Broadway is one of the most known and recognizable locations for both tourists and locals alike when they think of about New York City. Perhaps even better known than Times Square where it is primarily located, Broadway is the premier destination for anyone who loves the theater. While the closest most people will get to the Broadway stage is the front row seating, I was lucky enough to get a backstage tour of the Broadway show A Gentleman's Guide to Murder and was pretty amazed at what was discovered.
When Broadway shows are mentioned, it actually refers to 40 different theaters located all over the theater district in Manhattan. These theaters need to have at least 500 or more seats to be considered in this group and most of them are found along Broadway Avenue for which the area is named after. While the theater in New York City has been around since the 1750s, the concept of the modern musical didn't arrive until 1866 with the showing of The Black Crook which was the first show to feature dancing and original music to help tell its story. The current shows on Broadway have advanced quite considerably since the modern musicals first inception but many of the theaters currently in use have been around since the early 1900s. Over one billion dollars worth of tickets are sold every year with over 12 million people attending in 2013 alone. With Canon USA and the #Bringit tour I was able to get a backstage look at the Walter Kerr Theatre, which was built in 1921 and used as a radio and television studio until it was transitioned into the Broadway theater it is today.
The first thing you will notice when taking a step behind the curtain is how incredible small and cramped everything is. New York City might have changed dramatically since the 1920s but the Walter Kerr building has not (which is similar with most Broadway theaters). While these productions might cost millions of dollars to put on, this is hardly reflected in its backstage space. The off-stage areas for costume changes are just white curtains cordoning off a corner or area against a wall with about as much space as you might find at your local Old Navy changing room. Even the makeup station which might be the most utilized and important area for most Broadway productions is only given enough space for two chairs, small table, and mirror with makeup bags hanging from hooks where ever space can be found. It's amazing that these professionals can get do such amazing things is such quarantined areas.
You also can't walk around backstage without noticing that everywhere is littered with props and pieces of scenery. The props are laid out in a precision that is almost obsessive compulsive with labels and locations written on tape next to each item. This detail is needed to ensure that everything goes in its proper place during the darkened chaos of a show and that it makes it back to its proper storage area especially on those days with back to back performances. Scenery changes can be made with impressive speed due to the fact that all of the main backgrounds are on rollers attached to the floor and pushed off to the side. Other large props can be find dangling on platforms from the ceiling so that they can remain out of the way until needed and stored out of the way when not in use. From behind the scenes it seems a play is more like controlled chaos than a well designed and perfectly-timed performance.
Beyond just backstage, you will find that most everything else with behind the Broadway's behind the scenes was equally as surprising with its size. Everything from the staircases between floors, the music pit underneath the stage, to storage and dressing rooms were tightly packed in and hardly a reflection of the big images portrayed on the signs out front. Some high school theatre groups are given far more space to put on performances than you will find on most Broadway stages. Even with all these limitations, the beauty and majesty of seeing a Broadway performance in a theatre built in early 20th century and maintained to that vaudeville tradition is unmatched anywhere in the world. It is definitely an experience you should make sure to include anytime you are in New York City.