They Tell the Story

And they tell it so well!

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After the BroadwayCon Closing Ceremony I made my way back to TKTS to get tickets to a Sunday night show, this time going in knowing and getting a ticket for my top choice: Once On This Island.

This show was very different from SpongeBob, but I also loved it, so much! Like SpongeBob I didn’t know the show going in to it. I was an Ahrens and Flaherty fan already (particularly Anastasia (movie and musical) and Rocky) but I wasn’t that familiar with this show that had been their Broadway debut. It also felt like a fitting show with which to end the day after attending the “Journey to the Island” panel at BroadwayCon and meeting Lynn Ahrens at the BroadwayCon Marketplace.

Once On This Island is playing at Circle in the Sqaure. I’ve seen one other show there (Godspell in 2012) and it was cool seeing the space with a different set up. It was still in the round but the space was completely transformed. While Godspell had a circular wooden stage, Once On This Island has a longer, oval, almost rectangular, shaped stage area with sand covering the floor and a pool of water at one end. I knew it was a versatile space but it was cool actually getting to experience it. Theatre in the round also always offers such a unique experience. You can’t help but notice the other audience members and you know that each seat in the theatre offers a different viewing experience. I would love to go back and see it again from a different spot (and just to see it again in general).

I am a fan of Michael Arden’s so I was really happy to actually see a show he directed and it was such a beautiful show. The set, the staging, the music, the lighting, it was all so good! I love when the movement of the set, and in the case of this show some of the lighting, is part of the performance. The actors moved set pieces, lit candles, created all these different moments. They’re telling this story and the way they set the scenes becomes a part of that.

One of my favourite scenes was with the song “Rain”  particularly the staging for “Rain.” The way they created the image of a car with the combination of individual pieces and the dramatic ending of the scene with the lighting and rain falling onto the stage. It was stunning. Each time I listen to the original cast recording I remember so many amazing moments, if I tried to write them out it would probably just end up as a description of the entire show!

Now let’s talk about this cast! The talent on that stage was amazing to witness. Hailey Kilgore was wonderful as Ti Moune (and she’s making her Broadway debut!). Isaac Powell is great as Daniel. The ensemble are all incredible. And the gods: Tamyra Grey as Papa Ge, Norm Lewis (who was actually my first Phantom) as Agwe, Alex Newell as Asaka and Lea Salonga as Erzulie. Wow! I’m so happy that I got to see Leas perform live! I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time and to even just be in the same room as her was amazing. Speaking of amazing, Alex Newell’s Asaka is incredible. I saw Alex sing “Mama Will Provide” twice that day, once at BroadwayCon and then during the show and it was outstanding both times (and there was a matinee between those too, so if he had to sing it three times that day, that is impressive!). The gods each brought such a commanding presence on the stage, even when they were just watching the scenes playing out before them (which makes sense since they are the gods) and just brought such strong performances all around.

It’s interesting going back and listening to the original cast recording, now being more familiar with the revival especially hearing the original Papa Ge and Asaka. Originally Papa Ge was played by a man (Eric Riley) whereas Tamyra Grey (and Merle Dandridge, whom Tamyra replaced due to a contractual leave) plays that character in the revival and Alex Newell (who is gender non-conforming) is playing Asaka, a part originally played by a woman (Kecia Lewis). I think that’s one of the great things about this revival, and theatre in general, the ability to switch things up and add new elements to the characters. There’s no reason why the “Demon of Death” can’t be played by a woman and the “Mother of the Earth” be played by someone who is gender non-conforming. And like I mentioned before, their performances are incredible!I cannot wait for the release of the revival cast recording later this month!!

If you get a chance I would highly recommend seeing this show and experiencing the beautiful storytelling that is brought to the stage.

You’ve also got to love a show that includes a chicken and goats in its cast!

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I’m so happy that both of the shows I saw on this trip are part of the current Broadway season. It’s going to make things even more exciting come Tony time!

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Not A Simple Sponge (& Broadway Sessions)

I went in to SpongeBob with few, if any expectations. I had heard good things about the show so I hoped they were true but I certainly didn’t go in to it as a SpongeBob fan. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen a full episode of SpongeBob. I’ve seen clips, memes and have some familiarity with the characters, but a fan I was not. You might be wondering why, then, did I go see a SpongeBob musical if I didn’t care about SpongeBob? Well for one thing, as I mentioned, I had heard only good things about the show and then all of the clips I saw made it look really cool, with the set and the staging standing out. And the cast. I was familiar with some of the cast members already and those with whom I wasn’t familiar also seemed good. I was also intrigued knowing that so many artists had contributed to the music (I had not yet listened to the cast recording). I wanted to see what the hype was all about and, let me tell you, I was not disappointed!

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SpongeBob wasn’t technically our first choice of show to see. Initially we tried a few digital lotteries (HamiltonDear Evan HansenSweeney Todd, and, actually, SpongeBob). We did not win any of those so we went with plan B: TKTS. There we were deciding between Hello Dolly and SpongeBob. (2 very different shows!) We couldn’t decide between the two so we decided we’d go with whichever had cheaper tickets and then it turned out that Hello Dolly did not have two tickets together, so SpongeBob it was! And I have zero regrets.

Right off the bat you’re brought into the world of the musical with the design extending to the whole theatre. There’s the “Bikini Bottom Boutique” in the lobby, shiny/shimmering material covering the walls in the house, and ambient lighting filling the orchestra. As soon as you get to your seats you’re in Bikini Bottom.

The inclusion of the whole space even extends to the confetti cannons that are used in the show. Every time I’ve seen confetti used in a show, it’s at the front of the stage and the front half of the orchestra gets hit with it. Not at SpongeBob. They have confetti at the back of the orchestra too! We were sitting in row “T” and we were covered with confetti. (And, honestly, I was really happy about it!)

All of the design elements of the show were amazing. The set, the lighting, the costumes. It was just so good! I think it worked really well with the costumes not being literal representations of the original characters. Sandy doesn’t need a tail, SpongeBob doesn’t need to be square. You still get the picture and you believe it! The Squidward costume was really cool as he did have four legs. (I wonder how many prototypes they had to go though to get them to look and work just right!) And the fact that he has a full tap number with these extra legs/feet is even more impressive. It’s also just a really great number! Gavin Lee is amazing!

I also need to take a moment to talk about the Foley Design for this show. Yes, besides having a sound designer SpongeBob also has a Foley Designer who is creating all of the sound effects live in the theatre. And there are a lot of them! For example SpongeBob and Squidward both have sound effects when they walk, with each step. It adds to the cartoon-ish element of the show and enhances it in a great way! The cast talked about it a bit at their BroadwayCon panel and Lilli Cooper (Sandy) showed that “booth” in one of the vlogs she made for Broadway.com. The more I hear about it the more impressed and fascinated I am by it. I am so glad that it was announced that the Sound Designer (Walter Trarbach) and the Foley Designer (Mike Dobson) will be jointly eligible to be nominated for the Sound Design Tony! (Thank goodness that award is back!)

“(Just a) Simple Sponge” was one of the many stand out moments from the show. The staging was so simple (though complex in the choreography) but so beautiful. All of the elements- the song, the choreography, the lighting, the props (lots of sponges)- combined to make this great moment. And Ethan’s performance of the song was wonderful! There’s another moment with SpongeBob and a bunch of ladders that is a stand out scene, but I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t say any more about it! If you get the chance to see the show you’ll know what I’m talking about!

The role of SpongeBob seems like such a demanding one, vocally and physically and requires such high energy all the time. Ethan does an amazing job, and it’s his Broadway debut! I never thought I’d see a day when I would think someone playing SpongeBob SquarePants should be nominated for a Tony, but here we are. Seriously though, he better get a nomination!

The whole cast is amazing. I already mentioned Gavin Lee as Squidward. There’s Danny Skinner who is also making his wonderful Broaday debut as Patrick. Lilli Cooper plays an awesome Sandy. And there’s Wesley Taylor who plays Plankton. I was already a fan of his going in to the show and I’m even more of a fan now! He was so good! The rest of the cast too all brought amazing performances to the stage. I can’t get over how great it was!

I mentioned before that I was intrigued by the music for SpongeBob. I knew that a lot of artists had contributed to the score (and a lot of big names) so I was interested to see how it would all go together. It was clear that there were different styles to the music and for some songs it was obvious which artist had written that particular song, but even so, it still felt like a cohesive piece. All of the songs “fit” together in the show. Kudos to Tom Kitt for such an achievement! I’ve been listening to the cast recording almost constantly since seeing the show!

Even though I don’t watch the TV show and didn’t “get” all of the inside jokes (though I was aware of where they were in the show) I never really felt left out by it or like I was missing something, especially because they were funny moments anyway.

I’ve heard the word joy (and joyful) used to describe this show and it’s so true. It’s such a joyful show but at the same time it deals with some very relevant topics. It is by no means just a show for children, though children clearly enjoy it too (there were a lot of them in the audience that night and there was a really cute moment when you could hear one kid say “Yay!” when there was a pause in dialogue at a particularly happy moment). I do really think it’s a show that all ages and levels of SpongeBob fans can enjoy! It was such a fun night at the theatre and I’m so glad I had the chance to see it! (And I was able to check another Broadway theatre, the Palace Theatre, off my list!)

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Broadway Sessions

As a bonus after seeing SpongeBob we decided to attend Broadway Sessions at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. I had never been to a Broadway Sessions show before but was aware of it from social media and videos. Ben Cameron hosts these variety type shows every Thursday night and I am a big fan of his from BroadwayCon. When I was looking at things to do in New York I saw that they had a show when we were there, which just happened to be their first show back after a hiatus. And the SpongeBob cast was going to be there. After we bought our tickets for SpongeBob it felt even more fitting to check it out! So we bought our tickets online and after our time in Bikini Bottom we went over to the Laurie Beechman Theatre to keep the Broadway fun going. It was so much fun! I was so excited to finally be attending one of these shows and it was really fun seeing the cast we had just seen in another setting.  There were performances from cast members and a couple of the dressers from the show performed as well. There was also a performance from a kid in the audience who played piano and sang “(Just a) Simple Sponge” with Brian Ray Norris (Mr. Krabs) doing his part of the song and the rest of the cast singing back up. It was a wonderful moment! I had such a fun night and I hope I can go to another Broadway Sessions show in the future!

 

 

 

 

BroadwayCon 2018

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BroadwayCon this year took place on January 26-28. Fortunately I was able to go for the third year in a row and got to spend a Broadway-filled weekend in one of my favourite cities. If you are not aware, BroadwayCon is a 3 day (Friday-Sunday) convention full of Broadway-related programming: panels, performances, meet and greets, and so much more! The last two years the convention has taken place at the Javits Center in New York City (the first year it was at the New York Hilton Midtown). This post will highlight my favourite experiences from this year’s convention (which I have organized by event type)!

MainStage Events

MainStage events at BroadwayCon include a bit of everything. There were panels, performances, games, and more fun Broadway-related activities! Some amazing moments took place on that stage!

  • The BroadwayCon 2018 Opening Ceremony (Friday)
    This was the first MainStage event of the weekend and my first event at BroadwayCon besides autographs, a photo and wandering around the Marketplace. The Opening started with Billy Porter, Betsy Wolfe, Anthony Rapp and Ben Cameron singing “On Broadway.” Other performances included Betsy Wolfe singing “Meadowlark,” Kelli O’Hara singing “Pure Imagination,” and Billy Porter singing “And the World Goes ‘Round.” I was especially excited to see Kelli O’Hara perform!We also got to sing “Happy Birthday” to the Phantom with Ben Cameron onstage in a cape and Phantom mask.
  • ¡Attención! In the Heights Reunites 10 Years Later (Friday)
    The Opening Ceremony was followed by the In the Heights reunion panel. I am a big In the Heights fan and when I heard there was going to be a reunion panel this year, I knew I had to be there! The panel included Janet Dacal, Chris Jackson, Mandy Gonzalez, Karen Olivo, Olga Merediz, Priscilla Lopez, Seth Stewart, Javier Muñoz, Quiara A Hudes, and Lin-Manuel Miranda and was moderated by Luis A Miranda Jr (Lin’s Dad). I always love hearing background information and inside stories from shows. Everyone on the panel talked about their involvement with the show and where in the process they became involved. They talked about the changes that occurred throughout the process and even gave some snippets of cut songs! It was really fun seeing Karen Olivo just as excited as everyone for Chris to sing part of Benny’s cut song. Lin even jumped on the piano to play a little bit of another cut song! It was such a great panel. And Luis Miranda is wonderful!
  • Show Spotlight: CHICAGO- The Landmark Institution of Razzle Dazzle (Friday)
    I have never actually seen Chicago live. I have seen (and like) the movie but I have not seen the stage production. But when I saw the legends that were taking part in this panel, I knew I wanted to see it. Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, William Ivey Long (the amazing costume designer) and Kandi Burruss (who just joined the cast) were on the panel with Paige Davis moderating. It’s also worth noting that Joel Grey came out wearing the Phantom mask that had been used in the Opening. It was so interesting hearing about the show at different points of its 21 year run. Hearing how the costumes have changed, how it went from an Encores production to the full revival, it was fascinating!
  • Show Spotlight: Frozen (Friday)
    I was already excited about Frozen coming to Broadway but I’m even more excited after having attended this panel! Greg Hildreth, who will be playing Olaf, was moderating with Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez talking about the show and previewing bits of the new songs. They also announced that 4 of the new songs will be released weekly starting February 23rd and having heard the previews I am very excited for these releases! The panel ended with Greg singing “In Summer” and it was great!
  • I’m Here: Celebrating the Leading Women of Broadway (Friday)
    You’ve got to love a panel full of amazing women. This was another moment when it was great just to be in the same room as these people. Jennifer Tepper moderated with Ruthie Ann Miles, Vanessa Williams, Priscilla Lopez, LaChanze, and Janet Dacal filling out the panel. Hearing them talk about their careers (and they’re all at such different points in their careers) was amazing. I also like when Jennifer Tepper moderates panels because she is so knowledgeable and passionate about all things Broadway (and is another successful woman in the theatre world).
  • BroadwayCon Jukebox (Friday)
    This one is always fun. Broadway stars come “prepared” with four song options and the audience gets to vote on which one they will sing. This year Janet Dacal, LaChanze, Anthony Rapp, Max Crumm and Kathryn Gallagher took part. They were all great with highlights including Anthony Rapp singing “Valerie” (the closest I will ever get to being serenaded by Anthony Rapp and yes, I voted for that song and yes, I got video!) and Kathryn Gallagher singing “Totally F*****” (as soon as there was a Spring Awakening option, it was obvios it would be picked). LaChanze’s daughter also made an appearance during Kathryn’s second song, “You Oughta Know.”
  • BroadwayCon Feud (Saturday)
    Another staple BroadwayCon event, the BroadwayCon Feud is a Broadway centred version of Family Feud with teams made up of Broadway stars and BroadwayCon attendees. This year Hannah Elless, Denée Benton, Patrick Hinds, Donna Lynne Champlin and James Snyder took part with the amazing Jenn Colella once again acting as host. It’s always interesting to see what the answers end up being. The results come from polling Broadway fans but they aren’t always what you expect or think they should be, which in some ways makes it more entertaining!
  • Show Spotlight: Dear Evan Hansen (Saturday)
    I have not yet seen Dear Evan Hansen (someday!!) but I was interested to attend this panel. I actually missed the Dear Evan Hansen panel last year. This year the panel included book writer, Steven Levenson and the two replacement Evans, Noah Galvin and Taylor Trensch. It was interesting to hear from Noah and Taylor about coming in as replacements and I always love when the writers are a part of show panels. A big take away from this panel was that I still really really want to see Dear Evan Hansen!
  • Show Spotlight: SpongeBob SqaurePants (Saturday)
    I actually had an autograph session at this same time but having just seen SpongeBob I did not want to miss their panel and I’m really glad I didn’t! There were two parts to the panel. The first part included cast members Danny Skinner (Patrick), Ethan Slater (SpongeBob), Gavin Lee (Squidward), Brian Ray Norris (Mr. Krabs) and Wesley Taylor (Plankton). Again, it was fun hearing about all of their experiences with the show (Danny, Ethan and Brian are making their Broadway debuts with this show). They also talked a little about the foley work in the show (the live sound effects) and I’m just so impressed the more I hear about it (there are a lot of sound effects in that show). The cast then had to leave because they had a matinee that day and the second part of the panel featured Tom Kitt (music supervisor) and Tina Landau (director) and it was even more fascinating hearing from them, talking about how the show came about in the way it did both in terms of the direction and the music (which was provided by a plethora of artists). I also later found out Tina was wearing a shirt with the Electric Skates (the fictional band from SpongeBob) on it and SpongeBob shoes.
  • Theater People Live Featuring Laura Benanti (Saturday)
    I was really excited for this one. Theater People is one of my favourite podcasts and I am also a fan of Laura Benanti so the two combined meant there was no question of me attending this one! I really like Patrick Hinds’ (the host of Theater People) podcast style and I love getting to see him at BroadwayCon. Laura is not only extremely talented she is also really funny and I was so excited to see her in person! It was great hearing them talk about everything- stage, TV, Melania, parenthood. (She also came onstage wearing the Phantom mask from the Opening.)
  • Broadway Game Night (Saturday)
    This was the last event Saturday night and it was another exciting “game show” type event on the MainStage. This one put the Sharks (Alex Brightman, Sierra Boggess, Ann Harada and 2 BroadwayCon attendees) against the Jets (Brandon Uranowitz, Lesli Margherita, Emily Skeggs and 2 BroadwayCon attendees)  with Anthony Rapp acting as score keeper and Ben Cameron as host. The rounds included name-that-tune, listing things (ie. Andrew Lloyd Webber show, Sondheim shows, etc) in 30 seconds, Don’t Forget the Lyrics (where they had to finish the line of a song), Pyramid (one team member getting another to say a specific word), and a question round with videos of Kristin Chenoweth asking questions about Kristin Chenoweth. It was a very entertaining evening, especially when Sierra and Lesli were against each other. They did not know a lot of the answers. It was also quite entertaining when the audience knew the answers and those onstage did not, which actually happened a lot. I also loved that Alex and Sierra were on the same team since they had been in School of Rock together.
  • Journey to the Island: A Celebration of Ahrens and Flaherty (Sunday)
    This particular panel featured Lynn Ahrens, Christy Altomare, and Hailey Kilgore. I am an Ahrens and Flaherty fan and loved Christy Altomare in Anastasia so, again, there was no question of my wanting to attend this panel. The focus of the panel was Anastasia and Once On This Island and the strong female characters in each show. I was less familiar with Once On This Island going in to it but I loved hearing about both shows and hearing from Lynn Ahrens about these, and their other shows, was so great! We were also treated to two performances. Christy Altomare sang “In My Dreams” from Anastasia, and there was a suprise appearance and performance from Alex Newell who sang “Mama Will Provide” from Once On This Island (with Lynn and Hailey singing backup!). I already knew I wanted to see Once On This Island but this panel did make me want to see it even more!
  • BroadwayCon First Look (Sunday)
    This is always an exciting part of BroadwayCon during which upcoming Broadway shows are featured. This year there were performances from and features on The Prom (2 songs were performed), Children of a Lesser GodGettin’ the Band Back Together (2 songs were performed), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (video from rehearsals), and Escape to Margaritaville (2 songs were performed). I had heard about a couple of these productions beforehand but it was great hearing more about them and the other productions. It sounds like it’s going to be an entertaining year on Broadway!
  • The Closing Ceremony (Sunday)
    The final event of the weekend. It’s always a bit sad getting to that point but it’s inevitable and they always know how to leave it. One particularly great moment had Denée Benton onstage where they talked about how her casting in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 was announced at the first BroadwayCon at which she also sang “No One Else” from the show. She then proceeded to once again sing “No One Else, ” and it was beautiful and made me miss that show more! Stephanie J. Block also came onstage for a bit. The winners of the first ever BroadwayCon Lip Sync Battle performed, with Ben Cameron filling in for a member of the group who was sick. The whole thing ended with all of the BroadwayCon staff onstage and everyone onstage and in the audience singing along to “On Broadway.”
  • Fan Centred Events
    Throughout the weekend there were some other events on the Mainstage that you could describe as more “fan centred” (and usually hosted by Ben). There were YouTube Parties, which was just Broadway videos being shown on the big screens with everyone singing along. There was the first annual Lip Sync Battle. Though I didn’t attend them there were also cosplay and “rising star” events that took place on the MainStage.

Panels

When it comes to the panels at BroadwayCon there are so many to choose from on any number of Broadway and general theatre related topics. Sometimes it was hard to decide which panel to go to, they all sounded so interesting and I missed some I wish I could have attended! Whether you are interested in the onstage or offstage side of things, or general fandom, there are panels for everyone! A cool added feature this year was the rooms for the panels: each one was named after a woman from theatre history!

A favourite panel that I attended was called “From Annie to Because of Winn Dixie, A Training Demonstration or Broadway’s Most Famous Canine Actors with Bill Berloni” and featured Bill Berloni (the Broadway dog trainer) and some dogs of the stage. There was Macy, who was Sandy in the most recent Annie revival; Dusty, who played Toto in a production of The Wizard of Oz; Chico, the original Bruiser from Legally Blonde (the first dog to have “lines” in a Broawday musical); Trixie, who has the most Broadway credits of the dogs there having appeared in Bullets Over Broadway as well as another play; and Bowdie who was in Peter Pan Live, Sesame Street (Mr. Noodle’s dog) and who will be in Because of Winn Dixie. During the panel Bill talked about getting all of the dogs (who are all rescues!), training them for each of their roles and the unique requirements for each role and the varying commands (vocal, visual) that go with it. It was fascinating (and adorable) to watch when he demonstrated the “tricks” with each dog!

Autographs, Photos & Celebrity Sightings

At BroadwayCon autograph and photo booth opportunities are given out via lottery system. (Though if you get the more expensive tickets you get some guaranteed autographs/photos.) You enter the lottery ahead of time by picking which autographs and/or photos you are interested in from a list, ranking those from most to least interested and then it is up to the lottery system to pick which one(s) you get. I lucked out this year and got quite a few including some of my top choices! My Friday morning was actually spent mostly in autograph and photo lines, this being one of the time where I had to choose between autographs or panels and I went with autographs! I got a photo with and autograph from Ben Fankhauser (original Davey in Newsies on Broadway and Barry Mann in the Beautiful tour) which I was extremely excited about! I got him to sign a programme from the Toronto run of the Beautiful tour, which I don’t think he was expecting! It was a great conversation starter! I also got autographs from Donna Murphy, Liz Callaway, Tim Federle and Jennifer Tepper. It was definitely an exciting weekend for autographs! (And Tim Federle sang my name when I was getting his autograph, which also made my day!)

One of the fun things with BroadwayCon is also just seeing Broadway stars walking around whether on their way to a panel or an autograph or photo session or a specific booth in the Marketplace or just wandering. I saw Betsy Wolfe, Sydney Lucas, Alex Brightman, Andrew Kober, Laura Osnes and so many more. And that’s how I met Lynn Ahrens. We were walking around the Marketplace and I happened to have just bought a flower made out of a Rocky Playbill when we walked by Lynn Ahrens. I couldn’t resist going back to meet her and have her sign the flower. The timing couldn’t have been better and it was a definite highlight of the weekend!

Marketplace Highlights

As much as the panels and everything else I was also really excited to spend time (and money) at the BroadwayCon Marketplace. Some of my favourite stops included:

  • Scenery Bags- They sell bags made out of the backdrops from (closed) shows. I went in knowing I wanted to buy these (one for me and one for my mom) and as soon as I saw that they had bags made from a Rocky backdrop I knew I would be buying those!
  • Broadway Green Alliance/SomeOtherMe- I already have a collection of Playbill flowers from SomeOtherMe and I knew I would be adding to that collection at BroawdayCon. By the end of the weekend I had picked up Bandstand, Rocky, and Phantom of the Opera flowers as well as two “I rescue Playbills” tote bags!!
  • Lights of Broadway Show Cards- I actually started my card collection at the first BroadwayCon and, again, I went into the weekend with the intention of adding to my collection, which was exactly what I did! And of course I had to pick up the BroadwayCon exclusive cards! (At this point the cards do not ship outside of the US, so I have to take the chances I can get to pick more up!)
  • I was also excited to stop by the TeeRico booth, where I picked up two notebooks. (TeeRico offering merchandise that is officially licensed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.)

There was so much to look at in the Marketplace! I obviously couldn’t buy everything I liked but it was a lot of fun to walk around looking at everything and being surrounded by all of these things I can’t always get back home. There’s also a great atmosphere to the Marketplace. There’s excitement in the air. The excitement of finding the merchandise you were looking for or didn’t know you were looking for, the excitement of seeing your favourite Broadway stars walking around. It’s a great place! (Though dangerous for the wallet!) The BroadwayCon Museum was also in the Marketplace which was a cool place to see bits of Broadway history both old and new (costume pieces, set models, props, lighting paperwork, and more!)

Cosplay is also prevalent at BroadwayCon. Seeing all of the amazing costumes that people come with makes me wish I had the talent, time, tools and budget to create costumes like that! There were a lot of impressive ones! If I were to cosplay (in general) I would want to be a character from a musical, and have actually for a few Halloweens, but at least at BroadwayCon people would actually get it!

I had such a great weekend at BroadwayCon and I already can’t wait to see what next year has in store!

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(If you have any questions about BroadwayCon or want to know more about any of the particular panels let me know!)

 

The Thrill of Trip Planning

I’ve been planning what has become my annual trip to New York City (for BroadwayCon). It’s always such an exciting thing planning these trips- thinking about the shows you want to see while you’re there and the other locations you want to visit. With the BroadwayCon centred trips, the convention itself takes up the majority of the time, which is by no means a bad thing! But it does limit the time available for show and sight seeing, so there is a little bit of strategy involved in the planning. What can we fit in when not at BroadwayCon and what shows are at the top of our “want to see” list? For me, show planning usually means coming up with a few options because I usually end up going to TKTS to try to get discounted tickets! This year we’re going to try for a couple of digital lotteries, with TKTS being a backup plan for when we don’t win those (we’re entering for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen so I know the odds of us winning will be quite slim, but there’s no harm in trying!!).

It’s fun to leave some time open for just wandering around the city but I do have some specific locations/stores I like to visit when I’m there. Three of my top places to visit are: Schmackary’s, The Drama Book Shop, and Theatre Circle. Schmackary’s has amazing cookies and I’m planning on making a couple stops there on this trip! I have yet to have any Broadway actor sightings there, but maybe some day! The Drama Book Shop the combination of two of my favourite things in one wonderful place: theatre and books. Even if I don’t buy anything it feels great to just wander around (and add more to my ever growing list of books I want to read). Sure Theatre Circle could be considered as quite a touristy shop but I love anywhere I can buy Broadway merchandise! With BroadwayCon though I do have to keep the Market Place in mind as it is another great place to pick up Broadway merch! This year I know I’m especially going to be on the lookout for Bandstand and Great Comet related items! Sure, my wallet might not be to thrilled having to deal with the exchange rate but if that’s what it takes to be surrounded by all things Broadway, it’s a price I’m willing to pay!

New York is one of my favourite cities and I love that I’ve been able to go there more frequently. As I go more and more often, the more I learn about the city and am able to navigate my way around better and better, particularly in the Times Square/Theatre District. It’s quite satisfying actually knowing my way around! Some of my happiest memories of late have taken place in New York City and I can’t wait to add even more from this trip!

What about those of you who are reading this blog, do you have any go-to New York locations? Any recommendations??

 

 

Theatre Memories: Stage Door Stories

It should come as no surprise that I am someone who goes to the stage door after a show. I didn’t actually start stage dooring (yes, I will be using stage dooring as a verb throughout this post) show until I went to New York for the first time in 2012. Since then I’ve gone to the stage door of every Broadway show I’ve been to, and a few shows in Toronto. I have noticed that while stage dooring is done in Toronto, it is not as big a thing as it is in New York. The following are some of my own personal stage door experiences!

1st Stage Door Experience (also Busiest Stage Door Experience):

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. My first Broadway show was also my first stage door experience! And what an experience! To this day, it is still the busiest stage door I’ve been to. It was Darren Criss’s second day in the show, so it’s not surprising that it was a zoo. I didn’t get anywhere near the front of the group. I didn’t get any autographs. I got a few pictures from a distance where I’m pretty sure you can see parts of heads and sleeves. At one point I was standing on a ledge or barrier or something and did see and hear Darren, so all things considered it was the best I could have gotten from where I was and it was still great. (And, actually my dad, who ended up standing in a different spot from my mom and I, did get one of the actor’s autographs on his Playbill.)

Best Stage Door Experience:

I have had some really great stage door experiences, but I suppose the “best” would probably be after seeing the Godspell revival, also on my first trip to NYC. This time the stage door was nowhere near as busy. There were other people there but it was nothing like How to Succeed. I was right at the barrier right near the doors where the actors came out. I met and got pictures with almost every cast member (except Morgan James and Celisse Henderson). I also had longer conversations with Telly Leung and George Salazar which was really exciting for me! (I had actually seen George in a tour of Spring Awakening that had a one show stop in Kingston.)  My Godspell experience is certainly one I won’t forget!

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Photo collage I made of stage door pictures after seeing Godspell in 2012 (This is still the background on my laptop). Moving clockwise starting at the top left corner the pictures include Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Wallace Smith, George Salazar, Telly Leung, Uzo Aduba, Corey Mach, Nick Blaemire, Lindsay Mendez.

Worst Stage Door Experience:

This one goes to If/Then. I want to state right off the bat, this being the worst experience has nothing to do with any of the cast members. My issues came from the other people waiting at the stage door. And it wasn’t all bad. I got to meet and get pictures with quite a few of the cast members. At one point though, as we were waiting for Idina to come out, a really tall person came up right behind me and with people in front and beside me, I felt closed in on all and couldn’t really move or see . It was overwhelming and pretty uncomfortable. Yes, when it’s a busy stage door there is only so much room and it gets crowded, but this time it was just a bit too much. When Idina came out I did get some pictures of her but I didn’t end up getting her autograph. I just wasn’t close enough/pushy enough I guess (it was nothing to do with Idina herself, who I know can only do so much when there are so many people and in a short amount of time). Like I said, in terms of the actors though, everyone was great! It was just the crowd with which I had an issue.

Least Busy Stage Door Experience:

There have been a few times when I’ve gone to the stage door for shows in Toronto and I’ve been the only one there. This was the case the last time the Phantom of the Opera tour was in Toronto. I may have been the only person there but I got a lot of autographs! When Buyer and Cellar was playing in Toronto I went to the stage door where there were two of us (the other person being my mother who had been at the show with me!). I got to meet Christopher J Hanke though, which had an added bonus because I had also seen him as Bud Frump in How to Succeed in Business, but, like I said before, I wasn’t anywhere near enough to get any autographs at that show!

Best Stage Door Experience Not at the Stage Door:

I saw the In the Heights tour twice. Once in Kingston and once in Toronto. After the Toronto performance I ended up meeting the cast when we were on the way back to our hotel. I had seen the show with my parents and best friend and as we were on the subway I looked over and saw people I thought I recognized from the cast. We debated for a while whether or not it was them and whether or not to go over to them but finally we did, asking if they were in fact from the cast. When they confirmed it, I asked them to sign my souvenir program. It was as they began passing it around that I realized how many of them were actually there! I had recognized two of them!) I talked to them for a little while, telling them how I had also seen the show in Kingston. They were all really nice and it was great of them to take the time to talk to us! It was a really cool experience!

Biggest Celebrity I’ve Met at the Stage Door:

In terms of celebrities (beyond the theatre world), I would say there is a tie for this one between Josh Groban, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney, although I had the most interaction with Laura. I got Josh’s autograph after seeing Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. In that instance it was a case of him going along the group quickly signing autographs and not posing for pictures. It was still really cool though! I met Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney after seeing The Little Foxes on the same trip. The stage door for The Little Foxes was not very busy and as well as getting both of their autographs I also got a picture with Laura Linney!

People and Moments that Stand Out From Other Stage Door Experiences:

  • Alex Brightman after seeing School of Rock. He was really nice and such a great Dewey! I talked to him about loving the movie growing up.
  • Laura Osnes after seeing Bandstand. I’ve been a fan of Laura’s for a long time and it was a dream come true to get to see her in a show and then meet her at the stage door afterwards! (I wish now that I had gotten pictures with the rest of the cast too.)
  • Ramin Karimloo, Christy Altomare, & Derek Klena after seeing Anastasia. We talked to Ramin for a bit as fellow Canadians and I’ve seen him perform a few times before. (He’s amazing). We talked to Christy for a while. She was really taking the time to talk to everyone and she was extremely nice. She made sure we met Derek too because he had gone to the next people while we were talking to her. He was also great!
  • Norm Lewis after seeing Phantom of the Opera. He was the last person to come out, quite a while after everyone else, but I remember him being really nice and talking to everyone and posing for pictures. (This was also a bit of a weird experience because we were all waiting in one spot, then, after we’d already been there for a while, were told we couldn’t stand there and had to move to a different spot. It all worked out in the end, but I found it strange that we hadn’t been informed of the “right” place to wait earlier. But I still got to meet Norm Lewis, so it was great!)
  • Andy Karl and the rest of the Rocky cast. I was so excited after seeing that show and meeting the cast was the icing on the cake. I was right near the end of the group that was waiting at the stage door, which worked out really well for getting photos and spending a little time talking to the actors, including Andy.
  • I’ve also had a lot of good experiences with the security at various Broadway stage doors. A lot of the time they have been great about letting everyone know if people are still coming out or if that’s it for the night. The people at the Godspell and Bandstand stage doors were particularly good about keeping us updated. I can only imagine what they have to deal with night after night!
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One of my my more recent stage door highlights: meeting Laura Osnes after Bandstand in 2017.

It’s a common thing in this post that the actors I’ve met at the stage door have been really nice. But it’s true, they have been. I really appreciate everyone I’ve met (talked to, posed for a picture with, had sign my Playbill/souvenir program), knowing that it’s not a part of their job to greet fans at the stage door! And I totally understand and accept when people don’t come out the stage door. I’m so grateful for the excellent experiences I’ve had and look forward to any future stage door experiences!

Finding My Way in the Theatre World (A Work in Progress)

Obviously, I love the theatre (every post on this blog and the existence of this blog in itself are a testament to that!) and theatre plays a very big part in my life, but when it comes to where I am and where I see myself within the theatre world, where I fit, well, I’m still trying to figure that out.

In interviews with theatre professionals (actors, directors, designers, etc.) the topic of education is one of those topics that always seems to come up. It’s always a question of did they go to school? Did they not? And whether or not they did, the conclusion is always the same: there is no one way to “make it” (whether that means on Broadway specifically or just in the theatre world in general). Just because going to school is right for one person, doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the right option for someone else. It depends on each individual person. In my case, I did study Drama at university, though I wasn’t in a “theatre program” per se (it wasn’t a conservatory program or a BFA or anything like that). I was in a general Bachelor of Arts (Honours) program in which I majored in Drama (with a minor in Art History).

Before I went off and studied Drama at university however, I grew up in a town that didn’t have a whole lot of options when it came to theatre. There are a couple of theatres and companies in nearby towns but overall it’s not the best area for gaining exposure to the theatre. In high school I wasn’t interested in taking drama classes, except for the musical theatre class my high school offered every other year, which I took in grade 12 (a class in which we wrote and performed a musical). I knew a life in the spotlight wasn’t for me (I had/have neither the talent nor the confidence for it) and drama classes typically seemed to be performance based. I hadn’t even read many plays before studying Drama at university. The only plays I really read in high school were by Shakespeare (though I was one of those students who did enjoy reading Shakespeare in high school). I was very much interested in theatre in high school and loved seeing shows I just didn’t have a whole lot of experience making theatre.

So while my interest in (obsession with) theatre began earlier, when it came time for me to decide on post secondary education, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do (I mean, I still don’t, but we’ll get to that). I did look into some theatre programs but, like I mentioned before, I knew that I didn’t want to be a performer and I did not want to go into a program for which I would have to audition. Though I was more interested in the production side of theatre, I didn’t really know that much about it or have much experience in it. Nothing seemed like quite the right fit. I didn’t even know for sure if I wanted to go into theatre, I just knew that I liked it (a lot), and that it would be cool to be a part of it in some way.

I decided to into a general Bachelor of Arts (Honours) program. I did get into my top choice of school, Queen’s University, and I got into a program that allowed me to spend my first year in England going to school in a castle (Herstmonceux Castle). In first year I took a general selection of courses (Art History, Drama, English, Film, and some others) and second year was when we declared our majors. I had enjoyed both Drama and Art History in first year so I decided on a medial degree with those two subjects (sort of like a double major but not quite). I found I was enjoying my Drama classes more than the Art History ones so for third year I switched to a Drama major with an Art History minor, which was definitely the right decision for me.

I really liked the Drama department at Queen’s and the variety of classes it offered which allowed me to figure out my own place/path in the program. There were of course the mandatory course requirements, some theory and history courses, some technical with required practical elements of working on the crew for a department productions. Studying Drama at university, I got to learn about and experience all of the technical and production elements that go into the creation of a show that I just hadn’t experienced and didn’t really know about before. I took design courses, looking at set, lighting and costume design. I also took playwriting and Theatre for Young Audiences (in which we wrote plays and then performed them at an elementary school in the area, my group’s play being a kid version of Macbeth. Yes, you read that right!). All of my professors were great as well and helped to make my experience at Queen’s the positive one that it was.

It was great getting to work on productions both for and outside of class. There were so many theatre companies with so many shows being put on at any given time. Some were actually a part of the department and some were companies organized by students outside of the department. With all of these productions there were lots of opportunities to try new things and gain new experiences. At one point my interest was focused on sound design and I was able to work on a number of productions doing that but then I decided I wanted to try my hand at some other jobs so that’s what I did! During my time in Kingston (I also stayed a year after graduation to work and to work on more shows and I continued to figure out what I wanted to do and to just gain more experience) I worked in such a variety of positions on different types of shows. I was on set crew, sound crew, props crew. I did set, props, paint design and sound design. I worked as an assistant technical director and an assistant stage manager. I enjoyed all of it, even though it did get stressful at times. I was able to explore and learn both about the theatre and myself, including how I work both on my own and with others and in leadership positions, like being a crew head. I loved working on shows (and still love it). The collaboration, the creativity, being a part of something, it was all so rewarding. And with so many productions going on around campus, there were a lot of different styles/genres of theatre to experience- plays, musicals, established productions, student written shows. It was a good way to learn about what I really like and am interested in on both sides of the stage.

I don’t think I would have gotten in to theatre (in such a way, or maybe at all) if I hadn’t done it the way I did. I was able to sort of find me way into it, figuring out the things I liked to do and being able to experiment and try new things. Studying drama the way I did increased my overall interest in, respect for and understanding of theatre and my appreciation for it. I learned a lot from my program and I’m so glad that I chose it.

Now I’m out in the “real world.” I graduated 3, almost 4 years ago (it will be 4 years this year) and I am still trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life (beyond knowing that theatre will be a part of it one way or another). For now though, I am happy that I do actually have a job in the theatre, working in front of house, working with other theatre-loving people. It’s great knowing that I have a role in that world, as minor as that role may be. I have also stage managed a couple of productions recently, and while I don’t think I want to “be” a stage manager (professionally), I do enjoy it and I enjoy being a part of the process of creating and putting together a show, and that I’ve been able to do it outside of school!

Overall the theatre industry doesn’t really seem to be the easiest to get into, especially when you don’t know specifically what you want to do and to be able to make enough money to live off of. It is nice to be living in a city where there is a fairly large theatre scene, though it’s nothing compared to NYC or the West End. And there are not really a lot of other theatre-related jobs, by which I mean jobs that might fall outside of the standard positions in a theatre or on a production. Every so often I will look at the job listings on the Playbill website and there are such a variety of jobs. I will see jobs that look interesting and think “maybe I could do something like that,” but we just don’t always have those same sorts of options or opportunities here, which can be a little disheartening.

In all honesty, I can’t really picture myself doing anything specifically, which is extremely helpful when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. For now, I am grateful to have a job in a theatre and one that lets me be a part of that world, surrounded by people who are also interested in and a part of that world. I think writing this blog is also me trying to find a place for myself or rather, create a place for myself, in the theatre/Broadway world. Now if only I could stay motivated to update it regularly!

 

The Drawbacks of Distance

With social media, YouTube, and more and more productions touring and being filmed (legally) it is very easy to keep up to date with all things Broadway, even when you don’t live in NYC. In my first post on this blog I talked about the ways I keep Broadway as a big part of my life even though I live in Canada. 

But then there are times when you really notice just how far away you are from New York City and this post is about those times.

Like I said, social media really is great for keeping you up to date with all the Broadway news and lets you see pictures and videos of pretty much everything that happens, but sometimes I find it also just draws attention to all of the things you are missing because you aren’t there. Sometimes it works to think about how expensive some of those things are and knowing that you wouldn’t be there even if you were in the city but being far away, you know there really is no chance at all.

There always seems to be some Broadway-related concert or one-time-only event/performance happening  in New York. Following anything to do with Feinstein’s/54 Below is both a good and bad thing here because I love hearing about all of the upcoming performances and seeing the videos from them when they are posted on YouTube. At the same time though I wish I could see them in person. I have had the privilege of attending one performance at 54 Below (Matt Doyle) and it was a great experience, which also increases my desire to return. Signings and performances at places like Barnes and Noble and the Drama Book Shop also get my attention.

Then there are the annual events like Broadway Barks, Stars in the Alley (which I did get to attend this year), Broadway in Bryant Park, Broadway Barks, the Broadway Flea Market, BroadwayCon (I’ve been able to attend this both years so far and a lot of my New York trip planning has become centred around this particular event). All of these events look like so much fun, whether it’s getting to see performances or having the chance to buy souvenirs and memorabilia and see the stars outside of their shows. Thankfully I have managed to attend some of these but there are just too many to plan trips around all of them, as much as I wish I could!

Then there are the shows themselves. Broadway shows are always opening and closing which can be hard to watch from afar. Sometimes there’s a particular show or performer you wish you could see. There are the shows with limited runs and shows that will never tour, or if they do it won’t be for a long time, or not in a city near you for a long time. Or sometimes your favourite shows (which perhaps you have gotten to see) are closing and you can’t get back to see them before they do.

If I were living in NYC I think I would be more inclined to try for lottery or rush tickets since, if I didn’t win one day, I could just try again another day. As it is when I do go to New York it’s always for a limited time so I usually either get tickets ahead of time or get them at TKTS (with some preparation ahead of time with regards to which shows I want to see and looking at what had previously been available to have an idea of what the options will be). There have been some exceptions to this, but generally, that’s how it goes. I don’t want to risk not getting a ticket for anything at all which could come with rush/lottery tickets, at least the ones for which you have to physically line up. The number of digital lotteries now helps with this a bit. On my last trip we did actually enter the Dear Evan Hansen digital lottery and when we didn’t win that (it was Dear Evan Hansen, we weren’t expecting to win!), which we found out in the morning, we were still able to head to TKTS to pick up other matinee tickets that day. I would certainly be more inclined to try more digital lotteries on future trips, but it would be a lot nicer to be able to try it more often without that potentially being my only chance to see the show.

This month (September) has been one of those when it’s particularly disappointing to not be in New York, as there are/have been lots of events and show closings. This month’s show closings, that stood out for me, included Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (September 3rd), Bandstand (September 17th), and Groundhog Day (September 17th). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I would have loved to have had the chance to see both Great Comet and Bandstand again. At one point, before its closing was announced, I had even checked to see when Bandstand was on sale until, wondering if I would be able to see it again when I plan on going back to New York for BroadwayCon. At that point it wasn’t, but I had hoped for an extension, not a closing notice! I also wish I had gotten to see Groundhog Day. I had heard a lot of good things about it. The day I saw BandstandGroundhog Day had been my other choice for a potential show to see. I certainly don’t regret my decision as Bandstand is one of my new favourite shows but I wish I could have fit Groundhog Day in too. (And I do love Andy Karl in a show!)

Notable events this month include the Theatre Mania Block Party, which happened on the 10th, and the Broadway Flea Market which is actually happening tomorrow (the 24th). One of my goals in life is to attend the Broadway Flea Market. Someday I will be there!

There is just something about New York and the Broadway “scene.” There’s a sort of vibe to it that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a place where it seems there are always these theatre-related events happening and even when they aren’t there are still the shows themselves. There are so many of them! And that’s not even counting Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway! The list goes on and on. I know there is a lot of good theatre in other cities too but when your passion is (Broadway) musicals it just seems that New York is the place to be.

Outside of New York City there is also a lack of places to buy Broadway related items (merchandise, books, etc.) which also leads to looking at shipping availability (or sometimes lack thereof) and expenses. Yes there are some book options at Chapters/Indigo (the big chain bookstore we have here in Canada), Amazon, etc., but we don’t have anything like the Drama Book Shop. There used to be a store in Toronto called Theatre Books but, unfortunately, it closed a few years ago. So while it is possible to get Broadway/theatre related books here, it’s not the same as having somewhere (like the Drama Book Shop) to go and browse and be surrounded by those types of books, and like-minded people who are also interested in those books. It gets more difficult if you’re looking for Broadway merchandise outside of the city. New York has stores like Theatre Circle and One Shubert Alley that are full of Broadway merchandise and memorabilia. There actually used to be a store like that in Toronto too. I only managed to go there once and then it closed not too long after that, which was extremely disappointing. There is a lot of Broadway merchandise available from the Playbill Store, which does offer international shipping but it gets quite pricey. It’s probably better for my wallet that there are limited options here in Canada, but the lack of (reasonably priced) options can be annoying.

Obviously when topics like this come up so does the question of relocation. Relocation is one of those issues that varies depending on where you want to relocate from. In all cases, money is definitely a factor, but then it get even harder and more complicated for those of us who’s distance from the city is beyond the borders of the USA. As soon as international relocation is considered visas are involved and things get more complicated. It’s true that non-Americans do successfully make the move to the city, but, at least for me, it isn’t really an option.

This is when I know I just need to focus on all of the ways I can keep Broadway in my life (again going back to my first post here) and I am very thankful for all of the websites, posts, videos, etc. that do bring Broadway to the rest of the world. And I can focus on the times that I do get to make the trip to the city. Every time I get to plan another New York trip, it’s so exciting, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to make it a somewhat more regular occurrence over the last couple years. It’s always nice knowing I’ll be back in the heart of the theatre world I love, even if it’s just for a few days at a time!