Rock ‘n Roll ‘n TheaterMonday, July 9th, 2012
by Kara Weisenstein
Theatregoing for the concert lover, and vice versa
Theatregoing and concertgoing share a lot of allure. In the same way audiences gather to see living, breathing actors tackle high-stakes drama, fans flock to hear bands deliver live performances of recorded tracks. The mark of a great artist: when that live version is even better than the studio cut.
For those of us with genuine theatre/music obsessions, life doesn’t get much better than when the theatregoing/concertgoing experience is intertwined. And we’re not strictly talking musical theatre.
Rather, there’s a trend of cross-curricular performance-going that combines the experience of hearing a band and seeing a play. It’s not formulaic enough to group as a genre, in this writer’s opinion, but it does feel fresh and exciting. And it may be a way to get more people who love rock concerts into theatregoing, and vice versa.
Lots of praise has been levied at Once’s inventive pre-show experience. The audience mingles onstage and purchases beer from the bar on set – and there’s an Irish folk band playing. Even before lights dim in the theatre, a hush descends. Nary an iPhone is in sight, and all eyes are glued on an older man singing of lost love and heartache. There’s nothing prim about the silence – people listen for 10, even 20 minutes before the show begins simply because they want to.
photo credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Following suit, One Man, Two Guvnors has an in-house “skiffle” band called The Craze. Modeled after The Beatles – and adding an aspect of musical British Invasion to the imported production – the band plays pre-show, during intermission, and between scenes, giving audiences a break from the farce and a glimpse into mid-‘60s concertgoing.
On the other end of the spectrum, without gimmick and rooted in storytelling, is PigPen Theatre Co. While the One Man and Once bands are neat, they were fabricated as add-ons to multi-million dollar productions. Not so with PigPen. It’s just seven guys creating devised fables with a blend of puppetry, movement, and folk music. PigPen formed at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2008, and after graduating and bringing their work to New York, the guys went on to win the NY Fringe’s Overall Excellence award two years running – the first group to do so.
In addition to performing devised theatre pieces all over the city, PigPen released a full-length album this spring called “Bremen.” It’s a stand-alone record – for fans who come across PigPen on iTunes or Spotify, these guys prove their music chops before disclosing they’re trained theatre artists. And for theatre fans, a record full of tight harmonies and fanciful lyrics is icing on the cake. They’ve played a couple gigs at The McKittrick Hotel (home of Sleep No More) and at Joe’s Pub, and their YouTube videos are stellar.
Other examples of concert-theatre-going abound – dance breaks and DJ sets during Fuerza Bruta, original music by folk-rock band Hem during Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Twelfth Night, etc. Music and theatre has always been coupled, and with a little ingenuity, fresh eyes, and a revised attitude towards theatre vs. concert demographics, there’s a lot of potential for very cool cross-pollination between the dramatic and musical worlds.
What other shows fuze the theatregoing and concertgoing experience? Are you a music/theatre fan? Tell us in the comments! We love them!