Best Posts of 2018: A Broadway Fixer, The Fall of Rise, Actors’ Bodies, Immersive Pioneer Re-Emerges, Life Without Theater.

Below are the five best reads posted in 2018: an essay about actors’ bodies; a contemplation of what life would be like without theater; a profile of an engineer who fixes theater to make them safer and more comfortable; a look at both the television series  “Rise,” about a high school drama program, and the true-life book that inspired it; an interview with an artist who makes the case for public funding of the arts;  and an article about the re-emergence of a pioneering immersive theater.

But let’s begin with five of the best-read posts of 2018, all of which were posted previously, going back as far as six years, and the 10 theater reviews that were most popular in 2018.

Five Perennial Favorites

These posts went up before 2018, but this year continued to be the most widely read

The 50 Best Plays of the Past 100 Years
Broadway’s Most Entertaining Shows About Serious Social Issues
Broadway’s Best Dance Numbers
Which character are you in Hamilton?
Social Media On Stage: Theater Meets Twitter,Facebook,Youtube, Tumbler, Soundcloud…

10 Best-Read Theater Reviews in 2018

Then She Fell
A Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish
James Franco and Me
Stars in the Night
Be More Chill
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin
The Fire This Time Festival 2018
The Band’s Visit
Escape to Margaritaville

Five Best Reads from 2018

A Broadway Fixer, Keeping Theatergoers Safe and Comfortable

Most people picture Frozen at left. Charlie Copeland (center) thinks of the piping that cools the stage at the St. James Theater (right)

Charlie Copeland is a Broadway fixer, who’s worked on everything from “The Phantom of the Opera” to “Frozen,” tangibly changing the experience for a generation of theatergoers. Copeland is not a director or a writer. He hasn’t even attended some of the shows that he’s fixed.

Copeland is an engineer, the president of Goldman Copeland, a New York City engineering firm celebrating its 50th anniversary. The work he and his firm have done for New York theaters won’t win any Tony Awards. Audiences don’t notice it. But they feel it.

“A lot of Broadway theaters have challenges because they’re old,” Copeland says. “It’s a comfort issue.” It can also be a safety issue….Your boredom or restlessness at a show may be largely due not to the acting, but the ventilation.

Are Actors’ Bodies Part of the Show, Or Off Limits?

Once again, the issue is raised: Is it always wrong to consider the actors’ bodies – and if so, why do so many people do it? How guilty should theater critics – and casting agents and directors and theatergoers — feel for seeing a performer’s appearance as an integral part of the show?
Several recent and current plays and musicals in New York have addressed this issue head on, often unintentionally.

A Room In India: If all theatre were abolished, would anybody care?

Seear Kohi, Arman Saribekyan and Hélène Cinque in A Room in India

“If all theatres were demolished tomorrow, would anybody miss them, and for how long?”

Several characters said that at different times throughout A Room in India, a theatre piece that had a run last month in New York at the Park Avenue Armory.

One could take this as an ironic comment, because the show, devised by the Parisian-based company Théâtre du Soleil, was a gorgeous, ambitious, and almost literally overwhelming argument for theatrical vitality—a four-hour scattershot variety show of theatrical genres, styles, and tones. These ranged from modern absurdist comedy, melodrama, and cartoonish political satire to Japanese Kabuki and extensive scenes from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. Both Shakespeare and Chekhov also made an appearance—two of more than 100 characters, performed by ensemble members reportedly of twenty-six nationalities, speaking six languages (accompanied by English surtitles.)

And yet for all the richness of theatrical expression from the past and present, the anxiety about theatre’s future was threaded throughout the piece…


Rise Falls: “Opening Night” Episode is the NBC Series Finale

RISE — “Opening Night” Episode 110 — Pictured: (l-r) Auli’i Cravalho as Lilette Suarez, Damon J. Gillespie as Robbie Thorne — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Now that the hard-working, good-looking students of Stanton High School in dreary Stanton, Pennsylvania have put on the musical “Spring Awakening”  in the season finale of “Rise,” it will be the last show they ever do. NBC has canceled the TV series. Lou Mazzuchelli, the drama teacher played by Josh Radnor, will disappear from your TV after only two months and ten episodes — unless another network picks up the show for a second season.

But Lou Volpe lives on. For more than four decades, until his recent retirement, Volpe had been the director of the drama program at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania; he and his program were the subject of a non-fiction book that inspired the TV series. “Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater” was written five years ago by Michael Sokolove, a journalist who had attended the high school, where he was one of Lou Volpe’s students.
The names of the teacher, the town, the high school, and the students have all been changed in the series (as has Lou’s sexual orientation – Lou Volpe is gay; Lou Mazzuchelli was given a wife and three kids.) But “Rise” has taken its cue from the real-life stories to a remarkable degree….

THE AЯTS: The beautiful, bold and Constitutional case for public funding

David Wojnarowicz

The Culture Wars in America began on May 18, 1989, according to a new show entitled “THE AЯTS” that launches the new season at La MaMa, when Senator Al D’Amato of New York ripped up an art gallery catalogue on the floor of the Senate, and Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina called artists jerks.

They were attacking individuals such as performance artists Karen Finley and David Wojnarowicz, and photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, because the National Endowment for the Arts had funded their provocative work.

“Something happened to us after that,” says Kevin Doyle.  “We’ve forgotten the bold, beautiful arguments that created the NEA and the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] in the first place.”…“I look at arts funding as a table with four legs – funding by the federal government, by the state and city, corporate funds, and private donations. In the cultural wars, the Republicans were kicking out one leg of that table – the federal funding. Once they kicked out that leg, you saw corporations pull back, and states cut back. A table cannot stand on one leg. We need to fight back.”…

Immersive Theater Pioneer En Garde Arts Re-Emerges

Red Hills, 2018. Sifiso Mabena and the moon

The latest show presented by En Garde Arts, “Red Hills,” a play about the Rwandan genocide, takes place on the entire empty ninth floor of an office building in the Financial District, as I write in  my article for TDF Stages about “Red Hills” … “Red Hills” comes 33 years after En Garde’s first shows, which were then called site-specific; they took place in empty streets and abandoned buildings throughout New York, as you can see in this photo gallery. In hindsight, they’ve been labeled immersive, and there’s more on the way.

Founded in 1985 by Ann Hamburger, a then recent graduate of Yale School of Drama, En Garde attracted a Who’s Who of avant-garde collaborators in its first 15 years, some of whom went on to mainstream success…


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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