~Teresa Eyring TCG Executive Director
In the Fall of 2006, I worked as the Allen Lee Hughes Fellows and Intern Program Coordinator at Arena Stage. At our first all staff meeting, we were divided into several groups of five or six and tasked with planning a season for Arena Stage. For this exercise, we had to be mindful of the Mission Statement, the demographics of the audience and the production history of Arena Stage as well as other area theaters going back seven years. We also had to consider when each show would run and select the performance spaces. What's more, the five or six of us had to come to a consensus. After twenty minutes or so, we presented our seasons to everyone and shared our artistic vision. It was an arduous, complex and exhilarating exercise, and an absolutely brilliant introduction to the spirit, passion and vision of the theatre. What's more, it taught me one of the most lasting and valuable lessons that I have learned about theatre thus far: Season planning is hard and so is being an Artistic Director.
Here is how culture reporter, Robin Progrebin, describes season planning in her article, Building a Theatrical Season, Month by Month:
"A nonprofit theater's season planning is a craft all its own, one of mundane logistical maneuvering as well as lofty creative ambition; of sleepless-night angst and pride-swelling triumph; of big-picture matters like building audiences and details as precise as choosing a hat. It's a balancing act of egos, schedules, budgets and creative visions. The planning is conducted at many levels, depending on an institution's finances. And it almost always involves a deep and consuming commitment of passion and time."
Since my time at Arena Stage, I've gone on to select plays for theatre seasons and new play development festivals. It's always a challenging, passionate and tiresome endeavor. When theatres announce their seasons, I can't help but applaud, herald and champion the accomplishments of their selections. I know how challenging it was to bring together those 3 to 6 plays, plus additional programming. I know how hard it was to say no to the countless number of plays and playwrights they wish they could have included.
Here's a short list of what has to be considered when selecting plays for a season:
- Budget and Financial Health - from cast size to ticket sales
- Mission Statement/Core Values
- Availability of plays - obtaining rights to produce
- Scheduling - when each show will run/availability of key artists
- Casting - big names, local favorites or debut of unknowns
- Sustaining and growing audience
- Marketing the season and each individual play
- New work versus recent hit on Broadway versus revival of a classic
- Education and outreach to the community
- Performance space
For theaters with diversity and inclusion embedded in their mission and values, the following will be reflected in their decisions:
- Plays written by playwrights at various stages of their careers (beginning, emerging, mid-career and established).
- Plays written by playwrights living within and beyond a 200 foot radius of their doors.
- Plays written by men and women, and perhaps moving towards gender parity.
- Plays written by playwrights of color during and beyond their dedicated month of appreciation.
- Plays that reflect the lives and experiences of the people who live within and beyond a 200 foot radius of their doors in terms of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and ability.
When Theater J decided to produce the world premiere of my play THE HAMPTON YEARS, they hit the jackpot: I'm an (1.) emerging (2.) D.C. based, (3.) woman playwright (4.) of color who wrote a play about (5.) Black and Jewish relations in the arts, military and academia. WooHoo! But even before they established the amazing Locally Grown Festival, now in its second year, Theater J has had a long, rich, and deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. Their continued investment and inclusion of local playwrights makes it really exciting to be a part of the 2012-2013 D.C. Theatre Season.
As more and more theatres work to include emerging and local playwrights in their seasons, I am reminded that the very best theatre seasons introduce a wide, more diverse and inclusive, range of plays to their community. It is essential for the vitality, growth, and health of the community that they continue doing so. I'm appreciative that there is no national theatre in the U.S. and that playwrights across the nation are encouraged to write in their own voices, styles, and rhythms about any and everything that moves them. By no means is it a perfect system and it sure takes a while to find your tribe of people, but as an audience member, theatre artist and lover of the theatre:
- I want to see that hit from Broadway that I couldn't afford to go see.
- I want to see that classic written years and years and years ago, because the issues remain relevant, the characters are recognizable and the stories reverberate with such power.
- I want to see that revival of a play from as many as five or twenty years ago, because the craftmenship of the writing is superb and I just so happen to be teaching it in my Intro to Theatre, Play Analysis, History of Theatre I/II and/or Theatre of the Black Experience class this semester.
- I want to see and support the work of my fellow D.C. area playwrights and watch as they develop as playwrights in the same way that so many D.C. area actors, directors and designers have.
- I want to see my favorite story from childhood adapted into a play for the stage (more on that soon!).
Basically, I want it all. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another reason why it is so extraordinary to be a theatre artist living and working in the D.C. Theatre community.
In my next post and over the course of the next several days, I'm going to introduce you to the amazing, brilliant and talented Women Artistic Directors of D.C. being featured in this series. I'm so excited and can hardly wait to share these deeply powerful and moving stories with you. Please stay tuned!