GROSS: Since you worked as an usher at “The Lion King” when you started the process of writing “A Strange Loop” and the main character in “A Strange Loop” is an usher at “The Lion King,” now that you have a hit show, do you talk to the ushers? And do you try to hire ushers for whom this will be a good theater experience, a good opportunity for them to kind of almost be an apprentice?
JACKSON: Well, I don’t have anything to do with hiring the ushers. They’re – they belong to a union, Local 306. They place them in the theaters they work at. But I do. When I go to the show, I do often talk to them. They’re very nice people, but they also have a different situation than I had when I ushered because when you’re a Disney usher, you have this long employee handbook, and you’re considered a cast member. And you’re – and the people who come to see the shows are guests. And they are – and it’s almost like you’re working at a theme park. Like, they want to create, like, an experience for the people coming to see the shows. And so they’re just very strict about everything from grooming to how you can gesture to the restroom and all that sort of stuff. It’s – like, it’s pretty intense.
GROSS: How are you supposed to gesture to the restroom? What’s the proper call?
JACKSON: Open-handed. You’re never supposed to point.
The beginning of Broadway theater can be traced to the 19th-century influx of immigrants to New York City, particularly Yiddish, German and Italian, who brought with them indigenous and new forms of theater. The development of indoor gas lighting around this same time period allowed for the construction of permanent spaces for these novel theatrical forms. Early variety, burlesque, and minstrelsy halls were built along Broadway below Houston Street. As the city expanded north, new theaters were constructed along the thoroughfare with family-friendly vaudeville, developed by Tony Pastor, clustering around Union Square in the 1860s and 1870s, and larger opera houses, hippodromes, and theaters populating Broadway between Union Square and Times Square later in the century. Times Square became the epicenter for large scale theater productions between 1900 and the Great Depression.
There is no standard date that is considered the beginning of Broadway-style theatre. A few landmarks that are considered the beginning of the Broadway era include the 1866 opening of The Black Crook at Niblo’s Garden, considered the first piece of American style musical theater, the 1913 founding of the Actors’ Equity Association, the union for New York Theater performers, and the 1919 Actors’ Equity Association strike which gave actors and performers the recognition of a “fully legitimate professional trade”. Mary Henderson in her book The City and the Theatre breaks down theater on the street Broadway into three time periods. “Lower Broadway” from 1850 to 1870, “Union Square and Beyond” from 1870 to 1899, and “Times Square: the First Hundred Years” (1900–2000). The current official Broadway/Off-Broadway division began with the 1949 Actors’ Equity agreement.
It’s rare to encounter the kind of breathless silence I experienced during an unnerving hotel room scene in the unforgettable revival of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive.”
On the night I saw the production, hundreds of audience members listened with rapt attention — I didn’t hear anyone unwrap a mint or fumble for a tissue. I didn’t even hear a whisper break the stillness in the air. There was just the steady buzz of the lights, suddenly deafeningly loud, as if they were performing their own monologue.
If I could direct a scene representing why I love theater, it would look something like this: Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse delivering crushing performances — both sentimental and horrific, utterly complex — of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play to an enthralled audience.
In accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and under the continued direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Broadway shows in New York City suspended performances March 12, 2020. Although too soon to commit to a return date, Broadway theatres extend ticket refunds and exchanges through January 3, 2021. An official return date will be announced at a later time. Off-Broadway, Tour, and Regional closures are on a show-by-show basis. Click here to consult Playbill’s roundup of Off-Broadway and National Tour cancellations, hiatuses and up-to-date information.
Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations Broadway Musical Imperial Theatre249 W. 45th St.
Aladdin Broadway Musical New Amsterdam Theatre214 W. 42nd St.
American Buffalo Broadway Circle in the Square Theatre235 W. 50th St. Begins Previews March 2021
The Book of Mormon Broadway Musical Eugene O’Neill Theatre230 W. 49th St.
Caroline, or Change Broadway Musical Studio 54254 W. 54th St. Begins Previews 2021
Chicago Broadway Musical Ambassador Theatre219 W. 49th St.
Come From Away Broadway Musical Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre236 W. 45th St.
Company Broadway Musical Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre242 W. 45th St.
David Byrne’s American Utopia Broadway Begins Performances September 17, 2021
Dear Evan Hansen Broadway Musical Music Box Theatre239 W. 45th St.
Diana Broadway Musical Longacre Theatre220 W. 48th St. Begins Previews 2021
Flying Over Sunset Broadway Musical Vivian Beaumont Theater150 W. 65th St. Begins Previews 2021
Girl From the North Country Broadway Belasco Theatre111 W. 44th St.
Hadestown Broadway Musical Walter Kerr Theatre219 W. 48th St.
Hamilton Broadway Musical Richard Rodgers Theatre226 W. 46th St.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two Broadway Play Lyric Theatre214 W. 43rd St.
How I Learned to Drive Broadway Samuel J. Friedman Theatre261 W. 47th St. Begins Previews 2022
Jagged Little Pill Broadway Musical Broadhurst Theatre235 W. 44th St.
Lackawanna Blues Broadway Samuel J. Friedman Theatre261 W. 47th St. Begins Previews 2021
The Lehman Trilogy Broadway Play Nederlander Theatre208 W. 41st St.
The Lion King Broadway Musical Minskoff Theatre1515 Broadway
Mean Girls Broadway Musical August Wilson Theatre245 W. 52nd St.
The Minutes Broadway Play Begins Previews March 2022
MJ The Musical Broadway Neil Simon Theatre250 W. 52nd St., New York, NY Begins Previews September 2021
Moulin Rouge! The Musical! Broadway Musical Al Hirschfeld Theatre302 W. 45th St.
Mrs. Doubtfire Broadway Musical Stephen Sondheim Theatre124 W. 43rd St.
The Music Man Broadway Musical Winter Garden Theatre1634 Broadway (At W. 50th St.) Begins Previews December 20, 2021
The Phantom of the Opera Broadway Musical Majestic Theatre245 W. 44th St.
Plaza Suite Broadway Play Hudson Theatre139-141 W. 44th St. Begins Previews March 19, 2021
Sing Street Broadway Musical TBANew York Begins Previews 2022
SIX: The Musical Broadway Musical Brooks Atkinson Theatre256 W. 47th St.
Some Like It Hot Broadway Musical Begins Previews 2021
Take Me Out Broadway Helen Hayes Theater240 W. 44th St. Begins Previews March 2021
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical Broadway Musical Lunt-Fontanne Theatre205 W. 46th St.
To Kill A Mockingbird Broadway Play Sam S. Shubert Theatre225 W. 44th St.
Trouble in Mind Broadway American Airlines Theatre227 West 42nd Street Begins Previews 2021
West Side Story Broadway Musical Broadway Theatre1681 Broadway (W. 53rd St.)
The Who’s Tommy Broadway Musical Begins Previews 2021
Wicked Broadway Musical Gershwin Theatre222 W. 51st St.