Friday, March 9, 2012

The Speakeasies of Theatre.

I recently had the pleasure of partaking in an interesting evening  Yes, theatre.  We'll call it that, though that doesn't seem to cover the full scope.  I attended a small theatre collective/think-tank, EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR's (EPBB) new production of THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER by Jeff Whitty (the bookwriter from AVENUE Q) and directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar.

It had actors, some set, some costumes, props, and witty dialogue.  But so do a lot of plays.

What this play had that set it apart from all the others, was atmosphere.  No, it wasn't in a gorgeous theatre or a huge arts complex that touts a Barnes & Noble.  It was in a loft apartment in midtown Manhattan, off the beaten path of the glitz and glean of Broadway shows.

You first must hear about EPBB's show - generally thru the grapevine (as the best speakeasies operate, mind you), and then must RSVP as though going to a select party.  On the night of, you find yourself at an apartment complex of sorts amongst gas stations and warehouses.  You are greeted at the gate by a member of the collective, who checks to see if you are on the list, and then you are sent to the next door, up a flight of stairs.  You knock on the door.  And enter.

All they are missing is a password.

The team at EPBB provide each guest with a glass of wine as you watch this new work being performed and are served a delicious vegan stew with beer bread as the night's meal at intermission.  There is a $10-20 suggested donation (very reasonable considering a full-length play and meal was provided, and you can bring wine/dessert to share if you would like for the post-show party).

Like any good speakeasy up to 'snuff (or Jack Daniels), EPBB not only provides the above, but also the conversations and merriment of a real good party.  I chatted with the couple next to me, finding neutral ground, then I met the doorman and discussed his future plans, but best of all was meeting the actors as they mingled during intermission.   The environment made the whole experience more like a bunch of friends getting together to have a party - and oh yeah, let's throw in a play.

And I mean that in the best way possible, the show was a high caliber production, but what really shined was the atmosphere.

Somehow, amidst the media frenzy, the social media overload, and the advertisement excess, EPBB managed to get back to what theatre is really about: a communal experience completely unique and never reproducible.

Sure, you could go on another night, but will you have the same experience?  No.  But that is the brilliance of it.

Best of all, in a city where everyone seems to know everything, EPBB manages to make New Yorkers (and out of towners, too) feel like they are truly part of the in-crowd, the cool kids, the in-the-know, and an exclusive group -  like a speakeasy of sorts.

-You are interested in alternative models for theatre.
-You want an intimate, interactive experience.
-You want the in-crowd feeling at the theatre.
-You want a great show and meal on a budget.

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