My love of theater began in 10th grade when my high school choir took our annual day trip to New York City to see a matinee of Wicked. This was not my first Broadway show- that honor went to Chicago a couple years prior, but it was the first show that completely mesmerized me. Cheesy as it sounds, I can say with absolute certainty that that performance of Wicked changed my life.
After that day, I started bugging my parents to take me back to the city to see more shows, and long weekends in NYC started replacing our Jersey shore beach vacations. When I got to college a few years later, I started supplementing those family trips with my own weekend trips to the city, hopping the cheap, student-friendly Megabus (or, as I fondly refer to it, Ghettobus) from Boston to New York. I lost count of how many times I made that trip during my four years at BU, but I never once regretted the long, 4+ hour rides (or 6+ if it was snowing, like the night of Spring Awakening closing) because they allowed me to squeeze in as many shows as possible. Early on in college, my best friend and theater partner-in-crime Rachel and I discovered the art of the “24-hour trip,” where we would leave Boston bright and early at 6am, making sure to get McDonalds breakfast at South Station before boarding the bus, get into the city in time for lunch and a matinee, grab dinner, see an evening show, and head back on a midnight bus, getting back to Boston around 4am. It was easy and economical- no need to find somewhere to stay, and no need to bring anything with us except our student IDs to buy rush tickets. As the years went on and I became lucky enough to cultivate a wonderful group of theater-loving friends, all of whom I met through shows in some way, the 24-hour whirlwind getaways slowly turned into full weekends and, now that I live across the country, mini vacations. While some people plan NY trips around food, shopping, or sightseeing, I schedule the entire thing around theater. When should I travel to incorporate the most two-show days and allow for the maximum number of performance slots to be filled? Friends want to see me? Well, they can join me for the show or we can grab dinner pre-show or drinks post-show. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What I love about theater and why it’s different from watching a movie or a TV show is that each performance is a unique moment in time that will never be replicated. It is shared between the performers and the audience, and although the same show is often performed 8 times a week, no two performances are identical. The flip side to that is that these moments cannot be relived. A favorite TV show can be rewatched, paused, and rewound, but theater requires you to be completely present. As a self-proclaimed champion multitasker, that’s a rare feeling for me.
This brings me to the question I receive regularly: why do you see the same show multiple times? There are over 20 shows I have seen more than once. This list ranges from musicals like In the Heights and Avenue Q that I’ve seen twice to shows like Spring Awakening and American Idiot, my two sentimental favorites, which I have seen 13 times and 28 times, respectively. Yes, you read that correctly. While Wicked was the show that got me interested in theater, Spring Awakening was the show that made me realize what theater can be. That show is responsible for some of my fondest theater memories and led me to either meet or become closer to some of my closest friends. American Idiot was a show that entered my life during the summer I fulfilled a lifelong dream of living in New York, and it really struck a chord with me. I saw the show over half a dozen times that summer, and then again each time I returned to New York during my senior year of college, at which point my weekend and day trips were occurring basically monthly. The Broadway part of my Idiot journey ended, appropriately, during my last NY trip before moving to Los Angeles, with the closing performance (and surprise hour-long Green Day concert that followed, but that’s a story for another post). In 2012, I was lucky enough to spend more time with the show when the touring production spent 6 weeks in my new home on the west coast.
I continue to see these shows and love them every time because just like every theater performance is a unique moment, every individual performance of each show is a unique moment. In particular, American Idiot’s high octane, head-banging nature led to a lot of injured actors, so I have seen a lot of understudies play the different roles, and I love seeing different performers’ takes on the show. I can remember something unique from every performance of the show I have seen. During one performance in Los Angeles, so many cast members were injured and sick that the show was down an actress. The show had never been performed with 5 girls instead of 6 before, so even though I’d seen the show 20 times at that point, I truly did not know what would happen next as the performers split tracks and covered for each other, making it a very memorable night.
Yes, I have spent a lot of money on theater over the past 9 years. I once added up the amount of money I spent on shows during that summer I lived in New York and it was borderline frightening (although, I will say, my per-show average was impressively low). But it’s something I love, and therefore I have made it a priority, often above things like buying new clothes (although those are awesome) or going to the movies. It’s important to note that theater can be very affordable. With a student ID (thank you, BU, for not putting dates on IDs, so I can continue to reap those benefits until my age betrays me), some willingness to plan things last minute, knowledge of the various discount ticket websites, and a bit of luck, anyone can enjoy live theater without breaking the bank.
I am going to end this with a quote from actress Sherie Renee Scott that probably sums up why I love theater more than I ever could. And we will just ignore the little dig at television, which is certainly awesome in its own way and definitely not the career path I’ve chosen or anything.
“That’s the scary thing about theater- it doesn’t live on. But that’s actually the most beautiful thing about it, too. That’s why it’s more beautiful than film and certainly more beautiful than television, because it’s like life. Real life. Any picture that you take or any video that you make of yourself is not really you, it’s only an image that represents the experience you had. In theater, the process of it is the experience. Everyone goes through the process, and everyone has the experience together. It doesn’t last- only in people’s memories and in their hearts. That’s the beauty and sadness of it. But that’s life- beauty and the sadness. And that is why theater is life.”