It didn’t require the media to remind us that Broadway has had a new shot in the arm this year, except it’s in an area that you perhaps wouldn’t have expected. Outsiders to Broadway (mainly the west coast) may see a headline about the resurgence of Broadway and assume it means musicals are having a huge renaissance. While there’s some truth to that in some newly original productions doing well, reports are that plays have done exponentially better at the box office. Going from Shakespeare plays done in their original configurations to A-list stars once again starring in dramatic productions, audiences are finding a new love for stage dramas lately.
Why have plays suddenly had a major resurgence, especially slightly over musicals? Is it just an anomaly for this year, or will it become a new prime source of entertainment for the masses again after decades of losing out to movies and TV?
The Dramatic Appeal of a Live Experience
Considering many plays produced on Broadway in recent years are bringing in Hollywood stars and bringing movie-level production style, it could be nurturing a virtual reality feeling audiences may be craving. Those who’ve seen any performances live know there’s nothing that compares to actually being there. Then again, plays have sometimes become more static affairs for those who like action in a story. It’s one reason why play adaptations into movies don’t always do well, mainly because dramas on stage are going to be mostly standing around in one room at a time with plenty of verbiage.
With more careful considerations of chemistry in casting, and expanding what’s possible on the stage, nobody is going to miss seeing explosions or car chases. In fact, with the overload of that in movies, many people may be finally turning it all off in favor of real character stories. It explains why indie films are also having a renaissance lately, despite so many of them being made, they cancel one another out.
The advantage of plays on Broadway is they’re more exclusive engagements. It brings back the feel of real events again where big stars starred in projects that truly meant something important. A-list actors obviously miss this feeling and why they’re gravitating so much to the stage for much less pay than they’d receive in a movie. While they usually receive more than the average scale pay, the fulfillment is clearly more important to them without necessarily being committed to it for multiple years.
Has something happened to Broadway play productions, though, that’s making them more appealing than just their new star power? As with two recent Shakespeare plays, bringing the feeling of being in another time and space has become more of a top priority over the old Bertolt Brecht method of distancing yourself from the action on the stage.
The Virtual Reality Experience
Those above Shakespeare plays from director Mark Rylance were a double bill of “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III,” both of which were done in a style reminiscent of the original Shakespeare productions. Rather than a controversial modernization as we’ve seen so many times, the new setting took people away to a different place as well as being back in time.
This feeling of being transported has always been the goal of theater, despite not always succeeding. When you add movie stars to this mix, it’s like being on the set of a movie or almost being a part of the story. In an intimate theater, it appears to be creating experiences people can’t get from anywhere else. It’s also from real people rather than participating in a video game where the characters there still don’t look perfectly real.
Using this philosophy in plays on Broadway may help it continue to be a top source for entertainment for not just native New Yorkers, but also people from all over the country. When you have people coming in from out of state and paying a top ticket price, you know you’ve hit on a formula that may only equal television in winning over what’s coming up in a movie theater.