Tina Landau in a Box, Sweeney Todd in a Bakery, and the Power of "Not Only"

Rachel Edwards at the Barrow Street Theater talking about her bakery-inspired production of  Sweeney Todd.

Rachel Edwards at the Barrow Street Theater talking about her bakery-inspired production of Sweeney Todd.

Recently I joined the team of YesBroadway which has given me access to a number of shows and events in and around the NYC theater community. Honestly, it's every theater kid's dream. And I've been lucky enough to hear from two influential women creating theater that put some ideas into my head that I just can't shake. 

Tina Landau, The SpongeBob Musical

Tina Landau is the director for SpongeBob the Musical which has played in Chicago and is waiting for the right Broadway venue to open up so it can transfer to NYC. At TEDxBroadway she brought out a box (a central part of one SpongeBob episode) and spoke about how SpongeBob used that box in many different ways, much like how a child would. And she ultimately asked “if a box is not only a box, how can we make a theater not only a theater?” 

I love the notion of pushing the boundaries for what can happen in a theater. What does it mean that it’s "not only" a theater? What else is it? What else can it be? What else does the piece need it to be?

Before seeing this talk I had no desire to see a musical based on SpongeBob Squarepants. But after hearing her speak, I am looking forward to seeing this show (when it actually comes to Broadway, of course) just to see what else Tina Landau makes the theater into.

Rachel Edwards, Sweeney Todd

Rachel Edwards lives and works in London and creates theater in unusual places with her group Tooting Arts Club. She is currently at the helm of a Sweeney Todd production that recreates a pie shop in London. They even serve meat pies at the performance.

I recently attended a tasting event for the pies where Rachel Edwards spoke about the production's beginnings. She said how on her way to the theater she would often pass a pie shop and next door to that was a barber shop. And thought to herself, “Pie shop. Barber shop. Sweeney Todd!” (Here’s a cheat sheet if you’re not sure how these three items connect.) And once she trusted that it was a good enough idea - that a bakery could be not only a bakery - she went about making the production happen. It played in London and moved to New York where The Barrow Street theater was so enamored with the idea that it took out all of the seats in the space and recreated that London pie shop.

The Notion of Not Only

Both of these women’s approaches to their shows bring up the idea of “not only.”

It’s not only a theater - it’s a pineapple under the sea.

It’s not only a theater - it’s a working bakery.

It’s not only an idea - it’s an idea with legs.

Needless to say, it was inspiring to hear these women talk about such bold ideas coming to fruition. Too often I put down my own ideas thinking they are too outlandish. That they will never work. But there are women working in the tiny world of theater with ideas just as innovative - they simply have the faith and talent to make them a reality. 

Your Thoughts on These Shows?

Have you seen either of these two productions? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @annieschiff.