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Blackout, Blackout!

In my last post, I investigated the notion of “fandom” and ultimately concluded that while I don’t fan-girl over a single celebrity or Broadway star, I do have an obsession with theatre as a whole and the with the magical and transformative experience that collaboration fosters. If you missed it and want to read the full post, click here: https://broadwayplus.com/we-love-you-conrad/ 

And then, of course, just as I thought my investigation was closed, on July 13th, Manhattan’s West Side was thrust into a massive blackout, with its effect on Broadway supporting, yet also complicating my previous conclusion. Thus, I decided it would be only fair that I reopen my investigation. 

Get ready as The Plus Side now investigates… “The Blackout.”

The recent power outage in New York eerily occurred on the 42nd anniversary of the 1977 blackout, during which the city lost power for 25 hours. While this blackout didn’t last even close to as long, it did deeply affect Broadway, as 26 of the 30 shows had to cancel. Since the electricity failed about an hour before curtain for most shows, casts were already at their respective theaters and the audiences were already on their way.

At first, the Blackout seemed to resemble an unanticipated snow day for the performers, giving them an exciting break from the repetitive and demanding schedule of show-biz.

On the other hand, droves of people had traveled all this way and paid a bunch of money to attend these performances. However, there was nothing to be done, as the stage was dark, so the shows were off… or were they?

Broadway shows decided to take to the street, lighting up the night with their music and spirit. There is no better example of ‘the show must go on’ than the cast of Waitress having a jam session or the cast of Rock of Ages performing “Don’t Stop Believin” amidst a crowd of their own audience members. 

Take a Listen:

Waitress Jam Session 

Rock of Ages “Don’t Stop Believin'”

In my previous blog, I mentioned how, through hosting backstage Broadway tours as an intern at Broadway Plus, I’ve been given the opportunity to cross the invisible threshold that exists between the audience and the stage. However, on July 13th, the entirety of New York City received this same gift as the darkness allowed the cast and the audience to become one giant collective in the streets of Broadway. The two worlds merged for one night only and everyone was in the same boat. The performers, stripped of their costumes and mics were just ordinary people, who like the general public, don’t possess any supernatural ability to combat the blackout. They were relatable and as a result, they exhibited a very relatable, very human response to the travesty at hand… they adapted.

Suddenly, all of the light that was lost was compensated manifold by the beautiful sounds of shows performing outside. The cast of Come From Away performed their opening number “Welcome to the Rock” and the remarkable André De Shields freestyled a version of Hadestown’s “Road to Hell,” creating a chain of call and response with his fellow castmates that was epically unreplicatable.

Enjoy these clips:

Come From Away “Welcome to the Rock”

Hadestown Improv

So I stand by my original assessment that there is a plus side to breaking the boundaries that a theater structurally creates between the viewers and the performers. Additionally, theatre’s magical ability to immerse you in another world is not solely due to “the stage, or the performers, or the set, or the costumes, or the lighting, or the orchestra, or the audience, but the combination and harmony of them all working in tandem.” 

However, what happens when there is no stage, no set, no costumes, no lighting, and no orchestra? The result was still magical, though a different type of magic than the transformative nature of a typical theatrical production. This magic stemmed from a pure, collective love of theatre and the human power to create. 

There are so many reasons why people choose to see theatre and therefore so many different types of magic that theater imbues in its participants. While people didn’t get to see Broadway shows on the 13th of July, they gained an invaluable, once in a lifetime experience. I’m jealous.