We are in between shows, at the moment, but this is the time of the year when we start looking ahead to next season and start planning what our lineup will be. This is the first of a series of “diary” entries about that process as we put together season 8. Part 1 is by Artistic Director Michael Dove:
So, here we are again. The most interesting/exciting/nerve-wracking part of running a theatre. I suppose, when it comes down to it, this is the primary task of the artistic director. Sure, there are loads more that go into the job, but the planning and executing of our seasons is what I spend the most time thinking about.
When I was asked to start this journal/diary, I think it was assumed that I’d have some procedure as to how we choose a season…some roadmap or plan that has been devised over the seven years we’ve been around. If I’ve learned anything, though, it’s that each year seems to come about somewhat differently, each time. It’d save a lot of stress and back-and-forth-ing if we had a clear plan going into each year, but I think that the way these seasons come about leaves a lot of room for surprise and inspiration. Somehow, they always happen. I probably nearly convince the company and board that they won’t, on a yearly basis, but somehow they do.
We do have a few guiding principals. 1) We have our mission, for starters. It, too, has evolved and changed as we’ve grown, but always feels truer and stronger in each iteration. We take it very seriously and feel that it gets closer and closer to the ideal version of what we want this theatre to be. I could probably write a whole post on the history of our mission (and how each new version has been reflected in each season), but the current version states that we are a theatre that:
“produces adventurous, relevant, and challenging plays that provoke discussion and build community”
So, that’s a start. I want our shows to challenge audiences in a meaningful way through adventurous writing. I want to do plays that take you on a journey through stories that make you think and feel long after the show has ended. Stories that talk about current social issues, political questions, and/or topics that have local, national, and global relevance. It’s what our idea of what theatre should do and what we make our focus when choosing, producing and hosting discussions about our season.
2) Next, we have made a commitment to choosing seasons that, as a whole, ask a compelling question. It’s a theme that I want audiences to be thinking about when seeing each show and when discussing them in context to one another. This current season, for instance, is a series of plays that are connected by a theme of HOME. As we settled into our new space in Silver Spring, we kept coming back to discussions about what it meant to be in a new location and a new community and the shows we chose reflected these talks we had as a company. We wanted to share stories that asked what it meant to be “part of a place.”
Sometimes, like this season, these themes come before the shows are picked. Sometimes, one play will speak to us in a certain way and it guides us in what other shows to put around it.
3) And then there’s the “don’t do crap” factor. I’m not even kidding. I never want us to do a show I don’t LOVE. Never produce theatre that makes it difficult to look at yourself in the morning. We might not always reach our goals and productions may not be as good as we had planned, but we will have tried and bled to make it happen because the play was good enough to warrant that. Sounds simple and it is. Don’t do crap.
There are a bunch of other things that go into how we start, for sure. Everything from wanting to do big shows that feature company members or artists who we love to how much can we squeeze out of the budget we have. I still have a ritual of reading The Empty Space by Peter Brook, each year, just because it’s good and keeps us honest.
So, that’s where we start. I’ll do the next post on where the plays come from and how we make our way through a shortlist that is short only in its relation to every play ever written.