We did explorations in the past on how the creation of venues can lead directly to the creation of culture in a given city. Manhattan is a central hub to many things in the world; culturally, perhaps one of the most famous things we’re known for is for being the home to the Broadway theater scene.
Live theater has served as a format of entertainment events for human civilization since well before Broadway ever became a thing of course. By many accounts (here in the west at least…), the popularization of live theater started with the ancient Greeks at around 700BC. The initial construction methodologies of the Greek amphitheaters around this time were one of human civilizations first endeavors into specialized event venue design: since there were no AV equipments during this time, these amphitheaters had to be designed with mathematical precision to carry the acoustics of the actors’ voices throughout the audience of sometimes over 10,000 people.
So in this scheme of things, between the ancient Greeks in the BC years and Shakespeare in the 1500s, New York City’s Broadway doesn’t claim much historical roots into the foundings of theater culture in human civilization. However, as far as the United States is concerned, New Yorkers can proudly note that Broadway theater does predate the founding of our country. Back as early as the 1750s, the British started sending actors here to their little colony across the Atlantic to perform various Shakespearean and operatic works. In this entire first century of New York theater, the scene was focused mostly downtown, in the area that today is Union Square. As with the rest of New York, in the decades before Central Park was invented (yes that’s right, invented) in 1857 all the hubs of New York life was downtown. Theaters began to move uptown as they got priced out of downtown real estate, and in a similar story to the New York Times, they initially began to congregate around what is now the Times Square area only because the rent prices up there were significantly lower than anything further south.
In the early decades of the 20th Century, many people wondered if the advent of motion pictures would obsolete the format of live theater. This marked perhaps the second time in human history when we’ve had to contemplate whether technology would replace the need for live human gatherings, with the first being when people wondered if the phonographs invented in the late 19th Century would replace the work of live musicians. The concern was a legitimate one: why pay for a band or a troupe to show up day after day, when their work can just be recorded and replayed at any time?
But alas, over the decades theater professionals and audiences alike have found the live stage to offer a unique medium of entertainment that cannot be reproduced by motion pictures. Like the juxtapositions today between live meetings versus digital connections, it’s not that technology is better or worse than face to face, it’s just that each medium offers its own unique set of possibilities. While movies is certainly the more accessible medium of entertainment today (after all, most of the world population doesn’t live in NYC…), Broadway still remains a billion dollar local industry, and is home to 41 theaters and as many running productions on any given day. There’s plenty of technology out there that seems capable of obsoleting this scene, but in the same way the photographer never obsoleted the painter, live theater remains a unique art form that can encapsulate a story in ways that the grandeur of motion picture isn’t able to do.
See you at the next exploration!