What every summer stock theater (and every theater actually) should do.
I’m kicking myself for not writing this blog at the beginning of the summer instead of at the end.
Ok. Now that I’m done with the self-flagellation of the foot-variety, here goes.
There are hundreds of summer theaters across this country if not thousands. They all put up similar fare: Oklahoma!, Hairspray, and a mix of the old classics and the newer fare from the past few Broadway seasons. Their job is not to do new musicals, because, as much as we might like them to, it wouldn’t be good for their business model.
The audience in New Brunswick, Maine that goes to the Maine State Music Theatre (where I interned in 1993) wants to see shows like Evita, Mamma Mia!, and Fiddler on the Roof. Summer audiences like comfort food, both in terms of what’s on their barbecue and what’s in their theater.
But . . .
(You knew that was coming, right?)
Wouldn’t it be great to train these audiences like sweet little puppy dogs, and wean them onto new stuff? And wouldn’t it be great to use the incredible artists that these summer theaters have just sitting around waiting for their next curtain to try out some new material?
That’s why every summer stock theater across the country should have a reading series.
Maybe you read just one musical. Maybe it’s one every month. But read a new musical.
Tell your audiences (in those curtain speeches that all you summer theaters do) that you’re having a free reading of a brand new musical on X day. For free. This is a chance for them to see the actors that are on the stage tonight doing, “Blog The Musical” or whatever you’ve picked up (I’ve got plenty to send to you if you want one) and be a part of the development of something new . . . that who knows, maybe gets to Broadway and they’ll be able to say, “I saw it in a reading.”
Will your entire audience go? No. But you’ll get a small core for sure . . . which helps you identify your most passionate fans, and by the way, probably your biggest potential donors.
And your artists will be just as happy to put their talents to work on something new as they’re performing in their 27th version of Carousel. You’ve got actors, directors, or actors that want to be directors. Let ’em exercise their stuff.
How much will it cost? There’s probably a way to do it for nothing. But even if it costs you some bucks (and it wouldn’t be much), I guarantee you’d recoup those costs in future donations from that core audience that attended the reading. You could even pass a hat if you want.
Oh, and actors? Directors? If the theater you’re working at doesn’t take to this idea and thinks I’m nutter-butter, then do it yourself. Talk to the other actors in the company (maybe one of them is a writer) but do something . . . new. Idle artists are like Ferraris . . . when someone has lost the keys.
Do this enough, and after a few years, who knows, your audience may just be standing up saying, “Hey, instead of doing Anything Goes again, why don’t you do a production of that reading you did last year?”
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