© Chant H. Wagner
Smell This Pie
In a meeting of two worlds, Broadway has welcomed the inception of olfactory theater for the new musical Waitress at the Brooks Atkinson Theater...
Olfactive theater is a budding art with precedents but not with a confirmed tradition. This spring, because a show centers on the story of a woman escaping an abusive marriage by baking her way out of it, one pie at a time, co-producer Barry Weissler thought it only fitting that the scent of apple pie be given a role in the play.
"I wanted that aroma, and I wanted it desperately. It's a wonderful intense surround for the show."
Marketing has been attuned for a while to the virtues of scenting the way to the cash register while playing uplifting music. Baking smells in particular are used to enhance the attraction of...bakeries but also when home-staging a house for sale. Cookies put to bake and wafting smells of warm butter and chocolate are reported to do wonders for potential buyers who then have less trouble imagining their future lives in such a cosy environment.
What is interesting in the Broadway case is that the technical solution found relies on an old-fashioned sense of ingenuity while being informed by a new frontier of olfactory possibilities in the field of entertainment.
« Finally, the production hit upon a solution: installing a convection oven in an entry passageway just outside the doors to the theater's orchestra seating. Before each performance, the show's "pie consultant," Stacy Donnelly, delivers an uncooked nine-inch double-crust apple pie; 20 minutes before the doors open, a theater staffer puts it in the oven, allowing it to cook slowly through the show. »
What this theatrical prop of a real pie reveals is that its reworked recipe meant to enthrall noses more than mouths is barely edible yet its scent spiked with nutmeg and cinnamon is so perfectly evocative of a tentalizing warm, gooey American-style apple pie that staff can't resist its siren call, each and every night.
We do not know from the NYT article what the impact of that smell is on the aesthetic appreciation of the new musical, but it looks like we're experimenting with a new form of art, addictive art.