Written By Melvin Tunstall III
TheaterMakers may find themselves in a contradictory position with the heralded return of Broadway. On one hand, we are thrilled to see marquees light up Times Square once more and our friends back on the boards. On the other hand, there is the frustration with the lack of availability of Broadway houses for new works to call home as productions from the stalled 2020 season just begin celebrating their opening nights.
So what does a TheaterMaker do whilst waiting for their dream Broadway house to become available?
Well, we THINK OUTSIDE OF THE (BLACK) BOX!
Site-specific productions can get theater out into the communities and engage with new audiences by bringing performances into spaces that they know and feel comfortable with. Several years ago, the Scottish Arts Council defined a site-specific production as a theatrical performance that “fully exploits the properties, qualities, and meanings of a given site.” The Arts Council further noted that “Even if it is feasible to stage a play in the traditional theatre setting, site-specific performance may be preferred as it reveals the complex two-way relationship between the person and the physical environment.”
This recent trend should come as no surprise after such acclaimed productions as Sammi Cannold’s Violet on a moving bus for A.R.T., Jacob Stuckleman’s Little Shop of Horrors in an operational flower shop, and Barrow Street Theater’s production of Sweeney Todd. For the latter, Barrow Street recreated Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop of London in the intimate 130-seat theater complete with former White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, once dubbed “The Crustmaster” by President Barack Obama, serving a freshly-made pre-show meal of pie and mash!
The Barrow Street Theatre was transformed into a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.
However, site-specific theater is nothing new. In Western theatre, the Futurists and Dadaists in the early 1900s to 1920s, the Happenings and Richard Schechner’s environmental theatre of the 1960s and ’70s, and the recent trend in immersive theatre from the 1990s onward have all grappled with activating unusual, nontheatrical spaces for theatrical experimentation.
As a traditionalist, I must admit I wasn’t a huge fan of immersive or site-specific theater. Give me a proscenium, footlights, and a cast of 30 tap-dancing away to the “Lullaby of Broadway” any day over being immersed in anything other than a theater.
Then I saw a production of I Am My Own Wife, Doug Wright’s Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play about infamous East German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.
Freshly interpreted by Amy Corcoran (Escape to Margaritaville, LaJolla Playhouse’s upcoming Bhangin It!), and dynamically staged in and among the furniture, art, clothing and taxidermy of RePOP, Williamsburg’s noted vintage shop, I finally understood not only the appeal, but the necessity of non-traditional theatrical spaces. The production taught me the powerful histories that can infuse even the most ordinary objects around us.
Are you considering a non-traditional space for your next production? Looking for more insight on how to transform your piece into an immersive experience? Then look no further than the THEATERMAKER SUMMIT 2021!
We are proud to announce our OUT OF THE BLACK BOX- Making Theater Not In A Theater panel with Jacob Stuckleman, Sammi Cannold and Eric Berryman!
Jacob Stuckelman is a Tony Award-nominated producer who focuses on sharing new and challenging stories that explore and excavate the darker corners of the human experience to make sense of them. Jacob continues to lead with equity and inclusion on and off stage as well as providing the opportunity to present new work in a collaborative environment. As a producer, Jacob is proud to have taken the lead on the first-ever site-specific production of Little Shop of Horrors inside Bool’s Flower Shop in 2019. From there, at the age of 22, Jacob went on to make his Broadway producing debut that summer with Sea Wall / A Life starring Academy Award® and Tony Award® nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and Tony Award® nominee Tom Sturridge. Since Jacob’s COVID-19 vaccination, he is currently the Consulting Producer on Broadway Rising, a feature-length documentary on the reopening of Broadway, directed by Amy Rice. Jacob is also one of the Producers of Douglas Carter Beane’s Fairycakes at the Greenwich House this October.
Director Sammi Cannold is one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment, class of 2019. Recent theater credits include Evita (New York City Center), Endlings (New York Theatre Workshop, A.R.T.), Ragtime on Ellis Island, Violet on a moving bus (A.R.T.), and Allegory (La Jolla Playhouse WOW). Upcoming projects include Carmen (Lincoln Center w. MasterVoices), a documentary film, and a feature film. Associate director credits include the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre… (dir. Rachel Chavkin). Sammi has also served as an Artistic Fellow at the A.R.T., a member of Cirque du Soleil’s Creative Cognoscenti, and a Sundance Institute Fellow and developed work with Playwrights Realm, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, New York Stage and Film, Cirque du Soleil, and Nickelodeon. She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. from Harvard University.
Eric Berryman is an NYC-based actor, writer, and producer originally from Baltimore, MD. His newest work ALIEN/NATION, the world premiere immersive theatrical experience in two parts from The Forest of Arden, was directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Michael Arden. Berryman was also seen in Steel Hammer directed by Anne Bogart and The Glory of the World directed by Les Waters both at BAM. He is a company member of the Everyman Theatre and One Year Lease. He has also trained and performed with the SITI Company. Select regional theater credits: Humana Festival; O’Neill National Playwrights Conference; The Guthrie Theater; The Kennedy Center; Penumbra Theatre; Hartford Stage; Ford’s Theatre; The Getty Villa; and InterAct Theatre. Film credits include the recently shot: Barry and After Louie. Eric graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts and holds a BFA in Acting from Carnegie Mellon University where he was awarded the Arthur Kennedy Acting Award and a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship. Eric is a Lessac Voice Practitioner.
With only a few days before ticket prices go up, now is the time to SECURE YOUR SPOT so you don’t miss out on what is sure to be one of our most insightful panels to date. You definitely want to be ON SITE for this one!
- Is Email Marketing Obsolete in 2021?
- Podcast Episode 17: How to Self Diagnose Your Script
- From The Founder: There’s a serious shortage of THIS in the theater industry (and why that’s a good thing)