1. The set-up was on point.
The choreography of the panel was an intricate dance — not unlike the choreography on the stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Daniel N. Durant and Sandra Mae Frank sat alongside each other, then Krysta Rodriguez, Alex Boniello, Playbill's Michael Gioia, Kaite Boeck, Andy Mientus, Austin P. McKenzie, choreographer Spencer Liff and stage manager T.J. Kearney. On stage left: an interpreter facing the audience. Seated in front of the panel on a chair: an interpreter signing what the hearing panelists said. Kneeling next to her on mics (across from Durant and Frank): two other interpreters speaking aloud Durant and Frank's signs for the audience. It was a demonstration in inclusivity.
2. Two cast members in particular like to goof around in Krysta Rodriguez's dressing room.
Durant and Boniello have a lot of fun backstage. "I have a camera roll full of Daniel and Alex," joked Rodriguez. "There's a moment when most of us are onstage and they're not," she continued. "For months I'd come back into my dressing room and there would be photos of them goofing around on my phone…in the bathroom…playing with my makeup…or dubsmashing the scenes!"
3. You have to be able to joke around.
The cast likes to lighten the mood by saying some of the more serious lines in a harsh German accent or like an entitled seven-year-old girl. Token example: "Liiike, with a buckle?!" And during "I Believe" the offstage singers pretend they're in a recording studio — unwrapping imaginary head scarves and sipping fake tea.
4. Dancer boot camp is real.
Everyone went through Spencer Liff's boot camp. Rodriguez had just finished chemo and came in thinking she could take it easy, thinking, "I won't have to do that." Until she saw Ali Stroker doing push-ups in her chair. Clearly, no one was exempt, and Rodriguez embraced the challenge.
5. This experience created activists.
Boniello brought to light the inaccessibility of New York City and how he has become an advocate for accessibility. "Having someone like Ali [Stroker] in our cast who is the first person on Broadway to be in a wheelchair – now being as close to her as I am – I'm seeing things differently in the world," said Boniello. "It's astounding,” he said, "you see everything really differently."
"Joining that Spring Awakening gang was literally a dream come true," said Gioia. "Looking out into the audience, which happened to be standing-room only, it was amazing to know how many people are interested in Deaf culture and a more-inclusive Broadway for all. It was inspiring… okay, and a bit nerve-wracking!"
Read more highlights from BroadwayCon: Day One