In about 48 hours, I begin a three-day theatergoing binge. But I have no idea what I’ll be seeing.
As part of their upcoming “Theatre Week” in September, I’ll be seeing and writing about the experience of spending 72 hours on a jam-packed odyssey through the New York International Fringe Festival for Narratively, a website dedicated to the telling of New York stories. But in discussing a Fringe-based article with editor William Akers, who I know best as ouijum on Twitter, I proposed a slight twist that might set me apart from the countless die-hards who feast on all that New York theatre has to offer on an ongoing basis.
I proposed to Will that either he or someone of his choosing make up the schedule for me, and that’s what’s happening. I don’t know who is setting my theatergoing agenda, I don’t know what shows I’ll see, I don’t know how long my days will be, I don’t know how much crisscrossing of Manhattan I’ll be undertaking. Do I need an emergency sign-up for CitiBike? When might I get meal breaks, or simply time to think, check e-mail or return calls? No idea. Really.
My theatergoing pace in this scenario is hardly unique. I’ve been reading posts from friends and/or journalists at the famed Edinburgh Fringe who are reveling in (or enduring) five, six, seven shows a day, some for a period of weeks. I haven’t given Will and Narratively quite that much time; my three days pale compared to the dedication of the Edinburgh stalwarts. Also, I’m reading lots of reviews of the work at Edinburgh, and while what I write may well talk about shows I was sent to, I’ll stop far short of critique, as has been my policy online for years. My goal is to chronicle my adventure, not the discrete productions.
What I’m hoping to explore is an experience few of us (beyond critics) ever have, which is seeing theatre that is not self-curated. I am not merely a theatre professional, but also an avid theatre fan. Yet even omnivorous buffs have to make their own choices about what they see: does it fit around their work schedule, do their friends or spouses care to see it, are tickets available when it’s convenient to attend, can they afford to see all that they want.? But “want” is the key word, since later this week, I won’t be seeing what I “want” to see but what I’m made to see, and I won’t vary from the supplied agenda. I will react with my ingrained biases, but they won’t be a factor in the theatrical menu prepared for me. I’m hoping to be freed of my self-imposed theatrical constraints and wondering if in seeing work I would have otherwise skipped, or simply have known nothing about, there will be discoveries.
I’m gearing up to plunge down a rabbit hole with anticipation and anxiety, knowing I’ll be seeing shows picked by what will be, until the journey is over, an unseen power (I’ve never met Will, by the way; we’ve spoken by phone only once and otherwise have only communicated by Twitter and e-mail). Did he find a friend of mine who will program against my personal preferences? Perhaps someone who follows my Twitter feed or reads this blog who relishes playing puppetmaster? Might it have been left to the whim of the festival’s publicist who surveyed participants about who would most like to host me? Maybe there was dart throwing.
I always say that I try to go to every show with an open mind. But in this particular experiment that I’ve created, my mind will be truly open, or at least as open as it can be after I get my daily roster. When it comes to theatre, I haven’t been a tabula rasa for a long time. But this week, my slate will be as clear as its been for some thirty years.