Confessions of a former non-theatregoer. What makes us see theatre?

I can't remember a time when theatre wasn't an enormous part of my life. I grew up in New York City where it's practically a crime if you aren't artsy in one way or another. And the support I received from my parents only amplified my already budding creativity. By the time I attended LaGuardia High School, there was no going back. I was a full blown theatre geek, and I was very content in my world of student rushing and stage-dooring. Those aspects of my life were as normal to me as going to school. At LaGuardia, surrounded by an entire student body of performers, I came to assume (incorrectly) that everybody more or less viewed theatregoing the same way I did. After stepping out of my friend group, I realized that there is a huge population of people who don't see theatre (for an abundance of different reasons). Some people aren't exposed to theatre growing up, some people can't afford it, and some have seen shows and still claim that theatre is "not for them". BUT then there's another group of people: former non-theatre goers. I say "former" because these are people who caught the theatre bug later in life.

I asked my current boyfriend, Ian, a few questions to uncover what exactly moves a person to see theatre when such a great part of their life was spent doing the opposite. In short, I was really curious about: What makes us see theatre?

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Q: How would you describe your relationship with theatre for the majority of your life?

Ian: Almost non-existent. I grew up in the suburbs (yea, I know) and I very occasionally went into New York to see a Broadway show. I probably saw roughly five stage performances over the course of my entire life before last year. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just preferred seeing a movie. And of course I couldn’t afford to see too many shows.

Q: Can you recall your earliest theatre experience?

I: My parents had a friend who worked on The Lion King when I was about 6. I think she was on the art design team. She actually gave us a backstage tour before the show for an up-close view of the costumes. I remember it vaguely. I do remember being a bit taken aback by the whole spectacle. It was one helluva first Broadway experience!

Q: How would you say that your relationship with theatre has changed during the past year?

I: Well, I guess you can say it’s gone from non-existent to an extremely large part of my life. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing on a Saturday night than seeing a show… well almost nothing :) Since I moved to midtown, I think I have taken full advantage of everything this unbelievably awesome city has to offer, but especially the theatre scene. Unlike other cities, NYC offers a large volume of both your commercial blockbuster musicals AND your weird, offbeat, eclectic shows. I’ve realized that I prefer the latter.

Q: Would you say that anything in particular sparked the change in your relationship with theatre? Particularly any performances that you might have seen?

I: Well, moving to New York has obviously allowed me the convenience to see a show whenever I please. I think I’ve always been very open-minded to new experiences and I think the same has held true with theatre. I think “Sleep No More” was instrumental in getting me interested in theatre. I had never heard of it until a friend recommended it and I went in not knowing what the heck I was about to see. I was blown away. I think “Sleep No More” redefined what I thought of as theatre, and left me ravenous for more.

Q: Describe your top three most memorable theatre experiences. What made them so memorable?

I: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill: Everything theatre should be. It was all about Audra McDonald. She embodied the inimitable Billie Holliday. When I saw it, I sat at one of the nightclub tables on the stage, so it had quite an immersive element. I admire Audra McDonald the same way I admire an acoustic singer-songwriter. She has nowhere to hide. She is the show. If she has a mediocre night, the show is mediocre.  She brought a magic that I had never seen in a theatre. Sleep No More: (see above) This was memorable because it was the first show of its kind I had seen. The idea of immersive theatre was foreign to me. When I thought of theatre, there was a stage, seats, and overpriced Twizzlers. The idea that you can walk around and interact with the set was awesome to me. This was an EXPERIENCE rather than merely a show. 50 Shades! The Musical: The production value of this show certainly wasn’t close to that of the above two shows, but it was no less memorable. I just loved this show. Was the music particularly earth-shattering? No. Was there any particularly memorable performance? Nope. BUT it was downright hilarious! I would venture to say it was the hardest I’ve ever laughed.

Q: What are your favorite theatre venues? Why do they stand out for you?

I: I prefer venues that are not traditional. That is not to say I don’t enjoy a traditional show, but I appreciate non-traditional venues. I especially loved the venue at Public Theater for “Here Lies Love.” The audience has no choice but to stand the duration of the show, and also are instructed to move in unison at various points in the show. At one point, the stage was transformed, in a matter of seconds, into a small amphitheater for a funeral.
I think the other venue that stands out was the venue for “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” They transformed a vacant lot in the Meatpacking District into a Russian supper club. It looked like a large tent (complete with Porto potty-style restroom) from the outside, but when you walk in, you feel like you’ve walked into another country in another century.

Q: Finally and most importantly, what would you say to somebody who thought theatre wasn't for them?

I: I would say the same thing to this individual that I’d say to somebody who thought music wasn’t for them: “You obviously haven’t given it enough of a chance.” Just like there are countless genres of music, there are many types of theatre. The experience of listening to the Beastie Boys is vastly different from the experience of listening to Miles Davis. If I only listened to the Beastie Boys, I wouldn’t think music was for me. I think I had to see a few shows to realize what I respond to and what I don’t care for. I would advise that you attend many different types of shows (i.e., Broadway, Off Broadway, off-Off Broadway, musicals, straight plays). If you still can’t find something you appreciate, well… I guess you’re just boring.