Production photo from Bust at City Theatre
How to See a Play, in Five Easy Steps
Step 1: Choose a play to see. Near you, wherever you are, some theater is putting on a play; probably several are. In Pittsburgh, we’re lucky to have a wide range of plays and musicals to choose from every day (except Mondays — most theaters don’t schedule shows for Mondays).
People who don’t know much about theater seem to think only of tedious, long-winded productions of the Shakespeare plays that they hated reading in high school. There’s so much more though: modern comedies, tense dramas, and other styles to fit any taste. There’s sure to be a play you would enjoy immensely within a hour’s drive of your home.
If you’re new to this whole theater thing, ease your way in by starting with a comedy or a one-person show. I highly recommend Bust, playing at City Theatre through June 29. It’s a one-woman show that much more than a monologue — Lauren Weedman, the playwright and performer, portrays herself and dozens of other women, and she’s funny and thoughtful and thought-provoking. In fact, she’s unbelievably entertaining.
You don’t have to take my word for it: The Post-Gazette and Trib both loved it too. I consider the performance I saw Wednesday night to be one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had, and I want everyone to have the chance to enjoy it too. (Footnote.)
Step 2: Buy tickets. Depending on the theater, you may be able to order online. Regional theaters tend not to have a lot of seats, which is good because most of the seats in the house will have good views.
Sometimes the stage will stick out into the audience or be surrounded on all sides by seating. Generally the seats in the center have the best views, but production teams and directors and actors think about the people sitting in side sections and stage accordingly. Don’t be afraid of seats on the side.
Step 3: Dress however you want. A bathing suit probably isn’t the best choice, in part because the theater might be a little chilly, but otherwise there isn’t a dress code. Furs and fancy jewelry are not required. Dress up if you like, or wear whatever you wore to the office. If you’re unsure, just wear something comfortable; bring a sweater if you tend to get chilly.
Step 4: Go to the theater on time. Live theater really is live, like a sporting event, and it tends to start on time. Once the play starts, latecomers aren’t allowed in (so as not to disturb the audience and the performers), so Do Not Be Late.
If you are late and there’s an intermission you can take your seats during that break, but you’ll have missed the start. No good. And if there’s no intermmission (as in the case of Bust), then you’re just out of luck. Better to get there a bit ahead and get to your seat.
Use the waiting time before curtain to chat with your companions, or check the ads in the program for special offers from nearby restaurants — find a nice place to go after the show.
Step 5: Enjoy the show. Leave behind everything that’s going on in your life and lose yourself to the show before you. It’s kind of like going to the movies, except that the performers are right there in the room for you, bringing the characters and situations to life before your eyes. The production crew is invisible behind the scenes and in the booth, handling the lighting and sound and all the other elements to create a whole world around you.
All this means there’s an electricity to live theater that simply isn’t present in pre-recorded media like film and television. You’re there, and the show is there, and you’re part of it.
So go ahead and really be part of it. Forget the outside world for a couple of hours.
In particular, silence electronic devices. Shut the damn things off, or at least put them on vibrate if you need to be on call. No texting during the show either; the blue glow from your screen will ruin the night for everyone sitting around you. Don’t be the guy who ruins everyone else’s night out. Besides, you paid for this show — you might as well turn your focus on the stage and enjoy the experience that surrounds you.
Bonus step: Talk about the show with your friends. Start with the friends who attended the play with you; go out for coffee or a drink afterwards (remember those places with ads in the program? go there) and talk about what you liked and didn’t like about the production, what happened in the play, all that kind of thing.
If you liked the play, tell others — and do it quickly, so they can see the show before it closes!
Footnote: A bit of disclosure: City Theatre provides me with free passes to their productions, as a member of the media like a newspaper reviewer. (They’re sort of progressive in viewing bloggers as members of media.) Even if they hadn’t, though, I would still want you to see this show. It’s absolutely great, and I think you’ll love it. Back to text.