As with so many other blogs and websites these first weeks of 2017, we thought we’d take just a few minutes to share our Top Tens of 2016. We’ve seen a lot of changes to the StageAgent site, increased the number of new and updated guides featured on the site, and had some record-breaking traffic this year. And we are looking forward to many new and exciting things in the New Year! So without further ado, here are some 2016 Top Ten Lists, based on the highest number of unique pageviews in each category for the year. Some of the results may surprise you. Read on!
As anyone who goes to the theater on a regular basis knows, it is not always the cheapest pastime to have. You might want to see the latest smash hit, or maybe a fringe production that has received rave reviews. But, unless, you are rolling in money, what are the best ways to visit the theater on a budget?
In 2015, Broadway had 13.32 million* visitors to its theaters, while London’s West End saw 14.7 million† theater-goers coming through its doors. But with ticket prices continually on the increase, audience members are paying more and more. The average ticket price in the West End last year was £42.99, while the average price for a Broadway show was $103.11. However there are several ways to get to the theater regularly on the most modest of budgets and I have compiled some top tips, designed to protect your purse but continue to increase your love of theater!
Don’t Be Put Off by the Cheaper Seats
Of course the cheaper tickets offer good value and the opportunity to see a show we might not otherwise be able to afford. However, they are still expensive, and let’s face it, we’ve all experienced this–a production of Wicked in London almost ten years ago cost me a pretty big sum of money for two tickets, which allowed me to gaze at the top of tiny people’s heads for two hours. Sure, the music is amazing and the experience was brilliant, but I was frustrated by the limited view on the very back row of the Upper Circle (aka, the Balcony) in a particularly large theater.
However, I have since realized that, if you are savvy, the cheaper tickets can work to your advantage and here is how.
Check out the size of the theater:
It’s not much to do the math: the cheapest ticket in a large theater will probably result in you being sat in the gods, BUT if you consider the smaller theaters, a cheaper ticket may actually result in a good view and the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t spent the earth. Having figured this out, a birthday trip to see One Man, Two Guvnors in London’s West End two years ago resulted in brilliant front row circle seats (in a small theater) with an excellent view and over half the price of the stalls.
Consider what ‘restricted view’ really means
Many seats are cheaper because they are listed as restricted view. However, most of the time, this does not mean that you lose a large proportion of the view. Instead you may lose the very top of an elevated head (case in point: the floating singers in Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or lose characters behind a flat two seconds earlier than those in the stalls.
Pay What You Can
In addition to looking at the cheapest tickets available, also keep an eye out for any Pay What You Can (PWYC) schemes. Some theaters run these, normally on a matinee or Sunday, and they offer a limited number of seats for an affordable donation. However, you have to be quick, as these tickets are first come, first sold!
Check Out Local Theater Schools or Drama Schools
If you are fortunate to live near a good drama college or university with a theater course, take a look at their graduate shows. These up and coming performers produce outstanding, professional shows as the culmination of a lot of hard work and training. If they are open to the public, these shows are a great way of seeing a production of quality at a reduced price. One of the best colleges in the UK to offer public graduate shows is the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Their graduate productions of Spring Awakening (my first time seeing it) and Cabaret (definitely not my first time) were not only great shows, but also served as a reminder of what talent there is in the next generation of actors.
Discover the Festivals
Now, of course, going to a performing arts festival is not necessarily a cheap option. Some of the biggest and most well-known festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offer a wide variety of different plays, musicals, comedy etc in differing price brackets. Yes, many productions still cost a large amount but, equally, you can stumble across well-known classics performed affordably as a fringe show. However, if you choose to go to a larger festival, don’t be afraid to put in the research and go in with an open mind. For a couple of dollars, or possibly even for free, you may well discover a piece of performance that astounds the senses and makes you think differently about the theatrical experience. The Rhubarb Festival in the heart of Toronto is a perfect example of the opportunity to experience new writing that aims to explore contemporary theatrical discourse, and produce innovative and exciting pieces of work.
If You Can, Be Flexible in Your Dates/Times
For the most part, prime seats in the stalls are going to be just as expensive on a Saturday night as on a Wednesday matinee, BUT there are potentially more opportunities to upgrade your ticket when the house is only half full. Now, this will not always happen, particularly if you’re going to a show during peak tourist season, but I have had several experiences where my back row ticket has been exchanged for a much better seat in the middle of the week. Often, if only a couple of tickets have been sold in the upper circle/circle, theaters will close this area off and upgrade you to the next level down. Several years ago, my circle ticket for Oliver! at the Theater Royal Drury Lane, London, was exchanged for a seat in the centre of the stalls, row G. Thank you very much! This also happened during Singin’ in the Rain and La Cage aux Folles, so it definitely was not a fluke, although it is by no means a fool proof method!
Although these tips cannot guarantee a cheaper ticket, every little helps in making a trip to the theater more affordable on a limited budget. Because, after all, we all need more theater in our lives!
All who appreciate good theatre have been given a once-in-a-lifetime gift in the past 18 months, and that gift is Hamilton. In case you live under a rock, yet somehow are reading the StageAgent blog, Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton, a man who was never President of the United States but was just as influential as any in the birth of our nation. Hamilton created our financial systems, the Coast Guard, The New York Post, and was named the first Secretary of Treasury in the United States. Oh yeah, and about 240 years later, some guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a hip-hop musical about him. And it won all the awards. We’ve made up awards to keep giving to this show, just to show how grateful we are. In the time it took me to write the last sentence, it picked up two more.
I kid, but seriously, the hype is real. A true but mostly-untold story, Mr. Miranda (along with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler; director Thomas Kail; musical director Alex Lacamoire; and author of the book, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow), wrapped a semi-biography in the language of this generation—in rap and hip-hop. And Miranda had the vision to tell the story with actors who traditionally would never cross lines of race or gender, so that it can speak to a contemporary teenager who may feel completely disconnected from the founding fathers. And it works beautifully. The bar for excellence has been raised sky-high in the way that great artists have always done.
Hamilton shows its protagonists not as we idealize them to be, but as what they are: people. Fallible people, honest people, hard-working people, desperate people, hungry people. A group of men and women trying to do something nearly impossible—birth a new nation in a new land, with new rules of governance, without a motherland to support them. The country was founded in blood, sweat, slavery. For better or worse, the freedoms we enjoy today are built on this foundation. We shouldn’t look at the Founders as superheroes in powdered wigs, but as humans, sometimes deeply flawed, sometimes incredibly inspiring. Hamilton gives us this opportunity.
Uh…I thought this was supposed to be about Camelot…
I’m getting there. Camelot arrived on Broadway (the first time) in 1960, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. Written by Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe and Moss Hart, Camelot is the story of Arthur, and his journey from foolish teenager to King. (I don’t really have to give you the plot of Camelot, do I? Moving on.)
Camelot is a story of inspiration, of reaching for the stars. It is widely known that President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of the show, and would often listen to the cast album before he went to bed at night in the White House. He was particularly fond of the closing lyrics:
Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.
The Kennedy Administration was often referred to as the “Camelot Era.” Idealistic, hopeful, ever-striving for the next goal. When America truly entered the “Space Race,” it was Kennedy who said:
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others too.”
King Arthur was idealistic too. Perhaps a bit naïve, but hopeful. In his powerful speech closing Act One, Arthur says:
“This is the time of King Arthur, and we reach for the stars! This is the time of King Arthur, and violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness. We are civilized.”
Camelot, of course, is about some other things that aren’t so inspiring. And it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. Arthur fails his mission to keep the peace in the kingdom, war has come to his doorstep—war caused by an adulterous affair between his Queen and Lancelot, spurred on by Arthur’s bastard son (he was no saint, I suppose). But even as the battle is upon him, Arthur turns to a young boy who has come to join the fight, and instead sends him to hide, to live, and to tell the story that for one moment, however brief, there was a glorious kingdom known as Camelot.
Back here in our universe, it’s been an interesting month or so, to say the least. And many of us find ourselves in an uncertain world. It’s a good time to be reminded that it’s always the right time to do the right thing. Arthur didn’t want to sit at the head of a table, he wanted it round, so that all were equal even though he was King. He wanted a world governed by reason, about what was right, not who was mighty. He had a partner in Guenevere, not a subordinate, but an equal.
Throughout history, art has reflected the time in which it was created, whether it serves as a mirror for the present, a reminder of days long gone, or a glimpse into the future. Those who appreciate art often look to it for guidance, or inspiration. Hamilton gives a gritty edge to what has often been a whitewashed history lesson. Camelot presents a magical, idealistic take on the rules of governance. If ever there was a time to have both shows running on Broadway, I think now is that time.
Besides, who doesn’t want to hear Audra McDonald sing Guenevere?
Standing on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, after a quiet Sunday matinee of Hamilton, I looked out into the gilded, empty house, and thought, “What would Hamilton think of ALL THIS?” As a self-proclaimed history lover (my friends and I picked presidential boyfriends in the 10th grade, because we were that serious about American history,) I wondered how this influential, almost-forgotten founding father would feel about his city today, and his long-awaited legacy turned fame.
On a week-long pilgrimage to Manhattan to catch up with friends and theatre, Hamilton was as prevalent in real life conversation as it is on my daily Facebook feed—people snapchatting themselves lip-synching to the soundtrack, others drinking Hamilton-branded wine, or posting choirs covering “My Shot.” The obsession is real, and it’s spreading like bubonic plague.
As an industry professional who has chosen a life in non-profit theatre because I don’t believe we’re all in this game to meet the bottom line, I can’t quite wrap my head around the the fact that people are now wearing snap brim hats that read A.HAM not ironically. My first night in town I waited at the stage door to ride the train home with a friend in the cast. I thought to myself, “Why is there a fifty year old man standing in a planter box waiting for a glimpse of these people he doesn’t even know? Why are people screaming SO loudly? WHY CAN’T I JUST WALK ON THE SIDEWALK!?” I’d never seen a stage door so reminiscent of a Hollywood red carpet. And they’re all here to watch a play. I’m dumbfounded.
If you didn’t catch Hamilton when it was downtown, or you don’t have a connection or several hundred dollars, you probably won’t see this “game changing” piece of theater for another year or two — capitalism and social hierarchy rule Broadway. Consider the $1000 A. Ham paid to keep his affair a secret — that’s about half of what an actor will make for an entire Off-Broadway run at a theatre just a few streets over from the Richard Rogers. It’s our industry’s manifestation of the capitalist economic structure that Alexander Hamilton built!
The wild success of Hamilton has left most producers too scared to move their shows to Broadway until after Hamilton sweeps the Tony’s. While Lin-Manuel Miranda and his cast are in the midst of taking “Their Shot,”plenty of Broadway bound shows, actors, stage managers and designers are in limbo: waiting for work, waiting for their show’s shot at success in the commercial sector. “Every action has its equal opposite reaction,” and this Hamilton fever hits home for a lot of us—and most of us can’t even see the cultural phenomena that’s changing our industry!
A musical for a new generation of School House Rock fans, the show touches on major plot points in American History in a magically lyrical poeticism Alexander would appreciate. The mashups of beat boxing, R&B melodies, and traditional Broadway underscoring, elegantly mirror Hamilton’s own poetry, and beliefs. Hamilton introduces us to a hopefully romantic man who wrote eloquent verse about hurricanes, but spoke his mind, no matter the consequences to his career. Luckily for Miranda, this is one of the best plots a writer can ask for: an immigrant orphan with a fierce drive to succeed moves up in the ranks, builds a country almost overnight and then to ruins himself with infidelity and die in a duel to a rival of fifteen years. In love with two different women who happen to be sisters? Even better. And thanks to this new hip (hop) version of history told in a contemporary American voice by people that look like all of us, maybe some of the high schoolers flying from all over the country for a three hour musical history lesson will go home an look up the Federalist Papers, and have a better understanding democracy.
A few days before watching the show, I took my friend to the Trinity Church graveyard to see Hamilton’s grave. He and his family are buried across the street from a discount shoe store, just five miles from his hit musical biography — capitalism at its finest. My friend looked at the monument and said “Wow, I had no idea he was so young.” And I scoffed, “Yeah, he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.” And in that moment, I realized Hamilton wasn’t written for me — I wanted more Revolutionary War grit and gore than the Broadway glitz and glam of backup dancers in tight pants and endless color scrollers. Hamilton was written to inspire new generations of history lovers and theater goers (two things I can get behind). Not only is it a tribute to the man, (and more importantly his wife who spent fifty tireless years preserving her late husband’s memory and repairing his reputation, only to die before his biography was published) – it’s a love letter to New York and to the birth of our country.
Eventually, the show will tour, but the sentiment “How lucky we are to be alive right now, in the greatest city in the world,” won’t be quite as potent outside of Manhattan. Because in those moments of the show you realize you’re not the first person who’s hoped that “in New York you can be a new man”, and when the city inevitably devours you, you know you weren’t the first, and won’t be the last. We all want to be “in the room where IT happens,” because –
like Alexander Hamilton – we were born with the American Dream — we will work harder, do better, achieve more, and (fingers crossed) be remembered.That is part of the phenomenon —everyone wants the underdog to win, and most of us identify with A. Ham on some level, and we just want to change the world.
Even though we are currently in the middle of Autumn, it’s never to early to start planning for the big Spring or Summer musical! If you are working with a large group of performers, it can be a massive challenge finding the right show that provides cameos for everyone, is of the appropriate level of difficulty and entertains the audience.
To help with your search for the perfect big musical with a large cast, here are 10 great musicals that require large casts of talented performers. These shows are all fun, challenging and typically, big audience pleasers! Click on a slide to open up our full guide for that show.