Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Moving Along - Little By Little

Merrimack Repertory helped me out with my compilation of productions in Boston from the last decade. They sent me a detailed spreadsheet with productions, directors and playwrights. As a bonus, the sheet includes notations: World Premiere, Regional Premiere, etc.

I have started to reach out to companies for listings. Some are incomplete on their websites, and some companies have shut their doors.

Working through this project is interesting. I am amazed at how many of these productions I have seen. Frankly, I have forgotten some of them until now seeing them listed. I am even more amazed at how much I have not seen. I am a pretty hardcore playgoer - in a good year I will see up to 150. But so many just slip right past me, and, with the nature of theater being so ephemeral, I will not probably get the chance to see them again.

Also, at this stage of gathering data, there is a small myth I am finding would be hard to perpetuate in the face of the facts - at least for the Boston area.

Over at the Playgoer blog, Garret Eisler discusses Terry Teachout's findings in looking at the TCG data. Teachout came up with a list of most produced plays in the last decade. Most of them were contemporary plays.

Eisler observes:

These are just the plays that likely occupy the "new play slot" in a subscription series. (Except for Glass Menagerie, of course, which I would prefer to just bump down to #11 for argument's sake.) Companies will still splurge on a cast of 10 or 12 for, say, The Crucible--already downsized, of course. But remember that many theatres budget a season based on number of total AEA actors employed. So for every Crucible or Shakespeare you do, you have to balance that with a Proof. And it probably makes more sense in these calculations to splurge for the surefire popular favorite rather than on the new play no one's heard of. (In other words, if you want to do a big new play, like say Farnsworth Shakespeare for you this season!)

I want to unpack this a little bit. First, let's look at the myth that large regional theaters program the "chinese takeout" menu: A Shakespeare, five classics and ONE new play.

The "new play slot", as Garret calls it, seems not to exist as I look over the LORT seasons in the Boston area. I think this is a persistent belief, and one that I held for a long time, too

Taking just a couple of examples from Teachout's list:

The Drawer Boy by Michael Healy

Merrimack Rep produced The Drawer Boy in the 2002-2003 season. That season also included:

Fallen a World Premiere by Craig Warner
Women Who Steal by Carter Lewis (Only two years old.)
The Pavilion by Craig Wright (Also only about a year from its first production.)

When the Huntington Theatre Company produced Rabbit Hole in the 2006-2007 season, they also produced:

Radio Golf by August Wilson - only the second or third production of the play in the country.

Mauritius - a brand new play by Theresa Rebeck.

Persephone - a world Premiere of a new play by Noah Haidle. (He was commissioned.)

To be accurate: Rabbit Hole and Radio Golf played the Mainstage while the Rebeck and Haidle were at the Wimberly.

I could list more instances of this, but I think you get the picture.

Now, as far as cast size I am not so sure that theater companies won't invest in large casts for new plays.

How Shakespeare Won The West at the Huntington Theater Company last year sported a Shakespearean-sized roster. Trojan Barbie by Christine Evans at the American Repertory Theater had a pretty large cast as well. And I would add that even the Bard's productions are reduced overall. It is quite common to have people double and triple cast to fill out a Shakespearean call sheet.

It will be interesting to see how this keeps progressing.


Scott Walters said...

Indeed it will! One of the things that is lacking in all our theatre talk is actual data. Maybe you can put some myths to rest!

Todd Williams said...

Hi Art,

Let me know if you need Huntington data. I have a list that includes directors/designers at least a decade back.