New Works, New Audiences
LA JOLLA, CALIF.: It’s one thing to get a theatre and its board committed to developing new work. How about interesting your audience? La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley figured it was time to give it a try. “Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance to develop work in New York, because the actors and talent are there,” Ashley concedes. “But I’m really committed to creating an audience in La Jolla that’s interested in developing new work.”
Hence the DNA New Work Series, which makes its inaugural bow Jan. 24–March 3. A centerpiece of the series is Chasing the Song, a sequel of sorts to the musical Memphis, this one also with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, which Ashley will direct. There’s also a drama from Meg Miroshnik, The Tall Girls; a comedy from Aditi Brennan Kapil, Brahman/i; and a series of readings, including Monique Gaffney’s Being Henrietta, Basil Kreimendahl’s Orange Julius and Heidi Schreck’s The Consultant. All the shows are open to subscribers but not to critics.
“When you have a season of six plays on subscription, it’s a joy to program—but if you want to have relationships with writers and artists, six slots is really limiting. This way we can offer a home to a larger pool of writers.” And to innovation-hungry audiences, of course. Visit www.lajollaplayhouse.org.
NEW YORK CITY: The SITI Company is known as much for its influential training—which pairs the rigorous physical discipline of Tadashi Suzuki with the spatial/temporal concepts of Viewpoints work—as it is for its hard-to-classify original performance pieces, created both by the company and with such playwrights as Charles L. Mee and Jocelyn Clarke, under the leadership of artistic director Anne Bogart.
This season, its 20th as a company, SITI is doubling down on both its missions, with new pieces—last fall’s Trojan Women (After Euripides) at Brooklyn Academy of Music, this year’s A Rite with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company—as well as a new, 27-week, full-time conservatory program, which will run Sept. 16–May 12, 2014, at its New York studio (in the same building as the offices of American Theatre magazine, it should be noted). SITI’s training has previously been offered primarily in four-week intensives, either at Skidmore, the Saratoga, N.Y., school that is the source of SITI’s name (for the record, it stands for “Saratoga International Theatre Institute”), or in residency in various cities in the U.S. and around the world.
The changes, explains Ellen Lauren, the conservatory’s curator, mean that SITI will be “not just offering our core training at the highest level possible, but really exploring other talents and skills that the company has. Because we have never been a company that structured a traditional apprenticeship, where you work your way up through it, this is necessary for us as we refresh our veins with, more than likely, a younger generation of artists.”
Lauren says that the hope is not only to train a group of around 20 students in the first year but to create work with them, as well. “You spend the first months of this training just learning vocabulary and lingo and how to breathe,” she emphasizes. “Then you broach the idea of what these things draw out of you, what is your taste, what are you interested in pursuing and making.’ This will afford us the luxury of that exploration and that dialogue.” Go to www.siti.org/conservatory.
Plays from the Plains
OMAHA, NEB.: Textbooks may be rapidly disappearing, with e-readers gracing every college dorm room and PDFs aplenty. But one interested party is bucking the trend. The Great Plains Theatre Conference recently published the GPTC Reader: 2012 Mainstage, its first-ever collection of plays, culled from its 2012 conference. The 2013 conference, which honors playwright Constance Congdon takes place this spring at Metropolitan Community College, an idyllic campus on 73 verdant acres in North Omaha. Through the college, GPTC was able to secure funding for the book, and to subsidize its use in theatre classrooms.
According to editor Catherine Brown, who is also GPTC’s special events project coordinator, Scott Working, MCC’s theatre department coordinator, has “already used the book for the fall quarter. It’s a great way to get current scripts into the classroom.” And, in a spin on audience engagement, students enrolled in MCC’s Graphic Communication Arts Program submitted cover proposals for the book; Ryan Kholousi’s dandelion design won out. The collection includes David Rush’s Nureyev’s Eyes, Todd Olson’s Joe Corso Re-Enters from the Wings, Henry Murray’s Three Views of the Same Object, Joe Musso’s Conk and Bone and Jami Brandli’s BLISS (or Emily Post Is Dead!). In his foreword, GPTC producing artist director Kevin Lawler writes, “Now we will be able to share these stories with an even wider audience and hopefully enable new productions of the plays within.” For more information visit www.mccneb.edu/gptc.
The Kids Stay in the Picture
HARTFORD, CONN.: When the final curtain came down last November on the Hartford Children’s Theatre production of How I Became a Pirate, it was also the 22-year-old theatre’s final bow. While the theatre’s arts education program was booming, its productions had become too much of a loss leader, according to Mike Stotts, managing director at nearby Hartford Stage.
This isn’t carping from a rival theatre organization: After months of talks, Hartford Stage has agreed to absorb HCT’s teaching programs and hire its education director, Lisa Foss, and programs manager, Emely Larson. This will provide continuity for HCT’s youth theatre training, including a partnership with the Classical Magnet High School.
“It really is a perfect fit for our mission,” says Stotts, who estimates the new program’s budget at $276,000. “It’s an area of education Hartford Stage hadn’t invested in, partly because the Children’s Theatre existed. And as more mature theatres like us struggle with developing the next generation of audiences, this gives us a huge potential to reach those kids and their parents.” You can read more about the new program—called, aptly enough, the Children’s Theatre of Hartford Stage—at www.hartfordstage.org/childrenstheatre.
SAN FRANCISCO: Back in 1970, Milton “Sebastian” Miron, an accountant for rock impresario Bill Graham, got the run of the vintage Palace Theatre after midnight on weekends. His plan was to “showcase little-known cult and bizarre films he liked,” recalls Todd Trexler, a poster artist hired by Miron.
But the audiences who showed up to watch vintage musicals and films by Luis Bunuel and John Waters proved to be as entertaining as the movies themselves. “What you wore to the Palace was as much a part of the experience as what was on the screen,” remembers Trexler. One thing led to another, and soon the mayhem spilled onto the stage in a series of “Nocturnal Dream Shows” spearheaded by the Cockettes, a ragtag troupe of bearded drag performers whose form-breaking fusion of hippie and gay tropes was influential far beyond the Bay Area. “It was almost like a high school talent contest,” Trexler recalls. “They hadn’t rehearsed stuff; it was often spur of the moment. It had a fluid aspect that people really liked.”
Trexler’s finely drawn posters for those shows (for which he was paid partly in bags of weed) are part of the Cockettes legend, not least because they lend an air of Art Nouveau refinement to the roisterous proceedings. “I met some resistance from groups like Cockettes, who wanted something more outrageous for their posters,” Trexler admits. “But I took it as an opportunity to just enjoy my drawing.” They had their thing, he had his. Trexler has made images from those iconic posters, including soul singer Sylvester and art-house goddess Divine, available for sale online at www.toddtrexlerposters.com.
A Theatre Buffet
CHICAGO: What happens when you take the popular model of Restaurant Week, in which high-end eateries offer discounts to ardent foodies and casual dabblers alike, and apply it to theatre?
The Windy City is about to find out with its first-ever Chicago Theatre Week, running Feb. 12–17 in partnership with the League of Chicago Theatres and Choose Chicago. More than 75 shows are expected to participate by offering discounted tickets ranging from $15 to $30. Special events will also be planned to coincide with the week, including such enrichment activities as talk-backs, panel discussions with artists, and restaurant and hotel discounts.
Says Deb Clapp, executive director of the League, “We hope that the initiative instigates a renewed and heightened appreciation throughout Chicago and the Midwest for our rich theatre industry.” Indeed, Chicago touts more than 250 theatres, with a variety of spaces, ranging from storefront, to non-union, to resident theatres—including five that have won regional Tony Awards. With all the theatre viewing on tap one hopes that hot dogs—another Chi-town specialty—will not be in short supply. Go to www.chicagotheatreweek.com.
Buying It Local
PORTLAND, ORE.: Some theatre festivals showcase the work of out-of-towners to avid local theatregoers; others shine a light on local talent. Is it any surprise that the locavore capital of Portland prefers its theatre homegrown, too?
Now in its fourth year, Portland’s Fertile Ground plans more than 100 events over 10 days (Jan. 24–Feb. 3). Highlights include two new plays by Portland playwright Susan Mach: The Lost Boy at Artists Repertory Theatre and A Noble Failure at Third Rail Repertory Theatre. There’s also R3, where director Gisela Cardenas teams with the Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble to examine Richard III from its female characters’ perspective; Quincy Long’s disturbing doo-wop serial killer play, The Huntsmen; Thomas Ward’s International Falls, about a late-night rap session that takes a wrong turn; Bruce Hostetler’s docu-theatre piece Feral—Homelessness in Portland; Sean Andries and Dakota Belle Witt’s mermaid tale, Fish Girl; Rich Rubin’s fresh look at an infamous playwright/actress marriage, Marilyn/MISFITS/Miller (look it up, kids); Benedict Herrman, Emmanuel Williams and Rian Turner’s examination of the sexes, Men & Women in the Dark; and solo pieces like Sue Ellen Liss’s Finding the Lost Spark and the Jenny Newbry Waters–Cassie Greer collaboration Cinnamon & Cigarettes.
The program holds several ensemble-devised works, including three new joints from Fuse Theatre Ensemble (A Virgin in Neverland, Sonnetscape, and (…)), and one each from Hand2Mouth (Something’s Got Ahold of My Heart), Third Eye Theatre (Grand Guignol 5: Possessions), and HumanBeingCurious Productions (Illuminate).
There will also be countless staged readings, many sponsored by PDX Playwrights; the obligatory 24-hour play fest; and a series of eight original 10-minute musicals on a small platform, aptly labeled 4X4=8 Musicals. Charming as it is, “Portlandia”
has nothing on the live article. Go to www.fertilegroundpdx.org.