Take a Day to See a Play

The lure of theater is simple.

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On a recent Sunday afternoon in New York City, a few weeks after November's Broadway stagehands' strike had ended, the TKTS line in Times Square was bustling with theatergoers ready to take advantage of a Broadway back in the swing of things. "It's her birthday! It's her birthday!" exclaimed Jay Schoenfeld, 50, of why he and his family were celebrating. "I'm 40," his wife, Margaret, said with a wink. "No, she's 50!" corrected son Max. Farther down the line, Louise White, 49, considered whether she preferred musicals or plays. A young couple from Nashville sought out "funky" and "dark" shows, while a 30-something native New Yorker went for larger-than-life spectaculars.

And that is the beauty of live performance: It contains multitudes. From the glitz of Broadway to the quirk of off-off Broadway, from opera to improv, from the sensory fireworks of Cirque du Soleil to black-box experimentalist groups in Chicago, drama's reach has expanded far and wide since its western genesis in the ancient Greek dramatic contests that produced masterpieces such as the Oedipus trilogy. Still, despite today's modern profits—during the 19-day stagehands' strike, an estimated $40 million was lost—the essence of theater remains in forging a unique community of artists and audience, whose joint voices and perspectives discover something new in each and every performance.

And the stage is not just in New York. Community theaters around the country offer part-time acting roles, volunteer technician work, and modestly priced or free performances and workshops for those wishing to engage the stage. Theatrical play produces tangible benefits: Drama classes can boost verbal memorization skills and increase social awareness.

For Girl Scout Gabrielle Caputo, 11, the lure of theater is simple. Waiting with her Brooklyn-based troop that Sunday afternoon in New York's Lincoln Center before a performance of the Nutcracker, Caputo reflected, "It's just a lot of fun."