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BWW Feature: DEFYING GRAVITY: BROADWAY'S FLIGHT INTO THE UNKNOWN

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BWW Feature: DEFYING GRAVITY: BROADWAY'S FLIGHT INTO THE UNKNOWN

While listening to a recording of "An Evening with Sutton Foster - Live at the Café Carlyle" recorded in 2011, I couldn't help but smile at the element of "danger" Foster mentioned when, near the end of the standout show, she put five songs in a cup, including Defying Gravity, Don't Rain on My Parade, and some other Broadway Belters, then had an audience member choose one at random. The spontaneous element added an edge to both her performance and the excitement in the audience.

When I think of live theatre, I think of the excitement that comes from the "anything can happen" quality of any given moment. I don't mean actors going off book to crack a joke at someone walking in late, an actor forgetting a line, or a cell phone going off in the audience; I mean the moment-to-moment character interactions, or a singer's relationship with song lyrics that, given an authentic performance, is deeply felt within that single moment - a moment that nobody will ever experience again. That is the magic of live theatre. A script or pages of sheet music can only be "set" to a point -it's the life we breathe into what we sing, tell, and embody that makes it a thrill.

Listening to Sutton Foster do her glorious rendition of "Defying Gravity," after whispering to herself, "Wow, this is really happening," I thought about the time we're living right now. Foster and her Carlyle audience, neither knew what would happen next - there was an element of uncertainty, albeit to a limited extent, but there was a joyful quality that came with that unknown factor of taking the risk and seeing it materialize in a grand show tune. Now there are opportunities to experience those same moments, if we really think about the time we're in, what draws us to creating theatre, and all that is possible in today's world. There is freedom within our limitations, as there always has been. Why would we stop creating now? I've heard many different perspectives on the theatre's venture into digital media and live streaming. Theatre is the most primal form of storytelling. Stories transform our personal experience, enrich our community, and teach others the lessons we have learned for ourselves - these are reliable patterns we can lean on in a world with no map. As an artist, creating stories is my way to uncover certainty and significance from inside chaos and unsteadiness. After beating a decade of trauma, I discovered a storytelling "survival strategy" that served as a lifeline to myself, and an eventual roadmap to the world I wanted to belong to once again.

One month after being discharged from the Columbia Presbyterian Surgical ICU, I joined a local theatre's production of Oliver! to once again immerse myself in the experience of being part of a community ensemble, and creating theatre together - a driving passion that had anchored my childhood. Through creating, performing, and sharing art, we feel heard, we gain clarity into a situation and into ourselves, and together we find new ways to problem-solve. Through my own theatre-making, I've experienced how the simple act of telling my story could make me feel part of the human race again - understood and empathized with; the "girl whose stomach exploded" now had a universally relatable tale of fighting through adversity. In my musical, "Gutless and Grateful," I was now the protagonist, the author of my own story. I saw how creating theatre also creates solutions - something that can elevate anyone's struggles to something heroic over which to triumph.

The sobering announcement has been made that Broadway will not reopen until at least January 2021, notoriously a dark time for theatre attendance during a normal year. The question is not "Will theatre survive?" but "Yes, and how! And so...how?" There is strength in numbers, and although those numbers can't quite physically congregate as we're accustomed to, creativity is the ability to see problems differently. Creativity is musical theatre with plot twists, breakout stars a11 o clock numbers unexpectedly piercing through the space at 11:59 pm.

Why not share our work now? Why not sing a song that lifts our spirits, put that song out there, and see if it reaches someone at a time they need it most? Creativity cannot self-sustain in a vacuum. Theatre reminds us of our humanity - the fire that will never go out within us, and the knowledge that we are only here for a short time. Theatre provides an opportunity to get closer to that humanity, to ask what our purpose is while we're in this world, and "What do I know about this from my own experience? What is universal?" Theatre can challenge ideas, create compassion, and bring out the stories that unite us all. Through the transformative power of writing and theatrical storytelling, we feel heard, gain clarity, and can problem-solve. As artists and audience members choose to create and interact with the space and one another through theatre, they engage in a vital conversation about how we view obstacles. There is learning to be found in the spaces where life forces one to go. When life challenges us, what can we learn about the theatre we're making; and how can theatre help us?

I have continued to create throughout my recovery - from surgeries to years of being unable to eat or drink, and the many detours that came afterward. I never knew "when this would all be over," so I didn't ask doctors - they had no answers anyway. Instead, I asked myself - asking myself was the driving question behind the art I was creating. When I premiered "Gutless & Grateful" I didn't have a "final answer" - little did I know several surgeries would come after number 26, but I could answer the question of where I was in the process, discovering that just sharing that much with others helped audiences through their own journeys.

Last summer, I premiered a new multimedia one-woman musical titled "Passageways" that used over 200 original art projections, 16 songs, and the story of how the creativity of an artist can become an unexpected passageway through profound crisis. In passageways, there's no way in, no way out, only through. So why not laugh, dance, and paint our way towards the light? In this new piece of theater, I explored the visible and invisible landscape of trauma, which shows no clear exit, only the opportunity to keep going. Throughout the musical, I create works in progress as a way of reimagining what is happening as I experience it. Creativity becomes my lens, and sharing this invites audiences to rethink how they view passageways in their own lives.

Let's use this time as a lens to look through. Let us use this time to embrace the unknown factors we are given - to play with those unknown factors (safely, with distance, of course.) Like Sutton Foster randomly picking a song from a hat, we can embrace the idea that we don't know what is coming. Now is a time to create music, theatre, and stories from the spaces we are in.


Broadway's temporary closure affects far more than who we see on stage. Theatre district vendors, restaurants, stage managers, costume designers, and the list goes on. Our community space is affected, struck, left vulnerably open. In the empty space is where we may be able to plant a new fertile seed. Let's learn from those spaces, and share what we've learned so far, as we travel it.

BWW Feature: DEFYING GRAVITY: BROADWAY'S FLIGHT INTO THE UNKNOWN

Amy's new original one-woman musical Passageways has been postponed at Feinstein's 54 Below for April 23rd at 9:30 pm ...however, she is prepared for any detours that may come her way. In the meantime, save the date here https://54below.com/events/amy-oestreicher/ and catch excerpts virtually as part of the Marsh Theatre's Monday Night Marshstream on Monday, July 13th, 10:30 pm EST 7:30 pm PST: https://www.amyoes.com/new-events/livestream-original-musical-performance-gutless-amp-grateful-songs-from-my-beautiful-detour


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