The Allure Of Small Theatres
In New York City and other areas of the world where theatre and performing arts continues to thrive, there is a wide variety of performance spaces utilized to tell stories. These places help artists workshop original pieces, perform for intimate audiences, and experiment with different types of theatre, from audience interactive to theatre-in-the-round and so on.
Often times, when we think of seeing a theatrical performance, especially on Broadway, we envision a grandiose, architecturally stunning theatre with hundreds of seats, as well as sound systems and lights abound. This was my only experience with New York City theatre until I decided to attend a limited engagement performance at the Cherry Lane Theatre this summer.
The Cherry Lane Theatre, located in Greenwich Village, is a small theatre with only 60 seats in its black box space. The theatre has “helped define American drama, fostering fresh, daring, and relevant theatre since 1924.” Cherry Lane is dedicated to producing fresh material by emerging playwrights and has won several awards for its groundbreaking work in the performing arts. In contrast to the type of work it has produced and its star-studded history, the theatre sits humbly between a cluster of buildings and is tucked away on the quiet Commerce Street. Recently, Cherry Lane housed a play entitled If Only, written by New York playwright, Thomas Klingenstein. I decided to attend a performance after reading that one of my childhood idols, Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie), was starring in the show. I fully expected to attend the show with overwhelming feelings of excitement at seeing one of my favorite actresses perform live and hopefully meeting her afterwards.
What I did not expect was the thrill of experiencing New York City theatre in a completely new way.
When I arrived at the theatre, I was surprised, to say the least. I walked in and waited in a small lobby a little larger than the size of the coat check room at a typical Broadway theatre. During the time of waiting for the doors to open, I socialized with other theatregoers about Melissa Gilbert, the show itself, and other things we ended up having in common. After being led into the theatre, I took my seat in Row C. If I remember correctly, the rows only went to F, and I was astonished at how small the space was and how close I was to the stage. As I watched the 85-minute play, I felt completely immersed in the story, almost as if I were a part of it.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing I love more than attending a Broadway show and stepping into the large, fabulously decorated, historical theatres. I enjoy a spectacle, a large stage and seeing hundreds of people in the audience, confirming that the arts are still very much alive and reaching vast numbers of people. It is a very special feeling as someone who loves theatre so much and values its importance in society. However, my experience at The Cherry Lane Theatre was one I would claim just as important and special in its own way. At a traditional Broadway show, I am herded into the audience and typically mind my own business or simply socialize with the person or group with whom I am seeing the performance. It can be a very solitary experience. At Cherry Lane, I felt like a part of a small community and had the opportunity to socialize and make friends. During the show itself, I felt very present in the space, since there were very few distractions taking away from the play, thereby giving it an intimate feel.
If you haven’t had a theatrical experience like this, I highly recommend checking out The Cherry Lane Theatre website or doing some exploring for smaller black box theatres around your city.
You may not be seeing shows up to the calibre of Broadway blockbusters, or witness any jaw-dropping special effects, but I guarantee that not only will you broaden your theatrical experience, but your appreciation of theatre in its truest, most basic form will only grow.
PS. I did get to meet Melissa Gilbert, and she was just as talented and lovely as I imagined her to be all these years!