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August 30, 2008

Another Labor Day's Ovation for Actors

Around this time last year, The New York Times ran a series of mini-profiles about blue collar actors, the folks whose names seldom appear above the title, whose faces are often only vaguely familiar. Their tales of very hard work, relatively low pay but continuing devotion to their craft made a fitting Labor Day tribute, a reminder to us theater lovers that acting is a job as well as an art. And they still do. So in case you didn’t get a chance to read those pieces when I recommended them last year, you can do so now by clicking here.

Or, if you’re in the mood this Labor Day weekend for a more uplifting and entertaining view of the journeyman actor’s life, pick up a copy of “Letters from Backs
tage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor,” an account of 18 months in the career of the actor Michael Kostroff as he crisscrossed the country in touring productions of The Producers (he played in the ensemble and understudied the role of Max Bialystock) and Les Misérables (he was the innkeeper Thénardier) from 2002 to 2004. Kostroff (that’s what his friends call him) is perhaps best known as the sleazy lawyer to the drug kingpins in the HBO series “The Wire” but he’s also a song and dance man who has survived in show business for over 20 years and the author of a no-nonsense advice column in Back Stage newspaper called “Working Actor” (click here to check it out.)

His book, as he explains in its preface, started off as emails to his friends and eventually morphed into stories about life on the road with a big traveling show. In samizdat fashion, the friends started forwarding his accounts to their friends, cast members began asking for copies and strangers even put in requests to get on his listserv. Finally, in 2005, Kostroff collected his reports into a slim 209-page valentine to show people.

This isn’t one of those air-the-dirty-linen tell-all books. The way Kostroff tells it everyone he works with is hugely talented on stage and good company off. Alas for those of us who relish back stage gossip, the one or two exceptions don’t get named and don’t get much ink either. But in between all the bonhomie, “Letters from Backstage” offers glimpses into what hard work acting can be. Like how
touring companies perform eight shows a week and then often spend their day off hustling to the next city on the itinerary. Or like how traveling cast members often have to pack hot plates, lamps and even light bulbs to create some semblance of a homey environment as they move from one economy-priced hotel to another. Or like how these actors have to prove themselves over and over again in auditions for the next part no matter how good they were in the one before.

But Kostroff, who says he didn’t get his first paying job as an actor until he was 30, refuses to complain. Like so many stage actors, he has never appeared on Broadway and yet he works steadily and is grateful for that. “Being on the road isn’t always
easy, and it isn’t always fun,” he writes. “But even with the ups and downs, this is a great job. Eight times a week, we get to entertain thousands of people. It’s a job I dreamed of. One which I’m fortunate to have.”

We theater lovers are fortunate too. Actors like Kostroff are the backbone o
f the theater, the ones we see in regional productions, national touring companies and big Broadway hits when the stars leave after the first or second season. “In our business, working at all is, in itself, an accomplishment,” Kostroff writes. It’s an accomplishment that deserves more recognition than it gets. Kostroff is currently appearing as Max Bialystock in a Gateway Playhouse production of The Producers that is playing in Patchogue, Long Island through Sept. 13. If you see it, give him an extra round of applause for me.

August 27, 2008

Why The Sun's Still Shining In On "Hair"

Unlike so many baby boomers, I can’t claim a special relationship with the musical Hair. I didn’t see the original production that opened in 1968 and played for 1,750 performances. I didn’t catch the 1977 revival that ran for just 43 performances either. Nor did I see the 2004 benefit concert with Raúl Esparza, Harvey Fierstein, Lillias White and RuPaul. I did rent the 1979 movie directed by Milos Forman but found myself wondering what the fuss was all about. And I walked out of the 2001 Encores! production of the show and totally missed the three anniversary performances that played in Central Park last year. Still, I jumped at the chance to see the Public Theater’s current production in the park when my friend Red Press, the show’s musical contractor, graciously offered to get me house seats.

The new production has gotten rave reviews. Cynics point out that the praise is coming primarily from baby boom-aged critics, eternally nostalgic for their youth. Still, people of all ages are lining up for hours to get tickets for each evening’s performance. Or, according to a recent piece in the New York Times, paying people to stand in line for them. (Click here to read the Times piece.) My sister told me that my niece Jennifer, who was born seven years after the original production closed, was dying to see the show and so I invited her to come with me.


After a tasty and thrifty dinner at Pinch: Pizza by the Inch on Columbus Avenue, where I had a custom made pizza of smoked mozzarella and hot sausage and Jennifer, already model-thin but paying extra attention to what she eats because her boyfriend is coming home from serving in Iraq, had a salad, we headed over to the outdoor Delacorte Theater in the park. The weather this time of year is fickle, with cool evenings often following even the balmiest days so I packed shawls—and we ended up being grateful that we had them. The audience was the usual patchwork quilt of New Yorkers and everyone—including me—seemed to be having a good time. But the moment the first notes of the opening song "Aquarius" sounded, the 50 and 60-year olds in the crowd began to act up: swaying in their seats, mouthing the words to the songs and sometimes even singing aloud.


Hair, as everyone knows, is plotless but centers around a “tribe” of hippies, trying to balance the lures of the sexual revolution, the emerging black power movement, the growing drug culture and rising antipathy towards the unpopular Vietnam War against the conservative ideals of their parents’ generation. It’s a comprehensive catalog of the major trends of its time. And the folks at the Public are taking every opportunity—including references in the Playbill notes and the pre-show turn-off-your-cell-phones announcement—to draw parallels with current events. Although what struck me is how different things are (the war in Iraq grinds on but there is no widespread anti-war movement as there was against the war in Vietnam; and what happened to all that peace and love the original Hair celebrated?).


But what eventually won me over was the music. Galt MacDermot’s tunes are delightfully infectious and Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s lyrics are equally joyful. Hair is arguably the last musical to have so many of its songs cross over onto mainstream culture--everyone from the rock group Three Dog Night to "American Idol's" Jennifer Hudson has recorded the ballad "Easy to Be Hard". My freshman college roommate played the album constantly and I developed a lingering familiarity with the songs even though I had no idea how they fit into the show.


All of the songs are exuberantly performed by the current young cast, lead at the performance we attended by Will Swenson as the charismatic leader of the tribe Berger, Christopher J. Hanke as his conflicted friend Claude, Caren Lyn Manuel as the passionately political Sheila, and Patina Renea Miller as the astrologically-guided earth mother Dionne. They all clearly loved pretending to be hippies, even if they didn’t totally capture the essence of the period. And the oldsters in the audience, even those who themselves never got closer to being hippies than wearing love beads and headbands, seemed to love what they were doing too. Everyone—the kids who discovered granola in the '60s and those who now pay $6 a bag for it at Whole Food—was clearly desperate to reclaim the optimism of that time.


The original production was famous for its nude scene, where the entire cast (with the now legendary exception of a young Diane Keaton) took all their clothes off. They do it in the current production too, although, of course, no one is scandalized now. Instead, the high point of the evening comes during the fully-clad encore of "Let the Sun Shine In" when audience members are invited to come on stage and dance with the cast. It's a prefab happening but so many people raced up to join in that I feared the stage might collapse. Eventually security guards had to turn people away. But there is already talk of moving the show, now extended in the park through Sept. 14, to Broadway so maybe they’ll get their chance then.

August 23, 2008

The Knotty Issues of "The Alice Complex"

As much as I love seeing plays, I’m usually delighted when I learn that a show is just one act. Getting out early raises the odds of getting a table for an after-show dinner at a good restaurant. And one act means fewer people climbing over me as they head out to, and return from, a bathroom, cigarette or cell phone break during the intermission.

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way because producers are beginning to pick up on this growing preference, collapsing old three-act plays into two and commissioning shorter new works in which everything gets wrapped up in one. But, as my grandmother used to say, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. I’ve seen two very appealing shows this month that suffered from trying to cram a full night’s worth of theater into half an evening’s amount of playing time.


A.R. Gurney’s Buffalo Gal, which I’ve read actually started off as a two-act piece, was whacked down to an anemic hour and forty intermissionless minutes by the time I saw it at Primary Stages. And then just this past week, my pal Bill and I caught The Alice Complex, an intriguing 75-minute piece by the playwright Peter Barr Nickowitz during its final performance in this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.


Inspired by a real life incident in which one of her students held the famous feminist writer and professor Germaine Greer hostage for a few hours back in 2000, The Alice Complex muses about relationships between women, the evolution of feminism and the responsibilities that artists and academics should bear for the works they create. Nickowitz, himself a professor of literature and cultural studies, is a smart writer and his characters sound like real people—better yet, each one sounds like a distinctive person.


Director Bill Oliver, whose program bio indicates more film work than stage experience, brings a nice cinematic flow to the action. And the talented actresses Lisa Banes and Xanthe Elbrick (a Tony-nominee for last year’s ill-fated Coram Boy) work hard, playing not only the main parts of the besieged professor and her disillusioned student, but portraying 9 other women, including influential figures in the main characters’ lives and, in a meta-twist, actors in a play similar to the one we’re watching as well as audience members who’ve seen the show.


The play has emerged as one of the hits of this year’s Fringe festival. But it has too many underdeveloped themes and unresolved storylines to declare it a true accomplishment. Instead The Alice Complex comes off as a promising outline rather than a fully developed work. Of course, this was my first Fringe show and so maybe it’s customary for the festival’s productions to be presented in embryonic form.


Whether that’s true or not, Nickowitz is a talent worth nurturing, which already seems to be happening. His program bio say he’s just been named the Harold Clurman Playwright-in-Residence at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Good for him and good for us theater lovers too. Any guy who writes roles for women as potentially rich and complex as the ones he attempts here deserves encouragement.

He also deserves the ability to stretch out in longer works and the kind of theatergoers who won’t be rushing off to the next big thing or—chastising note to self—to grab a table at Orso.

August 20, 2008

Turning on the Ghost Light

According to tradition, theaters always leave a light on when they’re empty. Superstition says it’s to keep ghosts away, hence the name: ghost light. Others suggest that keeping a light on is simply a safety precaution. The romantic in me likes to think it’s a signal that the regular inhabitants are only gone for a moment and will be back soon, before the light burns out. For a variety of reasons (end-of-summer lethargy, too many hours spent watching the Olympics) there will be no post today. I'll be back, as usual, on Saturday but I’m turning on the ghost light while I’m away.

August 16, 2008

The Tiny Pleasures of "Summer Shorts 2"

It’s festival season in New York. And that means adventurous theatergoers are in the midst of a summer-long smorgasbord of new and avantgarde plays and musicals. I made it to The Bacchae at the Lincoln Center Festival but passed on its Beckett trilogy. I missed the Summer Play Festival that showcased emerging writers and directors at the Public Theater last month but I’m planning to catch at least one show in The New York International Fringe Festival that started last week. I confess I don’t know anything about the American Living Room’s performance arts fest currently at the Here Arts Center but I’m looking forward to the New York Musical Theatre Festival that starts next month. And last night, my buddy Bill and I went to the first half of Summer Shorts 2, the festival of eight new short plays that is running through Aug. 28 at the 59E59 Theaters. (Click here to read a roundtable discussion with four festival directors.)

This is just the second year for Summer Shorts but it’s clearly caught on because the performance we attended was sold out and the hum of self-satisfaction that's always detectable at a cool event vibrated t
hrough the crowd. Almost as if to confirm the show’s hip status, a recording by the eternally-hip Miles Davis played over the sound system as audience members settled into their seats and later while the two-person stage crew changed props between scenes.

There are two programs of plays being performed in Summer Shorts 2 and the one we saw, Series A, includes works by the playwrights Leslie Lyles, Eduardo Machado, Neil Koenigsberg and Roger Hedden. Their works range from a tragic monologue to a four-person social satire. All four were nicely directed and, for the most part, ably acted but, as Bill observed, none seemed any more substantial than the kind of character
studies you might find being performed in just about any acting class.

Which doe
sn’t mean they weren’t diverting. The crowd-pleaser was Koenigsberg’s On A Bench, an encounter between a young affluent man (David Beck) and an older working class woman (Mary Joy) who meet on a bench across the street from the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. But I was most taken by Amy Irving’s performance in Lyles’ The Waters of March which almost connected the dots in a lightly etched tale about a failed lounge singer and made me curious about what Lyle might do on a broader canvas.

Curtain time at Summer Shorts is scheduled for a fashionably late 8:15 and our performance was over around 9:45, allowing enough time to get home and catch a little of the Olympics on TV, a bonus that both Bill and I welcomed. After all, even the most ardent theater lover can appreciate aquaman Michael Phelps’s quest for eight gold medals, the debate over whether the pixyish Chinese female gymnasts are underage and all the other dramas that are grabbing the spotlight in Beijing.

August 13, 2008

Youth, Love and "Twelfth Night"

Summer always makes me think of Shakespeare. That’s probably because I was a kid when Joe Papp started staging free performances of the Bard’s plays in New York City parks on hot weather nights back in the 1950s and ‘60s. Seeing those shows was a big deal in my working class neighborhood. “You going to see the Shakespeare tonight?” people would ask when they bumped into one another at the corner grocery store or coming out of the subway from work.

It was a rhetorical question. Just about everyone went whenever the shows played in our nearby park. Our family would eat an early supper, then walk the few blocks to the playground to get good seats in the temporary bleachers that had been set up there. I don’t remember which plays we saw back then and I can’t tell you if they were well done or not but I do know how much I looked forward to them, how wonderful they seemed to me and what a good time we all had. It's how I first fell in love with theater.

Over the years, I’ve experienced some of that same tingle of wonder whenever I went to see Shakespeare productions in Central Park but eventually the lines to get a free ticket got too long and the prices that you had to pay to skip to the head of the queue got too high (this year, you had to “donate” $150 a seat per show) and so it’s been a while since I’ve seen one there. Which may explain why I so appreciated my evening at the Pulse Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night.

Pulse performs at various outdoor venues around the city. I caught its Twelfth Night at The Amphitheatre at the Riverbank State Park, where it’s playing through Aug. 24. The entrance to the park is at 145th Street and Riverside Drive and the amphitheater overlooks the Hudson River. On a balmy night, it’s an idyllic setting for Shakespeare’s romantic romp about cross dressing lovers, mistaken identities and the follies of arrogance.

This production updates the action to the present (the characters carry iPods) and moves the location from Shakespeare’s Illyria to “a City much resembling New York City.” It also adds a lot of interstitial pop music that ranges from Elvis to Led Zeppelin, dating it in a different kind of way. The sound system seemed anachronistic too, flickering in and out or bursting into static that made the dialog unintelligible at times. But the cast was game.

In the true spirit of Papp (who, if he wasn’t the first, was certainly the most enthusiastic non-traditional caster) the actors were diverse in every way—by race, age, and, truth be told, by talent too. Raushanah Simmons, a Michelle Obama-look-alike who has appeared in Public Theater productions, as Viola; and Annie Paul, a recent college grad from Ohio debuting in her first New York show, as Olivia came off best but everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The folks in the audience too. There were only about a 100 or so of us but we were also a multicultural lot. I saw a few middle-aged white couples, an Hispanic mom and dad with their four daughters, a quartet of white twentysomethings who brought along a picnic basket of goodies (a smart idea; a glass or two of wine would have made the evening perfect for me) and a black teenager with what seemed to be his three younger brothers. One of the boys was so excited by what he was seeing on stage that he couldn’t stay in his seat (a concrete bench; so bring a cushion) and literally whooped with delight at the silly antics of the play’s clownish Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, proof that Shakespeare can hold his own with the "Kung Fu Panda" generation.

The brothers left before the show ended. I thought it was because the eldest was tired of trying to rein in his siblings. But it might have been because he knew that the No. 11 bus, which you can ride right into the park, stops running before the lovers are properly sorted out and the supercilious Malvolio gets his comeuppance. You can walk the few blocks to Broadway and get the subway but not even being semi-stranded marred the evening for me. This Twelfth Night was far from a midsummer’s night dream. But it did transport me back to those summers evenings of my girlhood and the start of my ongoing romance with the theater.





August 9, 2008

There Is Nothin' Like A Great Cast Album

My California friends Bill and Joyce visited New York last month and, of course, they wanted to see some Broadway shows. I suggested the Tony winners August: Osage County, In the Heights and South Pacific. They got tickets to the first two and while they really enjoyed August, they were knocked out by In the Heights. Earlier this week Bill emailed to tell me that they’d just ordered the cast album. If they could have gotten into the sold-out South Pacific, they might also have bought its sensational new cast recording.

If you love Broadway musicals, then you probably own a bunch of cast albums too. They’re the closest way we’ve got to bring the thrill of a musical home. But I confess to envying cinephiles whose DVDs of their favorite movies come with all kinds of special features, like director's commentaries and making-of videos. With cast albums, what you see (or hear) is pretty much all you get.


It wasn’t always that way. In the golden era that began with the original cast recording of Oklahoma!, which came out on six discs in 1943, the major record studios released recordings on multiple LPs that were often accompanied by coffee-table-sized souvenir books, color photos, liner notes, and lyric sheets. But in the Dark Ages of the 1970s and ‘80s the labels started backing away from recording shows, sometimes trimming their scores to fit on just one LP and often jettisoning most of the extras.


Since 2001, Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records, owned by Sherie Rene Scott, who’s currently in The Little Mermaid, and her husband Kurt Deutsch, have been recording hits, flops and cult favorites (In the Heights and Passing Strange are among their recent releases; a version of [title of show] came out in 2006). And all praise to them for doing so. But these new recordings and the few produced by other labels come out on CDs (or as digital downloads) and their extras have to be crammed into that small space.


So although I’ve written about it before, I’m giving another big shoutout to the folks at Sony Masterworks Broadway. Their original cast recording of the new Lincoln Center production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific came out right before the show won the Tony award for Best Revival. And while the actual CD comes in the customary no-frills packaging, there are loads of extras online, including some truly terrific podcasts that can be downloaded to your iPod.


Nearly everyone connected with the show has recorded his or her thoughts about it and there are eight separate podcasts, running in length from eight minutes to 22. Kelli O’Hara talks about how she based Nellie Forbush’s racial attitudes on those of her grandmother, a southerner who grew up in the 1930s and was “carefully taught certain things.” Loretta Ables Sayre expresses how much it means to her to be the first woman from the South Pacific to play Bloody Mary. Director Bartlett Sher explains how he cast the show and battled the ghosts of Mary Martin and Enzio Pinza. But my favorite is Bert Fink, the head of publicity for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, who is a font of tidbits about the history of the musical including what happened on the closing night of the original production.


Videos and photos from the recording session (and what straight woman or gay guy doesn’t want another look at the show's leading man Paulo Szot) as well as a sampling of songs from the album are available on the website, masterworksbroadway.com/south-pacific/ (click here to go there). You can find all of the podcasts on iTunes. It's all totally enchanting and totally free.

August 6, 2008

A Bittersweet Elegy for "Buffalo Gal"

My sister Joanne turned me down when I invited her to see Buffalo Gal, the new A.R. Gurney play that just opened at Primary Stages. “I’m not in the mood for an Annie Oakley kind of thing,” she told me, apparently imagining a non-musical version of Annie Get Your Gun. But Buffalo Gal has nothing to do with sharpshooting or steer wrangling. Its heroine is a once-successful TV actress named Amanda who tries to fire up her career by starring as Madame Ranevskaya in a production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard for a struggling theater company back in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. As she sees it, doing theater helped Angela Lansbury and Carol Burnett, why shouldn’t it help her?

Joanne, always a big TV fan, liked this storyline a lot better and so off we went to the 59E59 Theater, where Buffalo Gal is playing through Sept. 13. The play runs just a little over 90 minutes but it’s chocked full of stuff. In fact, if you’re the kind of theatergoer who likes a play that gives you something to chew on, then your jaws will probably get tired before you’re done with Buffalo Gal.


First off, there’s The Cherry Orchard parallel: the mirror stories of aristocratic women returning home to reclaim an impoverished patrimony. Then there’s the theme of the pauper's role theater plays in our fame-hungry culture: just as the play’s rehearsals begin, Amanda is offered a new sitcom and has to choose between the two. There’s also art imitating life: Gurney left his native Buffalo years ago but has returned often to stage his plays there and although Susan Sullivan, who plays Amanda, is an accomplished stage performer with both Broadway and regional credits on her résumé, she’s best known as a TV actor who’s had starring roles in shows like “Falcon Crest” and “Dharma & Greg (click here to read a revealing interview with her).”


And, of course, since this is a play by the author of such works as The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour and Love Letters, there’s the whole end of the WASP era thing. In this case, it’s represented by Amanda’s high-school boyfriend Dan, played by Mark Blum, who grew up to become a Jewish dentist but who never grew out of his love for his shiksa goddess and the evanescent world she symbolizes.


That’s an awful lot of weight for such a small play to carry. And I haven’t even mentioned the storylines about the lesbian director, the African-American leading man or the stage manager with deaf parents. All of this means there’s a lot of tell and not quite enough show in Buffalo Gal. Still, much of the tell is amusing. And the actors, particularly the women—Sullivan, Jennifer Regan as the director, and Carmen M. Herlihy as an overly sincere intern—give appealing performances.

But what won me over is Gurney’s unabashed love for the theater and the people who make it. Including, seemingly, those Hollywood emigres whom we so often dismiss as doing theater the way college applicants do volunteer work in Third World countries: an ostentatiously trendy way to pick up some Brownie points.


Watching Gurney’s Amanda wrestle with whether to stay in Buffalo with the play or go to Hollywood and grab the sitcom, gave me a new perspective on how much courage it must take for a movie or TV star to go before a live audience eight times a week, on how admirable it is for folks who can earn millions to agree to work for relative pocket change, on how the very fact that screen actors seek legitimacy by doing stage work bestows added authority on the theater. Instead of griping the next time I read about some movie star coming to Broadway, I’m going to be grateful and more supportive.


“I thought it was cute,” my sister said after we left the theater and walked across town to find something to eat. I think Buffalo Gal is more than that. For Gurney has written a love letter to contemporary theater and despite its shortcomings, I have a feeling that regional companies across the country will return his affection with productions of this play for years to come. Unfortunately the Studio Arena Theatre in his native Buffalo won't be one of them; it filed for bankruptcy and closed earlier this year.

August 2, 2008

To Subscribe or Not To Subscribe...That Is Now the Question for True Theater Lovers

After all these years of theatergoing, I just had a first-time experience: I signed up for a subscription series. In fact, I subscribed to two: The Public Theater's and the Signature Theatre's.

I’m not sure what took me so long to take advantage of this smart way of seeing plays and supporting the companies that produce them. Subscriptions are great for theater lovers like me, because you not only get first crack at seats to the most anticipated shows but other goodies like newsletters, invitations to receptions with cast members and cheaper ticket prices. And they’re also great for the theater companies because they get a pot of upfront money that makes it easier for them to manage their budgets and keep their operations running.

If you see enough off-Broadway or regional theater, your mailbox has probably been filled over the past few weeks with brochures touting various company’s new seasons and all the benefits of subscribing to them. Prices for New York-based packages run from a mighty $1,800 for the Champions Circle at 2econd Stage Theatre (it includes two premium seats to every production, invitations to three opening night performances and cast parties and “recognition in our 43rd Street theatre for one year”) to the Atlantic Theater Company's $55 membership fee that buys you the right to pay no more than $25 for any its shows.

The Public and Signature are two of my favorite companies. I love the Public because its programming is so diverse and adventurous and the Signature because its focus on a singular oeuvre allows me to really dig into one artistic vision. So I’d like to say that I subscribed to them because I wanted to show my appreciation and support. But the truth is that I signed up for far more selfish reasons.

When my pal Bill first suggested that we sign up for the Public, I turned him down. But then I realized that the season includes the new production of Bounce, the Stephen Sondheim musical that has been literally bouncing around in various incarnations over the past decade. Having seen a couple of those earlier versions, I wanted to make sure I could get a seat for this one. And my subscription will guarantee that.

Two years ago, I missed out on the entire season the Signature dedicated to August Wilson because I figured I’d just get tickets for each individual show. But the word-of-mouth was so good and the $20 ticket price (subsidized by Time Warner) so low that all the performances sold out before I could even get to one. This year, Signature is devoting its season to works that were originally produced by The Negro Ensemble Company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. I remember seeing each work when it premiered and I want to be sure that I can see them again. And a subscription guarantees me that too.

So it’s good for me and for the folks at those companies who now know that whatever kind of reviews their shows get, they’ve already sold seats to me, Bill and their other subscribers. But I also worry about the future of subscriptions. Earlier this year, I heard Todd Haimes, artistic director of The Roundabout Theatre Company, which has over 40,000 subscribers, say that a growing number of the most loyal theatergoers are turning to discount clubs like Theatermania which offers reduced-price tickets to individual shows instead of requiring a commitment to a full season. That may eventually affect the steady flow of cash that the companies depend on. Others fret that the companies are already starting to program the way commercial producers do, opting for choices that will appeal to the largest number of people instead of presenting riskier fare.

We clearly need non-profit theaters. And we need them to be adventurous. They need subscriptions. But I’m just not sure what my role here should be. Should I use my limited dollars to subscribe to a bunch of companies? Or should I buy tickets to the shows that I most like, which often tend to be the edgier productions that wouldn't get commercial runs, to encourage them to continue that kind of programming? I really would love to hear from those of you who subscribe and those of you don’t about why and how you’ve made that choice. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a season full of trips to the Public and Signature.