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"Word Becomes Flesh" at Theater Alliance in 2016. (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)

Extra Seasoning: Artistic Directors Share Their Faves

Whose programs do the programmers admire most? We asked some U.S. theatre leaders and they told us.

As part of this special issue’s dive into the art of season planning, we wanted to showcase some of the most exciting seasons and productions at theatres throughout the country. So we asked a group that knows a thing or two about programming, artistic leaders across the U.S., which companies’ seasons they were most looking forward to this year.

BLAKE ROBISON, artistic director, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park:
I’m impressed by the season at Forum Theatre in Washington, D.C. Artistic director Michael Dove has kept this small company inquisitive and nimble, so they can explore front-burner issues in the nation’s capital. I think Forum has positioned itself successfully as the go-to company for insightful and provocative contemporary works in D.C. The season includes Love and Information by Caryl Churchill; The State, conceived by Alexander Manuiloff; and the play I’m most interested to see this season, Nat Turner in Jerusalem, by the immensely talented Nathan Alan Davis.

EILEEN J. MORRIS, artistic director, Ensemble Theatre, Houston:
As a female director I’m excited about the attention that is being given this year to female playwrights, directors, and performers, particularly Suzan Lori-Parks’s The Red Letter Plays at New York City’s Signature Theatre and Dominique Morisseau’s Ain’t Too Proud: The Temptations Musical (because I am a huge Tempts fan). In Houston, I’m excited about Satchmo at the Waldorf at the Alley Theatre and Men on Boats at Main Street Theater. I am looking forward to the revival of A Soldier’s Play at NYC’s Negro Ensemble Company because it first premiered there. I’m also excited about the Dreamgirls transfer from London to Broadway, and I’m hoping that Amber Riley stays with the show. There are so many diverse stories being told onstage this year, and I am going to make sure to support them all locally and nationally!

Amber Riley in “Dreamgirls” at the Savoy Theatre in London in 2016. (Photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)

ART ROTCH, artistic director, Perseverance Theatre, Alaska:
I’m a fan of Molly Smith’s season at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage this year, particularly Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Sovereignty and Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths. I know Molly is passionate about supporting American women who write great plays, and these two are in great hands. I was just at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and want to go back next year to see Destiny of Desire, Manahatta, Snow in Midsummer, and of course the canonical pieces. I think Artists Rep in Portland, Ore., has put together a feast, and I really want to see Magellanica by E.M. Lewis and The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse. And if I could see a whole season start to finish somewhere far away from home it would be at Victory Gardens in Chicago, starting with Fun Home and straight on to Mies Julie.

AMANDA WHITE, artistic director, DalekoArts, New Prague, Minn.:
This season I’m most excited about a company right here in my backyard, the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. Helmed by producing artistic director Jeremy Cohen and a great team of artists and administrators, PWC has a remarkable record for supporting and cultivating our nation’s playwrights: Between 30 and 40 new plays developed at PWC each season are selected for full productions around the world. For decades PWC’s PlayLabs festival has been one of the country’s most substantive play development initiatives, and the lineup this season is fantastic. In 2017-18, I’m excited to see PlayLabs present Alice Tuan’s new play A Humbling in Saint Paul (Oct. 23, 27) and Jen Silverman’s In the Time of the Volcano (Oct. 25, 28). PWC’s Ruth Easton New Play Series gives writers the opportunity to build a new piece in collaboration with their choice of designers, and it’s always a thrill to see these artists at work. In this series, I’m looking forward to local pride Harrison David Rivers’s the bandaged place (April 9-10), and new PWC Core Writer Stefanie Zadravec’s Tiny Houses (March 5-6). These plays will be accompanied by works this season from some regional and national greats, adding up to 70-plus new-play workshops by core writers and fellows. The Playwrights’ Center is an O.G. in taking beautiful risks with new plays and exciting writers, and I count myself lucky to be there for it this season.

DAVE STEAKLEY, producing artistic director, ZACH Theatre, Austin:
I always look forward to what Molly Smith has planned at Arena Stage, and fortunately I get to D.C. a couple of times a year and get to see the work. For her 20th season she is celebrating the diverse voices that make up our nation; her direction with frequent collaborator Parker Esse as choreographer of The Pajama Game should be an absolute delight. I look forward to Timothy Douglas’s production of Christina Ham’s Nina Simone: Four Women; Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Sovereignty, about the restoration of the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction; and Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, set in World War II Japanese internment camps. An intriguing lineup!

FARAH LAWAL HARRIS, artistic director, Young Playwrights’ Theater, Washington, D.C.:
I am most excited about D.C.-based Theater Alliance’s upcoming season. Not only are they remounting the powerful and amazingly acted Word Becomes Flesh, but they’re also doing a world premiere of Idris Goodwin’s The Raid, which explores an imaginary debate between Frederick Douglass and abolitionist John Brown. I love Theater Alliance’s commitment to producing new work and executing performances in exciting ways and can’t wait to see how this season unfolds.

CHARLIE FLYNN-MCIVER, artistic director, North Carolina Stage Company, Asheville, N.C.:
This will be the first full season since the 2016 election, and I’m really intrigued with how theatres are reacting to the current political climate as far as their programming. Almost all the plays in the Berkeley Rep season speak to us, whether they’re old or new plays; I just think it’s going to be exciting to be there this season. Ten Thousand Things in Minneapolis is always intriguing, and I’m thinking their Good Person of Szechwan will be electric. Off the topic of seasons but with other programming: I’m intrigued by the Goodman’s education program, as their Stage Chemistry looks to add the arts to STEM.

MARYANNA CLARKE, artistic director, Tennessee Women’s Theater Project, Nashville:
Several years ago, thanks to a continuing ed grant from TCG and with introductions provided by Susan Coyne, I was able to visit Toronto and meet with the leaders of several companies there. Since then I’ve followed what those companies are doing and have kept an especially close eye on Nightwood Theatre, Canada’s oldest feminist company (we share a goal: to bring women’s voices and stories to our stages). I find their coming season especially exciting. In Unholy by Diane Flacks, four female panelists face off in a wild, whip-smart public debate about religion and misogyny; it’s a hilarious, no-holds-barred look at contemporary women in organized religion. And Calpurnia by Audrey Dwyer is a hilarious and provocative look at class, race, and family dynamics under the roof of a wealthy Jamaican-Canadian home. It’s a brave, insightful, and outrageous new play. I’m looking forward to reading them, if not seeing them—Toronto is a bit of a drive from Nashville!

Barbara Gordon, Bahareh Yaraghi, Niki Landau, Blair Williams, and Diane Flacks in “Unholy” at Nightwood Theatre in Toronto in 2017. (Photo by John Lauener)

JEFFREY MINDOCK, artistic director, Thunder Bay Theatre, Alpena, Mich.:
I may be partial, since I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, but I think the Arden in Philadelphia has chosen a balanced 30th anniversary season with plenty of entertainment and intrigue. Directing A Doll’s House and Fun Home in the same season should be a fun challenge for the artistic director, Terrence Nolen, and Every Brilliant Thing, featuring Scott Greer (a Philadelphia favorite), should be a rewarding cap to a special season.

JENNIFER CHILDS, producing artistic director, 1812 Productions, Philadelphia:
I am super inspired by the “On the Road” season that the Alliance Theatre is programming this year. Programming each of their shows in a different venue across the city of Atlanta is certainly a production challenge, but what a way to do community outreach and to offer audiences some really magical, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, like seeing Midsummer at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

GREGORY BOYD, artistic director, Alley Theatre, Houston:
I am hugely anticipating the opening of the Flea Theater’s extraordinary new space in Tribeca in New York—it promises to be inspiring and galvanic, and I’m excited to see the work that goes on within and throughout its multiple spaces under the leadership of its brilliant artistic director, Niegel Smith. It promises a real embrace of audience and artist. I’m looking forward to the premiere of Inanimate by Nick Robideau featuring their resident company, the Bats, and especially to NSangou Njikam’s Syncing Ink, a masterful story about storytelling that seems the perfect event to consecrate a new theatre.

“Astoria: Part One” at Portland Center Stage in 2017. (Photo by Jennie Baker)

JOHN LANGS, artistic director, A Contemporary Theatre, Seattle:
In looking at the 2017-18 season lineups, I am most excited for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in D.C., Lincoln Center Theater in New York, and California’s Marin Theatre Company. All three of these companies know how to program groundbreaking plays that are brave and daring. They all have their finger on the pulse of what is great writing right now. Looking back on previous seasons with works like An Octoroon, The Royale, and Marie Antoinette, and this next season with The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe at LCT and everything else playing on these stages—this work will continue to drive theatre to the next level.

JOHN FLAX, founding artistic director, Theater Grottesco, Santa Fe, N.M.:
Given my interest in physical and devised theatre, I am looking forward to Not Every Mountain by Austin’s Rude Mechs and Leila’s Death by Ali Chahrour, both at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I applaud regional theatres showcasing ensembles, and I look forward to The Toad Knew from French artist James Thierrée and Ireland’s Druid Theatre doing Waiting for Godot, each at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I’m very impressed with the history plays being developed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, including Idris Goodwin’s The Way the Mountain Moved next year. Here in Santa Fe, I especially look forward to Ironweed ProductionsThe Crucible, because they do just one show a year and spend many months on it, and it shows.

KRISTEN COURY, producing artistic director, Gulfshore Playhouse, Naples, Fla.:
The two seasons about which I’m most excited are far-flung from Florida, so hopefully I’ll get to see one or several of them, but I can’t say for sure! First, Oregon’s Portland Center Stage: Brave, fresh, new, exciting. Their season includes a lot of new works, some Pacific Coast-centric, like Astoria: Part Two, a world premiere by Chris Coleman; Kodachrome by Adam Szymkowicz; and Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan, described as “a reminder that hope is never truly lost, and a testament to the healing power of storytelling.” Bravo! Also enticing is Everyman Theatre’s season in Baltimore, which includes lots of female playwrights, ethnic diversity, and new plays, including one called The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson, Aubergine by Julia Cho, and The Book of Joseph by Karen Hartman. What a funny, diverse, thought-provoking, and paradigm-shifting season, in keeping with Everyman’s reputation for courage, intelligence, and boundary-pushing in each and every season.

DONALD JORDAN, artistic director, CityRep, Oklahoma City:
As part of my process for picking seasons at CityRep, in addition to a couple of hours of reading each morning, I also try to see at least 100 productions a year in as wide and diverse a range of theatres across our region and country as I can manage. There is such a rich, vibrant, and varied reflection of life on the stages of our nation! In Oklahoma City, I am looking forward to the upcoming production of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s Fun Home by our friends at the Lyric Theatre. I also think the Pollard Theatre’s upcoming production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch—directed by Jerome Stevenson and with Tulsa Theatre Project’s artistic director, Matthew Alvin Brown, as Hedwig—promises to be raucous fun. Down the road, my friend Kevin Moriarty always surprises and delights with his seasons at Dallas Theater Center, and this year is no exception. (One reason they got the regional Tony Award this year, I imagine.) I am looking forward to their productions of Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society and Hair, as we approach the 50th anniversary of that seminal work, and now in another time of social upheaval.

MATT GUTSCHICK, artistic director, Rose Theater, Omaha, Neb.:
The biggest and best surprise I found in my inbox this spring was definitely Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2017-18 season. Talk about a theatre that is activating a commitment to urgent conversation, dramatic imagination, diverse perspectives, and its local artistic community! I admire the dialogue experiment of How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes, from Michael Rohd and his Sojourn Theatre, and the poetic political resistance at the heart of En El Tiempo De Las Mariposas by Caridad Svich. CPT’s “Remarkable Rating System” is an innovation, helping audiences navigate unknown titles when making attendance decisions about individual shows. This is an interesting way of addressing the “tyranny of title” problem with which so many artistic directors wrestle.

“How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” at Oregon’s Portland Playhouse in 2015. (Photo by Brud Giles)

MICHAEL RITCHIE, artistic director, Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles:
I am always fascinated by Neil Pepe’s choices for the Atlantic Theater Company in New York. I have been a friend and supporter of the company for more than 30 years. Neil has a unique situation where he balances the merits of a particular play with serving his company of actors, directors, and designers. The most intriguing play in the season for me is Simon Stephens’s On the Shore of the Wide World. I currently have two of Simon’s plays running at my theatres (Heisenberg and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), and I am looking forward to his next, in large part because of the cast, particularly the ones I know well: Blair Brown, Peter Maloney, Mary McCann, and Tedra Millan.

RON HIMES, producing director, Black Rep, St. Louis:
I’ve become very interested in the work of Tim Douglas, so I’m anxious to see what he does with Nina Simone: Four Women by Christina Ham at Arena Stage; The Last Firefly by Naomi Iizuka, a work for young audiences, at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; and Hospice + Pointing at the Moon by Pearl Cleage at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

MELISSA CHALSMA, artistic director, Independent Shakespeare Company, Los Angeles:
One of the most exciting companies in Los Angeles is Machine Project. They blur the lines between visual arts, theatre, music, and community engagement. It’s as though the smartest kid in your science class went on a spiritual retreat with a cabin full of great writers, woke up surrounded by crystals, and then decided to give it all back to their community. Descending into their bijou theatre space is an event unto itself as you wind down a narrow stairway past the technicians. Beginning to end, the event is stimulating. And they are nearly always working on something out in the community as well. I can’t wait for the Machine Project collaboration with theatre artist Asher Hartman coming up this fall. It’s called Sorry, Atlantis: Eden’s Achin’ Organ Seeks Revenge. Machine Project recently sent out a posting seeking production assistance for “puppeteering and help with other weird FX, such as spritzing salt water, frying a fish, etc.” How can that fail to intrigue and excite?

NATHAN MOTTA, artistic director, Dobama Theatre, Cleveland:
It’s really hard to choose. I love the seasons that Playwrights Horizons in NYC, Woolly Mammoth in Washington, D.C., and many others have put together. But I’m going to give it to Studio Theatre in D.C., which features two of my favorite new plays, Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau and The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, as well as Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and The Effect by Lucy Prebble—that is as exciting a season as I’ve seen. I also have to mention that New York Theatre Workshop’s season, with women in the director’s chair for every production, is awesome. And I was pumped to see that Magic Theatre in San Francisco will give the world another chance to catch Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. Now excuse me while I search for flights to San Francisco!

SANFORD ROBBINS, producing artistic director, Resident Ensemble Players, Newark, Del.:
I look forward to Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph at the Alley Theatre in Houston, a high point in what promises to be an extraordinary season there. Year after year Gregory Boyd remains brilliant at programming: He orchestrates an amazing balance of edgy and topical plays with timeless classics, and he consistently stretches both his audience and his exceptional resident acting company. And I love that this play grew out of the “Alley All New” initiative, which seems certain to develop many more important new plays.

SHARON GRACI, artistic director, PURE Theatre, Charleston, S.C.:
I am really excited about the 17th season at Steep Theatre in Chicago. It’s challenging, balanced, and really provocative. I think Steep does an exceptional job of living their mission way out loud. When I look at their programming, I’m never confused about who and what they are in the moment, or where they’re seeking to go. Season 17 is another excellent example of that.

TONY GARCIA, executive artistic director, Su Teatro, Denver:
The Los Angeles Theatre Center promises a very exciting season. Of particular interest is the 2017 Encuentro de las Americas, Nov. 2-19, which will bring in 13 groups from across the Americas. Nationally known U.S. groups include Pregones from the Bronx and Culture Clash from California; internationally known troupes include Argos Teatro from Havana, Cuba, Nightswimming from Toronto, and Organización Secreta Teatro from Mexico City. Other Encuentro offerings I’m looking forward to are Nicolás Valdez from San Antonio in Conjunto Blues and Deferred Action from Dallas’s Cara Mía Theatre.

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