Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Audiences Get into the Act - Literally

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Audiences Get into the Act - Literally

Article excerpt

Don't plan on dozing off at New York's interactive theater productions. You might just have to participate in one.

Audiences are briefly taking center stage in more than a dozen Broadway and off-Broadway shows such as "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour," "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding," and "Thwak." Even in the long-running musical "Cats," some of the actors who play felines mingle and "cat- er" (chatter) with audience members. And at the just-opened Broadway megamusical "Saturday Night Fever," theatergoers experience the inside of a dance club as a mirrored ball spins above their seats.

Aaron Frankel, a Broadway director and theater historian, says the recent upsurge of interactive shows is "partly a reaction to the seriousness of many of the Broadway plays in recent years, including revivals of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' and Eugene O'Neill's 'The Iceman Cometh.' "

Veteran Broadway press agent Adrian Bryan-Brown says that the audience participation that used to be a tradition at fairgrounds and vaudeville was lost once television arrived. This give-and-take is making a comeback in theater.

"I think the reinforcement of having a live experience like in 'Dame Edna' is what keeps the theater vital and what keeps it different," he says.

In the Broadway show "Dame Edna," the central character picks an audience member to incorporate into the show.

Recently, Dame Edna (played by Australian comedian Barry Humphries) invited Henry, a New York-area college professor and an avid theatergoer, up on stage. Dame Edna then phoned Henry's babysitter, who was home with his daughter.

While others might have been embarrassed, Henry says it was one of the high points of his theatergoing experience.

"I loved it. It was my birthday, and I loved being on stage. It was thrilling, something I'll never forget," he says.

But others cower in their plush seats as if trying to make themselves invisible.

"I loved the show but was scared the whole time she was going to call me. If I see it again, I'm going to sit in back of the theater," said one recent theatergoer.

Veteran producer Joe Corcoran, who's currently co-producing three interactive plays, including the long-running "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding," is seriously considering opening an interactive off- Broadway theater center to develop more such shows. He hopes that they might be co-produced by others around the country.

"The Spirit of Broadway," slated to open at the Lyceum Theatre next year, will have at least one interactive element. Because "Spirit" is also aimed at showcasing Broadway's heritage, audiences will tour backstage areas of the Lyceum, built in 1907, where the late producer Daniel Frohman lived in a rooftop apartment.

In "Epic Proportions," a behind-the-scenes look at the bit players in crowd scenes during filming of a silent movie, Tony Award- winner Kristin Chenoweth ("You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown") acknowledges the audience at the Helen Hayes Theater. …

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