Frequently people ask me what theatre they should see when they come to New York.
Most people are familiar with Broadway, with its big names in big shows. Of course there is amazing work and incredible talent on Broadway. StageGrade does a good job of compiling reviews of major Broadway shows, if you want to take a look.
But I rarely go to see Broadway shows. How do I pick what I’m going to see? I choose according to
- favorite venues and festivals
- favorite artists
Favorite Venues and Festivals. Certain venues and festivals introduce me to compelling artists. BAM and St. Anne’s Warehouse program renowned, visually evocative and theatrical work with an emphasis on international companies. New Victory Theater brings in stellar theatre for young audience productions from across the U.S. and internationally.
I like to keep up with what is happening at New York Theatre Workshop and The Public. LaMaMa and HERE have experimental and multi-media work and puppetry. Media gets even more space to play at 3-Legged Dog. Abrons, and The Kitchen have some similar post-dramatic sensibilities, but Abrons programs more dance.
If you want to see work that is being developed/created from ensembles and individual artists, check out The Bushwick Starr, P.S 122, The New Ohio, and Jack. People often are taking their first crack at a show at Dixon Place, The Bric, and the University Settlement.
If you like play readings, The Lark and New Dramatists offer readings every month, but times will vary in order to fit the needs of the playwrights. If you’re up for a reading or lecture, check out the Segal Theatre Center.
In terms of festivals, Under the Radar, in January, brings in a variety of strong work, often with international companies. PS 122’s COIL (also in January) and Underground Zero (in the summer) have more experimental work and NYC artists, as does the Segal Center‘s Prelude Festival (in October).
Recommendations. When asking for a recommendation, keep in mind that asking for “good” theatre in New York is like asking for a good restaurant. There is so much that is good! The question is more about what your taste is and what you want to experience. What do you like, and what are you hoping to see? For example, my sister loves music and movement and strong imagery. She hates “people yelling at each other.” Before I understood this, I took her to a historical drama. She hated it, and I felt bad. When I took her to an a performance that included large-scale puppetry, she enjoyed it (sigh of relief). Don’t be embarrassed to use movie references if that helps both you and the person you’re asking. Also, people don’t have to like the same things to give you a recommendation of a performance you’ll enjoy or value. When I ask friends whose style and aesthetic is different from my own for recommendations, I am curious about what they’re drawn to and want to become more familiar with it.
Favorite Artists. Based on recommendations and due to venues, I now have theatre artists I follow. I want to see what challenges they’re taking on, what they’re exploring right now . If you’re visiting for a short time, this might be frustrating because theatre artists aren’t performing all of the time. So I try to get on their emailing lists in order to make sure I don’t miss out on their upcoming shows. Again, if you don’t have a list already, you can always ask other people who is on their list. My list includes, among others: Phil Soltanoff, Aaron Landsman, 600 Highwaymen, Elevator Repair Service, Pearl D’Amour, Mallory Catlett, and Third Rail Projects. I try to see what I can of The Wooster Group, Richard Maxwell, Target Margin, the Team, and Half Straddle. I’ve also enjoyed listening to Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s radio podcasts and getting to know other artists.
Reviews. Although reading a review can overly skew my perspective, I still read selected reviews. Yes, I sometimes read reviews in The New York Times… sometimes. I’ve often enjoyed reviews from Time Out New York and The Village Voice.
Price/Discounts. If you’re a student and/or under 30, odds are a theatre will have some kind of discount for you if you search their website. If you’re over 30, it’s harder to find discounted tickets. Often tickets are less expensive for previews and early performances, like Ars Nova. Signature Theatre has $25 tickets for the first several weeks of every show.
You can try to rush a show. I was able to rush a show at St. Anne’s. I have not had luck with Broadway shows; there are too many die-hard theatre fans (especially students) and tourists willing to stand in line at insane times and for hours on end.
TDF both has venues for discounted tickets from their ticket booth or online if you qualify for a membership. Sometimes you can Google discount codes for a show (which I believe they want to be used, even if I wasn’t emailed the code or if I didn’t find it on their website). Some productions are using apps to get day-of tickets. Again, search their website.
If you consistently like the work at a particular non-Broadway venue, try to usher there. I have seen fantastic shows as an usher. Sometimes those opportunities are listed on the theatre’s website, and sometimes you need to email the company.