I think in any craft or art, often the best research, the best education, is simply immersing yourself among other practitioners of that craft as much as possible. If you're a writer, read. A lot. As much as you can. And as many different types of writing as you can (blogs [editor's note: subtle plug!], novels, short stories, poetry, editorials, essays, histories, memoirs, plays, anything but the comments section on a youtube posting). If you're a filmmaker, watch a lot of movies. If you're an artist or a photographer, go to museums, go to libraries, buy those Taschen books at The Strand. If you're an actor or some other shaped theater practitioner (hallo, designers! etc), go see plays. As many as you can. As many different types as you can.
The other best forms of school (besides actually school itself, which is not always a good fit for some) is by interning or assisting people who are actually doing what you want to be doing, and then of course doing it yourself. Learning by trying and failing and trying again.
But for the purposes of this entry, we're gonna talk about being an audience member. As mentioned in previous entries, I went a bit hogwild with my theater-going in May. I had a couple excuses - 1, I hadn't gone to much in the past few months, as I had been hard at work on my solo show; 2, I had some extra money coming in from the essay-grading I'd been doing, so I could afford to splurge for a month (frugality has now unfortunately reinserted itself to watch over my checking account); 3, I had a carefully compiled list of plays that were closing in May or June that I wanted to catch before they went away; and 4, it's really important to me to be a good Audience Member.
Why is it really important to me? One reason is self-education. I love going to shows and seeing what tricks I can steal for myself - these can be theatrical tricks: fun bits of staging or storytelling, design coups or combat or magic; they can be writing tricks; and of course, acting tricks - the best actors often have many different layers playing through each moment, multiple agendas and actions.
Trick-stealing is an oversimplification, and a more romantic way to put it is, I go to the theater to inspire myself to be a better artist.
I also like to have as comprehensive a knowledge of the form as possible - I want to see as much as I can because I want to know as much as I can; I want to understand as much as I can. The only way to do this is to try to catch as many shows possible, and if I miss some, read the scripts afterward once they're published.
Broadways is often called the Fabulous Invalid, because it's always declared to be on the point of dying, and yet it still trucks on, dripping glitter where it goes. What is true is that live theater in New York, whether it be on Broadway, or Off, or Off Off, is getting more and more expensive, both to produce and to attend. It's a hard-to-sustain beast, subsisting on love from the people still eking out their living doing it and the funds of people who love it too much (or who want to make large deductions come tax time, who knows) to know better. This is my world, these are my people, and if nothing else (and there is a lot else, but) I want to support this genre. I want to do my tiny little part to help fill seats for Broadway and Off and Off Off.
And since this is my world, I want to support my friends who are working on projects at any given time. I can't make it to everything - there's always so much going on - but I like to be able to show my friends my love and appreciation for the work they do. This is a community that should band together, and if we can afford it, we should go see what everyone else is working on.
Final reason, and perhaps the most obvious, for why it's important to me to be a good Audience Member - I really freaking enjoy it. I love live theater, I love the thrill of something real and immediate and honest and spectacular happening right in front of me. There's nothing else like it. Yes, there are things you can do in film and TV that you cannot do in live theater, and those genres are also wonderful and thank god they're thriving too, but there is so much metaphor and meat in live theater that you can't get any other way. There is poetry and dance and so many different ways to tell the story. You can do so much on a stage that can't be done in a literal-minded camera lens. And I love it. I cannot get enough of it. Every time I contemplate leaving the city (were I to give up ye olde acting career), my heart aches at all the live theater I would miss were I to do so.
It's an addiction. That's fine. I'm a functioning addict.
The full list of live theater I saw in the month of May:
Drunken City (OOB)
Mike Birbiglia's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (OB)
Mother***** With the Hat (B)
School For Lies (OB)
The Normal Heart (B)
All Through the Night (OOB)
That Championship Season (B)
Good People (B)
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (OB)
Manhattan Rep One Act Festival Series F (OOB)
Arcadia (B) (yes, AGAIN)
House of Blue Leaves (B)
Sleep No More (OB)
People in the Picture (B)
King Lear (BAM)
Hansel and Gretel (OOB)
A Minister's Wife (OB)
Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (OB)
Also this month I have seen Sleep No More (again) and Follies at the DC Kennedy Center (Bernadette Peters, bitches!!!). And of course I watched (and live-tweeted) the Tonys. Tonight I'm seeing the broadcast film of the recent Neil Patrick Harris concert version of Company; tomorrow night I see Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, and Friday I see Arcadia for my sixth and last time before it closes on Sunday (sadface).
I recognize that I am lucky, in that I am currently in a financial state where I can afford to see all this theater - a lot of the "starving artists" of the downtown scene simply can't. But there are always tricks and discounts to be had - full price tickets are for tourists, I say!
Good resources for discounts:
Talkin' Broadway's All That Chat has a great comprehensive list of rush and lottery policies for Broadway and Off Broadway shows - cheap tickets the day of, complete with feedback from other theatergoers.
Playbill has a number of discounts available to members, and guess what? Membership is free!
Broadway Box is another good discount resource.
If you are a full-time student or teacher, or a member of an actor's union, you can join TDF for some great discounted seats.
Speaking of TDF, they run the famous TKTS booth, which has locations in the heart of Times Square, as well as the South Street Seaport and downtown Brooklyn. Here you can purchase half-price tickets to shows the day of the performance (there's even an app for seeing what's at the booth on any given day).