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Howard Sherman: I wanted to broaden my theatregoing horizons in 2018… So how did I do?

Rachel Christopher, Ugo Chukwu and Beau Thom in What to Send Up When It Goes Down. Photo: Ahron R Foster
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When I examined my year in theatregoing for 2017, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with what it said about me, and hoped that going to the theatre in 2018 would better reflect my beliefs and values. As we begin 2019, I have considered my 2018 theatregoing to see what’s changed, and am ambivalent about my own record once again.

In 2017, I saw 107 productions. In 2018, I saw 88. It’s possible that a few were missed in my tracking along the way each year. I’ve not included amateur productions, such as a secondary school Sound of Music or an improv presentation in a prison, both of which were part of my December.

Howard Sherman: The plays we see say a lot about us, it’s our duty to widen our horizons

I have no specific reason why my count dropped by some 20% in 2018, save for time and stamina. Because I am not a critic, I am not compelled to see productions, but try to keep current with a range of what’s staged, in large part to fuel content for this column.

In 2017, 25% of the shows I saw were written by women, and only 15% were by writers of colour; some fit both of those categories. In 2018, 31% of the shows on my list were by women, meaning that I’d made some progress toward gender equity in my theatregoing. Shows from Mean Girls to Miss You Like Hell surely contributed to this shift, since so many other musicals tend to be heavily dominated by male writing teams.

Of the work I saw last year, 24% was by writers of colour, a slightly more marked advance. Among these were Ming Peiffer’s Usual Girls, Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over, Aleshea Harris’ What to Send Up When It Goes Down, Jeremy O Harris’ Slave Play, and Donja R Love’s Fireflies.

Ali Rose Dachis, Nicole Rodenburg, Sofia Black D’Elia, Midori Francis and Abby Corrigan in Usual Girls. Photo: Joan Marcus

Yes, some of my theatregoing was defined by what was on offer – a good measure of what I saw were Broadway shows, which I tend to see regardless of my personal interest. I see most of that work because it is likeliest to reach the widest audience, and I feel I should stay informed. With some 35 new shows a year on Broadway – and I missed a few for various reasons – it is the commercial mentality that underlies my list, not my own intentions or aesthetics.

But I cannot claim that what I see is essentially programmed by others. My theatregoing remains in large part the reflection of my own decisions, combined with what I feel I should see to assess the current climate of theatre in New York, and what I have the time to see.

Among many shows, I regret having missed Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is, Love’s Sugar in Our Wounds, and Ngozi Anyanwu’s Good Grief, among others, shows that – if I had 2018 to do over again – I would have made attendance compulsory.

I wish my statistics were more markedly improved overall, as my 2017 stats have never been far from my mind. As I sit down to start arranging my theatregoing for 2019, I still have work to do, on myself and on what I choose to see.

I will note one statistic that I hadn’t calculated for 2017, which is that in 2018 more than 80% of the productions I saw were of new works, either world premieres or New York City area debuts.

That is not to diminish the value of revivals – when I saw Antony and Cleopatra at London’s National Theatre it was my very first time seeing that particular Shakespeare play – but evidence that, as shows I saw in their original productions 20 and 30 years ago are revived for new generations, my focus remains predominantly on what is entirely new.

I start my 2019 theatregoing tonight with Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, which I didn’t see during its first New York run. I await what the year will bring and know that I must commit to choosing what I see ever more consciously, lest my ingrained biases and preferences curate a narrower path than that to which I aspire.

This week in US theatre

Abby Rosebrock’s Blue Ridge, about a teacher with a rage problem, makes its world premiere Monday night at the Atlantic Theater Company. Taibi Magar directs a company that includes the estimable Marin Ireland.

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy was originally co-commissioned by the Royal Court and Manhattan Theatre Club, and was first seen at the former venue in 2012 and at the latter’s Off-Broadway space in 2013. It becomes the first Broadway opening in 2019 when Manhattan Theatre Club remounts the show, opening on Tuesday. Trip Cullman once again directs for MTC.

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