The Public’s annual Shakespeare in the Park returned to the Delacorte Theater this year, and HBO captured every moment of its comeback. Its feature documentary Reopening Night follows the cast, crew, and staff of The Public Theater as they prepare to mount a modern adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Central Park.
Reopening Night offers an honest look at the Black experience in theater, and acknowledges the challenges and speaks to the expansive power of art to touch people’s lives. With behind-the-scenes access to the creative process, from casting and rehearsals to the design team to the construction of the all-weather set in Central Park, the film takes audiences on a roller-coaster ride as opening night swiftly approaches. The documentary details the challenging 12-week journey to opening night, and Broadway Direct caught up with Merry Wives’s playwright, Jocelyn Bioh, and its director, Saheem Ali, to discuss the film and some memories of putting this show together.
Was the intention always to have the development process of Merry Wives filmed as a documentary?
Saheem Ali: Executive producers Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz had been in conversations with The Public Theater about doing a documentary at some point. The idea came about to really use Merry Wives as the backbone of the story of the reopening, and the reengaging of the theatre coming back. Then Matt and Perri brought director Rudy Valdez on board and it all went forward from there.
Jocelyn says in the film that she had some reservations about working on Merry Wives at first. Did you, Saheem?
SA: Shakespeare in the Park is one of the first shows that I saw in New York when I was a student in Boston. I had been dreaming of doing a show at the Delacorte for years. And with Richard II being canceled the year before, I wasn’t quite sure what the production would be this year, because there were a number of candidates on the docket. I knew that I wanted something that was a comedy. I knew that I wanted something that was fun. I also wanted to bring a unique perspective to it in any way that I could. And I’ve worked with playwrights before on Shakespeare. There’s a really beautiful, collaborative opportunity there with someone who’s contemporary wrestling with Shakespeare’s text and finding a way to make it their own. When I landed on Merry Wives and I started to circle around this concept of sending a contemporary and bringing a West African immigrant lens on it, Jocelyn was the first and only person who came to mind as someone I wanted to collaborate with. I knew that this would require a level of linguistic enhancement that I don’t have the capacity for because I’m not a writer. I had no hesitation from jump, just every step of the way, I was just looking for a way to find a more exciting and fun and lively way to bring back the theater, and Jocelyn was the most obvious and only collaborator I wanted for the project.
Jocelyn, now having seen the documentary, do you feel a sense of validation and accomplishment?
Jocelyn Bioh: I think I was really moved that the film really captures all aspects — what it’s like to put on a show and create a play. They started documenting pretty shortly after I had worked on the first draft, essentially, of the play, so you’re able to track from when I had deep questions about certain words and lines and figuring out what will be relevant, to getting all the way to opening night. I think I was so appreciative that people will be able to see that it’s not just, when you wake up one day, you write a play and then you call people and then they just start doing it right away. There’s so much work that’s involved. I think the film really shows and has a lot of respect for the process of putting on a show, for one, and secondly, putting on a show in the greatest, most insane circumstances. In our case, it was a pandemic.
The documentary highlights some of that editing process you did with the script. Can you speak a little bit about modernizing certain lines and redoing some of the problematic language that Shakespeare used?
JB: There are certain things that the original Shakespearean text just wouldn’t land in the world that Saheem and I wanted to create for this particular production. Anything that felt like it didn’t work from the original text, I gave myself liberty to change for this new version. It was like, How deep do we lean in, and figure out what these characters would be eating, what they would be selling in present day. For instance, we were discussing about whether the meat from the original Shakespearean text would be consumed now in this Harlem neighborhood. And we were like, What would it be if it was African people who were buying this food? I think that particular moment highlights how authentic we were trying to make this particular production to the people we were portraying.
Saheem, this show offered you every challenge. There was the cancelation due to a COVID-19 case, a cast injury, heavy rain that delayed the first preview. Everything that could go wrong, did. The film shows that you stayed persistent, on task, and mentally ready to lead your cast and crew. How were you able to do that?
SA: I’m a resilient human. But I had already guarded myself for the inevitable, because I knew that entering into a situation where we had COVID always looming over our heads, you were just going to have to be ready for anything. There was such an unpredictable nature to what we were entering. It’s already ephemeral. It’s already tentative, because you go in and there’s so many things that could go right, there’s so many things that could go wrong. But knowing that we have this virus, knowing that we were in a mixed-vaccination-status company, knowing that anyone could get sick at any moment, you just have to enter it every day being like, “OK, today’s going to bring something. I have no idea what it’s going to be, but we’re going to be ready for it. We’re going to solve it and we’re going to face it.” I think that definitely gave me a sense of preparation that was different from other times. That trifecta of rain and illness and injury and all of them happening at the same time … I mean, Jacob Ming-Trent was out for two weeks with an injury, and then someone got COVID, and then three people had to leave the cast because of the risks that were involved. So we were tried, there was trial and tribulation, but we love what we do. Jocelyn and I are optimists, we are passionate, we have fun in the room. I think if you just, like, arm yourself with a positive spirit and optimism and have a “Let’s deal with it, let’s fix it” attitude, you can deal with anything.
Watching this film, there were so many elements that I didn’t know went into the creation and development process. Was there anything that came as a surprise to you?
JB: I was actually surprised that, prior to the COVID shutdown, I knew that they were setting up for what was supposed to be Saheem’s other show, Richard II, but I had no idea that the set was still there and that it had been there that whole time. And by the time they had said, “Let’s go with Merry Wives,” they had to break down whatever did exist of a completely different show and then build a whole new one. I always have had a lot of sympathy for everybody who works at the Delacorte. It’s such a thankless job in so many ways because people just truly don’t realize what goes into building sets in such extreme conditions like that, in the middle of the summer. But I had no idea that they were breaking down something old and then having to build something new. That was a surprise to me.
SA: I had forgotten about the extreme oscillation of weather that we experienced. It was like a hundred degrees during the day. And then it was freezing and raining at night. It was insane what the elements were throwing at us, and to feel so vulnerable and you have no ceiling, there’s no roof over your head. It’s a real humbling moment when there is absolutely nothing you can do against the elements. And we’re choosing to do this. We’re choosing to go into a situation where the weather could decide whether we go or we don’t, on top of everything else. So I think that I forgot that, and watching the film, I just like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. We had that too.”
I find that there is so much meaning behind this film coming out during this time. There has been a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in NYC and multiple Broadway shows have had to cancel performances because of it. This film does a good job of highlighting the power of staying the course. Do you feel that there is any significance to this documentary coming out now?
JB: When we first started working on Merry Wives, we were the people who were jumping into the unknown. The team at The Public worked with the most incredible doctors and epidemiologists figuring out what a COVID safety plan would be in terms of testing and all of the things. Everyone was looking to us and watching what was going to happen with Merry Wives as an indicator for what could potentially happen when most of the Broadway shows started opening back up. I think people now who are, whether they’re within the theater community or outside of it, can understand how extraordinary the circumstances are that we are working in to still put theater up and try to bring entertainment and joy into people’s hearts and lives through all of these circumstances. I feel like it’s great that we were able to get that on film and document it and have people have a clear understanding now. Maybe they’re only reading about it. Maybe they’re only casually seeing it on Twitter or social media, and they can literally walk into the belly of the beast with us and have more of an understanding. And if that means getting vaccinated, or encouraging friends or family to do that, so we can move through this and come out on the other side with some semblance of normal, then great.
Is there anything that you both learned during this process that you’re going to take with you forever?
SA: I wish there were more opportunities to capture a process of making theater as we were so lucky and fortunate to have, because theater on its own is its own experience. You have a story of a beginning, a middle, and you have some conflict, trauma, and then you have a lot of joy. I just think what Rudy Valdez managed to capture was so incredible because he was able to give it an arc that made it a story of its own. I would love to see more documentaries like these get made so that we can really appreciate them, as Jocelyn was saying, all of the hard work and energy, and positive can-do spirit that goes into making theater possible.
JB: I echo that! I was so emotional watching the documentary. I loved what we created, and even watching the documentary, I feel like I learned a lot more about myself and the way in which I handle crazy and extreme, harrowing circumstances. Even though I’ve always known that I love what I do, I love theater, I love creating work, I feel like this is a beautiful love letter to those of us who do this crazy thing and don’t do it because we feel like there’s going to be some great big financial reward at the end. It’s that we really love it. We love it. Even as crazy as it is, we can’t wait to get up and do it again. And I’m thrilled that somebody was able to capture that. I think Rudy just did an incredible job. I’m really looking forward to people seeing it.
Reopening Night debuted Monday, December 20 on HBO, and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
Introduction and Your Acceptance of These Terms
Information We Collect
Information we collect directly from you: Your provision of your personal information to Us is completely voluntary; it is not a statutory or contractual requirement. Personally Identifiable Information (“PII”) is information that is uniquely identifiable to you, such as your name, address, email address, phone number, credit card number and other personal information that is not otherwise publicly available. Certain features of Our website may require that you provide Us with your personal information, including:
Mobile Alert Sign-Up (SMS)
Contact Us (email)
Public forums (e.g. message boards)
E-commerce (ticket purchases)
Your use of any of the features above;
New content on Our website;
News that We think may interest you about Us;
Responses to your questions/comments to us; and
Information relating to a ticket purchase.
We may use your demographic information for in house statistics, advertising and marketing target information. Our processing of your personal information is necessary for the performance and fulfillment of the contract between us and to provide you with Our services. We will also process, transfer, disclose and preserve personal information when We have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary, to resolve disputes, enforce our agreements and otherwise required by law. You can always opt-out of receiving future promotional communications from Us; see the Choice/Opt-out section below.Information We Collect Automatically: Even if you don’t use any of the features above, when you visit Our website, We may collect certain information about you.
From your Browser. For example, Our servers keep an activity log that tracks all visitors to the website. The information in the activity log does not identify you individually. The information collected may include among other data: your IP address, your registered domain or home server, time of access, date of access, web page(s) visited, number of clicks, software crash reports, type of browser used, session identification number, search terms, search results, access times and referring website’s address. We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with Our server and to administer Our website. Your IP address is also used to gather broad demographic information, such as country of origin and geographic location. We use such data in the aggregate to run internal analyses to improve upon your experience on Our website.
Tracking Tags (also known as “web beacons,” “action tags” or “single-pixel gifs”). Our website may also use tracking tags. Tracking tags are invisible graphics embedded in the pages of Our website that are programmed to collect non-personal information about your use of Our website. Like cookies, tracking tags provide overall usage patterns for Our website that We use for analysis and to provide personalized services and advertising content.
We comply with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising set forth by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). You can opt-out of targeted advertising from certain providers at www.aboutads.info/consumers.
How We Use Your Personal Information
The personal information We collect allows Us to keep you posted on updates to Broadway Direct. It also helps Us to improve Our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on Our email list, you can opt out anytime by clicking the “unsubscribe” button or sending an unsubscribe email to [email protected]. From time to time, We may use your personal information to send transactional emails, such as communications about purchases and changes to Our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Broadway Direct, you may not opt out of receiving these communications. We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Broadway Direct’s services, and customer communications. If you enter into a sweepstakes, contest, or similar promotion We may use the information you provide to administer those programs.
Information Collected By/Shared With Third Parties
Third Parties Doing Work for Us. Third parties have no rights to use any data We have collected on your behalf. However, We may employ other companies or individuals to perform functions on Our behalf, such as sending postal mail, email, and text messages, conducting sweepstakes/contests, prize fulfillment and promotional activities, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, processing credit card payments and providing customer service. These outside suppliers, agents and vendors have access to your personal information only as needed to perform their functions.
Third Parties with Links from Our Website. From our website, you may be able to click on links to third party sites to buy tickets and merchandise and for other purposes. These third party sites may collect information, including personal information. We are not responsible for, nor do we have access to the information they collect. The collection of this information is governed by the privacy policies on the applicable third party sites.
Social Networking Services. Our website may integrate with social networking services. We do not control such services and are not liable for the manner in which they operate. While we may provide you with the ability to use such services in connection with our website, we are doing so merely as an accommodation and, like you, are relying upon those third party services to operate properly and fairly.
When necessary. We may also release personal information when we believe, in good faith, that such release is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Ourselves, Our clients, Our users, or others. We may disclose personal information about you to law enforcement, other government officials, or other third parties, as We, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose Us to legal liability.
Transactions With Third Party E-commerce Partners, Vendors and Advertisers
Delivery of Advertising and Other Content
In addition to ads and content that We may serve you directly, We use third-party advertising companies and marketing services companies to serve ads and other content when you visit Broadway Direct and elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both We and these companies may use information about your visits to Broadway Direct and elsewhere to serve ads and other content to you. In the course of doing so, a unique third-party cookie may be placed or recognized on your browser by such companies. In addition, We and these companies may use Web beacons to help manage Our online advertising and content. These Web beacons enable Us and the third-party companies to recognize a browser’s cookie when a browser visits this Site and to learn which banner ads bring users to our website and to serve you ads that you may find of interest elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both Broadway Direct and these companies may use information obtained from your visits to Broadway Direct or other websites, and information received from you offline in order to provide advertisements about goods and services and other content of interest to you across the internet and in other media. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used in this manner by Our third party advertising companies, please visit http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp and/or www.aboutads.info/choices. European users may opt out of receiving targeted advertising by visiting http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/. In addition, we may provide PII and Anonymous Information to marketing services companies. This may include information we received from you offline or online. These companies may combine information we provide (including PII and Anonymous Information) with personal and anonymous information they may have about you, using cookies they place or that We place on their behalf, as described in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. We require these companies to delete the PII we provide them. These companies may use the resulting non-personal information and such cookies for their own marketing purposes, and they may provide the same to their customers for their customer’s marketing purposes. Some of Our emails may contain tags that allow Us and Our advertisers and other partners to determine the types of content that may be of interest to you. Those tags may contain PII and may be shared with others to the same extent indicated in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. Those tags may not be deleted but you can opt out of receiving the emails.
Use of This Site by Children
The Site is not directed to individuals under the age of thirteen (13), and We request that such individuals do not provide personal information through the Site. If a parent or guardian becomes aware that his or her child has provided Us with PII without the parent or guardian’s consent by, for example, misrepresenting his or her age, that parent or guardian should contact us at [email protected]. If Broadway Direct determines that it has collected personal information of children under the age of 13, Broadway Direct will immediately delete such information and any accounts believed to be held by children under 13. In addition, we may not collect or process information from a citizen of an EU member state under the age of sixteen (16) without such person’s parental consent. If you are a citizen of an EU member state under the age of 16, please tell your parents that you are using the Site and have your parents email Us at [email protected] so that We may delete any information We may have collected about you.
California Civil Code § 1798.83 permits California residents to request information about whether we have disclosed personal information to any third parties for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes. California residents have the right to request in writing: (a) a list of the categories of Personal Information, such as name, email address and mailing address and the type of services provided to the customer that a business has disclosed to third parties (including affiliates that are separate legal entities) during the immediately preceding calendar year for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes and (b) the names and addresses of all such third parties. To make a request, please contact Us at the following email address: [email protected].
Rights of EU Data Subjects
If you are a resident of the European Union, under the GDPR, European Union residents, as data subjects, have the following rights:
Right to access – This right allows individuals to obtain confirmation as to whether or not personal information concerning him or her is being processed and provide access to such personal information. It also allows individuals to request details of the processing of his or her personal information, including, without limitation, categories of recipients to whom the personal information have been or will be disclosed and purposes of processing.
Right to rectify – This right allows individuals to rectify any inaccurate personal information about him or her.
Right to restrict processing – This right allows individuals to block or suppress processing of personal data under certain circumstances.
Right to be forgotten – This right is also known as the “right to erasure”. It is an individual’s right to have personal data erased or to prevent processing in specific circumstances.
Right of data portability – This right allows individuals to move, copy or transfer personal data from one place to another in a secure manner without interrupting the integrity and usability of the information.
Right to object to processing – This right allows individuals to object to certain types of processing, including direct marketing, profiling and providing for purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics.
An EU resident has the right to access his or her personal data that We hold and to ask that their personal data be corrected or erased and to port their data. An EU resident may also have the right to object to, or request that We restrict certain processing or to withdraw consent previously provided. If you would like to exercise your rights under the GDPR, please contact us at [email protected]. If you are an EU resident and have a concern about our processing of your personal data that we are not able to resolve, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Authority where you reside. For contact details of your relevant local Data Protection Authority, please see http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/article29/item-detail.cfm?item_id=612080
Security of Your Personal Information
Broadway Direct employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for personal information collected through this Site, including physical, electronic and operational measures to maintain security and prevent unauthorized access. While Broadway Direct takes all appropriate steps to safeguard personal information under Our control, unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or method of storing data can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As such, We cannot guarantee that personal information supplied by users will not be accessed on Our servers, or intercepted while being transmitted to Us over the Internet. We assume no liability for any damages you may suffer as a result of interception, alteration or misuse of information during such transfers.
We will retain your information for as long as your account or inquiry is active and for a reasonable time thereafter in accordance with Our standard procedures or as necessary to comply with Our legal obligations, to resolve disputes, and to enforce Our agreements. Even if We delete some or all of your Personal Information, We may continue to retain and use aggregate or anonymous data previously collected and/or anonymize or aggregate your Personal Information. Please note that We will not be liable for disclosures of your data due to errors or unauthorized acts of third parties.
This Site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving communications from Us, at any time, by email at [email protected], or by clicking the unsubscribe link in any email communication. The Site gives users the following options for removing their information from our database, to not receive future communications or to no longer receive our service, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715.
Users can opt-out of receiving future newsletter emails from Us by selecting the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of our email. However, We are not responsible for removing your information from the lists of any third party who has previously been provided with your information or is collecting your information through their cookies. You have the right to withdraw your consent for Our processing for your personal information by contacting us at [email protected].
This website gives users the following options for changing and modifying information previously provided, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715
In the event that We are, or any component of our operations is, merged with, or is acquired by, another entity, then any such successor or acquiring entity may become the successor to Our obligations with respect to the personal information that you have provided to Us, which would be necessary for the entity to effectively continue our business. By using this website, you consent to any transfer and use of such personal information by an entity assuming control of Our operations as a result of a merger, purchase of assets, or liquidation in bankruptcy or insolvency.