are such stuff as dreams are made on."
The Tempest, IV:1
seventies, twenty-five years ago. Michael Bennett
and I had never met. We couldve, easily,
but hadnt. Omni, a brand new glossy
angled for a view of the future brought us together.
I was on the Arts beat supporting a theatre habit.
He was magazine fodder.
Chorus Line, a stunning success, was spitting
out coin of the realm in glistening heaps. Mainly
two heaps. One heap for Joe Papps Public
Theater, where A Chorus Line was nurtured
in workshop and first saw light; and the other
heap at the feet of Bennett, the shows principal
impetus and director. With a portion of his heap,
Bennett bought a commercial building (somewhere
in the teens on the East Side is as close as I
can recall) which housed his offices and comfortable
was the obligatory freight elevator up, a short
burst of Broadway bound Zoot Suit, leaping dancers
and pounding piano through a door left ajar, and
then a warm greeting from Michael Bennett, dancer,
choreographer, director, revolutionary
artist and warm greeter. We met in his private
search of theatres future for the pages
of Omni it was only natural, and paradoxical
(paradoxical was good for Omni), that we
began in the past. Our common past.
at just eighteen and freshly shuffled off from
Buffalo as Michael DiFiglia, landed his first
Broadway job in the chorus of Subways Are For
Sleeping as Michael Bennett. The chorus boy
formerly known as DiFiglia debuted in Subways
just after Christmas, 1961. In those days I was
a kid trumpet player who, with some regularity,
toiled in Broadway pits. Pits are where they keep
the musicians. I loved it. Got to play shows like
Fiorello, and Gypsy. Great shows:
Tom Bosleys Broadway bow as Mayor LaGuardia
and Ethel Mermans tour de belting force
as Baby Junes mom. But the very best thing
about Broadway musicals from where I sat (under
the stage), was that each of them had a chorus,
and each chorus had girls. Chorus girls. As much
as I loved the whole Broadway thing, "no
people like show people" and all that jazz,
what I loved most was the chorus girls. I really
chorus girls in Subways were front and
center in my lustful mind. The shows one-sheet,
plastered all over the actual subways of New York,
featuring a most alluring woman straphanger, clad
only in a towel. Her image, her one tug away availability,
burned a Jungian hole in my psyche, very hot archetypes
danced seductively in my head and led me eventually,
with great ardor, perseverance, and a little charm,
to Helen (name changed to protect the deliciously
not so innocent), a Subways chorine. Not
the towel girl but plenty close enough. I recalled
Helen to Michael. He, of course, remembered her
from the show, and apologized for not remembering
me. We enjoyed a few laughs, a quick flick through
our scrapbook of friends and shows then turned
our attention to the future, my Omni mission.
become a savvy media subject over the many Broadway
successes that led him from the chorus to A
Chorus Line, he cut directly to the chase.
"What are we doing, the annual check-up?
Will the Fabulous Invalid survive?"
I assured him we were going beyond the rehash
and suggested we look ahead for new hash (so to
speak). We wanted to dice up something fresh.
What would he like to see the theatre become?
laughed then launched. "In the future Id
like to see a stage larger than the seating space,
and a cast that outnumbers the audience. But Im
with a Pulitzer and dancing atop a pile of dough
he was entitled to a little craziness, or at the
very least insulated against its more serious
consequences. I encouraged him to go further.
He was easily encouraged.
a sense weve come to the point where the
whole world is becoming theatre. Its playing
off peoples primal stuff...fear, paranoia,
death wishes, dreams and terror. Thats what
gets our attention"
at a distance of twenty-five years, in the midst
of a Broadway full of revivals, English imports
and Disney films re-purposed as theatrical extravaganzas,
it is easy to dismiss the commercial theatre as
mere entertainment. Broadway shows, overwhelmingly,
are high priced diversions for special occasion
celebrations and tourists. We can safely cordon
Broadway off as culturally irrelevant, unless
its your mothers birthday or youre
visiting from Kansas. Nothing "primal"
about it, except maybe a mask or two in The
Where is the "primal world theatre"
that Bennett saw coming? How about 9/11?
got our attention. A compelling show, the unexpected,
the invisible made visible, planes as missiles.
The timing and mise-en-scene were flawless. It
was theatre playing out on a world stage spewing
fear, paranoia and death wishes.
events of 9/11 were dramatic, compelling and heartbreaking.
They were potent theatre. Not entertainment, but
theatre. The drama of 9/11 showed us the primal
and scary stuff that usually goes unseen, the
stuff, good and bad, that we tend to avoid, the
stuff we choose not to see. Showing us what is
ordinarily invisible is what theatre, at root,
is all about.
as A Chorus Line reminded us that the invisible
chorus was made of real, feeling, flesh and blood
people with lives, struggling for love, meaning
and dignity, so did 9/11.
made the value of human life visceral and visible.
Living people, ordinarily invisible, caught in
the bustle of business as usual, those lives that
were lost in the ruble, and all the lives that
were tossed into upheaval and grief, became real
and present people. They became us. When we recognize
ourselves in others we are in the theatre.
the shadow of 9/11 we identified with uncertainty
and mystery, the daily theatre of life. We knew
in our wrenching gut that plots twist and life
is fragile. They, those who died, those who killed,
those who rescued, those who lived mired in the
tear soaked ruins of personal tragedy, couldve
been us. We saw what we habitually choose not
to see. The theatre reminds us how to see. When
we choose to see deeply, to see with our whole
selves, to feel what we see, to see what is ordinarily
overlooked, we are in the theatre.
at its most basic and profound level, in
its primitive forms and through its
many ages, opens a window on the invisible and
shows us ourselves. Its soul stuff. Theatre
encourages us to see ourselves with depth, compassion
back to the rituals of prehistory, our earliest
human theatre, we were shown the invisible through
the performance of shamans. And in that theatre
we were guided, healed and comforted under a vast
sea of starlit uncertainty. Our earliest theatre
gave us the faith and the courage to live in a
fierce and mysterious universe.
a sense weve come full circle. The theatre
is, and has always been becoming, what Michael
Bennett sensed it was becoming. It is not a static
place. It is the antithesis of static. It is always
becoming. It is not even a place in the ordinary
sense. It is motion. It is change. It is the unexpected,
the wondrous, the invisible exposed.
the finale of A Chorus Line, the entire
chorus, each of whom we have come to know intimately,
are on the line in exquisitely matched, glistening
lame costumes, topped with high hats. They dance
in perfect unison before a backdrop of mirrors
in which they and we are reflected together. We
know them and they know us. They move together.
We move together. We are one.
like all great theatre, reminds us that we are
the show. Each of us is unique in our individuality
and at once inseparable from each other in our
humanity. Seeing that is the essence of theatre,
then, now and forever. All of us, in our daily
lives are inseparable individuals, a living theatre.
We are one singular sensation, every step that
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