"When we would come out of the theatre, there was maybe five to ten people waiting outside to just talk to us," Anthony Rapp remembers, talking about the stage-door experience of the 90s, when Rent rocked Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. "We could actually engage with people, and that's literally how I met Melissa Anelli."
Anelli runs Mischief Management — the brain trust behind fan-favorite conventions GeekyCon (for self-proclaimed geeks) and LeakyCon (for Harry Potter enthusiasts) — with her business partner Stephanie Dornhelm. Now, almost 20 years later, Anelli and Mischief Management partner with Rapp and Playbill for the first-ever BroadwayCon. This time, fans will number in thousands.
The weekend-long convention for theatre lovers will take over the New York Hilton Midtown from Jan. 22-24 and grant fans an all-access pass to events with performers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, writers, designers and exclusive experiences that they can only find at BroadwayCon.
"We're going to be able to have — even if it's a group conversation — conversations and interactions about things beyond simply, 'Will you stand and take the picture with me and sign something?'" declares Rapp. "There's an opportunity to share more deeply in this world that we all have dedicated so much of our life and energy to, both as artists and as audience members."
Rapp is excited for a weekend of meet-and-greets and discussions with industry leaders and stars — but it wouldn't be Broadway without the belting. A special opening number for the convention has been in the works because, as Anelli says, "We want to wrap people into the experience from the word 'Go!'" First Date songwriters Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner penned an original song for the opening, and director David Alpert wrote a sketch to go with it. Without divulging too much, Anelli says the opening will be setting the tone for a weekend of "silly fun, education, [and] a lot of thoughtful discussion."
The convention will give fans an up-close-and-personal experience to explore the theatre industry like never before. There will be a museum room of theatrical memorabilia, Q&A sessions, Broadway cast reunions (with a Rent panel, of course), master classes, dance workshops, original performances, sneak peeks of new and in-development shows and impromptu moments with theatre stars (think musical theatre-style flash mobs!).
Panels and talkbacks include "Creating a Cast Recording," "Why Our Favorite Shows Close," "The History of Theatre and Social Change," "Producing 101," as well as Main Stage programming that spans behind-the-scenes stories from classic shows to talkbacks with stars, from Broadway-themed game shows to performances. Click here for the schedule!
Cast members from Hamilton, Fun Home, Something Rotten!, Disaster!, Spring Awakening, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon, Allegiance, If/Then as well as "Smash" and "Pitch Perfect" will be on hand throughout the weekend.
"There hasn't been anything like this," Rapp says, "where audiences and artists and creators and producers all can interact in a meaningful way — meaningful and also, hopefully, entertaining and silly and fun. A mixture of all those things. Theatre is a major part of our world. People have said they're worried it's going to die — they've been saying that for hundreds of years — and it still hasn't died because people do love to gather together and see something happen before their eyes, and this is just another way of celebrating that and helping that sustain and grow."
Rapp is looking forward to the panel featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of his new musical Hamilton. "I'm a huge Hamilton fan myself," he says, "so any opportunity that I have to soak in hearing from the folks who created that incredible masterpiece…is really, really special. To quote the show, I feel so 'lucky to be alive right now' to witness it."
If you're not in New York City this January, don't fear. The convention is planned to be an annual event in the Big Apple, and Rapp hopes that BroadwayCon can even make it across the pond. "There's literally no plan for this yet concretely, but it's a possibility we could do a London version because there’s certainly a lot of theatre over there — and other places, [too]. It's possible."
To think it all started with the drop of a mic: "It was the moment that Audra dropped her mic at the 2013 Tonys," explains Anelli. "I was watching it at Anthony's house, when [Dornhelm] texted me and said, 'Hey, has there ever been a BroadwayCon?,' and my brain exploded. I said to her, 'I can't have two theatre moments at once. Just give me a second. Audra is dropping a mic.'"
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. He will be moderating various panels at BroadwayCon. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)