Letter From the Editor
I’ve always prided myself as a bit of a soothsayer, visionary, a creator of worlds for my community and clients. And with one of my worlds being dark at the moment, anything pertaining to in-person performing arts, I thought I’d ask the legendary visionary Nate Patten on the future of Broadway and things to come.
Zoltar Speaks: We’re Coming Back, Baby
Broadway Is Going To Open Immediately & Everything’s Going To Be Fine With No Problem Whatsoever: A Treatise By the Disenfranchised Nate Patten
Full disclosure: I’m not a writer. I work on Broadway so, let’s be honest, it’s only by the grace of God I can read. What I am, however, is a gay, progressive-curious, moderate who graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Spanish who has spent the last 14 years working as a Music Director on The Great White Way but now gives piano lessons to four year olds. I’m also known for being the host of a popular satire podcast called “Booked It: A Broadway Musician’s Guide to Theatre, Facebook, and Being #Grateful”. Please subscribe to me and help me heal the wounds of my past. But more importantly, I must ask… “What makes me equipped in any capacity to talk about the future of the theatre industry?” Well, I’m on Facebook all day and I’m a theatre artist, so I feel utterly confident to talk about topics I know nothing about.
And speaking of not knowing anything, we are experiencing a time filled with so many unanswered questions. When will Broadway reopen? Will tourists feel comfortable coming to New York? How long until Caitlin Jenner is playing a role in Chicago? I guess to speak on the future of Broadway seems a little absurd since we don’t know the future of anything and, realistically, the success of Broadway is going to depend on many outside factors: tourism, the economy, the distribution of the vaccine, and whether or not Aaron Tveit will lose the Tony Award despite being nominated against no one else. There are countless articles (including now this one) predicting what the future of the industry has in store, and many contradict each other, but they all have one thing in common: they are all, at best, a guess. The New York Times named 2020 one of the four most “eventful years” in American history along with 1865, 1945, and 1968, coincidentally the last three times Glenda Jackson was on Broadway before last season. But despite the fact that my Quiznos VIP membership has now rolled over into 2021, we are still very much in the same mess we were in last year. Trying to get a good handle on what’s happening would be like the passengers of the Titanic writing the screenplay for the film while they were still getting into the lifeboat.
Oh and speaking of lifeboats, there isn’t one, at least not for anyone who previously made a living tap dancing. Artists across the country are shocked and outraged that there’s no federal funding for them. And they’ve even taken to doing what any rational person would do in an emergency: camping out in Times Square holding cardboard signs and singing songs from Rent that were originally intended to be about the AIDS crisis. They demand “financial support” for arts workers during this unprecedented time. Although, frankly, I’m not really sure what financial support to actors, musicians, painters, etc. would even look like. “Artist” is about as vague of a term as I’ve ever heard. Is the federal government supposed to provide financial aid to anyone that merely calls themselves an artist? That means whether you’re Scott Rudin or making an origami duck in your basement you’re supposed to be entitled to some form of compensation. But here’s the hard to swallow pill…we’re all freelancers. This is the ultimate gamble you take when you freelance: there’s no guarantee to be taken care of or provided for in a crisis. The only way to provide viable support for theatre artists is to reopen theatres. And as I said before, there’s no way to predict what the scene will look like when it reopens.
But I may as well try. So when Broadway sputters back to life, what the hell IS going to happen? Well I guess now is when I give my own predictions. Although I should caution you, my predictions mean nothing. Trying to predict the direction of this industry is like shaking a Magic 8 Ball… “Will Kevin Spacey come back to Broadway in a revival of Our Town? All signs point to No.”, but I’ll try. After this period of shutdown and a cultural reckoning on Broadway (that’s a separate article), we are going to see a resurgence of two things in a particularly intense way: well known, “beloved” titles and uproarious comedy. I know there is an inclination by many to think we are going to see an explosion of political, angry, woke theatre (and I suspect it will arrive, but less commercially successfully). In times of crisis, people long to connect to what feels like home to them. And theatrically speaking, that means Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Lion King, Chicago. Audiences initially will want to feel comfortable, safe, and at ease and that will happen with Christmas shows (Elf, A Christmas Story/Carol, Suzanne Somers’ Christmas Workout Onstage at the Lyceum) and family favorites (The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and The Sound of Music). In short: anything that makes us remember life before March 2020. Similarly, we have experienced such collective grief in the past year that a resurgence of comedy seems almost inevitable (although I think this will take a minute). And, with the ever ominous “cancel culture” looming overhead, even some of the most fearless comedians are understandably timid right now. Even pre-Covid, the last slew of Best Musical winners have been (while all brilliant in their own ways) about as funny as Schindler’s List: (in reverse order) Hadestown, Band’s Visit, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, and Fun Home. The last comedy to win Best Musical was “A Gentlemen’s Guide To Love and Murder” in 2014, so it is time for a return to the days of the big, fast, funny musical comedy.
I sense the Broadway community has a fantasy in its head that we will one day throw open the blinds and exalt, “Guys! It’s over! We’re back on tonight. Drinks afterwards at Buffalo Wild Wings!” But sadly, the more realistic scenario is that Broadway will open slowly, probably starting with (big f*ckin’ surprise!!) Hamilton and then slowly adding the other big mega-hits one at a time. And then the other shows, if they return at all, will follow. It’s worth noting that nobody knew when the Dark Ages had ended until we looked back at it centuries later. There won’t be a specific point in time that was “the moment” Broadway reopened. It will have been over time. It’ll only be when we are too busy running to beat the bathroom line at the Golden Theatre that we, at least for a second, might not even remember this time happened.
Oh, but what do I know? I can barely read.