TEDxBroadway Spreads Message Through Talk, Music and Exercise

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25 Feb 2014

Robert Lopez
Robert Lopez
Photo by Glen DiCrocco

If you were in the mood for a light workout, accompanied by ukelele and accordion music, peppered with inspirational speeches and capped with a cocktail hour, there was really only one place in New York you could turn Feb. 24: The annual TEDxBroadway conference, which was held at New World Stages.

TEDxBroadway, an independently organized event licensed by TED, the by-now-renowned, multifaceted, California think-tank conference, is now in its third year. Co-organized by Damian Bazadona, founder of Situation Interactive, Broadway producer Ken Davenport and Jim McCarthy of Goldstar, it brings together a wide variety of business and theatre professionals for an all-day conference intended to spur new concepts and ideas about how Broadway might face the future.

Speakers at this year's event, which was sold out, included Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus, (Pippin) of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.); composer and librettist Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Lea DeLaria, the jazz musician, writer, stand-up comic and actor.

Proceedings were kicked off on a whimsical note — a tone which would persist throughout the day — by Jonathan Mann, a musician who advertises himself as "the song a day guy." In true form, he had written a theme song for TEDxBroadway, the chorus of which went (which the help of some audience call-and-response): "TEDx/Right here today/TEDx/Right on Broadway/TEDx/Can't get enough/TEDx/You might learn some stuff."

And people did earn some stuff. The conference began with one of TEDx's star guests, Paulus, who spoke of how she had attempted to change the public's perceptions of the boundaries of theatre during her tenure at A.R.T.

"What will make Broadway its best is if we can expand the idea of what can be done on Broadway," Paulus said, pointing out that great theatre eras of the past had little in common with the theatregoing experience of today, where audiences sit together in the dark in appointed seats, do not interact with the show and leave when told. Ancient Greek theatre festivals, she said, were contests in which the spectators voted for their favorite show. "Greek theatre was closer to 'American Idol' than it is to theatre today." Additionally, she related, the French opera-house culture of the 19th century was more than just about going to a building to see a production. "You went to be in your environment. You went to be seen as much as see something."

Paulus then described how she has tried to stretch the definitions of theatre at A.R.T. The activity surrounding The Donkey Show, for instance, begins outside the theatre building. An A.R.T. production of the popular, immersive theatre experience Sleep No More has so intrigued audiences that people return again and again, attempting to figure it out. "People started to steal the production books to see how the show worked," explained Paulus. At Woody Sez, a celebration of the music of Woody Guthrie, audiences were encouraged to bring instruments and play a part in a "hootenanny" that took place after every show.


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