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Episode 8
MEETING UP AGAIN BACK AT THE
EMBRYONIC PERFORMANCE SPACE...

There you are! Hurry up and unlock this door. I'm freezing.

"Just a second till I find the keys. Here, hold the sandwiches."

Did you remember the hot coffee?

"Yep. Though I don't know how hot it still is."

Hot, warm, what's the difference? I need caffeine.

"Here we go."

Thank heavens. It actually feels nice and warm in here.

"I had a crew in yesterday to take down the rear wall and clean up. They managed to get the boiler going. Let me get the lights."

It's a big improvement. Let's spread out back in the main room.

"Ouch."

What's the mater?

"You were right about wearing comfortable shoes. My feet are killing me."

Two little museums and you're complaining?

"It wasn't the museums. It was getting to the museums. Have you ever heard of cabs and subways?"

It was a brisk morning walk!

"Right. A mile up to the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Then three more miles over to the Museum of the City of New York at 103rd Street. Then four miles back down here."

You're a wimp. Here's your coffee. Did you remember mustard?

"You're a sadist. In the bag with the napkins. Where did you go while I was getting the food?"

Book store.

"How many?"

Only one.

"Good."

But it's a big one. You can look at it later.

"Thanks."

Excellent chopped liver.

"Umm, they make their own."

Your people cleaned up in here too, didn't they?

"Yep."

Are these columns structural?

"Yes. We'll have to work around them. Is that what this morning was about?"

What do you mean?

"We've spent the last six hours walking and looking at old photographs of the inside of every theatre built in this city in the last hundred years. You're trying to teach me something, aren't you?"

What do you think?

"I know you are."

No. I mean what do you think I'm trying to show you?

"I don't know. We looked at thousands of pictures today. Everything's a blur."

Then take a good long look around you at this old lodge hall.

"Okay. I'm looking."

It dates from just before 1900, right?

"Maybe a little earlier."

All of those photographs we looked at this morning, all of those theatres dated from the same time, didn't they?

"Yes."

What are the similarities?

"Okay, I'm getting you now. You're right. There is something the same. I can't quite put my finger on it."

Look at the balcony running around the center open space.

"The side boxes! This is the same layout as those small immigrant theatres down in the village!"

Except that those theatres were all demolished before 1920.

"So you're saying that this building was originally one of those theatres?"

No. Too many of the details aren't right. But, I bet the carpenters who built this space were the same artisans who built those old theatres. Think about it. They would have used the same construction techniques, the same dimensions, the same finishing touches they had been using when they built those immigrant theatres. That's why this space resonates so strongly with all those old photographs. That's why this space feels like a theatre. The traditions that gave birth to this space can be traced back to English and European theatres built two hundred years ago.

"Wow."

Wow, indeed. Imagine what we would have if we could incorporate all of what's already here in the design for the new theatre!

"There wouldn't be another theatre in New York like it! We've got to go back to the museums. I need copies of those photographs."

I was hoping you would say that. It shows we're thinking along the same lines.

"Well, it makes sense, doesn't it? Rebuild this space as one of those old theatres?"

Yes. The front house, the audience space, anyway. With some common sense concessions to comfort and safety. We can't build an exact duplicate of one of those old theatres.

"Why not?"

It wouldn't work as a modern public space. However, an interpretation of an old theatre, designed to meet the needs and expectations of a contemporary audience would work quite nicely.

"Like the Ford Center?"

More like the New Amsterdam, except smaller and not so gaudy. And more bathrooms. And as close to 499 seats as we can legally cram in here.

"I was originally thinking 350 to 400 seats. Why 499?"

At 500 seats it's no longer off Broadway and everything starts costing a lot more. We need to get as close to 499 as we can for the potential income.

"Four hundred seats should be easy. But much more than that and we're talking squeezing people in like sardines."

A ticket to an off Broadway show costs what?

"Say $30 up to maybe a $50 top."

We'll say $45. $45 a seat times eight performances a week is $360. $360 times 52 weeks a year is $18,720. So the difference in potential income between 400 and 499 seats in a year is $1,853,280.

"Point taken."

As soon as we finish eating, let's hit the museums again and order copies of those photographs and then meet back at the office. There are other things we need to look at for the actual stage and backstage areas. But we can talk about those later. Which museum do you want?

"I'll take the Museum of the City of New York. It's easier."

The Museum of the City of New York is located on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street. Recognized as one of the world's preeminent performing arts collections, the Theater Collection provides in-depth coverage of theatrical activity in the City from the late 18th century to the present day, including original set and costume renderings by designers such as Donald Oenslager, Jo Mielziner, and Robert Edmund Jones; posters and window cards that record trends in theatrical advertising; 17,000 folders documenting local productions since the 1800s; original playscripts annotated by Eugene O Neill; more than 5,000 costumes and props; a significant collection of caricatures, drawings, and photographic archives; and a major Yiddish Theater collection.

Broadway! The Great White Way in 1898 (February 18 - June 28, 1998) As part of the Museum's celebration of the centennial anniversary of the consolidation of New York City, the Broadway! exhibit will feature the shows, stars, costumes, and set models that dominated or reflected Broadway 100 years ago, when this entertainment area of the City became known as "The Great White Way."

Okay. I'll take the Billy Rose Collection.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; The Billy Rose Theatre Collection is located at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza at the intersection of Broadway and 65th Street. The Billy Rose Theatre Collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive archives devoted to the theatrical arts. Encompassing dramatic performance in all its diversity, the Collection is an indispensable resource for artists, writers, researchers, scholars, students, and the general public.

The Collection's holdings illuminate virtually every type of performance, from street corner to stage to studio, and include drama and musical theatre, film, television, radio, and popular entertainment (circus, magic, vaudeville, puppetry).

Working in the Collection, a user can examine a 1767 program for a performance of Romeo and Juliet in Philadelphia, study Edwin Booth's letters to his daughter, review the working script for Orson Welles' African-American Macbeth, study costume designs from the film Anna and the King of Siam, analyze a videotape of A Chorus Line, or read scripts from current television hits.

Resources available for study free of charge include: Books and Periodicals, Scripts and Prompt books, Programs, Personal Archives and Scrapbooks, Clipping Files, Set, Costume, and Lighting Designs, Prints, Photographs, and Posters. Films and Videotapes in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive document original production performances of many of Broadway's legendary plays and musicals.

"Hey. Aren't you forgetting something?"

What?

"The book?"

Oh, yes. Here you go. The Development of the English Playhouse by Richard Leacroft.

"What's it about?"

The title doesn't give it away? The Development of the English Playhouse traces the development of the English theatre from its medieval beginnings in churches and market places to the modern picture-frame stage. By concentrating on the structure in which performances actually took place and by showing they altered to accommodate different forms of drama and different types of audience, The Development of the English Playhouse expounds the ever-changing theatrical and social context of dramatic literature and performance.

Leacroft's famous cut-away' diagrams offer a three-dimensional impression of both the inside and outside of the theatre at the same time. They enable the reader to appreciate at a glance a wide variety of key playhouses, including Tudor banqueting halls, the Swan and Globe theatres of Shakespeare's era, the designs of Inigo Jones, and the Theatres Royal at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Including almost 200 drawings, photographs, and reconstructions, Leacroft's study will prove indispensable to teachers and students of theatre history and to those contemplating the design of new theatres.

"You know, one thing to be said about working with you: it's an education."

A hell of a better one than you'll get from any university drama department in this country! But I'll give you my 20 minute tirade on the pitiful state of theatre training sometime next week. Meanwhile, clear your schedule for lunch tomorrow. I've got a surprise for you.

"Another book?"

Even better! An author. The guy who wrote The Return To Neverland is in New York for a couple of days and we're meeting him for lunch at Barrymore's tomorrow at one o'clock. Don't be late.

"Neat. What's he like?"

I've only spoken with him on the phone. He seems a very pleasant fellow. But I would be careful, if I were you. Watch what you say. Remember he's a writer, and all writers are extremely sensitive and protective of what they've written. We don't want to piss him off. I'm still not sure what the hook will be for the play. If we're lucky, he may give us one tomorrow.

"Hook? Oh! Peter Pan. I get it."

No you don't. A hook is that one thing that catches an audience's imagination and makes them want to see your play or musical. It's the thing that sets your show apart from all the others. We need a hook for Neverland.

"I'm not sure I understand. But, if you say we need a hook, we need a hook. Ready to go?"

Yes. You take care of the trash and I'll get us a cab.

"We don't have to walk?"

My feet hurt too.


Book Image

CLICK TO PURCHASE


The Development of the English Playhouse

by Richard Leacroft
List: $19.95
Published by Heinemann
ISBN: 0413606007


The Museum of the City of New York can be accessed at http://www.mcny.org/

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; The Billy Rose Theatre Collection can be accessed at http://www.nypl.org/research/lpa/the/the.html


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