Out There – Interactivity on the Great White Way

Last week, one of my all time favorite musicals, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, opened at Studio 54: its first Broadway revival since the original 1985 run. The critics unanimously agreed that it’s a delightful romp, the “fun is infectious” and “extremely enjoyable.” What the show lacks in substance, it makes up for in entertaining panache. The New York Times even commented that “With the explosion of social media inspiring a taste for talking back, the time seems especially ripe for the Roundabout Theater Company’s boisterous revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” I don’t know that I would consider an audience determined ending particularly social media saavy, but Isherwood’s comment does indicate an excitement towards increasing audience integration in the theatre.

A few blocks away, the audience is playing an equally integral role in a very different Broadway bedtime story. The other major happening on the Great White Way this past week was the sudden closure of The Performers, a star-laden, raunch filled romp about the porn industry and Las Vegas. Proving that dirty humour does not a success make, the show locked its chastity belt for the last time 7 performances after it had come into the world.

Today, The Huffington Post compiled a selection of tweets to and from @PerformersBway into a fascinating little piece called “Following a Broadway Show’s Demise on Twitter.” And while the actual content is nowhere near as revealing as Cheyenne Jackson in a loincloth, the point which I think HuffPo is trying to make is: in an era wherein interactivity is often considered an integral part of engagement, marketing and even content in theatre, we are now encountering the ability to analyze the trajectory of a show’s arc from a more multilateral perspective. Rather than relying simply on press releases and reviews, we now have access to first hand accounts (albeit in 140 characters or less) from players, producers and audience members. In the larger theatrical “process,” which includes all the planning, prep, rehearsals, production and reception, audience integration is now a significant voice in mapping the history of any piece of theatre.

With the arrival of full on audience integration in works such as Sleep No More, is there room for this kind of interaction in musical theatre? Can the entire “process” of a musical benefit from tweeting, Facebooking and more ardent audience response? And will we begin to see musicals composed with audience integration at their forefront, much in the same way straight theatre has begun to get those bums literally out of the seats in order to metaphorically get them in them.

I don’t have many answers, but am curious as to your opinion on how social media will continue to evolve the Broadway landscape. As for Drood, I’m off to see it this weekend – and will let you all soon enough if I can tweet my vote for Princess Puffer.

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