I’m a newly minted member of the MRT Cohort Club.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about subscribing to MRT for many years is seeing a variety of plays; plays I might not have chosen to see otherwise. Plays capture a life experience from the perspective of the playwright, director, actors, and the rest of the production team. Watching a play presents an opportunity to experience another world for a short while, to learn something about ourselves and others, to set aside our own lives for a time.
As a cohort, it is possible to see how this world of the play is brought into existence in a professional theatre. In future write-ups, I’ll focus on a particular aspect of the development of theater in the context of a specific play.
This time around, I’ll provide some info on the 2018-2019 season, how plays are selected, and the nominal production timeline.
If you are a subscriber who doesn’t want to any advance knowledge about the plays this season, skip this paragraph.
The first of seven plays for this season is the widely produced comedy, Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías. It features one very pregnant actor playing a very pregnant new homeowner and gardener.
This season also includes three world premieres:
Slow Food by Wendy MacLeod, The Heath by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwrights of the 2017-2018 season, and The Haunted Life by Jack Kerouac adapted for the stage by Sean Daniels, Artistic Director at MRT.
The Christmas show this year is an eight-actor extravaganza, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly, with characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
At the other end of the spectrum, Murder for Two has two actors playing thirteen characters. The last play of the season, Cry It Out, is a comedy featuring at least one new mom (Veronica Duerr) coincidentally playing a new mom.
The plays for this season were discussed a year ago and selected around the beginning of 2018. Season planning starts with reading plays during the summer. Internal discussions about the 2019-2020 season has already began in August. Sean Daniels says, “It’s a process that is ongoing and our internal goal is to have the [planning] done by Dec. 31st for the next season. So right now we are in the thick of planning for the 19-20 Season.”
When asked how plays are selected, Sean Daniels said, “We look to put together a season that serves the multiple constituencies and goals of the organizations.” He provided the following as examples of things MRT looks at when making a new season:
• What do we think our audience is excited by?
• What are we excited by?
• Do we have gender parity?
• Are we accurately reflecting the diversity of our community?
• Which artists do we want to support and say they were here before the[y] broke large?
• Which shows can we get the rights to?
• What we feel is topical and necessary at this moment
• What is the reponsibility of a new play theatre, or a theatre in Massachusetts?
• What do we think will have a life afterwards?
• What’s the strain on the staff?
• How big are these shows outside of actors?
He finished up with “Then we pull all that together with what we can afford and what do we think will sell enough.”
At MRT, the design team for a play is chosen 6-12 months before opening night by the director, and approved by MRT Artistic Director and staff. The production of a play starts about 3-6 months before the first rehearsal with a conference call to discuss the design concepts for the set, costumes, lighting, and sound. Actors are selected about two months before first rehearsal; they rehearse for three weeks. Nominally, about two weeks before opening night, the set is loaded into the theater; lighting, sound, and video are added in later that week; dress rehearsal is on the Tuesday of the following week; previews are Wednesday through Friday; and opening night is on Saturday. From opening night on, the play runs for 3 weeks. The set is removed following the final performance on the last Sunday; the set for the next play is loaded in the following day.
As you can see, there are multiple productions in the pipeline at the same time.
Previews are essentially dress rehearsals with an audience. Adjustments may be made to the production based on the audience reaction. That is particularly true for world premieres. For that reason, tickets for previews are discounted. MRT encourages teachers to attend the first preview on Wednesday evenings. Student matinees are offered for age appropriate productions.