibit at The Whitney. It is a week in which my theatergoing roster will go largely “unchecked,” but my knowledge and interest will be piqued and fulfilled elsewhere, making me, I believe, an even better theatregoer.

When theatre becomes a game of numbers, or worse still, a chore, it ceases to act on us in the way its many creators likely intended. That’s how I manage to “keep it fresh” after 33 years, and fully expect to do so in the same fashion for at least 33 years more.

I will say that like early investing, an early start at theatergoing leaves you ever richer as the years go by. That said, you and I should both just see what we want to see. It’ll all work out just fine in the end.

In the meantime, I do wonder: what show do you feel you “should have seen” by now, and more importantly, what is the unexpected delight you were lucky enough to experience, perhaps by sheer accident or luck?


This post originally appeared on the American Theatre Wing website.

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