Wednesday, June 29, 2011

12 shows/12 weeks

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 New York State and Westport Country Playhouse.  There was a larger circle of summer theaters in earlier years, but they closed.  Corning closed in the early 1990s.  Northshore went off the summer circuit and now produces year ‘round.

Westport soldiered on as a summer theater through 2003.  But it was entering a renaissance.  It went off the summer stock circuit and was about to undergo a major renovation.  With the reopening of the essentially “new” Playhouse in 2005, there were a few attempts at a year-round season of theatrical productions. 

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.


barb said...

I have supported the Westport Playhouse for more than 25 years. As a local Westporter each year I tried to see all of the plays. Each year I like to take my Mom for her birthday who is 89 this year and my two sisters to a matinee performance. This year we went to see "Lips Together Teeth Apart". I was so appalled with the vulgar language that at the first intermission all of us got up and walk out. We stopped at the ladies room on the way out only to hear that numerous other women were appalled with the language. I felt sorry for many of them because they had come by bus and were stuck at the playhouse. We were not the only group leaving. We meet others in the parking lot all expressing their distaste and disappointment of the Westport Playhouse. I have given financial support and have always promoted the playhouse. I can't believe the Westport Playhouse would have such vulgar language as part of its venue. Words like c_ _ _ and Dil_ _ are filth. It should have been stated in the literature that there was vulgar language. Mark Lamos should think about what plays he brings to the Playhouse. He will not have any support from this community with that kind of venue. I will never give another dime nor advertise again. I know many of my friends feel the same way. I expressed my distaste of this play with Chad from the box office. He begged to differed and thought it was wonderful. After hearing that and his uncaring attitude towards me and my family how could someome like him have a job at the Westport Country Playhouse!!!! I guess he never hear of giving good customer service. To spend $220 + dollars for filth and then be abused was never what the Westport Country Playhouse was about. Word of mouth is the best way to market the playhouse. You have a lot of very unhappy people in the community. Shame on you!!

maria said...

I too was disappointed by "Lips Together...". The set was nice but the four self loving, self asorbed characters make for a depressing evening. And the homophobic story line is passe. Using all the "dirty words" in the first act was the tip off for low expectations. I expect summer theater to be uplifting. My mistake. I'll be much more care in the future