Lincoln Center Theater’s André Bishop on the hottest tickets in town, matinée audiences, and where to eat before (or after) a show
When a man who has won 15 Tony Awards and 14 Drama Desk Awards tells you that New York Theater has never been better, you should listen. But then André Bishop, who last year celebrated 25 years as Artistic Director of Lincoln Center Theater, is more responsible than most producers for having proven that quality theater and Broadway success can go hand in hand. The genius behind such indelible productions as Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig, Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, Susan Stroman's Contact, and the recently acclaimed Oslo (winner of two Tony awards), Bishop is also an Essentialist Globalite. Here, he shares his thoughts on why the Great American Play (and Musical) keep getting better plus how to experience New York Theater like a pro.
Essentialist: What productions are you particularly excited about this season in New York?
André Bishop: I can't recommend specific productions, because if I leave anything out I'll get into trouble! But I can say this: In my 35 years of working in New York Theater, both Broadway and the institutional theater—Lincoln Center or Manhattan Theater Club or the Roundabout—have never been as active or done work as good as they are doing this season.
E: Why do you think that is?
AB: My theory is that these institutions just keep getting better and better as the years go on and many of their works move to Broadway and have a second life there. I also feel very strongly that people should go to shows in bad times. This has been a tradition in our country for 100 years. There's something about people banding together, whether it's to see plays that give them some understanding of the world that they live in now—and these can be classics, not just new plays—or simply to escape and be entertained. Business is really booming, because people want to be out together and share an experience.
E: Do you think audiences are demanding higher-quality productions? Have they become more sophisticated?
AB: I don't know if they've become more sophisticated. I do think that they've become more enthusiastic. I'm not just talking about the now-quite-common standing ovation that virtually everything gets. I've noticed a greater degree of appreciation and audience engagement. People seem to be generally much more open to theater forms of all kinds. I notice enthusiasm more and judgment less—and I'm not talking about not having critical taste. Part of it is just people wanting to be in a room together, watching something good.
E: How often do you get to London for the theater?
AB: I haven't been in a while, but virtually anything at the National Theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, the Royal Court, the Almeida, or the Young Vic is worth going to. The latest sensation, which I haven't seen, is this play based on Harry Potter [Harry Potter and the Cursed Child]. What's interesting about it is that I hear it's actually good, and not just trading on a famous book.
E: Do you travel to other places to look for new productions?
AB: Occasionally. I go to the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and the Seattle Rep in Washington. The Guthrie in Minneapolis has a beautiful new theater. And occasionally I go to the American Repertory Theater at Harvard, which is now a professional company. There is also the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. I'm not being Pollyannaish when I say that there are many, many fantastic theaters, where 40 years ago there were hardly any. Now, most cities have one or two good small theaters.
E: And some of them are commissioning original works, not necessarily just revivals.
AB: Absolutely. There's new work being done all over the country. When I started out, at Playwrights Horizons, there were no theaters doing new work, except in New York. A lot of new plays are done in these nonprofit theaters, but the runs are not that long. So unless the show extends or moves to Broadway, there’s a limited period of time to catch it. Look at the schedules of the Public Theater, Manhattan Theater Club, Lincoln Center, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, the Roundabout, the Atlantic Theater Company, Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn. If something sounds interesting, get tickets because the runs tend to be only six or eight weeks.
E: How often are you at the theater yourself? Are you seeing productions most nights of the week?
AB: I go to plays maybe twice a week. I tend to go to matinées a lot because I work at night with our own shows. I used to be very snobbish about matinées and matinée audiences. But now I love matinées, and I'm in the audience. When I was young I didn't believe to going to the theater in daylight, but I don't believe that anymore.
Where to Eat Pre- and Post- Theater
Near Lincoln Center…
Everybody has always loved Shun Lee, the classic Chinese restaurant, but the more interesting part is Shun Lee Café next door, where they serve dim sum. One of my favorites is Gabriel's, an old-school Italian place that has been run forever by a charming guy named Gabriel. There are two cafés in the Lincoln Center complex with very good food: American Table, in Alice Tully Hall [the chef is fellow Globalite Marcus Samuelsson] and Indie Food & Wine, in the Film Society building.
In the Theater District…
I go to Orso on 46th Street all the time. The roasted artichoke appetizer is delicious. The recently revamped Gallagher's Steakhouse looks exactly like it used to 75 years ago. That's the genius of it—they didn't turn it into an airport lounge. A lot of theater people and actors hang out at Bar Centrale, which is in an unmarked brownstone just next to Orso. Sardi's has redone its second-floor bar and revealed an old set of windows that face 44th Street and the Shubert Theater—the view is incredible. That has become very popular with theater people.
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