On Twitter we have 140 characters to describe ourselves to the world. Here's how I describe myself to anyone who stumbles across my profile: "An Episcopal priest in search of the Body of Christ and a theater junkie in search of his next fix."
While that may seem like a trivial way to interact with the world - in 140 character snippets - I think my description really captures more than 140 characters' worth of who I am, and (perhaps more importantly) who I am discovering myself to be. It is both dominant sides of me: work and play. And as is true of the nature of my work, work and play have a way of intermingling. My love of the theater certainly informs my preaching - sometimes explicitly, but always in subtle ways. At the same time, my perspective as a priest shapes how I see the theater.
For several months now, I've thought of adding a "theater review" section to this blog. I'm not sure if "review" is actually the right word. I'm an amateur in every sense of the word. What I don't know about the theater world far eclipses what I do know. So I'm probably not the best source if your looking for professional criticism.
What I do bring to this discussion, however, is the perspective of an outsider.
I'm calling this section "From the Cheap Seats" because, quite frankly, that's where I usually find myself. I'm a priest. I don't have a lot of disposable income, so when it comes to the theater (and pretty much everything else, really) I try to get the best bang for my buck. Several months ago, a friend introduced me to the Theatre Development Fund. You probably know them best as the people who set up that discount ticket booth - TKTS - in Times Square (though there are a couple of others out there). But if you're lucky enough to qualify for TDF membership, you can get tickets to shows at a substantially reduced rate without having to stand in line! Since I've learned about this program, I've been the show-going fool I've wanted to be, but couldn't afford to be, all my life!
So the downside is, I usually have no control about where I'll be sitting in the theater - and it's usually nowhere near the best seats in the house. But the upside is, my reviews - amateur though they may be - offer the perspective of most people in the theater. Perhaps I'm a little different, being the "junkie" that I am - but mostly, those of us who who go to the theater really don't know what we're doing. We just know what we like.
So while the professional critics whose reviews you read may be more learned than anything I can offer, I can offer you a typical audience member's voice. That's what I bring to the table, and I think it's really nothing to sneeze at. I know the church can always benefit from an "outsider's" perspective, and I think the theater (and it's audience) can, too.
Here's just a few points that inform my perspective:
- I really prefer musicals. Snicker if you must, but it's just the way it is. I do, from time to time, see straight plays; and, I'll offer my thoughts when I do; but, I'd choose a musical almost every day. I've often said, "A good play can help you to see the world you live in through a different lens. A good musical, on the other hand, transports you from the world you live in to see another world altogether." That's why I like a good musical. I like the escape. I like to see something entirely different.
- I am somewhat trained as a musician. While I'm not a professional, I do kind of know what I'm talking about when it comes to music. Though I didn't earn the degree, for a couple of years I was a Vocal Music Performance major in college. I realized it wasn't the right career path for me, so I moved on, but the learning persisted. Additionally, music has always been a part of my life in one way or another. I began playing the piano by ear when I was four years old. I took piano lessons more formally from 1st grade through college. (But, admittedly, I'm still not all that good). I also took private voice lessons in high school and college. So again, while I'm not a professional, I do know a thing or two.
- I value creativity. REAL creativity. I will always give bonus points to any person or production who truly does a new thing. Too often we just go along, doing what has always been done. People and productions that work to shake up the norms will always have a special place in my heart.
- I have several friends who work in the theater world. This is GREAT, because sometimes they give me complementary tickets (or upgraded tickets) to see shows that they're working on. When I'm seeing a show that a friend is a part of in some way, I'll state that up front, but I'll try not to let it influence my perspective too much. I mean, lets be honest, it probably will to some degree, but I'll try to be honest and to keep it in check.
- I love Broadway - I try to see everything on Broadway that I can. But the theater world is so much more than JUST Broadway. I also often see off-Broadway productions, off-off-Broadway productions, regional theater, amateur theater, and lots more. So this isn't just a "Broadway blog". I'll let you know whenever I see something and what I thought about it.
- Some of my reviews will be good, and some will be bad. I'm not a mean person - so I won't just look for things wrong in each show. In fact, sometimes the mistakes and the unforeseen are part of the magic of live theater! But I am human... Sometimes I like things and sometimes I don't. You may or may not agree, and that's okay!
Now a word about now!
As I said, I've been thinking about this for a long time, but I've decided to start now as a kind of Lenten discipline. Lent is, to my mind, largely about getting to know ourselves better - about delving deeper into our spiritual lives in such a way that our relationship with God grows stronger. And "play" can be an important spiritual discipline. We're often too serious. We often neglect ourselves. The theater is one of the ways that I take care of myself, and I want to be intentional about that, and about the ways that it makes me a better, stronger, and more spiritually alive person.
My goal during this Lent will be to produce one "review" per week - probably on Wednesdays, but I make no promises about that part. There are a couple of weeks (the next couple, actually) when I'll be unable to post them because I'll be out of town and largely out of the reach of the internet. I'll work on them while I'm away, but they won't be posted until after I'm back.
For now my plan is to post reviews as I see shows (which very often comes out to more than once a week), but I've also got a pretty large back log of shows that I've seen in the past, and I'd like to offer my thoughts on those shows as well. Just please understand that some details of my perspective may have been lost on some of the shows - particularly if it's been a while since I've seen it.
Thanks for joining me on this new adventure! I hope you enjoy, just as I expect I will!