NEW YORK — She’s the darling of Broadway. He’s the champion of cutting-edge theater in New York.
Her Tony Award-winning musicals — such as the revivals of “Pippin” and “Porgy and Bess” — soar with emotion and splendor. His are likely to involve a cocktail, a mask or a half-dressed dwarf.
Talk about drama in a relationship: Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner celebrate 19-years of marriage this year, he a producer and writer winking on the outside of the conventional theater world, and she a director fighting for change from within.
“We’re always looking for ways out of what people think is traditional theater,” Weiner said. “Audiences want to go along. They really want to try something different.”
Paulus and Weiner were high-school sweethearts, both graduates of Harvard University who return to teach. They’re parents of two girls, ages 9 and 7.
They are also a couple with a full plate: Paulus is working on “Finding Neverland,” a Peter Pan musical she will take back to Harvard. Weiner has his “Queen of the Night,” an immersive nightclub-opera-circus in the basement of a hotel in Times Square.
They have also teamed up to help open their female-centric Cirque du Soleil show “Amaluna” in New York, a show that perfectly captures their twin loves — Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” melded with jaw-dropping circus tricks.
Paulus and Weiner have become the ones to watch to see how spectacle, commercial and cool come together, but they are also invested in trying to save a theater experience in danger of withering.
This is what they despise: an audience comes in and sits in a theater. The houselights go down. Over the course of two hours, the audience cries or laughs or spaces out. Then they clap and file out.
Few fall asleep at their shows. In fact, one of Weiner’s biggest hits is “Sleep No More,” an immersive, mask-filled, genre-bending show he helps produce that mixes film noir and “Macbeth.” He’s also behind “Beacher’s Madhouse,” shows in Las Vegas and Los Angeles that are populated by burlesque dancers, and The Box, a club in New York and London that features nude transvestites.
For her part, Paulus has quickened pulses on Broadway with a revival of “Pippin” that includes fire jugglers, knife throwing and contortionists. Her “Hair” had actors running around the theater and ended with a dance party onstage with the audience.
For them, a theatrical experience shouldn’t be limited to the staid Broadway venues and their aging, mostly white audiences. Vibrant theater can be found in nightclubs, rock concerts, street fairs, even their daughter’s fourth-grade musical. That doesn’t mean their twists work everywhere.
“Far be it from us to dictate,” Paulus said. “Yeah, do your Chekhov play and don’t have cellphones on and don’t let anyone eat popcorn. That’s right for that. But theater can be all these other things. Why not open up the form?”