As the company prepared to reopen at the Union Square Theatre following a month-long hiatus, TheaterMania spoke to one of the show's producers, Michael Alden, about the resilience of Bat Boy and the importance of theater in a time of crisis.
THEATERMANIA: What initially attracted you to Bat Boy?
MICHAEL ALDEN: It has such great heart. I've always wanted to do something that had some reference to how I felt when I was 15 years old and had no place to go until I found the theater, knowing that there's another kid out there who may not have a good home life or may be making some of the wrong decisions. If they can get that theater spark, that would give them an option. And I had that as a teenager. I had that opportunity.
TM: The show has gained lots of enthusiastic fans. Would you call it a cult following?
ALDEN: No, not at all. I would call it a fan following. I would say that a cult is made up of people who need to show up in the lobby wearing ears or holding sticks with bats on them. What we have are people who want to repeat the feeling that they got the first time they saw the show. It's a very strong fan base.
TM: How were the advance ticket sales before September 11?
ALDEN: We were doing great. I'm very proud of the stick-to-it-iveness of our original audience and the kind of grassroots marketing that they create.
TM: Immediately after the World Trade Center attack, what did you think would happen to the show ?
ALDEN: My first reaction was that we were going to have to close. After two days down...I mean, historically, Off-Broadway shows need that day-to-day audience. Forty-eight hours later, we weren't getting immediate responses from the unions. We didn't know what we were allowed to do publicity-wise, we weren't sure what the theater owners could afford. Basically, we were looking at a financial nut and no income. I think the first reaction was, 'Take cover!' I called other producers in the city and what I heard back from them was the same kind of reaction. I sat with that for a couple days, then I called everyone back and I said, "We were attacked by terrorists. When you're attacked, you don't hide under the desk: You have to open your doors and windows and scream 'Help!' This isn't about all of us running around with our files in our hands. We have to work together." I also knew we needed to tell the audience why they needed to come back. When people go to the theater, they congregate with a purpose. In doing so, they create community and defy the enemy. An audience has incredible power in that way. I went to the cast and said, "You know, guys, 18 people tried to bring down the greatest nation in the world, and I'm looking at 25 of you. Do the math."
TM: When you closed the show down last month, did you think that you would eventually be able to reopen it?
ALDEN: I did something without any of my partners' approval: I sent a memo to the press that I was taking the show to Broadway. I thought that if the other Off-Broadway and Broadway producers saw that, there'd be some dialogue. It wasn't about winning; it was about creating a conversation, getting people to talk about that as a possibility. The dialogue had a wonderful effect: The shows that said they weren't going to open decided to go for it, and the shows that said they were closing went on hiatus instead. I'm very pleased about that. I wanted everyone to stay. You wouldn't want to have just one restaurant in town.
TM: Everyone in the Bat Boy company must be so excited about the reopening.
ALDEN: Yes, absolutely. We set up a voucher program about two weeks ago to get people across the nation to buy tickets for the relief and rescue workers. Not only was the response immediate and grand, but we got notes back from people outside the city who said, "Thanks for letting us do something." My goal is to take all of those vouchers and use them on October 18 in order to allow those men and women to come and be a part of our reopening--a part of something that could have been destroyed but is coming back again, thanks so much to their efforts.