by Patricia Blaufuss
Public Relations Manager
June 29, 2011
12-show summer season
When I first started working at WCP in 1985, there were 12 shows produced in 12 weeks, and in that particular year, a fall season to boot. I started about half-way through the season when the press and marketing director’s assistant left to take another job. I had the impression that the pace of summer stock was fast, probably from seeing vintage films of Mickey and Judy putting on shows in a barn. But I had no idea how frantic it was in reality. It was analogous to a roller coaster ride that lasted from the opening of the box office in June until the final curtain came down after Labor Day. Remember Lucy and Ethel working on the assembly line in the chocolate candy factory? You’d start out doing fine and then the summer theater conveyer belt began to ramp up.
With 12 shows in 12 weeks, I sometimes felt like I was catapulting ahead of myself. A member of the press requested an interview with an actor who was in a show three weeks out. The playbill printer delivered the final page proofs for a show that was one week out. The newspaper and radio ads were due for another show in a few weeks. It demanded intense attention and organization to know every show, actor, date, press release, promotional idea and deadline. Jim McKenzie always said to us, “Do it right the first time – we don’t have time to do it again.”
When the Playhouse made the major change in 1987 to producing 6 plays in 12 weeks, we breathed an audible sigh of relief. First, there was a noticeable difference in subscriptions. They spiked. Seeing a show every other week was more convenient and attractive to many subscribers than committing to a weekly schedule. As a result, subscriptions, and income, increased substantially.
6-show summer season
Although the bi-weekly schedule may have looked more relaxed on the calendar, the pace and the pressure of producing summer stock theater didn’t change very much. As someone said in 2000 of staging six shows in 12 weeks, “this schedule is inhumane!”
Perhaps it was “inhumane” to some; “exciting” to others. There were those of us who thrived on turning out one show after another. Open on Monday night, run for two weeks, close on Saturday night, move the next show in on Sunday, and do it all over again on Monday. But the decline of summer stock theaters nationwide indicated that not everyone was up to the challenge. There were about five theaters remaining on the northeastern summer circuit in the 1980s –
Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts, Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, Northshore Music Theatre in Massachusetts, Corning Playhouse in and Westport Country Playhouse. There was a larger circle of summer theaters in earlier years, but they closed. New York State closed in the early 1990s. Northshore went off the summer circuit and now produces year ‘round. Corning
But tradition influenced the decision to remain with the formula that makes the Playhouse unique – a main season with the majority of productions in the summer, book-ended with works in the spring and fall. No longer strictly a summer stock venue, the bar has been highly raised. And today, as the Playhouse celebrates 80 years, it is rapidly emerging as a nationally recognized professional theater.