by Chad Kinsman, Artistic & Management Coordinator
Read, discuss, and repeat. That’s the pattern when the season selection team, led by our Artistic Director Mark Lamos, begins the process of picking the upcoming season at the Playhouse. Working with Mark are our Associate Artistic Director David Kennedy, our Associate Artist Annie Keefe, our Associate Producer and Director of Production David Dreyfoos, and me. As the newest member of the team, I thought it might be interesting to share the nuts and bolts of season selection as I’ve experienced them over the past months.
The process pretty much begins the minute after the preceding season is announced. So, even though we’re still in the 2014 Season, and we just announced the 2015 Season, we’ll soon start the process for the 2016 season! That’s because there are many factors that have to be taken into consideration, several departments that must be included, and lots of plays to be read. At the end of each season, Mark and the team sit down to discuss the challenges we faced, the successes we achieved, and most importantly the responses from our artists, audiences, and communities. During the season, we solicit and receive feedback from our patrons, and certainly each season is planned with our audience and their diverse interests and tastes in mind.
Next, we start looking at plays. Because we produce five productions a year, there are many plays, musicals, or other projects that we may have looked at in previous years but ultimately didn’t produce due to any number of reasons. We compile and cull through those lists to find what still excites and inspires us. From there, we generate new ideas to add to the list. Maybe we’ve just received a new play from an agent, or recently re-read a classic play. A current news story might inspire us, and sometimes an important anniversary, such as 2015 marking the 100th anniversary of Arthur Miller’s birth, should be observed. What amazes me the most is the sheer breadth of plays my colleagues know and can discuss off the tops of their heads. It’s also very helpful that the team consists of artists with a variety of backgrounds and experience. Mark started out as a musician and an actor before moving into directing. David Kennedy is an accomplished director with a passion for scholarship, while David Dreyfoos has acted, danced, and produced all over the country in addition to his role as a technical director. And Annie Keefe rounds out the group with her decades-long career as a stage manager in regional theaters and on Broadway, and her institutional love and memory from her years serving as Associate Artistic Director and later Co-Artistic Director with Joanne Woodward. The variety of viewpoints and insights into any given play really makes the discussions lively and productive. During that first meeting, we generate an initial list of upwards of 60 plays that all need to be tracked down, obtained, read, and discussed.
After the meeting, I get to work finding copies of each play. We might have a copy in our on-site library, and Westport Library also has a great collection of plays. I also owe a big debt of gratitude to the Inter-Library Loan system, which helps me source plays from across the state. And there’s always Amazon, eBay, and the Drama Book Shop. Once I get a copy of the script, I catalogue it and let our team know it’s available to be read. Then, I become a sort-of-librarian, keeping track of who has which script. As scripts are being read, there’s plenty of emails and conversations, everyone sharing their opinions. Over the winter months, the list both grows and shrinks over the course of many more meetings and discussions.
In the early spring, from what was maybe 60 or more plays, comes a short list of a dozen or two serious contenders. At this point, we move from theory to practice. And that means looking into rights and talking about budgets. For those processes, we rely on David Dreyfoos, who works with publishers or playwrights’ agents to determine whether or not we can get permission to produce a specific play. There are also budgetary considerations that must be kept in mind, such as cast and crew sizes; set costume, and lighting requirements; as well as any dialect coaches, fight coordinators, or movement coaches as the plays require. Musicals require additional artists, including musicians, arrangers, and a music director. Our Managing Director Michael Ross works with David to plan out budgets and make sure we are able to produce the work at the highest level possible.
Once the rights and budgets have been worked out, the order in which we will produce the plays must also be taken into consideration. This is a mix of when directors are available, the period of time our production staff will need to address the technical elements of each show, and most importantly the overall shape and flow we hope our audience will experience as the season progresses. How will each production compare and contrast with the production before it, and after it? Because providing a wide variety of work is at the forefront of our mission, how the diverse pieces come together is a big element.
Once the season has been selected, it’s time to write descriptions, collaborate with our wonderful graphic designer Sean Pomposello on artwork, and many more steps before we announce the season in mid-August. Subscribers are always the first to know the line-up, followed by a general announcement.
This is all to say that season planning is one big balancing act. Each season is the result of months, or in some cases years, of thinking, discussing, and planning. Over the course of the whole process, our focus is to find plays that excite us by making us laugh, think, or debate and that we want to share with our audience My favorite way to think of the season is, as Mark once brilliantly put it, as a five-course meal. Each course should be different, but there should be some sense of unity. Every course is unique and may suit different tastes, but we hope it’s always food for thought and enjoyment.