Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Theatre Thoughts: Play Selection

THEATRE THOUGHTS: Notes From the Executive Director

Play selection. One of the most important things a theatre does. It is an incredibly time-consuming, yet incredibly engrossing process. At Theatre Charlotte, we pick plays to meet the following criteria: fulfill the theatre’s mission and vision; attract not only audiences, but talented performers, as well; to physically fit our facility; meet budgetary requirements; and not be a recent duplication. Oh, and something else that has become increasingly challenging—being able to secure the rights to produce the show.

At Theatre Charlotte, I am responsible for the selection of plays and musicals to present to the Board of Directors for final approval. Each summer I recruit an advisory committee made up of theatre practitioners, theatre-goers and several board members. In the spring, we survey our patrons and ask them for show preferences. We pay close attention to the opinions of our audience members. After analyzing the survey results, checking the Theatre Charlotte list of productions over the past ten years and checking to see if other theatres have done any of the shows recently, I prepare a list of some 75 musicals, comedies and dramas and send it to the advisory committee for their initial feedback. This feedback usually reduces the list to around 50.

I prepare copies of these scripts for members of the advisory committee to read upon request. I also gather CDs of the musicals for distribution. I begin checking with other theatres in the area to see what might be on their lists. And I receive more feedback from the advisors. By now, the list is down to around 30. This is when I begin to put combinations of possible seasons together. Should this be an opening musical or one that closes the season? Should this be in the traditionally tough October slot or perhaps in March? Is there enough visual diversity in this grouping? How many male actors are in this combination, how many females? What strong roles for men are there? For women? Racial and ethnic diversity? This process reduces the total to around 15 to 20.

Then I begin to see if the rights can be obtained to produce these shows. This has become a very complicated process over the past couple of years—for several reasons. First of all, there are so many revivals on Broadway—and revivals of shows that are traditionally the mainstays of community theatres.
When these shows go on tour, it becomes quite difficult to get the tour producers to release the performing rights. And to top it off, Charlotte has become an “A” list city for these tours. We totally applaud the NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Broadway Lights Series for their success over the past few years—it enables all of us to see high quality productions without having to wait for several years for a tour to come through—but, it does make it difficult to secure the performance rights for some shows.

So far, in putting together FY13 (2012-2013 season), we have been denied the rights to CHICAGO, HAIR, DRIVING MISS DAISY, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. We were denied the first three because of tours and the latter due to a Broadway revival and probable tour. We produced ANNIE this past season after trying for two years to get the rights. After being denied this season, it is therefore imperative that we have a list of back-ups for each slot in the coming season.

We now have put together quite a strong season for 2012-2013 to present to the Theatre Charlotte Board of Directors. Stay tuned for a future announcement of the next season!

-Ron Law, Executive Director of Theatre Charlotte

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cuckoo's Nest: A Set Design

It’s hard to think of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and not think of a sterile, white hospital setting with patients dressed in white uniforms roaming about the premises. There is a certain comfort in reproducing what people “remember” from a movie or a previous production of the same play, but what is the fun in that?

When Cuckoo’s Nest was officially on the schedule, I knew that we could do something a little more visually interesting with this show. It wasn’t until reading the novel that the first real sparks, so to speak, began. To be honest, I struggled at times to get through the book and wasn’t very fond of it. However, what struck me was one of the hospital’s patients’ descriptions of this machine that was holding him and others captive, while molding them into what society has accepted as normal. His senses overcome by the sound of electricity surging through the walls and the cog wheels grinding and turning. The idea of this giant machine is what I was looking for.

I will have more about the design and also examples of research in the lobby during the run of the show, so I won’t go into details here. I will say that it has been fascinating to research the early years of these giant hospitals and the treatments for the mentally ill (and sometimes not so mentally ill). One doctor took felt that the buildings themselves played a key role in the treatment of patients. Dr. Thomas Kirkbridge documented in great detail how hospitals for the mentally ill should be designed and constructed, from choosing the right spot of land, to the exact dimensions of the windows and doors. Some hospitals built in the Kirkbridge style still stand today, although many have been destroyed or become the subject of ghost hunters and photographers of the macabre.

My assistant, Emily Mazelin, and I have talked extensively about incorporating into the set design, the machine that the patient refers to and elements of these Kirkbridge buildings. The challenge is not only space, time and money, but also staying true to the integrity of the script and subject matter. If we have done our job, the scenery will play together with the lights and the sound, supporting the action on stage while giving the audience a little more to digest beyond white, sterile hospital walls.

-Chris Timmons
Set Designer, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST at Theatre Charlotte