Season Planning 3 – Old and New
By Ed Sobel, Associate Artistic Director
Quite understandably, very few of the season suggestions we received were brand new plays that had not yet been performed elsewhere. One of the frequent debates heard in season planning meetings is about the amount of new work present in a season. Those of you who followed my recent conversation with Terry Teachout on the issue know that the question pervades beyond the small confines of an artistic office at a regional theatre. The conventional wisdom, Mr. Teachout’s assertions aside, is that new work must make up a small minority of the programming if a company is to maintain fiscal health. New work is viewed as “risky” and is administered in a season to audiences like medicine – with a spoonful of sugary known quantities and familiar titles.
But when you actually do some empirical digging (through market research, etc.), you find that most audiences don’t care if something is new, they just care if it is good. I put it that if you ask almost anyone, they’d rather see a good new play than a bad production of A View From the Bridge.
The real question is what will vouchsafe the experience for the audience, so that they have confidence they are more likely to see something good and not bad. Sometimes it is the known title of the play or the reputation of the writer. Sometimes it is the quality of the acting, or a particular actor (hence the rise of star casting in the commercial theater – “Even if I don’t like the play, I still got to see Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig/Denzel Washington”), or the director. At the Arden, we try to make it the whole experience; from the moment of our first contact together through attending a production, and after.
This means approaching our relationship with our audiences not as purely transactional (pay good money, get a production in return) but as more holistic and deeper. The most important relationships in our lives are not reductively transactional; our job, our family, our education, our community or neighborhood, our spiritual or religious belief.
Most of the time, when we have a bad day at the office, we don’t quit. When we have an argument with our spouse or parents or children we don’t storm out of the house never to return. If we take one bad class in a university we don’t drop out of school. If our neighbor doesn’t shovel his/her walkway, we don’t sell our home and move across town.
Those relationships are built upon greater shared values, and upon a level of trust that is built over time. That is the kind of relationship we endeavor to have with our audience. It has to be our task to select a season that demonstrates, and sometimes leads, the shared values of our audience and that validates the trust placed in us.
In our 2010-11 season, you will see a slate of plays each of which in some way exemplifies our trust in you, and yours in us. One or two may be from a playwright whose work you know and admire, one or two may be lead by a director whom you trust to create a meaningful experience, and one or two may be completely unfamiliar. For those, we are seeking your trust in your experience with us, and we will do our dedicated best not to let you down.