Wednesday, February 08, 2017

BroadwayCon Year Two: Less Snow, Bigger Venue

Last year, a major snowstorm shut down Broadway theaters, but the first ever Broadway fan convention went on as scheduled. And it ended up being a lot of fun. This year brought about some changes for BroadwayCon--no weather interference and a much larger venue (it moved from the New York Hilton Midtown to the massive Javits Convention Center). Aside from the distance from any subways, it proved to be a smart move.

The large rooms for panels and the huge BroadwayCon mainstage meant that it usually wasn't necessary to wait in line and you could walk into pretty much any panel and get a seat. The only time I saw a long line was for BroadwayCon First Look--performances from upcoming Broadway shows--on Sunday, and that's only because they cleared out the mainstage and then let people back in. There was also plenty of room to walk around without getting trampled on, even in the marketplace--the area for vendors, exhibitors, autographs, and photos.

My con experience started on Friday (the convention lasted from January 27 to the 29th) with the In Trousers reunion panel. In Trousers premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 1979 and is the first in William Finn's trilogy about Marvin (the other two are March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, which make up Falsettos). Moderated by Jennifer Ashley Tepper, the panel included Finn, producer Ira Weitzman, and original cast members Alison Fraser, Chip Zien, and Mary Testa. It was a fascinating and honest discussion. We learned that everything was sped up on the recording so that all the songs could fit on a vinyl record and that's why it sounds a lot faster than the way it was actually sung. We learned that Mary Testa got her first Broadway show and had to make the painful decision to leave March of the Falsettos, which is why her character didn't end up being in the show. "It was besheret. Is that what you Jews say?" she said. But perhaps the best moment was when Zien admitted that he didn't know Marvin was gay. He wondered, "But where is he going?" about the song "Whizzer Going Down." He thought maybe he was going to Florida or something. Unfortunately, they didn't perform, but there was a lot of other singing the rest of the weekend (from professionals and fans).

I missed the opening ceremony because I was volunteering at the Show-Score booth (I'm one of the editors), asking people what shows they'd like to see in 2017. A highlight of the weekend was meeting theater fans from around the world. I especially enjoyed seeing parents sharing their kids' excitement.
My favorite post-it on the Show-Score wall of what people want to see in 2017 (and no, I didn't write this).
After the marketplace shut down at 6, the only thing open was the mainstage. Since my main goal for Friday was to see "Don't Quit Your Night Job" at 9, I ended up getting to the BroadwayCon mainstage during "Twenty Years on Pride Rock" and staying for the BroadwayCon Cabaret and the Annie 40 year reunion panel. Not a bad way to pass the time, especially since composer Charles Strouse. director Martin Charnin, and Annie herself, Andrea McArdle, were there.

"Night Job," the brainchild of Steve Rosen, Sarah Saltzberg, and David Rossmer, is a delightful combination of improv and musical theater, but they don't do it too often anymore, so I hope they at least make it a BroadwayCon tradition. They had plenty of special guests, including Santino Fontana, who sang a musical Mad Libs version of "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful" from Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella.

The weekend was made up of many joyous moments like that one, but BroadwayCon wasn't a complete bubble away from everything happening in the country (this was the same weekend that Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States). Many speakers took the opportunity to get political. Paula Vogel was at BroadwayCon First Look to get people excited about Indecent (I already am, having seen it Off-Broadway. Get your tickets.), but she also spoke about how important it is for playwrights to write at this time, saying, "It's the most important gift you can give the country right now." Before "Hamilton: The Next Administration," the cast recording played, and many were singing along, but everyone screamed along to the line, "Immigrants, we get the job done." The cast members also spoke at the panel about how this and other lines have been getting an even stronger response than usual.

The politics also extended to within theater. I praised BroadwayCon for this last year as well. It celebrates Broadway while also looking at the ways it needs to improve. During "Someone in a Tree: a Frank Discussion of Asian Americans on Broadway" moderated by Erin Quill with Kelvin Moon Loh, Manu Narayan, B.D. Wong, and Amy Hill, they called out specific productions, like Roundabout's The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for using yellowface. Wong spoke about Jonathan Pryce's casting as the Engineer in Miss Saigon. When it happened in London, he thought they do things like that there, but it couldn't happen on Broadway, and he was shocked when Pryce remained with the show here. But he and the others who protested were able to at least get the production to get rid of the makeup and make the role more ethnically ambiguous. They also set a precedent so the role would be played by an Asian from then on (in the upcoming Broadway revival, Jon Jon Briones plays the engineer). Although they didn't get the exact results they wanted the first time, they got the conversation started.

Wong also said that we can have panels until we're blue in the face, but by the time you talk about casting, it's almost too late. It needs to start with writers. Even if writers would give some characters Asian-sounding last names, they'd be more likely to be cast with Asian actors. Hill started writing to empower herself, saying, "You have to work so hard when you're an actor of color. You have to act, you have to write, you have to produce."

This idea of having to write for yourself also came up in the "Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability on Stage," moderated by Howard Sherman with Sarah Folkins, Matt Fraser, Tony Lopez, and Alexandria Wailes.

They spoke about how traditionally, roles for actors with disabilities are written by people who don't know anything about the reality. Or they write "inspiration porn." The panelists want to see narratives where they are full-fledged human beings. Fraser said a way forward is for writers to collaborate with disabled actors. I wish I could just write down a transcript of the whole conversation, but I hope the right people (producers) were listening. Also, I learned about the Graeae Theatre Company where Fraser got his training because at the time he couldn't get into any theater schools, and just wanted to include that in case anyone else wanted to read up on it.

So, BroadwayCon is a place for honest discussions. It's also a great place for shows (and even movies) to advertise and sell tickets. I certainly don't begrudge them that. And in most cases they did it in smart ways.

The Speech & Debate panel was moderated by Darren Criss and I could tell by the screams that a lot of people were there for him, but all those people who probably never saw the play are now excited about the movie. We saw the trailer (see below). I have mixed feelings about it. I am a huge fan of this play and haven't missed a Stephen Karam play since, but it seems like they are trying really hard to make it look like a fun teen comedy with the bright colors and pop music. It's a very funny show, but also a dark one. I guess whatever sells tickets. And I could have done without the Hamilton. Not everything has to include a Hamilton reference. That said, I can't wait to see Sarah Steele play Diwata again.

During the panel, they encouraged people to use hashtags for the movie and they did the same thing during BroadwayCon First Look. Again, good way to spread the word about your show and advertise to those at the convention and beyond. The musicals performed songs and Come From Away was a particular standout with Jenn Colella singing "Me and the Sky." It was interesting to see how the plays approached the event, since not even the Tonys ever seem to get it right. But I thought they did a nice job, especially Significant Other, which had Gideon Glick perform a monologue. I would love to know which shows sold the most tickets as a result of BroadwayCon, but I guess there's no way to find that out.

There are a ton of panels and workshops and performances that I didn't see, but I'm pretty happy with the choices I made. And that's another positive about the convention--the variety of programming for both casual and obsessive fans. I look forward to seeing what they come up with for year three.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the awesome recap. I wonder if attendees received discount codes exclusive to Broadway Con to buy tickets to the shows advertised. Then they could track which ones sold the most.