Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reefer Madness and Wonder of the World

Performance Date: 11.13.10
The Gallery Players (Reefer)
The CHILDREN's Theatre Company, Triskelion Arts (Wonder)

So as you may recall, I had a walloping weekend of theater a couple weeks ago which included a Saturday matinee of Reefer Madness at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, followed by an evening performance of Wonder of the World from The CHILDREN’s Theatre Company in Williamsburg. It was a Brooklyn affair.

The two productions underscored for me that there are just floods of talented actors in our burgeoning Metropolis. Just floods and floods. They’re pouring out of subways stations, clutching scripts. They’re milling about the bars near 29th and 7th Avenue, nerding out about improv. They’re sitting on their couches blogging about theater. Okay these are just all the things I do about town, but I’m a talented actor so it counts. And more and more, it seems these actors are gravitating to great “off-off” houses like Gallery, and forming hot little companies of their own, like CHILDREN’s.

It's an old story: theater is in trouble, its economic model is broken, jobs that used to go to stage veterans now go to Hollywood stars, which trickles down and leaves the majority of us competing for no-budget gigs staged in crappy digs for no pay and little respect. Old story, but feels like true story. And after a while, that truth hurts. So what do we do? We turn to places like The Gallery Players, an oasis of stability and creativity now in its 44th season, or we group together to create our own “off-off” productions with no budget, no pay, but TONS of respect, because dammit that’s OUR show that WE made happen OURSELVES. Do not confuse my capital letters with irony.

By the way, I put “off-off” in quotes because it seems like an increasingly irrelevant term. With so many artists finding creative fulfillment elsewhere, and often on their own terms, it doesn’t feel right to keep orienting the industry toward Broadway. I mean, yes it will always be the holy grail of stage actors, and yes as consumers we will always partake of and celebrate the Great White Way – but as far as defining one’s creative life and career? For most I know, Broadway dreams hardly enter into it. In this way, New York theater is becoming thoroughly decentralized, which frankly feels like a good thing. And would indeed be really great if we could only fix that economic model.

At any rate, both The Gallery Players and The CHILDREN’s Theatre Company hold cherished places in my heart. The first New York theater gig I ever booked was playing Rosalind at The Gallery Players, and CHILDREN’s is a company comprised entirely of American Conservatory Theater alums. But objectively speaking, each of their productions from the other weekend were really quite special. Reefer Madness, a smartly funny musical parodying an anti-marijuana propaganda film of the same name, sported top notch voices, keen comic timing, and clean design. And Wonder of the World, a wacky comedy by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsey-Abaire, benefited from the nuanced emotion and genuine charm of its romantic leads, and the bold, playful character choices of its supporting cast. Bravo on all counts, Brooklyn homies. Next time I'll try harder to pimp your shows when they are still running.


  1. Oh, I miss Gallery Players so much. Sometimes I even perversely miss the train ride back to Manhattan in the middle of the night in the dead of January. It's just--and I know this sort of counters the whole thesis of your post--I can't afford to do it anymore, as I've got no day job and no financial stability.

    When people ask me about the best way to make connections and get to know people if they're new to the theater community here, I invariably say to do a show at Gallery if they can, because the quality of their work and organization is so high, and it's a true community where everyone knows each other and keeps on knowing each other as they go on.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly about your view of Gallery's benefits for artists starting out in our community. And I can't deny either the bleak economic reality that eventually phases some of those artists out of their fold. I wonder if someday any of this will shift, or if it always has been and will be ever so...