Broadway performers appear in approximately 416 shows per year – often while singing and dancing simultaneously. Repeatedly. For over two hours. No director yells “Cut!” if someone misses an entrance or an actor flubs a line. No editing occurs if the pace is too slow or continuity is interrupted.
What you’re actually witnessing when you’re watching a Broadway show are people who possess the passion many of us geeks are known for.
Broadway is a specialized niche of geekery. In addition to identifying as “theater geeks,” many of those involved in Broadway are also “geeks” in other ways - technologically, humor-wise and through self-identification as oddballs and underdogs.
Some say the Tony Awards, which are being held this weekend, are not so different from the celebration of San Diego Comic-Con. With so many like-minded geeks in one place, there's bound to be a pun or two.
Like many other geeks, theater geeks love a good pun or an inside joke. While plenty of theater geeks find the self-referencing and self-depreciating inside jokes within their favorite productions to be hilarious, they can sometimes alienate other cultures – and audiences.
“[Title of Show]” was an original, one-act musical that closed after just 102 performances. McGibbon says it didn't succeed because it was actually “too much of an insider musical.”
“It made many jokes about certain producers, et cetera, that the general public didn't get,” McGibbon adds.
Thom Geier, senior editor at Entertainment Weekly agrees, saying, “There is, in fact, a limited pool of Broadway geeks and “[Title of Show]” couldn't sustain their audience.”
Geier goes on to say, however, that shows like “Spamalot!, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and the adaptations of Mel Brooks' “Young Frankenstein” and especially “The Producers” have succeeded, because their references “play into geekdom, while also playing to a broader audience.”
Geier sees the Great White Way culture evolving in line with a lot of sci-fi or fantasy fan bases.
Broadway is “something that appeals to everyone, because there are these great stories, great music, but producers and creators like to throw in something extra just for the fans sometimes,” Geier says. “It's not unlike die-hard “Star Trek” people who seek out the Easter eggs on their Blu-ray compilation DVD sets.”
But perhaps what draws geeks to Broadway is no different than what draws them – us – to the Harry Potters, the Frodo Bagginses, the X-Men, and even the Sherlock Holmeses that have consistently permeated geek culture and identity: Broadway is full of underdogs and outcasts.
From poor, orphaned newsboys to doltish-yet-honorable knights; to a green schoolgirl with magical abilities to a science nerd who receives great power and learns great responsibility, Broadway loves its antiheroes.
For Geier, the main reason is the simplest one: “I think everyone loves an underdog story. It's not just theater; it's in books, it's in movies...It's David and Goliath. It's as old as the Bible.”
McGibbon believes the connection goes even deeper than our evolution as human beings.
“If you talk to anybody who is in theater, they will tell you that they have, at some point in their life, felt like an outsider,” McGibbon says.
“People who go into theater are generally not the cool kids. We were never popular, never cool. We were always the strange ones who wanted to be somebody else and found release in taking on those personas. I think that Broadway, and theater, in a more general sense, give these people – gives us – a sense of belonging. When you say 'theater geek,' I think you're talking about the type of person who is more sensitive and is more able to get in touch with their emotions and that carries over into the characters they play.”
But a propensity for quoting Monty Python or a profound feeling of being the odd-ball is not the only way of being an otherwise geeky theater geek. Broadway director/choreographer Jeff Whiting’s life-long love of technology is actually revolutionizing Broadway production with his Stage Write app.
In 2006, Whiting was hired as assistant choreographer for “Young Frankenstein," working alongside Tony-winning choreographer Susan Stroman. Part of his job was to assemble the show's “bible,” a compendium of scripts, lyrics, stage blocking for every scene, background information, history, and so forth. The process took months and when he finished, the “Young Frankenstein” show bible was two massive binders put together that would be lugged to and from every rehearsal.
While working on the show, Whiting developed “Stage Write,” which allows directors and choreographers to stage and mark out an entire show, from scene to scene. With the press of a button, they can see the entire scene move and play out. The app can turn a three-month staging process into a three-day process, which not only saves time but money, as well.
Now, “The Scottsboro Boys” (assistant directed by Whiting), “Newsies”, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, “War Horse”, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”, and “Ghost” all use it, along with Disney, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Cirque du Soleil. A woman from the Olympics committee contacted Whiting about using it, as well as numerous ballet studios, marching band troupes, and even event planners who use the app to stage seating arrangements.
Some universities even teach stage management and directing with it. How’s that for geeky?