Even though New Line produces only musical theatre, we work in almost every conceivable storytelling genre – lots of comedy and drama obviously, but also film noir (The Wild Party), crime drama (Love Kills), melodrama (bare), allegory (The Rocky Horror Show), fairy tale (Into the Woods), fable (The Fantasticks), folk tale (The Robber Bridegroom), thriller (Sweeney Todd), science fiction (Return to the Forbidden Planet), documentary (Hands on a Hardbody), sex farce (I Love My Wife), social satire (Bat Boy), political satire (Urinetown), political drama (Kiss of the Spider Woman), absurdism (Anyone Can Whistle), expressionism (Jacques Brel), impressionism (Sunday in the Park with George), religious drama (JC Superstar), Hero Myth (Passing Strange), biography (Evita), autobiography (A New Brain), confessional (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and horror (Night of the Living Dead).
► Check out New Line's past shows and read artistic director Scott Miller's essay on musical theatre from his book Strike Up the Band: A New History of Musical Theatre.
As one of the first theatre companies in America to establish a web presence back in 1997, New Line continues to embrace new technologies and cultural trends, and we've made a real commitment to exploring the possibilities of Web 2.0, the new generation of websites designed specifically for interaction. We want to enhance the theatre-going experience for our audiences, but also to extend that experience beyond the physical theatre, so that our audiences can interact with the artists who make the shows. So we're creating blogs and viral videos for each show and we maintain an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, and other platforms. New Line also provides incredible resources on our own full-service website, including research materials about shows we produce; background and analysis essays about shows; research materials on musical theatre as an art form; the promotion of other local theatre companies through comprehensive lists of St. Louis theatres and upcoming local musicals, and much, much more. See everything on our site by visiting our Site Map.
In addition to our work onstage, New Line also serves our community in so many other ways, including the creation of the first two St. Louis Theatre Racial Diversity Symposiums; the creation of the St. Louis Political Theatre Festival; New Line Theatre's intern program; New Line's Cultural Partners program; and the co-founding of the St. Louis Professional Theatre Cooperative. New Line also makes available free seats to every mainstage performance, open to any college student with a valid student ID. The New Liners are fully committed not just to producing quality theatre, but also to serving St. Louis metro area audiences through our work.
The artists of New Line honor our past and the Rodgers and Hammerstein school of musical theatre but believe that after more than sixty years of that model, it's time to move forward and explore new models and new paths. So, while working entirely within the musical theatre genre, New Line explores and experiments with audience expectations, the relationship between actor and audience, the uses of physical space, the uses of music, and the distortion or rejection of traditional linear storytelling, plot, and structure.
In 2010, President Obama hosted an evening of Broadway music at the White House, and he said, "In many ways, the story of Broadway is intertwined with the story if America. Some of the greatest singers and songwriters Broadway has ever known came to this country on a boat with nothing more than an idea in their head and a song in their heart. And they succeeded the same way that so many immigrants have succeeded -- through talent and hard work and sheer determination. Over the years, musicals have been at the forefront of our social consciousness, challenging stereotypes, shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics."
This art form of ours has never been more adventurous or more vigorous, and the New Liners are determined to be a part of that excitement. (Check out this great New York Times story about the new generation of musical theatre lovers.) The musical theatre is one of our very few indigenous American art forms, one of America's greatest gifts to the world, full of the raw power of the American experience, and New Line treats it with the seriousness, respect, humor, and joy that it deserves.
IN COMES COMPANY
We are very proud that New Line regularly casts actors in leading roles who have never worked with our company before. In most New Line shows, about half the cast are actors who are new to the company. This constant flow of new talent is important to New Line’s work. In the casting process, the New Line staff cares far less about formal training and resumes, and far more about talent and a willingness to experiment, take risks, and break rules.
It is also important to us that our company looks like the community we serve, so we are continually working to increase diversity in our casts and our audiences. Some people think that color-blind casting is just about being "politically correct," but we believe that color-blind casting is about seeing the world as it should be instead of the way it is. We believe this may be one way we can help make the next generation better and smarter and happier than ours. If we're not working toward making our world a better place, then what real value does art have? We're very proud that only four of our shows in the last ten years have had all-white casts. But we know we can still do better...
SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROLL
In addition to our unique stylistic approach, New Line Theatre is also openly and proudly political in its work, addressing the most relevant contemporary issues in its shows. We believe in the theory of Popcorn, Politics, and Poetry – that our work should contain entertainment, political and social relevance, and a belief in the power of serious art to transform our world.
New Line Theater is America’s only alternative musical theatre company. What sets it apart from many mainstream companies, large and small, is its philosophy and its process. Like dozens and dozens of other small alternative companies across America and around the world, New Line takes philosophical and practical inspiration from the legendary Group Theatre in the 1930s and the theatre models of the 1960s, including Caffé Cino, LaMaMa E.T.C., Judson Poets Theatre, Joan Littlewood's People’s Theatre Workshop in London, and to a lesser extent from the Living Theatre, the Open Theatre, and various theatre collectives in the US and Europe – theatres that emphasized poetic stylization, intellectual seriousness, social and political engagement, and the guiding principle of ensemble.
MYSTIC, CRYSTAL REVELATIONS
Like all those companies in the sixties, New Line questions many of the accepted rules of mainstream theatre. Must there be a separation between actors and audience? Must the playing space be restricted to a certain portion of the theatre? Are there alternatives to traditional linear plots? Can musicals be abstract? Can theatre have a purpose other than storytelling? Must each actor be associated with only one character during a performance? Must there be a distinction between “leads” and “chorus”? Can we directly address the audience? Can we interact with the audience? Can we require things of the audience? Must we pretend the action is “real”? Are nudity and four-letter words really all that shocking today? Can they be simply human expressions of emotion, outrage, activism, satire, social commentary?
► Check out this fascinating article from The New Republic about obscenity.
Designer Robert Edmond Jones wrote in his brilliant book, The Dramatic Imagination, "The only theatre worth saving, the only theatre worth having, is a theatre motion pictures cannot touch. When we succeed in eliminating from it every trace of the photographic attitude of mind, when we succeed in making a production that is the exact antithesis of a motion picture, a production that is everything a motion picture is not and nothing a motion picture is, the old lost magic will return once more. The realistic theatre, we may remember, is less than a hundred years old. But the theatre – great theatre, world theatre – is far older than that, so many centuries older that by comparison it makes our little candid-camera theatre seem like something that was thought up only the day before yesterday."
We believe there are two kinds of theatre: that which unleashes the imagination and that which closes it down and does the work for you. We choose that which unleashes. Legendary director Hal Prince once said, "Don't sell audiences short. They are open to the adventurous, the challenging, even the dangerous.” With every show, New Line audiences prove he's right. The New Liners intend for their audiences not necessarily to feel happy walking out of the theatre, but to feel deeply. And to think about what they're seeing. As the legendary Del Close has said, "Treat your audiences like geniuses and poets and that's what they will become."
We agree with the great director Gregory Mosher, who says, "I have great faith in audiences. We only create problems when we treat them as customers instead of collaborators in an artistic process. . . We can let audiences down in all kinds of ways: by being dishonest with them, by betraying our own intentions and, therefore, betraying the audience's trust. All they ask the artists to do is what the artists want to do. Audiences say, 'I want to see what you want to show me.' "
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD
New Line Theatre takes its musicals seriously. We think our job is to surprise you, to bring you a new adventure every time you walk into our theatre. We agree with the fictional artistic director on Slings and Arrows: "The theatre is an empty box and it is our job to fill it with fury and ecstasy and revolution."
We believe live theatre is one of the most powerful tools in the world for social and political change, and we believe we have an obligation to use that tool to make the world a better place, to engage the people of our region in a discussion about the issues of our times. Acting guru Stella Adler once said, "Unless you give the audience something that makes them bigger – better – do not act." Actor Ben Kingsley has said about actors, "The tribe has elected you to tell its story. You are the shaman/healer, that's what the storyteller is, and I think it's important for actors to appreciate that. Too often actors think it's all about them, when in reality it's all about the audience being able to recognize themselves in you."
In 1973, producer-director Joseph Papp wrote about The New York Shakespeare Festival in the New York Times, "Our artistic style is defined in every production on our stages: forthrightness, vigor, and the direct search for the meaning of man in his family and in society are the common characteristics. It is the social conscience of this theatre which distinguishes it from other theatres. We constantly reflect, and react to, the shifting societal scene and attempt to articulate this shift in terms of theatre workers, plays, and audiences. Our long-range artistic plans, therefore, evolve from a recognition of the need for humanity, intelligence, and feeling in a fast changing world. We will address ourselves to these needs in the year ahead and welcome the thrill of that challenge." He easily could have been writing about New Line in the 21st century.
Way back in 1962, Broadway composer Jerry Bock (Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me) predicted something which is only now finally happening: “Shortly it will happen. The American musical will shed its present polished state and become an untidy, adventurous something else. Shortly it will exchange its current neatness and professional grooming for a less manicured appearance, for a more peculiar profile. It will swell beyond or shrink from the finesse that regulates it now. It will poke around. It will hunt for. It will wander and wonder. It will try and trip. But at least it will be moving again, off the treadmill, out of the safety zone, crossing not at the green, but in between..."
Bock went on, “The new musical may not take place between 41st and 54th street east or west of Broadway. That is, not at first. It may start in San Francisco or Chicago or Minneapolis. Or Lincoln Center. It may come from London or Paris or Rome or Johannesburg. Or the Village. It will probably be viewed and noted with greater interest. We will be less provincial about protecting the American-Broadway-musical-image. We will eliminate the high tariff against vigorous ideas not coming from The Street. We will join the common market of the theatrical world. Our eyes will stray, our ears will sharpen. And what we see and hear from everywhere will prepare us, will help us make our own new statement. Broadway may become one of many alternatives. It may, along with the musical, change its spots. And we may desert it now and then in search of something else. It won’t mesmerize as much. Nor will it strangle. Its monopoly days are numbered. Nothing more exciting in the theatre will happen than this new musical.”
COME UP TO THE LAB
New Line’s rehearsal process is different too. Though most companies put together shows in two to four weeks, New Line has a much slower process. We rehearse only three days a week and spend from six to eight weeks rehearsing a show. This allows time for talk, for experimentation, for play, and for a complete change of course if that’s where the work leads us. It allows for Thinking Time, to really understand the piece on a deeper level, to find its unique voice and style, to explore it fully, to collectively research the time period, the context, the social issues, and more than anything else, time to think about how best to communicate the creators’ intentions.
Because of our process, our programming, our content, and the resulting lack of mainstream corporate or foundation support in our budget, New Line does not hire union actors. The union’s rules and restrictions about rehearsals, and the union’s prescribed pay rates just can’t work under New Line’s current model or mission statement. We are very proud that all New Line actors get paid equally, whether leads or ensemble. Though the actors’ union is an important organization, its regulations are not compatible with the goals or resources of an alternative theatre company.
HEART AND MUSIC
Unlike many other theatres, New Line has an extremely specific focus for its work – issue-oriented musical theatre. That’s all we do. We explore many styles at New Line, many periods, and many, many issues, but all within the musical theatre art form. And like the Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles, Joan Littlewood’s company in London, and the Steppenwolf in Chicago, New Line has developed its own style of performance, its own personality – very aggressive, very intimate, outrageous but serious-minded, and anchored by a phrase coined by the Actor’s Gang, “the height of expression, the depth of sincerity.” The canvas is bigger, the colors richer, the brushstrokes more expansive, but the image is no less true, the details no less real, the textures no less subtle. Theatre scholar Tom Oppenheim writes in the outstanding book Training of the American Actor about Stella Adler, "Stella insisted that characters must be multidimensional and grounded in oneself. They must be real human beings. But she does not shy away from painting characters in broad strokes. While she demands truth, she never shies away from size."
New Line follows in the footsteps of dozens of theatre companies in the past and dozens in the present, and the process we have developed over the years seems to us the best way to make the most exciting, most deeply emotional theatre. Though our audiences, our list of contributors, and our national profile all continue to grow, we will not change our company's founding principles of creating vigorous, muscular, politically and socially relevant musical theatre for our region. As Mother Jones magazine wrote in an anniversary issue, "Better to give us thanks for knowing the importance of being un-earnest, of taking undignified chances, for having the courage to risk all, risk being wrong, risk looking foolish. If there is in fact any secret at all to our amazing longevity, that's surely near the heart of it: knowing how to act the fool like the future depends on it."