Ass You Like It
The onstage seats at the Broadway hit Spring Awakening come in two types: the ass seats and the boob seats. For the bargain price of $31.25, two dozen lucky theatergoers each night get a unique view on not only the show itself, but also a serious gander (for those stage right) of actress Lea Michele's breasts, or a tasty gaze (for those stage left) of Jonathan Groff's rear end. Could this be why tickets for these seats aren't available until May?
On a recent Wednesday night at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, a group of onstage audience members arrived to fill the chairs on either side of the spare, evocative set. (The musical, based on Frank Wedekind's play, takes place in Germany in the 1890s and tells the story of a group of teenagers exploring sexuality and love.) Onstage ticketholders were first directed to a locker bay next to the concession stand, where they were required to stow jackets, purses, and anything that could be a distraction to the rest of the audience or the actors. "You'll receive your Playbill after the show!" the usher shouted, pacing the floor. "Cell phones need to be turned off and put in the locker!" The audience, feeling a bit naked themselves now without their things, slowly trickled onto the stage via staircases leading up to either the ass side or boob side and took their assigned places in hard wooden chairs.
The minimalist set features a raised center platform painted with a leafless tree; framed family portraits and landscape paintings hang from surrounding brick walls. A seven-piece rock band readied itself in back, beside a large chalkboard scribbled with song titles. And in front of the stage, hundreds of eyes stared expectantly. "Do you have a cell phone?" a forgetful boob-seater asked the person next to him, wanting to call down to a friend in the audince he was waving at.
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An usher wearing a jacket, tie, and dour expression walked onstage to announce the rules: No standing, no moving around, and no changing seats for a better view. Everyone shifted one last time, trying to get comfortable, jealously eyeing the people in the house, who appeared far more relaxed and happy, sprawled out in their cushioned seats and chatting to one another.
The actorsboys in school uniforms and girls in dressestook their places among the onstage chairs, mixing with the audience. The sides went dark, and the opening scene between Michele's character, Wendla, and her mother began. As Wendla tries to get her mother to talk about sex (a taboo topic in 19th-century Germany), people in the house laughed and clapped. But most of the onstage audience remained silent and stone-faced for their Broadway debuts, perhaps overly concerned with all those warnings the usher had given.
JoAnnaa 28-year-old boob-seater with waist-length ponytail, glasses, jeans, and a polo shirt that advertised The Scarlet Pimpernelstared straight ahead with her hands in her lap. She did not want to give her last name for this story because she was fearful that the ushers knew too much about her already: It was her 14th time onstage (27th visit overall), and she planned to return 40 more times before the end of April. "Some people you see shifting around and changing positions and stuff. I don't," she said with the sort of pride that, truthfully, better befits a Tony winner than a boob-seater.
At intermission, Sandy Radnovich and her boyfriend, David Taylor, a peppy couple who didn't want to give their ages ("just put old," she said), rushed to the locker bay to check their phone messages. Neither was aware that they had such good boob seats before the show, not to mention a solid view of Groff lifting Michele's dress to hit her butt with a stick. "I was like, 'Don't look, they're getting undressed,'" Radnovich said, glaring sideways at her date.
"It helps keep you awake," Taylor acknowledged.
"I guess if you were sitting in the audience there were parts you wouldn't necessarily see, but that we're seeing because we're behind. You know what I mean?!"
"They can't see that?" Taylor asked.
"Where he's beating her with a stick, I don't think they would have gotten a rear view there if you were in the front row. And the last scenewe saw all of that." "That" being a reference to the first-act climax, in which Groff and Michele simulate sex with such professional skill that teenagers and adults in the house could be seen blushing.
As intermission wound down, Matt Kleinman, 28, in a plain shirt and jeans, was standing near JoAnna, waiting to return to his seat, It was his 13th time seeing Spring Awakening. "It's a lot more fun up there," he said. "The first time I sat up there I was probably self-conscious, but not anymore." JoAnna said she notices people who seem uncomfortable during the sex scene. "It's not like you're seeing something dirty," she said. "If you've seen it often enough, you don't have to look at every single thing every single time. It's like, OK, I can look at the lights today."
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