Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
If your question is used in our column, you will receive a Playbill.com mug.
This question comes from Ray Workman.
Question: Which is the largest Broadway theatre for musicals and the largest theatre used for comedy/drama, straight plays? Which are the smallest? Answer: The biggest musical house is the Gershwin (now occupied by Wicked) with 1,809 seats. And, though you can book your straight play into any theatre, you'd probably be crazy to book it into a big musical house, unless you can find a way to paint two crucial words on your marquee: Tom Cruise. Still, Coram Boy played the Imperial Theatre (1,431 seats) earlier this year, even though that theatre is normally for musicals. The History Boys played the mid-size Broadhurst Theatre (1,122 seats), now occupied by Les Miserables. The Gershwin has even had plays: Cyrano de Bergerac played in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing in 1984.
The smallest theatre on Broadway is the Helen Hayes, with 596 seats, and, strangely enough, the theatre is currently hosting not a play but a musical, Xanadu. The venue has, of course, hosted plays before as well.
This question comes from Robert M. Savage of New Hudson, MI.
Question: If a non-Equity performer is cast in an Equity show, does that performer then have to join Equity?
Answer: Yes. As the main Broadway contract says: "....all employees who are not now members of Equity shall, as a condition of employment, become members within 31 days following the signing of this Agreement and shall thereafter remain members of the Union in good standing as a condition of continued employment."
This question comes from Robert Seier of Bronx, NY.
Question: What exactly is the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, and is it accessible by the general public?
Answer: The Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, begun in 1970, is an excellent collection of videos of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatre productions. You can't take the videos out of the library, but you can watch them during certain hours in the Lucille Lortel Room on the third floor of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. You can search for materials at the library's online catalog — catnyp.nypl.org/ — but it's best not to just search for a title and then show up: The hours are quirky, and advance appointments are recommended (on Saturdays they're required). Call (212) 870-1642 for appointments and more info.
The rules also state that you have to be a theatre professional, student or researcher with a work-related or study-related reason to watch. When you get there, you're asked to fill out a form that describes what your reason is. (Presumably, you could always call yourself a "researcher" as long as you have a stated project, and aren't watching just for fun.) One odd rule is that you can only watch each video once in your lifetime — the unions (the Dramatists Guild and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers) asked for this stipulation, presumably to prevent someone from getting to know all the direction and choreography from a show so that they can go copy it elsewhere, and generally to discourage people from watching videos for free instead of going to the theatre.
There are occasionally exceptions made — such as if it's your work that's being preserved, or if you're writing a longer project on a particular topic, such as a book.
This question comes independently from both Cassandra W. of Davenport, IA, and Tom Freeland.
Question: Why are some Playbill covers in black and white, while others are in color?
Answer: According to Playbill Magazine Publisher and President Philip Birsh, Playbill gives the shows the choice, and they can have color if they pay for it. The black-and-white covers are provided free of charge.