Some friends of mine had a pair of shows performing in repertory this past weekend, and I attended a double-header presentation on Friday night. (They only ran the one weekend, so there’s not much I can do here and now to promote them, other than to say that New Ambassadors is a fun theatre company.) A large portion of the cast and creative team of the two shoes are regular attendees of Tuesdays at Nine, the cold reading series I co-direct. As a result, in addition to the performers who I knew, there was a whole coterie of my friend circle sitting in the audience with me as well. By the end of the evening, there was a dozen or more of us gathered after the performances, standing together in a circle, debating the great issues that come to the fore when viewing a work of theatrical art.
Namely, where are we going out to drink afterwards.
It doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would warrant in-depth discussion – you’re at a theatre, it’s located such-and-such a place, there’s a bar nearby, let’s go get a drink. And if by chance there’s only one bar within the vicinity of the theatre you’re attending, it may well be as simple as that. But one usually has options – and when it comes to the ritual post-show drinking, those options involve more than whether or not food is served, or what the precise wine selection might be. They involve the character of the show itself, and the precise bonds among cast and crew. Is it the proverbial cast of a high school musical enjoying a raucous late-night meal at a local diner? Or a more somber, adult affair? What, exactly, does the post-show watering hole you choose say about you as an artist?
There are three major categories, I feel, for the various sorts of venues which host post-show afterparties.
There’s the eaterie – a location full of long tables and comprehensive menus, of good food and conviviality, where a communal meal – formal or no – is the primary point of the evening.
There’s the fancy spot – be it a hip modern club or a retro cocktail joint, anyplace where the point is to be as fancy as possible, and revel in one’s own sophistication.
And finally, there’s the dive bar. And after much debate, this option – the option I happen to favor – won out for the evening.
The reasons I think dive bars are essential for post-show socializing are many. A large part of it, of course, is practical – actors are poor, and cheap(er) alcohol is welcome. But there are other aspects, and I feel those aspects go to the heart of theatre. At its best – when it’s not just marking time or babysitting its audience, but actually has something to say – theater is supposed to be illicit, dangerous. A nice, dark, sordid dive bar is a great way to continue that vibe. And for theater to remain vital as art, it needs to reach beyond its rarified cadre of “theatermakers” and try and connect with the public – and there aren’t many place to find a good cross-section of the public, its varying social strata and pulsing humanity, than a good old fashioned dive bar. (They might not serve an old fashioned, but you get the point.)
Are there more important questions to be worrying about? Almost certainly. But then, that’s sort of the point here – why I always harp on making the theatre as urgent and meaningful as possible. When things are bad enough, you have to figure out a way to fight them with your art. And for the sake of your own morale, you might also want to (responsibly) follow the advice of a certain wise man from my childhood, and start drinking heavily.