BroadwayGirlNYC: My Broadway Awakening
Once upon a time, believe it or not, I was as much an Indie Rock girl as a BroadwayGirl. Yes, I grew up on showtunes and started seeing theatre with my Grandma and my parents as early I could walk. But it wasn’t my only love, and for a while wasn’t even my biggest love (you know how teenagers are, rebelling against the things they’ll eventually come back around to love the most). In the early early 2000s, I was as likely to be at the Mercury Lounge as the Majestic, as often at Arlene’s Grocery as I was at The Golden. I tended to buy tickets to shows as soon as they went on sale, to see bands like Modest Mouse and The Sounds and Jonah Matranga from Far. One of my favorites was a group called The Format, from Arizona, who I discovered while listening to a college radio station. When they announced a 2006 fall date at the Knitting Factory, I put two $16 tickets on my credit card before I had a chance to notice the concert was on Halloween (a night my friends would surely rather dress as sexy bumblebees than go to a concert with me).
As the show got closer I didn’t have any luck locating a partner. The show sold out as bigger name acts had been added to the lineup, and I saw tickets going for $50-65 on Craigslist; I thought about selling my extra ticket and pocketing the dough, but actually I didn’t consider it for long. I was a starving student and I knew what it was like when rich grownups snagged all of the tickets to see my favorite bands, just because they had read somewhere that they were the next big thing.
On a whim, two weeks before Halloween, I created my own Craigslist posting. “One Extra Ticket to The Format,” the ad read. “FREE but only for a real fan.” I didn’t request any specifics on how a potential date should prove his or her fandom, leaving it up to them to convince me. Surprisingly, the number of genuine, thought-out responses was meager at best (this was a decade ago, before Craigtlist had become synonymous with “creepster central”). But one email stood out. It was from a guy named Clyde who admitted he had never heard The Format, but was a huge follower of The Cardigans, another band on the bill that night. He had been out of town when tickets went on sale, and before he had a chance to buy a single for himself, the show was at capacity. He’d tried to buy tickets on eBay a bunch of times but kept getting out-bid around the $50 mark. He offered to pay me for the ticket – he just had to be there to see his favorite band perform.
I so identified with Clyde’s passion for his musical heroes (and his plight to find tickets) that I knew immediately he was the guy. I refused to take his money, and made arrangements to meet him at the venue (sans costume) on the evening of October 31.
Clyde was shy & awkward, and we struggled to make conversation before the show. But once the music started, we both lit up and vibed together like old friends. After an exhausting and exhilarating three-plus hour show, we were both sweaty and grinning, knowing without a doubt that our Halloween had kicked the ass of our friends who were out getting wasted or partying in a piece of spandex they deigned to call a costume.
When he asked what he could do to thank me for the ticket that cost me 16 bucks (but gave him a priceless evening), I simply said, “Pay it forward.” I figured someday he’d have the opportunity to share something valuable with a stranger, and hoped he’d give it away instead of selling to the highest bidder.
What I didn’t realize was that when it came to tickets, Clyde had far more access than I could have imagined. We had been communicating via hotmail accounts (that’s how long ago this was), but as we parted ways he gave me his business card – he worked for a company that sold blocks of Broadway tickets to school groups coming to New York from out of town. Because group leaders often wanted advice on which shows to see, every employee was required to see as many shows as possible – which meant Clyde, that lucky bastard, got a pair of tickets during previews to every single show on Broadway.
Clyde didn’t just “pay it forward;” he paid it back. Three weeks after our Halloween concert adventure, he invited me to be his +1 for a brand new Broadway show that had gotten raves earlier that year at the Atlantic. It was based on a play from the 1800s, he told me, and was based in Germany, and was musical directed by Michael Mayer. I knew who Michael was, but I was mostly out of the Broadway loop at that moment and knew little about Spring Awakening. I thought he was telling me it was a revival of an 1800s Broadway musical, which sounded kind of dowdy to me, and I almost said no. But then the passion, instilled in me by multiple generations of musical theatre performers and fans in my family, flared up and I shrugged, “What do I have to lose?”
Spring Awakening had started previews less than a week before. There had been no rave New York Times review, no buzz from my Broadway-loving buddies, still months away from eleven Tony nominations and subsequently, eight wins. I thought, “I’ll invest the evening and if its really a stinker, I’ll just leave at intermission.” Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Spring Awakening was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was dark, haunting, historic, moving rock & roll. The sets were sparse and the voices raw. The actors, my age and younger, brought realistic angst, confusion, and passion out of each other in a way that made me feel both like a participant and a voyeur. I was rapt; at the end of Act I, I let out a deep breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
I turned to Clyde. “I think maybe this is really amazing,” I murmured. “I think maybe I’m going to have to come back and see this again.”
As it turned out, I saw Spring Awakening 14 times over the course of its 25 months on Broadway. I bought on-stage tickets within minutes, almost every time they went on-sale. I never hesitated to stand in line for hours to get student rush tickets. And I paid almost $350 to see the show one last time on closing night.
It was through my love for Spring Awakening that I was reintroduced to the density and variety of Broadway theatre. In the rush lines, online in fan groups, and in conversation with the other Guilty Ones sitting around me, I heard comparisons to other musicals that were currently running (I remember the big question being “can Spring Awakening beat Grey Gardens at the Tonys this year?”). I learned about the bevy of ticket lotteries, rush systems, contests, and volunteer opportunities that provided access to affordable tickets. Soon, I was seeing a couple of shows a month, developing informed opinions and “talking shop” with the other fangirls (a term I embrace).
It was five years ago that I moved into the theatre district. Seeing Broadway shows quickly went from being a hobby, to a passion to – more or less – my life.
It’s a sweet coincidence that a show called “Spring Awakening” brought me back to the art form with which I grew up and loved so much. It was the right show at the right moment in the right context – after all, Duncan Sheik’s “showtunes” sounded a hell of a lot like the rock I was really into at the time.
I think a lot about what would have happened if I somehow hadn’t seen Spring Awakening on Broadway, and how different a life I’d be leaving if that had been the case. It boggles my mind how easily that could have happened. If The Format concert hadn’t been on Halloween (meaning one of my friends would have come)… or if I had forgotten to buy tickets… or if I had sold my extra one at market price… or if I had chosen someone else to come with me… or if Clyde hadn’t truly paid it forward… or if I had passed on going with him to see Spring Awakening in previews…! It’s almost scary to contemplate how many different ways I could have ended up not having the experience that launched me into the passion that gave birth to BroadwayGirlNYC.
I heard The Format over the radio at a coffee shop in Midtown earlier this week and I got so nostalgic that I had to sit down just to ponder the craziness of it all.
There is magic in the confusing, patternless journeys that characterize the stories of our lives. This is one of my favorites. Whether fate or coincidence, there will be gratitude in my heart forever for the band (the Format), the man (Clyde), the musical (Spring Awakening) and the friends (you) who have brought me to where I am today.