Season Planning 4 – Some (possibly) final thoughts

April 19, 2010

By Ed Sobel, Associate Artistic Director

As you likely have seen, we announced our season for 2010-11.  Some of you may be disappointed to see your recommended plays not make the final cut.  A number of the suggestions you contributed are truly excellent ones, and it is entirely possible, even if they did not find their way onto the season this year, they will pop up some time in the future.

That is another facet of season planning.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking only a show or a year ahead.  One of the advantages we have at the Arden, given the relative stability and support of the company, is to think in longer-term strategic ways about our work and our mission.  Two of the plays on our season for 2010-11 are the result of several years of planning.  It took that long to move them from projects we wanted to do, to getting the right artists in place or securing the performance rights.

Sometimes, a play will stay on a “maybe” list for a number of years, until the right convergence of factors —  be it personnel, balance of “actor weeks” or other costs, or most importantly, passion to tell this particular story at this particular moment.  This last is actually critical.  It moves us from the consideration of “here’s a play I like” to “here’s a play that is important for us to do”.  We often debate the degree to which a play compels performance at this particular moment.  We see our obligation as members of our community not merely to entertain, though we want to do that too, but to tell stories that are deeply and immediately connected to the forces shaping our lives right now.  If we are asking you to invest your time and money and attention (not to mention our own efforts), we’d better make sure we are enjoining you in a conversation that can have vital impact.

I want to thank all of you who contributed suggestions, comments and ideas.  We were sufficiently overwhelmed by your interest that it became impossible to respond to each individually, but in previous posts I have tried to give some sense of the basic foundations upon which the season is eventually built.

Below, in alphabetical order, are abbreviated reactions to some of the ideas you suggested:

Arcadia – Mr. Stoppard’s strong relationship with our cross-town colleagues at the Wilma has tended to make this play their purview (as noted, they produced it in 96-97).  But the wit, deft language, and challenging storytelling certainly make it a contender.  Arcadia in the Arcadia.  Hmm.

Anything new from Michael Hollinger” – apparently, we agreed.  Ghost-Writer coming soon.

Brighton Beach Trilogy – The Walnut produced these consecutively in 03-05, seems a little soon to take them up again.

Dancing at Lughnasa – actually produced by the Arden in 2005-6.  So, good taste.  But we are not likely to revisit it any time soon.

Doubt – without a lengthy discussion of the merits of the script,  I’d note that sometimes a play seems to be past its most exciting moment of “freshness” (usually just shortly before Hollywood catches on it would be a good idea to make the movie), and yet is not quite ready for “re-discovery”.  This play may fall into that “in-between” category.

Desire Under the Elms (actually by O’Neill, not Williams) – the tug of a work from the American classic cannon is hard to resist, especially one from a master story teller speaking of betrayal, family, and the battle for the American Dream in difficult economic times.  The question:  what, or who, would spark a visceral production of the piece to speak to our audience today?

Machinal – requires at least 10-12 actors (the original Broadway cast from 1928 lists 22).  See my earlier post about “actor weeks”.

Fetch Clay Make Man – debuted at the McCarter in January 2010.  Playwright/slam poet Will Power is absolutely an exciting and unusual voice. We will have to look into this further.

The Glass Menagerie – The Walnut has snapped this up for next year.  Maybe they are reading our blog.

Noises Off – a personal favorite of mine (hardest I’ve ever laughed in a theater), but didn’t quite meet the “important to do now” test this year.

Parade – one of our perennial “maybe’s”, and pending the right circumstances and personnel, might well turn up on a future season.

The Pain and the Itch — Bruce Norris’ penchant for pricking at the conscience of well-intended but flawed liberalism makes this play a contender.  As the dramaturg on the original production in Chicago, I am also keenly aware of some of its challenges, including the controversy surrounding the character of a five-year-old girl suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.  Bruce’s latest play, Clybourne Park, which recently ran at Playwrights Horizons in NY and Wooly Mammoth in DC, is also worth examining.

If you have further questions (or comments) about our process this year, feel free to post them.  I will do my best to answer.

And lastly, as the heading of this post suggests, in season planning you never know when, just as you think things are set, something changes…

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