Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Broadway Con Day 2 Recap

I want to digress ever so slightly from programming to say that I met a woman who loved theater, but had gotten married to a controlling dude who did not share this love and also wouldn't give her money to go.  So she found a group of reviewers, who let her start reviewing plays so she would get press tickets to shows for free.  And that was a start of her reclaiming her life for herself.

Anyway, we started off the morning with Broadway Feud.  Jenn Colella hosted and made it clear that she was firmly in favor of a Richard Dawson-esque kissy kissy form of hosting.  There was a mix of con participants and Broadway actors on each team and let me tell you, the con folks were not playing.  Elizabeth, who said she was a kidlit editor by day, answered each question in song.  There were also some controversial answers, as always happens when you survey a hundred people.  The contestants shared some special skills, barking, talking with their mouths closed, and Jonathan Groff displayed an ability to manipulate the bones in his back in a way I had not seen before.

The "Fiddler on the Roof" panel talked a lot about the history and tradition (Tradition!) in the play.  Michael C. Bernardi's dad was in "Fiddler" and so his mom had pulled out the boots his dad had worn in the show for him to wear.  He had to take them to a cobbler since the sizing needed adjustment and when he came back the cobbler asked him about them, and he explained.  The cobbler said that his dad had done the shoes for "Fiddler".  The whole cast felt very connected to the show, it was a thing they had all done parts of growing up.  And they also mentioned that the idea of people being forced to leave their homes and make a new life in a new place had a lot of relevance to today.

Then there was the "Fun Home" panel.  Lisa Kron talked about how it's one thing to turn something else into a painting or a sculpture, but when you're creating theater, you're creating a shared experience. Emily Skeggs said the story was full of people talking around the truth, not saying what they really want to say, which was a really fascinating thing to dig into as an actor. 

Kron said with Bruce, he wasn't necessarily likable, you meet him yelling at the kids about stuff, but that it was clear that he loved beauty and beautiful things so much, that as an audience you got it.  You understood what motivated him.  She also said with theater, it takes years to get a production going, so you can't plan to hit a cultural moment.  But, "Fun Home" was fortunate to hit at a point where the audience felt it was well-timed, that this was the time for a story about a women struggling her sexual identity and recognizing that this was something her father had been struggling with too. 

Judy Kuhn said a lot of people would say to her, my dad isn't gay, but this is just like my family.  Or I'm not a lesbian, but this is just like my family.  Kron mentioned people saying to her that it was bigger than a lesbian story and that she got what they meant so didn't tell them it was actually just the right size for a lesbian story. 

Michael Cerveris talked about the controversy when College of Charleston had gotten pushback for putting the novel on their syllabus, and that going down there to perform near the university had reminded him that theater changing people's lives wasn't just a thing we say, it was a true thing.

Joe Perez arrived late to the panel, dressed as Medium Allison, which was just amazing.

I took a quick break as the snow and wind had picked up in earnest.  I ran across the street to the coffee shop and got some tea and some food for lunch and dinner.  (The hotel quick bites were getting overrun and the lines (and the prices) were something I wanted to minimize my contact with, although certainly, the iced tea in hand was better than none.)

This turned out to be well-timed since not too long after that they decided the roads were being shut down in NYC at 2:30, which meant, no cars, no taxis, and since they didn't want to encourage people to be outside for any reason, no Broadway.

(I felt very grateful I had decided to stay in the site hotel, although the underground subway lines did stay running.)

I was discussing the cancelling of Broadway with a fellow con goer, who generously offered up an extra pass to the Susan Blackwell signing.  I got in line and then realized, I had spilled water in my bag that morning and had emptied out my Playbills and other extraneous paper, and um, what was I going to have her sign.  A generous con-goer behind me gave me a piece of paper from her notebook.  So basically, the kindness of fellow con-goers was amazing.

I then followed Susan Blackwell to the Funny Girls panel which also featured Ann Harada and Lesli Margherita. Harada grew up in Kaneohe (chee-hoo!) and had no idea that there were so many other theater geeks out there.  Blackwell has always had corporate jobs alongside her creative ones, and really likes using all the parts of her brain.  Margherita did shows with the cows growing up. 

They talked about Carol Burnett and "The Muppets" all being big early influences, and, as it turned out, since Harada worked on "Avenue Q" good training.

They were asked about issues being seen as funny since they were female and they pivoted the question and talked about the biggest thing was pushing in to get to do you, or what you could be, and that part of that was figuring out your place, and part of that was accepting that being a different age, or shape, or race, than people might have thought they were looking for was all tied up with gender, it was getting them to accept your whole package.

The choreography panel talked about how theater was different than competition, you had to not only be able to do a move, but do it eight times a week.  Competition teams could go all out for an hour and rest for six days.  Christopher Gattelli said that the "Newsies" cast had included amazing moves, but that was because he had dancers who had amazing things already in their repertoire. They also talked about how different directors would look for a different level of collaboration. 

Then there was fan karaoke, and I confess, I had concerns, but these folks were amazing.  Amazing. 

Next up in the revamped blizzard programming were some quick chats. They started with board member Anthony Rapp (who, you know, was in "Rent" and stuff too).  Lesli Margherita told a hilarious tale (tail) that is probably not nearly as funny in written form.  But essentially, she was in a Disney show as Esmeralda but desperately wanted to be Ariel, because Ariel had the sparkly tail.  And then one day Ariel got sick last minute and they had to use her as the sub but the dresser was freaking out, because, as the dresser said, they were sea shells, not D shells.  So, they put her in the outfit, and yes, the sea shells, were a bit more revealing on her. But she sang "Part of That World" and when she got to the lyric, "what's that word?" a drunk frat bro yelled, "Tits!"  You might recall that lyric occurs a few times, and drunk frat bro did that each time (sometimes saying, "Boobs!").  And well, that was the only time she got to play Ariel. My memory falls down at this point I know they also talked to Andrew Keenan-Bolger from "Newsies" and someone else I have a lovely picture of and they were wonderful.)

Then a group gathered to discuss the process being the opening number.

Then they did a thing, that I confess sounds a little ridiculous, and maybe it was the snow fumes, but it ended up being fun.  As you might expect, with flights cancelled, and travel mostly halted, a number of planned guests could not make it.  So, they put couches on the stage, and Anthony Rapp, Melissa Anelli, Blake Ross, and some other folks began video chatting and calling folks who had missed out on the fun.  Darren Criss, Idina Menzel (flights cancelled also meant Anthony's flight back to join the "If/Then" cast had been cancelled), Norm Lewis, Betty Buckley, Laura Benanti (who mentioned her song about being a theater kid), Audra McDonald, Ana Gasteyer, Harvey Fierstein, Lena Hall (who conferenced in Stephen Trask), Patti Lupone (who had some thoughts about London casts and American casts and the rules about such things), Joel Grey, Shaneice Williams, and Jeremy Jordan. Jeremy Jordan was on video so we also got to see his dog,

After that was cabaret night, which, due to snow was Krysta Rodriguez, and some intrepid musicians.  She has an amazing voice and did the song from "In the Heights" and was thrilled when the audience supplied the ensemble vocals. (She actually tweeted it to Lin Manuel Miranda.) It was wonderful and crazy and fun, and overwhelmingly, so many of the actors throughout the day were so thrilled to see this many people who loved theater this much. They all mentioned how they were kids who loved theater, so it was great to see that the upcoming generation had it well in hand.

As a note, I was not the only fan who intends to remain just a fan there, and I was not the only adult there who hadn't been dragged by kids, but not surprisingly given Mischief Management's other cons, there were a lot of teens, a lot of college kids, a lot of folks in their early twenties. 

After that, exhausted people went to bed. 

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