Friday, May 10, 2013

"Why do you want to be on Broadway?"

"Why do you want to be on Broadway?"
TEDxBroadway 2013 Series (Part I)

George Takei is not a name one would necessarily associate with Broadway. Neither is Randi Zuckerberg or Susan Salgado. And yet these individuals, along with 14 others, were speakers at this year's TEDxBroadway conference on Janury 28th. These highly successful and inventive individuals gathered together in front of a 450 member audience to discuss the future of Broadway. The big question posed was "What's the best that Broadway can be -- on stage, in the community, and throughout the world?"

In this three-part opinion series, Signature Theatre staff look at their favorite talks from the TEDxBroadway 2013 conference sharing thoughts, insights, and an analysis of the issues facing the theatre industry at large and how Signature Theatre is handling them. Read Part II here.

Today’s blog author is Marcella Toronto, Signature’s education intern.

I have chosen a career in theatre because I can’t picture myself doing anything else. Creating and sharing through this medium fills me with energy, purpose and a passion that I can’t explain. Many other theatre artists express similar sentiments when asked why they do what they do. So why is it that not all theatre productions reflect these feelings? As much as we may hate to admit it, many of us have either seen or been in a less-than-inspiring show. In Terry Teachout’s talk entitled, “Why Do You Want to be On Broadway?” he challenges the theatre industry to gamble on greatness.

Terry Teachout
Teachout begins his remarks with a fact:

Seventy-five percent of all Broadway shows lose money. Three shows out of four.”

To call odds like these discouraging would be an understatement. But I love how Teachout puts this statistic – and what all the play-it-safe-ers are probably thinking – on its head.

What William Goldman said about Hollywood goes double on Broadway: nobody knows anything. And that means that there's only one reason for you to be on Broadway--and that's to have fun.

So how do you do that? If you're a creative person--and everybody on Broadway is, or should be, creative in one way or another--then the best way to have fun is to try to do something good. Really good. To roll the dice on excellence.”

I love working at Signature Theatre because one of the things Signature does best is, as Teachout put it, “roll the dice on excellence.” Over the past 23 years, Signature has developed a reputation for “definitive Sondheim productions, inventive adaptations of overlooked or forgotten works, and investment in fresh new projects.” And that’s what makes Signature Theatre so great, that’s what draws the audience. You know that when you come to Signature you’re going to see something that nobody else has ever done:

Assassins with the stage as a reflection of the audience
The cast of Assassins
“How do I convey the pow! factor in Signature Theatre’s startling new staging of Assassins without spoiling it for you? Absorbingly original… boldly, stylishly theatrical… exhilarating.”
  – Peter Marks, The Washington Post

Show Boat… with no boat
“What is being fondly called “No Boat” (no two-tiered riverboat is recreated onstage) may or may not be the future of this lavish, rarely performed show.”
David Belcher, New York Times

Hello, Dolly! with no grand staircase
“Dusting off the script, Director Eric Schaeffer has created a fresh new Dolly that is personal, heartfelt, and engaging.”
– Mark Beachy, MD Theatre Guide

Les Miserables with no turntable
“The Signature experiment works on many levels. Bringing the production down to an intimate scale assuredly makes the characters more accessible, even when crooning those familiar larger-than-life numbers.”
– Paul Harris, Variety

There are shows I have forgotten or wish I could forget, but the breath-taking image of a magic ring of candles descending from the sky in Shakespeare’s R&J is a memory I will always cherish. Those are the kind of risks that make Signature great.

A magical moment in Shakespeare's R&J
I have to admit I’m going to steal Teachout’s closing. Because it’s just that good.

“If there's ever a time in life for you to shoot high, this is it. Don't start out settling for safe--gamble on great. Forget about making money. You're not going to make money. Instead, make something beautiful. Something special. Something new. Something that makes you proud. Do that and you always win...and who knows? You might even get rich.”

I only hope we can all live up to his challenge.

Read the full text of Teachout’s talk here.

Check out the rest of the talks from TEDxBroadway 2013 here.


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