The first time I was on stage, it was to walk a sign from stage left to right. Literally. Me, a sign, one side of the stage to the other. I was in absolute heaven. I was four. There are pictures. I loved it so much it was a problem. When I was nine, I played a willow tree in the Met’s production of Hansel and Gretel. We walked on stage as a group, in relevé, in green face paint with matching hooded onesies, waving our tree branch arms. There are pictures. It was my job to tip toe around the stage to get to my place on the other side, but one night I accidentally tripped on the witch’s cane. HEAVEN. 3,000 eyes, watching me get up. Yes, I thought. Yes. Years later, after being in every show ever made in a 20-mile radius of my hometown, I did a summer stock production of Cabaret. It’s my favorite play, my favorite movie, there are hookers and Nazis and queer people and pervy dancing. I was so thrilled to be on that stage, in that play, that on the very first dance where we dragged the chairs to their cabaret performance places – I smiled so much the director yelled at me. I was way too happy a hooker. But I couldn’t contain my glee! A corset, stockings, a chair, high heels, and messed up make-up??? Absolute heaven for my teenage self. I got it together, though, I started to learn to use all that energy in the performance and not just bounce around with it. But it’s still a wild ride. It’s unpredictable, sometimes even unreliable, but it’s in that unknowing that makes theater a place where the most interesting and wonderful things can happen. And it’s radical. People are affected differently when you put yourself out there in front of them. And when you do that because you actually have something to say, which for me was when I did my show, Positive Me, at La Mama during the height of the AIDS crisis, you feel like you are moving the world. Maybe you only moved it a micro-inch, but you did something, you pushed, and you felt other people change, at least for that moment.
Following her co-starring role for 7 seasons on the world-wide hit Fox medical drama “House,” Lisa Edelstein starred for five seasons in Bravo’s first scripted series “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” That show also gave her the opportunity to write, produce and direct and she has since written and directed two short films (“Unzipping”, “Lulu”), written a pilot and is adapting a book for her feature directorial debut. She recently appeared opposite Rob Lowe in the hit Ryan Murphy series “9-1-1: Lone Star” and reprises her recurring role in season 3 of the award-winning Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method” (May 28th Season Premiere). Lisa is reunited with Jason Alexander in The Sisters Rosensweig as part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund. They last worked together in 1993 in the notable ‘Risotto’ episode of “Seinfeld”.
I have long heard that the theater is a healing place, a restorative place. I think the person who first proffered that meant that watching live theater can be a healing salve. But those of us who work on the boards have seen the incredible medical miracle that is working on the stage. Yes, it drains and exhausts and demands but it also energizes and often transforms the actor.
Years ago, I was in the original cast of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound. It was where I met the great actor and extraordinary man, John Randolph. John had been a working actor most of his life despite having been blacklisted during the McCarthy years. He had a distinguished and varied career and now he was a 74 year old man enjoying what was probably the best role he ever had on the stage. He would win a Tony award for his work that season. John was simply a treasure in the role and he loved performing it but at his advanced age, the rigors of eight shows a week were a heavy challenge. So many times, especially on a two show day, I would see John in his dressing room or in the wings before the evening show and he looked utterly beaten. His eyes were baggy and heavy, his head and shoulders stooped, his legs thin and weak. Often I would think, “how can this man get through this performance”? I would actually worry that he might not make it.
But every time, he would walk out onto that stage and transform. As the lights came up, so did his life force. His legs would steady, his posture straighten, his face light up, his voice deepen and strengthen. He would radiate with a vibrancy and passion that had been totally absent a moment before. People would marvel at his performance and his stamina. Then, he would take his bow, walk to the wings and the magic spell would end. As he stooped forward again he would smile and whisper, “Man, I am tired”. I would simply marvel. I once asked him what happened that enabled his transformation. John smiled and simply said, “kiddo,that Doctor Footlights”.
Over the years, I have performed with gout, a kidney stone, a paralyzed vocal cord, bronchitis and a migraine. Traveling down to the theater, getting ready backstage it would all seem impossible. No way would I be able to make it through the pain or the challenges and give a performance. But, I was willing to try. And each time,I would step onto that stage to serve that piece, to serve that audience, to tell that story — to do my job — and each time, the pain would fade or the symptoms subside just enough to squeak one out. Doctor Footlights, there’s nobody better. So, a shout out and big thanks to my grandpa, John Randolph, for making the introduction.
Though best known for his award-winning, nine-year stint as the now iconic George Costanza of television’s Seinfeld, Jason Alexander has achieved international recognition for a career noted for its extraordinary diversity from lauded performances on stage, screen and television to his extensive works as a writer, composer, director, producer and acting teacher. His Broadway credits include Merrily We Roll Along, The Rink, Broadway Bound, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (for which he won a Tony Award), Accomplice and Fish in the Dark. Jason can be seen in The Sisters Rosensweig as a part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund streaming this Thursday through Sunday.
Broadway’s Best Shows is proud to present Show of Titles, a musical extravaganza with dozens of Broadway stars performing the title songs from over 20 beloved musicals to benefit The Actors Fund.
With Performances by Annaleigh Ashford, Glenn Close, Len Cariou, Gavin Creel, Darren Criss, Santino Fontana, Kelsey Grammer, David Alan Grier, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isabelle Huppert, Norm Lewis, Patti LuPone, Rob McClure, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Melba Moore, Jessie Mueller, Eva Noblezada, Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes, Steven Pasquale, Michael Rupert, Ernie Sabella, Lea Salonga, Phillipa Soo, Will Swenson, Aaron Tveit, Leslie Uggams, Vanessa Williams, Patrick Wilson, and more!
And Special Appearances by Broadway Inspirational Voices, Candice Bergen, Danny Burstein, Bryan Cranston, Sheldon Harnick, John Kander, Angela Lansbury, John Leguizamo,John Lithgow, Lindsay Mendez, Phylicia Rashad,BD Wong & Florian Zeller.
Show of Titles premieres on Stellar at 7PM ET / 4PM PT on Sunday, June 13th and will be available for a limited time only.
OHIO STATE MURDERS By Adrienne Kennedy Directed by Kenny Leon Starring Audra McDonald, Warner Miller, Lizan Mitchell, Ben Rappaport
Ohio State Murders is an unusual look at the destructiveness of racism in the U.S. When Suzanne Alexander, a fictional African American writer, returns to Ohio State University to talk about the violence in her writing, a dark mystery unravels.
Premieres Thursday, June 3rd, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 7th at 6:00PM ET(date subject to change)
DEAR ELIZABETH By Sarah Ruhl Directed by Kate Whoriskey Starring Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep
Based on the compiled letters between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, Dear Elizabeth maps the relationship of the two poets from first meeting to an abbreviated affair— and the turmoil of their lives in between.
Premieres Thursday, June 17th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 21st at 6:00PM ET(date subject to change)
You are probably familiar with the name Sarna Lapine, you know, the director of “Sunday In The Park With George,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Little Women,” “War Horse” and “Dirty Dancing,” just to name a few. Well, Lapine has decided to turn her focus to a new production and is doing a livestream of Lillian Hellman’s, “Watch On The Rhine”, as part of the “Spotlight on Plays” series to benefit The Actors Fund, Thursday, May 13th at 8pm, livestreaming on Stellar. Yes, this Thursday, Lapine and a global cast will mount this production after only a three-day period of reflection and rehearsal and give a riveting performance of the classic antifascism, Nazi-Germany drama, set in a wealthy home in the United States.
Lapine, discussing this project, explained that “it’s the first thing I’ve done in this particular way, with the livestream.” The original Broadway production, which won a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1941, showed audiences 80 years ago, the depth of storytelling that Hellman was capable of. Reflecting on why she chose this play Lapine shared, “I think part of the reason I’ve had a diverse career is that my first love is reading and literature. I gravitate towards writers and stories that grab me by the throat. I had never seen or read this play and I was grabbed by it. It’s chilling because of how it resonates in this moment and time. One of the little handbooks I keep in my pocket is ‘On Tyranny Twenty lessons for the Twentieth Century’ by Timothy Snyder. I’m Jewish, so I have a close relationship to the history of WWII as a Jewish person. Because of my education in that, some of the things that Donald Trump and his party have stood for have frightened me, because there are echoes of Hitler and Nazism. Timothy Snyder’s book lays out lessons from history that can alert us to the rise of tyranny now. The last lesson is to be as courageous as you can. ‘If known of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny,’ page 115. What was also a discovery in thinking about this book in relationship to this play is he echoes Hamlet, ‘the time is out of joint’. In Lillian’s play, Kurt (the main character) says, ‘the world is out of shape.’ Hellman was living this history, traveling the world, she had a front row seat to see fascism. I was struck by the fact that it opened on stage in 1941. She’s writing in the crucible of this moment and watching how it’s taking shape in the minds and hearts of ordinary citizens. It’s not a piece about heroes and villains, it’s about ordinary citizens in Europe and American and the decisions we make every single day that tip the hand of history…The piece gets to the heart of the moral, ethical and modern realities of what happens to citizens who are faced with the threat of tyranny. 80 years later it’s a continuum.”
The message of this play could not possibly resonate more than it does today. “At it’s core it’s a conversation. In this country, whether or not we stand and choice democracy, this is a conversation that I want to be in, even with people who don’t see the world the way I do.”
Staying true to the original 1940s based play, without the benefit of sets, costumes and a physical theatre, Lapine focused on the bottomline, “Plays are language based. The language of the play is routed in the period in which it was written. One esthetic choice I made was editing all the footage in Black and White, which gives a nod to the 1940s period in which the film was made. There are very few stage directions presented as title cards.
Pondering the challenges of doing a livestream, Lapine remarked, “The challenge is the lack of physical interpersonal connection. The energy that comes from being in a room with an amazing group of artists. Time is out of joint when we can’t live through that moment together and have the luxury of time to do a deep dive into the material.” Considering audiences consumption of the production, Lapine suggests watching with friends, so that you can discuss it afterwards.
Lapine will be directing an outstanding cast including Ellen Burstyn; Alan Cox; Sasha Diamond; Alfred Enoch; Carla Gugino; Luca Padovan; Mary Beth Peil; Gabriella Pizzolo; Neel Sethi and Jeremy Shamos. “This pandemic has been so devastating to our theater community. I almost have no words and still feel very much in that space. It’s a lot that has been lost and I think to make any contribution to this community is the least I can do. I want to work towards not only healing, but reimagining how we can rebuild ourselves in a healthier form, more sustainable and reflective of the world so many of us want to live in.”
Spotlight on Plays is presented by Broadway’s Best Shows. You can purchase individual tickets to Watch on the Rhine (May 13-17) at Stellar Tickets. All proceeds go to benefit The Actors Fund.
Linda Armstrong is a theatre critic with the New York Amsterdam News, Theatre Editor for Neworldreview.net, A&E Editor for Harlem News Group and has written for Playbill Online, had a Theatre column “On The Aisle” for Our Time Press, Network Journal Magazine, Show Business Weekly Newspaper, Headline Magazine, Theatre Week Magazine, Black Masks Magazine, and the New York Daily News. Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library interviewed her for their “Critical Perspectives” series, and she was cited on the Jeanne Parnell Radio Show in March 2021 as a Woman Making History.
One of my favorite things about working in the theater is how fiercely present it forces us all to be. How much courage is required. And what discoveries spring from that. I was playing Catherine in Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER at the Laura Pels Theater (alongside Blythe Danner, Becky Ann Baker, and a wonderful cast) and one night in the middle of a long speech I went ABSOLUTELY blank. I had zero idea of what I was supposed to say next. Terror struck. I looked around the stage and my cast members were looking at me with expectant eyes. Time extended. In that moment, I decided “Don’t mentally run away, witness this through Catherine’s eyes and see what happens next.” And suddenly (pun intended), my line came to me: “Where was I?” That was the actual line I had forgotten. I realized in that moment how much terror Catherine felt at losing her place (akin to losing her sanity which she was fiercely fighting to protect. Her life depended on it.)
It changed the trajectory of that speech for every performance thereafter. I now understood her on a deeper level than I ever would have had that not happened. It was such a gift.
Carla Gugino made her Broadway debut in After the Fall. Other Broadway credits include The Road to Mecca and Desire Under the Elms. Gugino is best known for her portrayal of Amanda Daniels in TV’s Entourage and Sally Jupiter in the 2009 film Watchmen. She recently appeared in the supernatural horror series The Haunting of Hill House, the crime drama series Jett, and The Haunting of Bly Manor. She can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.
It wasn’t until I got backstage that I officially fell in love with the theater, and that was when I was 11 years old. I was born in the city but our family moved to Denver, Colorado when I was very young… We took yearly trips back to NYC and got to see Broadway shows but it felt like a different world and I had never really thought about the making of them. I never considered all of the work and all of the people involved in creating that magical few hours for my family and me. When I was in 4th grade I began to sing in a choir, and the following year the director of the choir recommended me to the Denver Center Theater when they asked him for a child who could sing and perform on stage in their upcoming production of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. I went in and auditioned at the Denver Center and got the part. Little did I know what I was about to be a part of. From the first rehearsal I knew I had found a world where I wanted to spend a lot of time. Incredibly bright, funny, supportive, creative and irreverent professionals. The set designer showed us incredible models of what the set would look like, the costume designer showed us pictures and materials and drawings of what the costumes would look like. There was a wig maker, there were stage managers keeping track of everything. There was a musical director. Eventually there were dressers, and ushers and light and sound board operators. Everyone working to put our show on! I got to be on stage with Mercedes Ruehl and the other incredible actors who were part of the company (back then many regional theaters had companies who played many different roles for years)… Yes, I loved being on stage and feeling the stillness and focus and magic of a theater full of people all willing a story into being. But what I remember even more, and what gave me the itch to make my life in the theater, was the backstage. The greenroom where all of the actors hung out before the show in their various costumes and makeup, smoking (!) and joking and telling incredible stories, and treating me like a fellow collaborator and colleague. I was 11 and I’m sure many stories went over my head with the smoke, but what I gleaned was happy artists, working hard on their craft, making the show better and better. It was a giant family back there, and though the characters and settings and plays have changed, that feeling has never gone away.
This 15 months has been hard for our community, for our theater family. I include audiences as part of that family, because live theater is not live theater without them. We all miss being in a space together making a story come to life. Until that happens, we are so lucky to have opportunities to create and watch shows however they happen and I feel so pleased to have been included in Watch on the Rhine. I got a little taste of that backstage fellowship and the audience will get a taste of a great story told. Until we are lucky enough to be together let’s revel in the chance to soak up any “theater” we can! I know I’m happy to be “backstage” again if even in a Zoom box!
Watch Jeremy zoom into your living room, den, kitchen, wherever this weekend when Spotlight on Plays presents Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine”.
Jeremy Shamos has been seen off-Broadway in Corpus Christi, Engaged, Miss Witherspoon, Race, Gutenberg! The Musical!, 100 Saints You Should Know, Hunting and Gathering,The New York Idea and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). His Broadway credits include Reckless, The Rivals, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Elling, and he earned a Tony nomination for playing two roles in Pulitzer Prize-winner Clybourne Park. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.
It was a wonderful opportunity to explore Lillian Hellman’s classic play with such a dream cast as part of this series of online performances. The themes of liberal America and its imperative to combat fascism in all its manifestations feels all too pertinent to the needs of our present times. When Watch On The Rhine premiered in 1941 it served to bring to the theatre-going public a sense of the turmoil that was brewing in mainland Europe and its potential impact on the global stage.
I was first exposed to the epic dimensions of the American drama when I made my professional theatrical debut in a revival of Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill. Written in the shadow of the Great War, this Pulitzer Prize winning drama features the theatrical convention of characters speaking their innermost thoughts as asides. In deploying this classical device in a contemporary setting, O’Neil shows that despite the privileges of modern education, human beings still struggle to communicate directly and truthfully with one another. However, my lasting impression of this masterpiece is not as profound as I would wish. I was thirteen years old at the time and my hair had been bleached a platinum blonde to evoke the archetypal Golden Child. The abiding memory I have is of the cast, which included Glenda Jackson and my father Brian Cox, gently but firmly urging me to go easy on the gold hairspray that I had applied to my side parting when the dark roots began to show. Luckily, I don’t think my besmirching of the beautifully tailored 1920’s costumes could be glimpsed past the front row.
Thirty seven years later and one of the benefits of being involved in the remote capture of an online performance of a classic play is that this actor can transform himself without having to make a trip to the hairdresser.
Alan Cox recently played Uncle Vanya at the Hampstead Theatre in London and Claudius in Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. He played David Frost in the national tour of Frost/Nixon, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination. He made his Broadway debut in Translations. He made his motion picture debut as Watson in Young Sherlock Holmes. His film work includes Contagion, The Dictator, Mrs. Dalloway, and An Awfully Big Adventure. Alan’s television credits include The Good Wife, John Adams, and The Odyssey. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.
One of my favorite experiences as a Stage Manager has been working on the show Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth. It stands out to me for several reasons. I went to London to rehearse the show which was a first for me. Working with my assistant Ken McGee, I learned a lot about how differently a British director and acting company work on a play. There was a lot of improvisation and playtime built into the day. The majority of the cast had done the show before so this helped the new members (and us) get a feel for the show and become integrated into the world of the play. We also had to work on our accents (we all had to practice it for a few days). And we took a field trip to the area outside London to the part of England where our play was set.
This passion and care to create the exact atmosphere was invaluable as we moved this show to New York.
Another extraordinary component was that the show had live chickens, (kept in their own “star” dressing room) a turtle, goldfish, a horse trough full of water, small children, real grass and dirt and an Airstream trailer on stage. As it turns out this was not the last show I did with live animals and children but that’s another story. The magic we created together with Mark Rylance as the lead actor and Ian Rickson as our director was an amazing experience. The show started with a late night rave party with strobe lights, stage fog and LOUD music and ended with the conjuring of mythical giants.
Every night I was swept away as the actors and technicians joined together to believe wholeheartedly in the story we were telling. We were lucky to be able to make that magic with every performance.
JILL CORDLE Broadway: The Inheritance,The Ferryman, Six Degrees of Separation, The Cherry Orchard, Blackbird, The Gin Game, The Audience, The Realistic Joneses, Betrayal, Picnic, Death of a Salesman, Jerusalem, God of Carnage, November, The Odd Couple, Glengarry Glen Ross, Reckless, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, True West, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Art.
I think that the first musical that inspired me to be a director (even though I didn’t know it at the time) was “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. I wore that album out! When I was in High School in the late 70’s I was obsessed with it – I thought the staging was so simple and thrilling, and the performers were absolutely incredible. I saw the national tour in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and then when it was in San Diego I volunteered to usher for the week it was there. It was perfectly staged by Richard Maltby Jr. It was seamless and moved so beautifully. It felt like a big show while retaining the intimacy of only 5 performers (with big personalities)onstage.
I think this was the first time I watched something and took notice of the direction. In my first 10 years or so in New York, I concentrated on being a performer and I wasn’t really aware that I wanted to direct – but I’d subconsciously absorbed the shows and experiences where the staging had a big influence on me. A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Evita, Once On this Island, Me and My Girl and Ragtime to name a few were shows that wowed and inspired me with their direction and choreography and the way the two were integrated. Never did I dream that I would be creating my own work for the Broadway stage.
Casey Nicholaw is a multiple Tony award nominated theatre director and choreographer best known for his work on The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon (Tony Award- Director), Something Rotten!, Aladdin, Mean Girls and The Prom, and for choreographing Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Broadway photographers have a big task: capture the magic, beauty and wonder of a brand new show every night, each one posing new and unexpected challenges. It is essential work not only for the show’s marketing team, but for the historical record. Their work may well shape how, or if, a show is remembered.
We spoke to seasoned veterans Joan Marcus, Matthew Murphy, Jeremy Daniel and Peter Cunningham about memorable shows, challenging shoots, and why they do what they do.
In this last abbreviated season, is there a show that stands out in your memory as having been particularly challenging to shoot?
Six was hard. The lighting, which is totally spectacular andfabulous, was challenging because it moves so fast. Fortunately on that one I got to do set-ups [a photoshoot designed to replicate scenes or moments in a show]. So you could slow it down a bit, and make some images that you wanted to make but couldn’t quite do – because the show moves so fast!
The Inheritance was so stunning, but the design of the show was really sparse. It’s a lot of people on stage most of the time, on opposite ends of this really wide platform – which as an audience member is so striking, but as a photographer you’re like, “How do I establish the relationships between the characters in a single frame that doesn’t feel too sparse, or too overly spread out?”
How I approach production photography is, it really is about finding an image that feels like the show feels to an audience member. We finally did get to do a set-up call early in February and figure out a way to shape it for a camera so that it had the maximum emotional impact on first glance.
Especially now, with how quickly we all ingest imagery on a constant basis, you have to figure out a way to make it “thumb-stopping.” If you’re scrolling through Instagram, you need something that immediately is going to be dynamic enough that it’s going to stop you at least for that 0.5 seconds to tap the “Heart” button. That’s how it’s changed.
“The Sound Inside,” Adam Rapp’s brilliant Tony-nominated play starring Mary-Louise Parker, was especially tough. Normally when shooting a show, my gut instinct is to accentuate the light and minimize the darkness. Within the composition of a photo, empty stage space is one thing — but total, complete darkness is another. For “The Sound Inside,” I had to put those gut instincts aside. I had to do a complete 180, and consciously pay attention to the darkness. I had to allow space for it. I had to include it, because it had a role to play in the remarkable story being told. It was a brilliant lesson.
Reflecting back on your career during this time, what memories of past shoots have especially stuck with you?
The very first show I did. I ran into [then press representative, now producer] Jeffrey Richards on the street. He said he had this new guy Harvey Fierstein, who was doing a show called International Stud, and he needed a photographer. So my first initiation to the theater business was Harvey, who is absolutely wonderful and outrageous. That was a great training for me. I have never had a chance to thank Harvey for that, actually. To just be immersed, for a short while, in his perception of the world was the best thing that could happen to a young photographer in the late 1970s.
Then in 1982 I photographed Nine. They wanted to decorate the outside of the theater differently than had ever been done before. So I had the whole cast, 22 women and Raul Julia, come down to the studio one day to be photographed. And it was that day that the toilet decided to break. So that was a challenge – and a pleasure, obviously. The photos made quite a stir, and are still talked about as having changed the way theater displays are done.
Right now the set of the play K2 is all I can think about, because it was designed by Ming Cho Lee, who just passed away. It was unbelievable. I shot it at Arena Stage in Washington [in 1982] when I was first starting out. The play was about two mountain climbers who are in an avalanche and get stuck on a ledge on K2, and only one of them can survive.
So the whole play takes place on the side of the mountain. And it was the most amazing set you’ve ever seen. Just floor-to-ceiling mountain, into the pit, up into the flys, and edge-to-edge – just ice. But it was really styrofoam, unbelievably lit by Allen Lee Hughes. It was just regal and magnificent.
The first thing that really pops into my mind is Howell Binkley’s face [Tony Award-winning lighting designer of Hamilton, who died of lung cancer on August 14]. Losing Howell over this time has been so heartbreaking for the community. From the minute I started working with him, he just had the most warm, generous energy. He had an incredible way of shaping a space as a designer, and an incredible way of shaping a space as a human.
You watch Hamilton and you’re just like, holy crap – how is he telling this much of a story with just lighting? It’s crazy the way he could shape a space. I’ll miss walking in and hearing his laugh at the tech table.
Normally each November I’d be getting ready to hit the road for my annual photo shoot with the “White Christmas” Broadway national tour. That show always techs out-of-town during the first week of November, and it has held a special place in my heart for years (mostly because I’m a total sucker for an old-fashioned musical comedy). How I wish audiences around the country could experience the joys of that show this year. Boy, do we need it.
Four years ago, on the day after the election, that evening was the final dress for “The Babylon Line,” a new play at Lincoln Center. When I arrived at the theatre that evening, everyone was in a state of quiet disbelief, stunned and shocked by the events of the day. The mood was unlike anything we’d ever experienced. But then the final dress began. And God bless Julie Halston. Julie Halston made us laugh. It was just the right thing, at just the right time. That night was a glorious lesson in how incredibly healing and uplifting theater can be. For that reason, whenever I see photos of “The Babylon Line,” I’ll always be grateful.
How Are You Reflecting on Life as a Broadway Photographer?
I loved the human experience. What I remember most from photographing Jeffrey Richards’ 2000 revival of The Best Man is actually being there for the readthrough. The production photographer has so many different interfaces with a play. In that case, I was part of that first day where the actors meet each other, and the director – and me. That’s a great feeling, to be there at the beginning of a project, and to be part of the team.
That may have been the most unique read-through I attended. Charles Durning, who was to star in the production as the ex-President, had been hospitalized for an operation (successful) to remove polyps and the cast was informed right before the read-thru that he would be joining the company in two weeks. Gore Vidal agreed to read the role of Art Hockstader…he was mesmerizing, sharp and funny and even folksy (well patrician folksy) when his dialogue called for it. When there were scene breaks, Gore would regale the company– Chris Noth, Michael Learned, Liz Ashley, Christine Ebersole, Spalding Gray–with anecdotes about the original production and anecdotes about the politics of the era. Gore loved doing the role and the company loved his doing it…
I know photography is recording somebody else’s work, and being a little bit of a cipher. But it’s kind of the whole package – every day is different, every show is different, every show poses a different challenge. And that’s scary, but the fact that you have to problem solve with every show you do keeps it really interesting.
The greatest thing is being in that room. Like seeing Hamilton for the first time and thinking: “It’s even more wonderful than they say!” It’s that element of surprise when you’re one of the first people to see something. Being with all of these people who are so talented, and seeing something wonderful – or even seeing something disappointing! I just miss it.
As a photographer, my heart will always be on Broadway. One evening last in May (which feels like a lifetime ago!), just as the industry was starting to accept the long-term realities of what lay ahead, I took a walk alone, around the theater district. The sun was setting and the sky was absolutely gorgeous. As I looked up at the Broadway marquees, still shining brightly against that sunset, I thought “Oh, right now would be the places call.” Yes, the streets were empty and the doors were shut, but there was something magical & hopeful about it.
It gave me an idea for a photo series…but then the vibe in our city shifted again with the George Floyd protests, the curfews, etc. That’s when most of the Broadway lights were turned off as a safety precaution. So while the photo series couldn’t materialize the way I’d hoped, I think the social uprising that ensued was a worthwhile exchange.
In September, I shot the cast of Moulin Rouge! as they returned to the empty Al Hirschfeld theater, marking six months since the shutdown. I never took being in a theater for granted. But it was even more obvious how special of a place it is, and how fortunate I am to do what I do. Reflecting back on that day in the last month or so, I’ve felt a lot of sorrow about it, and a lot of joy about having that moment with those people. A moment to really look at them, and be present with them – and to value the space, the sacredness of a theater.
Joey Sims has written at The Brooklyn Rail, TheaterMania, Culturebot, Exeunt NYC, and Extended Play. He was also Social Media Editor at Exeunt for two years. He has written short plays and sketches at The Tank and The PIT. Joey is an alumnus of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute, and a script reader for The O’Neill and New Dramatists. Prior to the theater shutdown, he was an Operations Manager at TodayTix.