BroadwayCon

Actor Ethan Slater on stage at BroadwayCon. 

Like a moth to a flame, some of us just gravitate toward bright lights and big cities. Whether it’s a lifelong dream to make it as an entertainer or just a love for the performing arts, nearly 7,000 people converged in New York City for the fourth annual BroadwayCon this winter.

If you’re not familiar with it, you’re not alone. I didn’t know BroadwayCon was a thing until my 13-year-old theater enthusiast told me about it. Before I knew it, we were on a red-eye for an exhausting day of travel to the magical kingdom of “Aladdin,” the revolutionary stage of “Les Miserables” and the gilded world of “A Chorus Line.”

Created by actor Anthony Rapp (the original Mark in Broadway’s “Rent”) and event organizer Melissa Anelli in 2016, BroadwayCon has since turned into a theater lover’s hamlet for playbill trading, celebrity sightings, karaoke sessions and cosplaying. In fact, attending the convention is a tacit agreement to rub elbows with myriad fans donning “Phantom of the Opera” masks, girls wearing blue uniforms from the hit musical “Waitress” or Elphabas in head-to-toe green paint from the land of Oz.

It’s where Tina Fey talked about the upcoming 15-year anniversary of the “Mean Girls” movie this April. She wrote the film and also penned the musical adaptation. Broadway sweethearts like Kristin Chenoweth spoke about the 20th anniversary of the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” along with acclaimed actor B.D. Wong. Fans got a chance to participate with industry giants in singalongs and trivia games. Thousands of people inside a large conference ballroom even witnessed a BroadwayCon proposal one night. And, after thunderous applause and ample tears, she said yes.

Performers from Disney musicals offered hysterical behind-the-scenes stories, fans young and old turned up in full Hogwarts attire for the “Harry Potter” panel and three actors who play the titular character in “Dear Evan Hansen” shared their poignant thoughts on the role. For all the aspiring talent who attended the ample dance and vocal workshops at BroadwayCon, Tina Landau, the director of “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical” said: “Follow your bliss. Just believe you can, work as hard as you can, be brave, but do it, do it, do it!”

Fortunately, Bakersfield theater lovers don’t have to go as far as Broadway to learn the craft, perform on stage or catch a show.

Bakersfield’s own Voltaire Wade-Greene, original cast member of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” grew up honing his ballet, tap and jazz skills at Civic Dance Center on Brimhall Road.

Local drama teacher Guinevere PH Dethlefson says, “There’s lots of different opportunities to learn the artform in town.”

In addition to her own company, Tonicism Productions, which offers after-school and improv comedy workshops for kids, she says aspiring thespians can check out Bakersfield Music Theatre, The Gaslight Melodrama, Bakersfield Community Theatre and many more. Even the Boys & Girls Club has a theater program.

However, if being a spectator is more comfortable for you, you can still support Bakersfield’s rich theater community by being a patron of the arts. Live theater can oftentimes move you like few other mediums can. Rabobank Arena hosts the Broadway in Bakersfield program, bringing large productions to our local stage. In addition to all the theaters in town, not to mention high-caliber school productions, the Bakersfield Museum of Art also showcases live theater.

PH Dethlefson says: “Go and watch shows. We can’t have an artform without an audience. A big part of theater is the audience. They’re just as important as the actors.”

With the countless options we have, we can enrich our lives with art and entertainment, knowing that Broadway isn’t just for New York’s Theater District. Broadway is right here in our own backyard.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Nina Ha.

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