Winer is chief theater critic and arts columnist for Newsday, which she joined in 1987.
What’s this? A gaggle of Elphabas? A herd of Hedwigs? A veritable early American army in hip revolutionary britches?
Clearly, this is not the same costume drama created by the panhandling Mickeys, pushy Spider-Men and grabby Cookie Monsters who accost theatergoers and civilians in Times Square.
This comes from a very different New York subgroup altogether. This is BroadwayCon, the first-ever convention for theater geeks and the artists who love them. From early Friday, Jan. 22, until sundown Sunday, Jan. 24, 3,000 to 5,000 fans a day are expected to descend on the New York Hilton Midtown. Costumes, incidentally, are not obligatory.
And though some rituals may be familiar from Comic-Con and other rabid fan fests, the weekend promises much more than the chance to dress up like Spock, stand in line and wait for autographs. The days and evenings will be stuffed with panels, performances, workshops, master classes and singalongs, including panels with the casts of “Hamilton” (creator-star Lin-Manuel Miranda will be on hand) and the Tony-winning “Fun Home” — complete with meet-and-greets and, I suspect, autographs. (The $250 weekend general passes sold out fast, but, at this writing, $95 daily passes are still available.)
“I know. It’s crazy,” marvels Melissa Anelli, almost breathless from the wildfire of interest in what she hopes will be an annual event. Anelli and Stephanie Dornheim are business partners in Mischief Management, which already produces a general geek convention called GeekyCon and LeakyCon, a gathering geared toward Anelli’s other true obsession, Harry Potter. (Get the Harry reference in her company name?)
Also in the BroadwayCon mix are Playbill and actor Anthony Rapp, the original Mark Cohen in “Rent.” Anelli and Rapp often talked about the camaraderie at the “Rent” stage door in the ’90s — clearly an inspirational story for fans everywhere. Anelli was watching the 2013 Tonys at Rapp’s house the night Dornheim texted her and said something like “Hey, has there ever been a BroadwayCon?”
Brainstorm. To quote a favorite “Hamilton” song, they were in the room when it happened. The response from the Broadway community was immediate. According to Anelli, people are always saying to her “I can’t believe this didn’t exist already. A lot of people say ‘Oh my God, I had this idea.’ We were hardly the first people with the idea, but we were the first people with the idea and an existing structure to pull it off.”
Anelli, who also wrote the best-selling “Harry, A History” and has been the webmistress for a Potter fansite, obviously understands what drives the passion behind the word fanaticism. In two years, she and her partners have put together (at a cost of $800,000-$900,000, which they hope to recoup from ticket sales) a remarkably full and varied lineup of serious and silly events — including “fan meetups” for Stephen Sondheim people, Andrew Lloyd Webber people, “Hamilfans,” “Rentheads” and even one for people nostalgic for NBC’s “Smash.”
Other highlights, at least as I see them, include a choreography panel called “Dance, Ten,” “Producing 101,” “The Art of Stage Management,” sessions on lighting, costume and sound design, and “Thoroughly Modern Marketing,” about the impact of social media on the selling of Broadway.
How about a master class with Rapp or Rebecca Luker? A Disney singalong? Late-night improvisations with a group named Don’t Quit Your Night Job? A “museum room” of theatrical memorabilia? There’s also a party every night and a Broadway Marketplace, where consumers and sentimentalists can catch up on the merch.
As Rapp puts it: “There’s an opportunity to share more deeply in this world that we all have dedicated so much of our life and energy to, both as artists and as audience members.”
Ask Anelli if, indeed, there even is a Broadway community, and she answers, frankly, “Not in the same way as other communities. It’s potentially a little harder to bring people together. Sometimes people are only interested in one special show.”
So are theater fans different from other kinds of fans? “Not at the core,” she says. “When you love something this way and engage in this passion, it’s all pretty much the same.”
Last year, 130,000 fans came to New York Comic Con. Few would likely be insulted to read the findings of a recent study by the University of Georgia. It seems that personalities who identify with geek culture or who attend a Comic Con dressed as superheroes are likely to have an “elevated grandiose” level of narcissism. Nobody has yet studied people who paint themselves Elphaba green and go to Broadway conventions, but, theatrically speaking, elevated grandiosity has seldom been considered a bad thing.
Depending on how this weekend goes, there are dreams of transporting the idea to London — that is, for a WestendCon. Anelli won’t confirm, but she will say they already own the domain name.