Just to dovetail away from the (very legit) conversation around the Planet Money episode, I just wanted to pick up on a couple of things in the discussion of The Ferryman.
The first is when Natalie was talking about recordings, there are some platforms that provide recordings of live, big-budget theatre. Digital Theatre is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a great subscriber service with a bunch of filmed productions from larger UK theatres like Tricycle, Young Vic and the RSC. There’s also BroadwayHD, which I’ve never used but seems pretty good and has some surprising deep cuts (Branagh & Thompson in Look Back In Anger, my word). Theatre recording and streaming has a loooooooong way to go, but it’s something I guess.
The second is when Rob was talking about how shows often don’t travel outside of New York unless they’re stratospheric, Hamilton-sized successes. There’s a lot of truth to that, but I feel it’s a little bit dismissive of smaller theatres - not even talking small shopfronts like Chicago is full of, but bigger theatres like Steppenwolf in Chicago or Huntington Theatre Company in Boston.
There’s this cultural narrative that’s pretty prominent in the West that New York and London (and Berlin, depending on who you talk to) are where theatre lives, and it does sound like the team - all admitedly relatively new to theatre - buy into that a bit. At one point, Rob even says that he’s going to more theatre because he’s going to New York more. Hell, even I’m susceptible to it and I live in Wellington, New Zealand, a country whose most prominent companies would probably have a fraction of the operating budget that a theatre like Steppenwolf does. There’s this assumption - sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken - that theatre made outside of the big-budget stages is less necessary, less of an event and less professional, and that trickles down to the way that regional audiences view their own regional theatres, ignoring the independent shopfronts and enforcing their ‘rights as a subscriber’ to complain about anything at the state theatre that doesn’t look like a well-made play.
But Broadway and the West End are mostly reactionary institutions: they pick up stuff that’s lived elsewhere, or commission writers at the height of their power, or adapt well-known movies or books or what have you. It’s the apex of a capitalist industry model. It’s really telling that the New York Times published a story about this year’s Broadway season with the lede “In a turnabout no one expected, New York’s most prominent stages are rich with drama, most of it new and most of it American.” (The article mentions The Ferryman; it also mentions one I really want to see and probably never will, American Son.) It is not where theatre lives - it’s where theatre goes to show off.
This is turning pretty quickly into a ‘support your local theatre’ jeremiad, but that’s because it kinda needs to be made after a discussion that kinda shut regional theatres and storefront theatres and everything in between out of the conversation. All the Broadway supremacy narrative enables is a devaluing of the work that these theatres do to develop new writers and new work - and to restage work like The Ferryman. It might not be the blockbuster size of the Broadway season, but it’s still The Ferryman and it’s probably being made by people with far more on the line financially.
I really appreciated Danielle talking about Kink Haus the other week because it shined a bit of light on a smaller dance work, which rules. (La MaMa’s a great theatre, New York.) But this conversation could have done with a bit more acknowledgment of theatre beyond Broadway, to me.