The Response to the Tony Awards Shows That Show Business Is No Longer Business As Usual

More thoughts on Broadway and the state of theater in New York

That latter obligation supplies the key to what's missing: Apart from small and constantly struggling troupes like the Pearl, we have no resident theater company in New York, no band of artists prepared to test its mettle against classics and new plays in equal measure. Such companies have always had to fight for survival against New York's flood of marketing and fashion trends: Eva le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre was largely ignored; Orson Welles and John Houseman's Mercury Theatre succumbed to the lure of Hollywood; the APA found itself caught in the Broadway time-warp through its success with nostalgic Americana. None survived to become a permanent institution, but while they lived, they gave New York theater a substance and meaning that mere catering to the market could not provide. They also gave it Chekhov, Shaw, Molière, Pirandello, Marlowe, Giraudoux, Dekker, Ghelderode, Marc Blitzstein, Susan Glaspell, and George M. Cohan. And they did this, not as single elaborate events, but as what it is: the normal day's work of a theater.

I don't claim that this is possible in our time. I do know that some small groups are trying it, and that its existence would benefit everyone involved: testing actors, challenging directors and designers, setting the bar high for playwrights to extend their reach. And I know, too, that if made affordable (but how?), it would benefit a New York audience that has long since given up going to the theater, an audience not interested in fighting its way through ill-mannered tourist crowds to see old musicals redone cheaply and stars that it can see for free (or the cost of a Netflix download) on its home screen. The audience is ready; the artists are ready. What will the theater do?

Once upon a stage in New York: Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre
Courtesy Library of Congress
Once upon a stage in New York: Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre

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