Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.
This week, Stages contributor Jack Smart geeks out (via Google doc) with Nate Silver, Managing Director of Chicago's Jackalope Theatre and assistant director of the upcoming Broadway production of
Disgraced, which previously played at Lincoln Center.
What are your favorite "guilty pleasure" shows... and what constitutes a "guilty pleasure" anyway?
Well hello there, Nate. You and I have managed to see a lot of theatre together despite the fact that I'm in New York and you live in Chicago. I feel like we tend to see the kind of theatre some audience members might have a hard time publicly admitting they like. I think everyone has their tastes and preferences, but some shows are generally deemed "classy," while others must be enjoyed secretly. What do you think? How low under the bar of lowbrow culture are we "allowed" to limbo? Is there something shameful about sitting gleefully among dozens of tweens in princess dresses at the very first preview of Cinderella
? That was us, after all.
For me, going to the theatre means different things at different times---to satisfy different cravings for different moods. In the same way that I am equally engaged by Mad Men
and Modern Family
, there's a place for both Bring It On: The Musical
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
. Sure, there's the idea of hate-watching (see Smash
), but I inherently trust the theatre more than television. If something makes it all the way to Broadway---if it has financial backers, critical interest, a top-notch production team, actors at the top of their game---I'm going to see it. Bring It On
was a surprise high point for me. I've never seen that brand of athleticism onstage. I had a similar experience at Rocky
: I've never seen a set move in the way that one did. Was I truly moved by either of those musicals? No, not really. Was I actually, legitimately, not faking it, shamelessly entertained? You bet. Sometimes that's all I'm looking for.
Yeah, Bring It On
was a revelation for me. So original and infectiously fun. For a while after seeing that show, I was met with obvious skepticism when I recommended it to friends. But I think it's our responsibility as audience members and appreciators of art to champion the fun, frothy shows just as much as the serious, highbrow ones.
Recommending shows to people is so hard. Because tickets are such an investment, I don't want to guide them to something they end up not enjoying. Knowing a person's interests and background is crucial. In my summer job as the Director of Operations at the National Student Leadership Conference
in NYC (the main reason I'm able to see so much theatre here), I am in the position of recommending shows to people who have never seen a production on Broadway before. So I don't necessarily tell them about the things that I enjoyed the most, but the things that sell Broadway to newcomers and exemplify the magic of live theatre. I send them to The Lion King
, to Wicked
, to The Phantom of the Opera
… People lose their minds over Phantom
I am still interested in this idea of "the point" of theatre, though. Like, is it not crazy that The Realistic Joneses
and A Raisin in the Sun
were playing just a few blocks away from Rock of Ages
Hah, yes. I wonder what the midway point is in that spectrum. Is there a show that embodies both highbrow and lowbrow? I mean, going back to what you said earlier, can you think of a show that genuinely moved you and
made you "actually, legitimately, not faking it, shamelessly entertained?" And would you have any shame about recommending such a production?
Nate: Next to Normal
, David Cromer's Our Town
, and Once
all come to mind. So does Eastland
, a 2012 musical about the tragedy of the SS Eastland, at the Lookingglass Theatre Company
in Chicago. The first time I saw Clybourne Park
I was floored. Same with Good People
. That still stands as a flawless play in my mind. No shame about recommending any of those.
Jack: Clybourne Park
!! Political incorrectness is such a guilty pleasure. But what's the difference between those shows and the ones that make you wince when you recommend them? Recommending Next to Normal
makes me wince a little bit because we were such fanatics. I'm pretty sure we went the second time just to watch Marin Mazzie's gigantic beautiful mouth again.
I think a big difference is what is required of me as an audience member. I generally think the shows I just mentioned---that moved and
entertained me---required me to use my brain, and to be fully engaged. They were not "escapes"---I was an active participant in the art being made. I was moved because I was invested. High comedy is borderline for me. I remember when we saw One Man, Two Guvnors
, I definitely felt guilty about loving that one as much as I did. It was just so frickin' silly, but so much fun. I don't think I've ever laughed that hard in the theatre. I almost feel that for regular theatregoers, we are required to give ourselves a break every fourth or fifth time we go to the theatre.
But isn't the idea of a guilty pleasure that it's for no one else but me? It's something personal that I do for myself. Like a pedicure---which I got last week for the first time (life-changing)---but I didn't feel compelled to tell everyone about it. It was for me. But when I see a show that is moving, with staying power, of the now, a can't-miss experience, I am going to tell everyone I know.
I think a guilty pleasure can be for just you, or you and a couple of other total fanatics. With everyone having a critical voice on the internet, it's pretty unlikely you're alone in loving any particular piece of art these days. I feel like at some point, if enough people profess to enjoy something, it's no longer quite a guilty pleasure. How many fans does it take to get to that point? Five? A hundred?
Right, then it becomes a "cult classic."
Right. When it comes to Next to Normal
, no one besides you and me may have found that show so profoundly fun
. I never
see a show twice. Like you said, our pennies are precious, why would we spend them on theatre we've already seen? But we sheepishly went back to see Marin and specifically her mouth, and probably cried more the second time.
: Well, Next to Normal
is the full package for me. It has an incredible score, we had the privilege of watching Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley
, a real husband-and-wife team, director Michael Greif is a genius, and it's both fun and moving. And I know I'm not going to do well with Finding Neverland
when that comes to Broadway. To this day it's the most I've ever cried watching or listening to anything.
Which reminds me, I feel like sad shows are almost more guilt-inducing than the Bring It On
-type shows. I am greatly ashamed by the three tears I shed during the Les Miz
movie, for instance. In the same way we all have that album or movie that we sat alone and cried through in our teenage years, there's a very private kind of feeling when responding emotionally to entertainment that isn't supposed to be deep. (I'm reminded of that Seinfeld
episode in which George cries over the old man at the end of Home Alone
This "supposed" to---that brings me back to trusting theatre. I think most plays and musicals are written with the intention to make you feel something
. I think most attempt to achieve some level of depth. And that's what's so great about theatre as a democratic art form. We're not at the whim of an editor or camera lens to decide what we pay attention and react to.
So, ultimately, is there a social stigma against having that profound reaction to mainstream, lowbrow-ish theatre? And if so, how does that manifest itself?
Well, I think it's different for artists. We are concerned about our street cred, which is bound up in whether or not we have good taste (as well as whether or not we're good at making art). If tourists love Aladdin
, that's awesome, but if I'm trying to get hired by a theatre or want to be respected by my colleagues and I publicly say I adore Aladdin
, now my reputation is on the line.
Exactly. It's hard work walking that line between honoring your own preferences, your gut, really, and making it clear to your peers and friends that you've, like, read Shaw.
Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite "guilty pleasures" shows and why? Geek out with us in the comments!
Photos by Joan Marcus.