Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.
I sit here at my computer going through a few early morning requests but I can still remember exactly how it all started four and a half years ago. Like anything, it started with a simple idea: telling a story. I knew a lot of theatre stories. I paid careful attention in my Musical Theatre history class in college. I had seen a lot of shows. But how does one organize oral and written stories in a cohesive way that show an over-arcing history and culmination of over 100 years of Broadway? Frankly, I had NO IDEA.
So, I set to work. For almost a full year I checked out every book at the New York Performing Arts Library on Broadway history, it’s theaters, and the stars. Anything I couldn’t find there I purchased online. Google searches turned up a slew of other interesting websites which led me down other paths of Broadway history, both current and dated. I slowly started to peel back pages of stories that I didn’t even know existed. Roof Top Gardens? David Belasco? The Hippodrome? The ol’ Victoria? Each turn was more exciting than the next.
Once I had enough information and dates crammed into my head I ventured out the front door of my apartment in Washington Heights and made my way to the subway station that every New Yorker dreads: Times Square 42nd Street. I have to say to any New Yorker who despises this area: You obviously haven’t taken a BUC tour! As I walked up those subway steps and emerged just steps from all the legends and old theaters I had just read about I couldn’t help but feel a very strong connection to that past. When you think that Oscar Hammerstein I, the man who started it all, had his photo taken right there on 7th avenue and 42nd street 115 years ago it’s pretty heady stuff. His vision was to build a theatrical legacy in the Times Square area. My vision is to tell people about it while standing in his footsteps.
Once I had created a route that I thought was easy to navigate I began to chart the different points of interest at each theater. My initial instinct (boy, was I wrong!) was to include all 40 theaters if possible. You can’t say I didn’t try! The first two public tours included 38 of the 40 Broadway theaters (excluding the Cort and the Vivian Beaumont). Our current tour is an hour and forty-five minutes. The first tour was a little over three hours. My sincere apologies to those pioneering tour-goers! Over the past four and a half years I have streamlined that initial route into three different tours: ACT I, ACT II and ACT III. ACT III is slated to open in the spring of 2015 and I’m very excited for that final installment to be in place!
I set off four and a half years ago on that initial one-person tour (my colleague Corey Gosselin) wearing my green, crisply pressed BUC uniform, my hands iPad-free (that didn’t come until two years later) and a hope that one day we would become one of the biggest Broadway experiences shy of seeing an actual Broadway show. As we grew, so did our BUC tour guide team. For two years it was myself, Theresa and Drew. Then we added Beverley, Mikey, John and Bret. Then along came Katie and Ben. Finally, Amanda and Joe joined the ranks this summer. Each one of them brings their own unique stories and experiences and creates a personal tour for each and every one of our guests. I couldn’t be happier!
As for the future of Broadway Up Close: we have some big things in the works which we hope to unveil soon! For now we are concentrating on opening ACT III and preparing for the winter months. I perform one big snow dance at the beginning of each winter season in hopes that it will steer any blizzards or snowstorms away from our city streets! Fingers crossed Mother Nature is kind to us this year!
On each one of our tours we dig up the past and bring it to life with photos, videos and words. I have told each of our stories hundreds of times in the past four and a half years, but I still can’t help but smile when I see the surprise on our guests’ faces when they glimpse the old rooftop gardens or chuckle at the mischievous nature of David Belasco. Each night thousands of theatre-goers enter the Broadway theatre district unaware of its important past and theatre luminaries. It is our goal to change that one person at a time.
So, as I wrap up this post and head out to do an ACT I Tour I lovingly recall that first tour (albeit loooooooong tour) and can’t help but smile. We’ve come a long way but still have more work to do! Here’s to at least another five years of BUC stories and tours!
See you on the sidewalk.