Clay Aiken – Theatre Experience A Reality!

Have you ever heard of the Theatre Development Fund?  If you are a Clay Aiken fan or someone who has had the opportunity to attend a show on Broadway, you probably know more about the organization than you think you do.  The most visual project that they have is running the TKTS Discount Booths.  These booths offer tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals and plays at up to 50% off.

The Theatre Development Fund is the largest not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts in the United States.  It was established in 1968 to foster works of artistic merit by supporting new productions and to broaden the audience for live theatre and dance. For over 40 years, TDF has played a unique role in strengthening the performing arts in New York City. TDF’s programs have:

  • Filled 72 million theatre seats
  • Provided subsidy support to over 900 plays, including 30 Pulitzer Prize honorees
  • Returned over 1.6 billion dollars in revenue to thousands of productions

On October 16, 2008, after Clay Aiken finished his run on Broadway, TDF opened their new TKTS Discount Booth in Duffy Square.  The booth is the centerpiece of the newly designed and expanded plaza and operates under a glowing red glass staircase. They also operate satellite TKTS booths in Downtown Brooklyn and at South Street Seaport.

According to Broadwayworld.com:

TDF’s membership and voucher programs touch the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers who might not otherwise be able to afford the unique experience of theatre. TDF’s award-winning education programs, Open Doors, Stage Doors and Residency Arts Project (RAP), involve thousands of New York City public school students each year, most of which have never attended a live theatre performance. TDF’s also produces the theatre magazine, Play by Play, which is written by and for high school students. (www.playbyplayonline.org)

For Clay Aiken and his fans, the TDF’s Accessibility Programs (TAP) is an interesting and important part of their mission.  They make the theatre experience a reality for people with physical disabilities. They also present highly regarded open captioned and sign language interpreted performances for theatre patrons with mild to severe hearing loss, and audio described performances for those who are blind or with low vision.

TDF also sponsors comprehensive training courses for future producers and maintains a 70,000-item Costume Collection which rents professional costumes at low cost to hundreds of not-for-profit organizations across the United States each year. For more information about TDF and its programs, go to www.tdf.org

On October 31, 2008, the Theatre Development Fund published an interview with Clay Aiken.  The article was well-written and very positive regarding Clay’s performance in Spamalot.  You can read it below!

Clay Time: How “American Idol” Clay Aiken became a Broadway knight.

“Simon Cowell can kiss my butt if he wants to use that ‘Broadway’ insult again,” quips Clay Aiken, the former American Idol star now enjoying a stint as Sir Robin on the Great White Way in Monty Python’s Spamalot (now in its final months at the Shubert Theatre). “So often the judges on Idol will use ‘Broadway’ as an insult for a singer’s performance. But I think there’s more talent onstage here at the Shubert Theatre than in all of the music industry.”

Aiken’s casting, along with that of Idol contender Fantasia as a replacement Celie in The Color Purple, has raised a few eyebrows. Were these reality TV creations really qualified to strut their stuff on the Main Stem?

“I think one reason people who’ve been on Idol are showin’ up on Broadway is that they’re people who can do something live,” Aiken notes, making a clear contrast with both film and TV actors and studio-produced pop singers, all of whom get multiple takes to get it right. “The talent for singing live—that’s what you need here.”

Of course, there’s more to a Broadway role, even in a silly romp like Spamalot, than a good singing voice. There’s also the acting and the dancing. Aiken credits author Eric Idle and director Mike Nichols with steering him well in the first department.

“Eric Idle was very complimentary, which always helps when you have no idea what you’re doing,” Aiken says. “Mike Nichols, in addition to being the premeir director of our lifetime, is very easy to work with. I like to think I take direction well, but I can imagine that sometimes a director might have a really hard job in explaining a part, and what’s required. Mike comes up with the most colorful and hilarious ways to explain what he’s looking for.”

Nichols also stressed something you might not expect in such a go-for-broke comedy.

“Overall, I probably have a tendency to overdo certain things,” Aiken admits. “Mike is big on subtlety and kept reminding us, ‘You aren’t funny—the script is funny.’ It’s all very silly, but what makes it funny is that none of the characters realize how stupid they really are, so it actually gets more laughs when the lines are played a little more straight.”

As for the dancing, Aiken says simply: “Someone giving me choreography, that’s just a catastrophe waiting to happen.”

This North Carolina native, who still has a slight twang, is nothing if not forthright. “I had absolutely no exposure to this material before,” Aiken admits. “I literally thought Monty Python was a person. And the first time I saw the show, actually, I thought it was stupid. At the end, I thought, ‘Really? It’s so silly.’ “

This impression was largely the result of what Aiken calls his “limited exposure to Broadway—show likes Wicked, you know, with soaring melodies and big plotlines. I looked as hard as I could at Spamalot and couldn’t find the plot.” He’s glad he gave it another chance.

“When I saw it again, I realized, there’s still not much of a plot here—but it’s the funniest thing in the world. It’s very sarcastic and intelligent humor, and I’m an intelligent person, I like to think.”

When he met Eric Idle, he recognized him not from his Python days but from the broad 1990 comedy Nuns on the Run. “I remember that film because it was the first time I ever saw naked boobs on-screen.” (Not Idle’s, we’re presuming.) “And I’d seen John Cleese on Will and Grace.”

Then Aiken dropped a whopper.

“I still haven’t seen the movie,” he says, meaning the 1975 classic, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, on which Spamalot is based. “I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. I mean, I play Eric Idle’s part, and I’m sure I would just copy everything he did.”

As you may have noticed, a big part of Aiken’s disarming, country-boy charm comes out in his light but persistent self-deprecation. Asked if he ever breaks character to laugh at his colleagues’ onstage antics—i.e., if he ever “loses it,” he responds, “I lose it regularly—lose my place in the script, lose my place in the dancing.”

But yes, he has broken up onstage, as well: “Rick Holmes, who plays Lancelot, is one of the funniest people in the world,” Aiken avers. “And regularly while I’m ‘dead’ onstage, Rick will say something that’s not in the script, and we just can’t stop laughing. You know, in this show it’s OK, because the audience can see that the people onstage are having just as much fun as they are, and the people up there—minus me—are so good at what they do.”

Critics have been kinder than that, noting how well Aiken fits into the show. A future on Broadway could be in the cards for this Clay Idol.


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Comments

  1. This is all news to me. I had no idea this wonderful group did so much good!!

    Thank you for all this information….another great blog!!

  2. Clay was fantastic in this role as Sir Robin and one of the 3 top stars of Spamalot. He never ceases to amaze me and I need to learn not to hesitate to make every effort to go to whatever he is in. There is a video interview of Mike Nichols before Clay was in Spam that is so interesting. Thanks for letting me know about the wonderful organization that provides discount tickets that enables those who could not normally afford it including those with disabilities to experience the wonder of Broadway! I sure miss seeing Clay on Broadway.

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