Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Broadway Con Day 1 Recap

So, those of you who follow my twitter have already had a taste of what I was up to for the last few days, but I shall attempt to capture it a little more thoroughly here.  I can't even remember where I heard about BroadwayCon, but it was after the first two ticket batches had already sold out.  But I adore Broadway, even if my budget and other competing realities often means I do this through repeated listens to cast albums.  And a con, in New York, with fellow theater geeks, and a chance to breathe the same air as some amazing folks who make theater happen, well, I had to at least try.  And so, when the final ticket batch was released I scooped one up.  And then realized I had to figure out things like time off work and travel and oh, who cares I was going to BroadwayCon!

It was a first time event, and I confess, as much as I love big group events, they can bring out my inner backseat event planner (especially when I'm tired, or hungry, or on day three of soooo much excitement.) So, I had geared myself up.  I know that the people at Mischief Management are not new  to cons, but new con, new space, new people helping, there were bound to be things.  And then it turned out a blizzard was going to hit in the middle of their con.  I'm sure it wasn't easy, and there were bumps, but really, I have very little to complain about.  It was great. 

I arrived early and went to see "Allegiance".  I am still figuring out how best to talk about it. Some of my friends had seen it and they all said it was good, but you didn't leave the theater wanting to sing any of the songs, which I think is fair.  Lea Salonga remains a treasure.  Quite honestly, World War II stories about Asian families are really firmly in my wheelhouse, so I liked it.  It also reminded me a lot of Kristina McMorris' Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.  I cried when they sang "Gaman" and I also thought it did a great job of showing that just because the same thing was happening to the Japanese Americans, they still had differing responses to it. 

So, then there was the con.

I made a friend in line to check in.  We decided that we wanted to check out the Broadway tattoo meetup because we wanted to know what tattoos people had.  But we peeked in and it looked, not social.  Just like a room full of people waiting for someone to start the conversation.  So we went to the solo (aka people at the con without a buddy) meetup.  People, even or especially the solo people had come from all over the country. Some it was their first con ever. 

Then we moved on the to Hamilfans meetup.  (The Hamilfans meetup was at the same time as the Rentheads.  It was a difficult choice.) The Hamilfans quickly exceeded their assigned room, so the organizers opened up a larger room and moved us over.  There was a ridiculous amount of singing.  Lots of people cosplaying as the Schuyler sisters, and a Hamilton.  (Later I spotted a King George.)

The panel with the folks Deaf West production of "Spring Awakening" was packed but great.  They discussed how interesting it was to have a cast with deaf and hearing folks, and a cast member with a wheelchair.  There wasn't an existing ASL translation of "Spring Awakening" so they worked a lot with the cast members and their ASL expert.  Given ASL is more conceptual language, they had many options for translation, and worked through a lot of possibilities to see what worked best with the choreography.

They also said working on this had made them more aware of accessibility issues, whether it was the number of buildings that aren't wheelchair accessible, or that deaf people can't currently spontaneously go to a show and expect that it will be captioned or interpreted. 

The panel on being out in the theater featured folks with a fascinating range of experience.  Ariana Debose has played things like the Main Player in "Pippin" and is now part of the ensemble in "Hamilton" and really likes playing roles that are both masculine and feminine but found that after she did an interview with her girlfriend for "Playbill" she was getting called for a lot more lesbian roles. Fredi Walker-Browne was being called for earth mother type stuff, until she did "Rent" and then suddenly, it was urban lesbians.  Roberta Colindrez said as a Latina, she got called for a lot of hookers and cops.  Maggie Keenan-Bolger talked about the youth theater she had founded and how being outside the traditional broadway structure allowed them to cast differently, to tell different stories.

And audience member, who was Lebanese, asked if they had suggestions for how to handle or possibly avoid being typecast as an Arabic girl.  The panel as one, said, oh, it will happen.  They also said figure out what you need to do to pay your bills, what you are willing to put up with, and also figure out where and when are you going to push back.  If a casting director asks you to be more ethnic, or more something, you can live with it, or you can push back.  Figure out what you will do.

Then it was time for the opening ceremonies.  The room was packed to capacity.  (I understand they were simulcasting for the folks who couldn't even get in. 

There was a whole mini-play with Dani, our intrepid heroine, who tried to convince her drama club to put on a BroadwayCon.  There were songs, there were oodles of references.  It was amazing.  I lost track of the people I recognized and I'm sure I missed a ton. 

Ben Vereen walked across the stage and waved.  Ben.  Vereen. 

We went up to the balcony for the panel with the cast of "Hamilton".  Yeah.  That's right.  I breathed the same air as Ben Vereen and Lin Manuel Miranda in the same day. 

LMM (it's cool, I just call him that now) said there were so many fascinating things about Hamilton's life, and for as many things that they did cover, there were so many more that he still kind wished he could have squeezed in.  For example, Hamilton thought it was Monroe who started the rumors about Maria Reynolds and Hamilton was ready to challenge him to a duel and Burr intervened.  Also the tidbit about Burr being Maria Reynolds' divorce lawyer.

Daveed Diggs did a lot of reading about Jefferson (and I assume Lafayette) but found that Jefferson's life had such immense privilege, being carried around as a baby on a pillow by slaves, but that this freed (no pun intended) him up to think about very lofty things, like how best to design a newfangled government. 

Renee Elise Goldsberry was recognized on the subway by someone who only knew her from the BET cypher so assumed she was some kind of rapper, which made her day.

They talked Philippa Soo into beatboxing so the LMM could freestyle a little rap about BroadwayCon.  This is available online.  As a note, the panel was being closed-captioned.  There were screens up on either side of the stage, and one facing the stage.  At one point, a crucial p was dropped from the word rapping, which led to the audience making a noise, which led to the panel looking out to see what we were making noise, and well, it all got back on track, but there is a reference to that in the rap. 

Leslie Odom, Jr. said it's fascinating to take over an existing role, because the prior performers have left something in the theater, it seeps into the wood of the stage and you can feel it as you walk across it.  But that it's also amazing to know that you have started something that other people will come in an do, and they will feel bits of you in what they try to do.

LMM also said he found the fact that we're still debating so many of the same topics today somewhat hopeful, that it meant these issues and arguments were baked into the foundation of our country.

Renee Elise Goldsberry was also asked to comment on that, since she'd been part of the closing cast of "Rent" and they were going to be there later, and she had an adorable moment of awe, touching her chair, wondering which "Rent" cast member would sit in it.

The "Rent" panel included Cynthia O'Neal, who founded Friends In Deed a support group.  Jonathan Larson had told her he wanted to hang out there for a thing he was working on, but she said the workshop was in the middle of winter, and it was the other side of town, and it was snowy, and she almost didn't go, and her husband said go.  So she went, and she cried when she saw the support group scene, and she was so glad she had gone to see this amazing thing.   Walker-Browne had taken another job, but when she got offered "Rent" it was the same time commitment, same money, but a better commute, so she took "Rent". 

Wilson Jermaine Heredia, liked singing and acting, but hadn't really thought of himself as a musical theater person, because the music didn't sound like him.  (They then reminded the young folks, that a rock opera was a newish thing back then.)  But he listened to some sample tracks, and wanted in.

Marlies Yearby is a choreographer and she talked about meeting all these cast members with information in their bodies.  (Choreographers clearly view us very differently.)

Daphne Rubin-Vega was convinced she'd blown the audition.  There was discussion of how Jesse L. Martin kept missing rehearsals because he had a play and they had to drag him down and get him to sit through enough that he was hooked.  Rubin-Vega then pulled out her phone and video chatted Martin, showing him the panel (adorably, he was all, hi everyone, oh this looks so great, Wilson!  Hi, Wilson!) and then the audience.  We then sang happy birthday to him.