The Food World & The Theater World

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The James Beard Awards were last week, this week the Tonys. It’s often occurred to me that theater geeks have much in common with foodies and now I’d like to make a list of how the theater world is similar to the food world and vice-versa:

* The food world and the theater world are both often seen as elitist;

* The parts of the food world that aren’t seen as elitist (the Food Network, fast food, movie theater nachos) are considered by the elitists to be lowbrow just as populist theater (jukebox musicals, movie-to-stage adaptations) are frowned upon by theater elites;

* Still, both worlds are niche worlds with communities of passionate people who follow the ups and downs of their industry with fierce fascination;

* Restaurants fear Frank Bruni the way that producers fear Ben Brantley;

* New voices are celebrated to the point of exhaustion–David Chang meet Stew;

* Newish voices take a while to be noticed but once noticed are also celebrated to the point of exhaustion–Wylie Dufresne meet Tracy Letts;

* Older voices get their moment in the sun after long careers of hard work–Jean-Georges meet Patti LuPone;

* It’s expensive to eat at James Beard award winning restaurant; it’s expensive to see a Tony-winning play (or any play or musical, for that matter);

* Both communities have lively message boards: foodies have chowhound and eGullet; Theater geeks have All That Chat and Broadwayworld.com;

* If you make it in theater, you often flee to Hollywood to do movies and TV (see: Cynthia Nixon, Mary Louise-Parker); if you make it in the food world, you often flee to “Hollywood” by way of Food Network, the Home Shopping Channel, the frozen food aisle, and restaurant franchises (see: Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali);

* Las Vegas: both restauranteurs and theater producers go there to offer watered-down versions of “high” culture;

* Modern American food culture owes a debt to gay men (notably James Beard & Craig Claiborne) just as modern American theater owes a debt to gay men like Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Stephen Sondheim;

* People turn their nose up at foods they consider weird (offal, for example) the way that audiences walk out of plays they consider weird (“Top Girls,” for example);

* People don’t dress up any more to go to the theater much like they don’t dress up any more to go out to dinner;

* Some save menus, some save Playbills;

* Celebrity chefs fill restaurant seats just like celebrity cast members fill theater seats, (despite frequent bad reviews, Julia Roberts);

I’m sure I can go on and on, but we can leave it at that. Thank you for indulging my desire to point out how the food world is similar to the theater world. Carry on, designers. (Oooh, that leads to the fashion world… but that’s another post.)

6 comments

  1. As an actor and food bloggie I am in both the theater and constantly in restaurants. This reminds me of a Venn Diagram where the two intersect. In my travels to Argentina, I ran into many a Dinner Theater restaurants that combined delicious feasts with a Tango and more show. I know dinner theaters are here in the US as well, but this was a place where people still dressed up both for the show or the restaurant and especially if you were going to do both at the same place. http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com You can read about a farmer’s market, which I think is an ultra casual mix of an outdoor theater and restaurant.

  2. This is a great post – definitely true!

    I majored in Theatre Arts in college, and now work in sales for a wine importer. People often ask in bewilderment how I made that jump, but for me the answer is simple –

    The theatre and wine industries are very similar because they both are approached from a place of passion, and the products of both industries appeal to the consumer on an emotional level. The best people in both industries tend to be creative, generous, and fun. They love their jobs and work hard, but always know how and when to have a good time. The transition was natural.

    (Not to mention the fact that former actors make GREAT sales people. :) )

  3. This is a great post – definitely true!

    I majored in Theatre Arts in college, and now work in sales for a wine importer. People often ask in bewilderment how I made that jump, but for me the answer is simple –

    The theatre and wine industries are very similar because they both are approached from a place of passion, and the products of both industries appeal to the consumer on an emotional level. The best people in both industries tend to be creative, generous, and fun. They love their jobs and work hard, but always know how and when to have a good time. The transition was natural.

    (Not to mention the fact that former actors make GREAT sales people. :) )

  4. You’re making (to my actor mind) a common and insulting gaffe. You’re not talking about all theatre, you’re talking about Broadway. That’s one (significant and money making) portion of the theatre world, but not even close to the entirety of it. It’s like talking about Thomas Keller’s restaurants as if they are the entirety of the food world and no other restaurant exists…

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