Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Play Time

The weather might not be showing it just yet but proof that the summer season is upon us is here: American Players Theatre kicks off its season this weekend!

Opening APT’s thirtieth-anniversary season is William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, opening June 6. Then come George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer on June 12 and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale on June 20.

The rest of the season’s plays are James DeVita’s In Acting Shakespeare (opening July 10), Harold Pinter’s Old Times (July 11), Noël Coward’s Hay Fever (August 8), Shakespeare’s King Henry V (August 15) and Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey (August 27).

Sara Young, APT’s director of communications, was nice enough to take some time out this week to answer questions about this special season and its featured plays.

How did you approach APT’s thirtieth season?

In many ways, we approached it the same way we approach every season. Certainly there are considerations of what plays “fit” together—balance of comedies and dramas, etc. There are also practical considerations such as whether or not they are shows that the audience wants to see (will they sell?). But for APT the most important factor is putting together a team of artists that are passionate about the show they are going to work on. This usually starts with the directors. Brenda DeVita, our associate artistic director, is constantly talking to directors about what shows they were interested in directing—those conversations form the foundation of APT’s season planning.

This season, we’re opening our new two-hundred-seat indoor theater, the Touchstone Theatre. So our season is going from five shows to eight shows. This was a big consideration, of course, in season planning, casting, everything.

How are you planning to mark this milestone?

The grand opening of the Touchstone Theatre and our thirtieth anniversary celebration will be combined into a big event the weekend of July 10–12. The first two Touchstone shows, In Acting Shakespeare and Old Times, will have their press openings on July 10 and 11. On July 12, we’re having a fun event—called “30 Years of Summer”—where we’ll have, food, silent and live auctions, and the Touchstone building dedication. We’re doing an APT version of the old TV show Hollywood Squares where the APT core acting company members will be in the squares and contestants from the audience play. Another highlight of the day will be a music stage featuring APT company members who are also singers. They’ll be accompanied by the General Store Jam Band, a collection of really great musicians from the Spring Green area. The event is from 1–4 p.m. on July 12. Admission is $10 and all proceeds will benefit APT. There are still a few tickets left.

Also on that day, we’re releasing our first-ever APT CD (called Play On) featuring several APT company members and the General Store Band. It will have both music and spoken word tracks on it. Production costs have been underwritten and all of the artists donated their services, so one-hundred percent of proceeds will benefit APT. We’ll be selling it for $20.

What’s new or different this season?

Certainly the opening of the Touchstone Theatre, which I already discussed, is the biggest thing. But we don’t want anyone to forget the amazing experience of our outdoor theater—that really is the centerpiece of the APT experience.

A couple notes, then, about the shows on the Hill: We’re doing Hay Fever, which marks our first production of a Noël Coward play, and our production of Henry V is a continuation of last year’s Henry IV: The Making of a King (which combined Henry IV, parts I and II). It will have the same director (James Bohnen), the same actor playing Henry (Matt Schwader) and much of the same scenic design.

What is it about each play that made you choose it?

On the Hill:

The Comedy of Errors: Certainly, there’s always going to be a “big” Shakespeare comedy like this one on APT’s schedule each year. But we’re especially excited about Comedy because William Brown, our director, is passionate about this play and has wanted to direct it for a long time. And in addition to being very, very funny, in the end it’s a sweet story of families being reunited.

The Philanderer: APT has had a lot of success with plays by George Bernard Shaw—our audience loves them. This is a Shaw play that’s been in the mix for a while, and we’re really excited to have Ken Albers (who directed Shaw’s Widowers’ Houses last year) to helm this one. Also, Jim DeVita plays the lead. He took last season off and his other two shows this season are in the Touchstone Theatre, so this is the only chance for audiences to see him on the Hill this year.

The Winter’s Tale: This is a beautiful, hopeful play. One of Shakespeare’s later plays (as opposed to Comedy, which was one of his first). This year, it seemed to fit so well into the mix. And again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but David Frank is directing and this is one he’s wanted to direct for many years.

Hay Fever: I talked a little about this above. Like I said, our first Noël Coward and I think our audience is going to love it and I think our company is very well suited to it.

King Henry V: I think I covered this one above as well.

In the Touchstone:

In Acting Shakespeare: This is a one-person play written and performed by Jim DeVita. It’s really his journey of how he went from a kid on Long Island who worked on fishing boats and could barely talk to someone who loves Shakespeare. One of our objectives with the new theater is to give our audience and our company the chance to see something a little unexpected. This is not something that we’d be able to do Up the Hill, so the Touchstone is a great opportunity.

Old Times: This is going to be a completely new experience for APT audiences, but we really believe this show addresses our mission, but in a way we don’t usually have an opportunity to. In fact, it just occurred to me that [associate artistic director] Brenda DeVita wrote something recently about the Touchstone shows that answers this really well—I think I’ll just turn it over to her, so to speak.

From Brenda DeVita:

If indeed, we attend theatre or create theatre in order to express, to explore or try to explain the human condition then we at American Players have the great privilege of doing so through the greatest plays ever written.

Our particular brand of these classics is the very fight itself—of making accessible and expressible what is clearly inexpressible—the fight with bringing to life the metaphor itself. The very best work we do is when we are engaged in that fight—the immense tension that comes from trying to make accessible and poignant incredibly dense and intricate poetry.

A nod to that very purposeful quest is
In Acting Shakespeare.

It is debatable, certainly, but possible that
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the greatest American play ever written. Its beautiful cruelty—its dense poetry is a perfect extension of what we believe to be classic APT material …

Pinter is the introduction to what more contemporary poets offer us on our quest to uncover certain truths. He uses language to describe the very failure of language to express ourselves. Pinter believed we live between the words we speak … That the meaning is beneath the words … That words are inadequate.

Now that’s exciting to us.

What are your goals for the thirtieth season?

Certainly to introduce our audience to the Touchstone Theatre. On a more practical note, we certainly have a goal to end our thirtieth season in the black (as we have for the past seventeen seasons). We’re very proud of our record of financial health, and it’s going to be a challenge to keep that going in this very rough economic climate. So we hope people come out to enjoy a show or two—or more—this summer.

For more information on American Players Theatre and its thirtieth season, visit

Photo is by Carissa Dixon and courtesy of American Players Theatre.

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