Wednesday, October 24, 2012
How Do They Pick All Those Cool Plays?
Now that we're gearing up to announce our Fourth Season (woohoo!), I figured that there might be some questions as to what all goes into building a season in the first place.
The Seeing Place gets together once a week to read plays, which I choose specifically for whatever ensemble members are available on a week-to-week basis. It's a monumental task, believe me. Generally, I'll spend a few hours on Dramatists' website, looking through the Playfinder. Then I'll head over to the new Samuel French search engine. Then I'll go to Google Books and try to look at character lists of the plays that fit the size and genders of our group to see if the ages also match. Then I'll read reviews to get a sense of the plays, if I don't have them or know them. Then I'll head down to The Drama Book Shop to look through the plays and buy one (or rent it from the library). Then I scan it into my computer (should I be admitting this online?). Then I'll send that play to the group for us all to read, come Monday night. I do this every week. Crazy, right? But that's how we've built our ensemble every year for the last three seasons. And that's the main thing that's kept me artistically engaged in a community for the last five years. And that's the trial ground for the shows we eventually pick for our seasons. And when I say "we", I really mean me. Because I'm the Artistic Director - and that's one of the million things the Artistic Director does.
In the first few years, choosing shows went something like this:
1.) We'd read plays that fit our group.
2.) Someone would get really excited about one.
3.) Other people didn't hate it.
4.) People would look at me.
5.) I'd hesitate a moment and then muster up my courage.
6.) We'd end up doing the play.
Contrary to popular belief, though it may seem that this is one big ego trip for me, I've very rarely done any of my first-pick shows. Aside from the fact that rights aren't easy to get in New York, it's never been exciting enough for me to do a vanity project. I need the people around me to be excited. This is all way too hard if they aren't. So, I usually get inspired by what inspires the people I'm working with. The first play I produced on my own, This Is Our Youth, was this genius piece that I found before Kenneth Lonergan was a household name and convinced my friend Tom Zohar to do it with me and my then-girlfriend, Rachael Van Wormer (they later went on to do a big time production with New Village Arts Theatre after I left San Diego to come to NYC). Anyway...every time I've brought a play to a group and thought, "Oh, this'd be a really cool idea!", and they get excited, I usually think: "Oh man, what did I get myself into." And then I feel like I'm beholden to that group of people, do the play, and end up having a priceless experience - because there's something about standing up in this world and doing something, not because somebody chose us, but because we had something big to say. That's an amazing experience.
And that's how most plays this company has done have been chosen. We've gone from play to play like that, one inspiration after another. In fact, my first dream play that we did never happened in this way at all. It happened once we turned a new corner into our Third Season. In fact, our first two seasons were not seasons at all. We arbitrarily broke them down to look like seasons on our page, because they spanned two years of time. Last year was the first year that we committed to doing a full year at once - and BOY was it scary!
To make our decision for a year, Erin Cronican (our Managing Director) and I sat down and came up with a list of plays that fit our group - and that we wanted to do. Some of those plays had consistent themes. And so, we decided that last year's theme would be Crimes of the Heart - and the Politics of Sex. Mainly, we were doing Closer in rep with a play I was writing (Scotch Kiss), and we wanted to do Three Sisters, so we found a title that would encapsulate the three.
Then we needed two more plays. We wanted to diversify our season, so we thought about the kinds of plays we might want to do in our ideal world, and we came up with a five-play season that still looks like this:
An Urban Play that Speaks to Our Community
A New Play
A Classical Favorite
A Modern Classic
An Americana Play
Last year, our season was:
Closer by Patrick Marber (Urban Play)
Scotch Kiss by Brandon Walker (New Play)
Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov and Brian Friel (Classical Favorite)
The Lover by Harold Pinter (Modern Classic)
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (Americana)
In case you're wondering, my first dream show we did in three years was Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. Closer was Erin Cronican's dream show. Scotch Kiss was an Elderly Love Story, created for our older actors. Three Sisters had a good role for everyone in our company. And The Lover was the only companion piece we could get the rights to for Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. It so happened that Pinter was our Lighting Designer's favorite playwright.
The concept behind our long awaited FOURTH SEASON is:
Fantasy or Reality: The Games Our Minds Play
We'll be announcing it at our Season Kickoff this Friday night, 11/2/2012. Check our Facebook Event throughout the week for the location, the exciting things we'll be doing and auctioning off, and all the other gritty details!
And in the meantime...
TELL US: What's a game your mind has played on you?
(Answers will be anonymously acted out at our party on Monday)