TEDxBroadway Is Not a Theater Conference

I had an absolute blast at TEDxBroadway last week, and I hope that everyone who came to the event did, too. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, both at the event itself and afterward online.

The people who go to the event and, of course, the team of volunteers and speakers who show up to do the event truly seem to believe in the idea that trying to imagine the best that Broadway can be is worth the time. To do that, though, I want to re-emphasize a point that I’ve made in different ways throughout the history of this event, because I think it’s essential.

TEDxBroadway is not a theater conference. TEDxBroadway is a conference about a neighborhood, where theater happens to be quite important.

This neighborhood, in turn, has a really big impact on the city it’s in, and by impacting the millions upon millions of people that visit this neighborhood, and through the intellectual property it generates, it has a big impact on the world.

That’s why we talk about Broadway as a place, not “Broadway” as a symbolic term for the theater business in New York. And more than that, Broadway, the neighborhood, is an ecosystem of people and organizations, businesses, governments, residents, entrepreneurs, tourists and others. It’s an ecosystem that, when taken together, is quite healthy right now, but of course that wasn’t always the case. Nor is it guaranteed to be the case in the future.

Occasionally, I’ll talk to someone who will hear a person like Ainissa Ramirez or Yao Huang speak at the event, and they’ll say, “It was great, but I have no idea what that has to do with Broadway.” It’s never meant badly, but my answer is always the same: Does this topic have current or future relevance to the neighborhood, or to society in general? Then that’s why it’s here.

A few of the TEDxBroadway 2014 speakers

A few of the TEDxBroadway 2014 speakers

We believe that there are lot of different outlets for practical, concentrated discussions of making and managing theater, both on Broadway and beyond. It’s just not what we’re doing. Of course, we want to have and do have very serious, successful practitioners of theater on the stage every year, but that’s far from the whole picture we’re trying to paint. (This year, by the way, the speakers who are actively involved in an operational way on a day-to-day basis with Broadway or theater more broadly were Diane Paulus, Todd Robbins, Dexter Upshaw, Lea DeLaria, Bobby Lopez, Natasha Tsakos and Dave Torpey. That’s seven out of 16. The rest were a musician, a banker, an architect, two guys who started a crazy gym, the head of a tech incubator, a startup CEO, a Freestyle rap group, a scientist and an expert on gamification.)

I like this diversity of perspectives, but if anything it may be perhaps too weighted toward theater. There’s a lot that goes into the destiny of such an important place, and surely half of it isn’t theater. What I love is that the audience that shows up really gets this, and even when they ask the question “why is a scientist here?” or “why is somebody from the tech world here?” I sense that they’re answering it for themselves in their heads as I drone my reply.

We call it an ecosystem because it’s interdependent. Take every good restaurant out of the area and see what happens to theater. Put in unwise government and see what happens to businesses in general. Make the theatrical content way, way better and see what happens to tourism. Encourage young people with a high-tech startup to set up shop on 48th and Broadway and see where that takes everything.

No industry, no business is an island, entire of itself. So our theory is that if we really want to try to imagine “best,” it’s impossible if you limit your imaginings to just theater.

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