The Wish List

What I'm hoping to see in local theater in 2006.

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click to enlarge SMALL WONDER: Will a worthy show like last season's Copenhagen get the audiences it deserves in the new year? - Jeff Young
Jeff Young
SMALL WONDER: Will a worthy show like last season's Copenhagen get the audiences it deserves in the new year?

Last week I looked back on the 12 months of 2005 and named the best I'd discovered on the local theater scene. This week I want to look at the year that's just begun, and suggest how it might be a terrific one for local stages. Here, then, in no particular order, is my wish list for 2006. If even half of these things materialize, I'll be one happy critic.

Full Houses All 'Round. For the last few years, attendance at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games has averaged in the vicinity of 64,000 per contest. So why is it so difficult to get 64 (total, in one night) people to the theater? I'm not talking about the major performing arts centers now, and I'm not talking about St. Petersburg's American Stage, which has more subscribers than ever. But I am talking about two of the best companies in Tampa — Stageworks and Gorilla Theatre — and also all the smaller companies that have sprung up over the last few years: Gypsy and Hat Trick and Alley Cat and Fresh! Live! and Acorn. Again and again I have the experience: I go to a show on opening night and discover only 10 or 11 spectators (and in some cases only five or six). Can a metropolitan area the size of Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater really have so few citizens interested in theater? All right, maybe your typical middle-class family woman, tired from work and with a family to deal with, is unlikely to drive to Ybor City on a Thursday night to see Bash at the Silver Meteor Gallery. But where are the young people, where are the artistic adventurers? The little Gorilla Theatre should be packed to the gills when it puts on a play as celebrated as Copenhagen. The tinier Galaxy Center for the Arts should be bursting at the seams with ticket-buyers hungry to see that American classic, The Glass Menagerie. In the Bay area of my dreams there aren't seats enough for all the art-lovers thronging to the Shimberg Playhouse, the HCC Performing Arts Hall and the Isaac Center. Which leads me to my next wish:

To Market, To Market. Somebody's got to teach the smaller theaters how to market themselves. Talk about giving a party and forgetting to send out invitations! Productions need publicity, advertising, posters, e-mails, postcards, prominent mention on Art In Your Ear, articles in the Planet and in those two other local papers. You say you can't afford an eighth of a page in the Tribune? Well, for under 10 dollars you can copy off 100 notebook-paper sized posters and plaster them in 100 different venues. You can keep records on who's shown up for at least one production, and contact those same people by e-mail or telephone or postal flyer before your new show. The company that's managed this most successfully is Jobsite Theatre: they e-mail a newsletter to their supporters and keep them apprised of coming productions. My wish for 2006: to see all the fine people who run our artistically ambitious little theaters display at least as much ambition in the marketing of their wares. Hey, do it for your actors if for no other reason. You demand a great deal from them; the least you owe them is an audience. Which brings me to my next wish:

Corporate Responsibility. Dear public relations people at Bay area businesses: local theaters need your company's help. They need money to pay actors, build sets, advertise in newspapers. And even a small amount could get you prominently featured in the program, in the pre-show speech, in a large poster outside the box office. Everyone who goes to American Stage knows that Raymond James is a big supporter; you too could look as good with just a fraction of the contribution. Dear theater producers at our brave but small companies: make some appointments with local businesses. Make it clear that you're not seeking charity; that in return for their largesse, you'll give them a good name, a special mention, the title of Defender of the Faith. You say you don't want to sully your artsy lips with such pleading? Foo on you. The artistic director of a major Northeastern theater once told me that even if his stage sold out every performance, he would still be in debt to the tune of $250,000. And so he spent a good portion of his workday raising money from corporations and individual donors. Are you holier than he? In my dream 2006, all our local theaters have solid support from the local business world. And as a result, their productions feature better actors and better designers. Which reminds me of my next wish:

Clean Up The Environment. This is about sets. Theater is a visual art, offering each spectator a three-dimensional moving picture in which the pictorial element is exceedingly important. This may seem so obvious as to be unworthy of restating, but my experience of certain smaller theaters tells me it's not obvious at all. How many times have I attended a production where the set seemed thrown together from the dregs and rejects of a yard sale, where no effort had been made even to paint the walls or floor, where there wasn't a suspicion of ingenuity in the oh-so-ugly environment? Of course, a factor here is budget (funny how that comes up again), but the key point is artistic: a director who's effectively color- and shape-blind is lacking in one of the prerequisites of his/her trade, and is an enemy of the production he/she supposedly is managing. Even on a tight budget, elegant simplicity is possible — if one has some sort of visual aesthetic. In my wish for 2006, even the most impecunious of theaters demands visual excellence from its underpaid set designer. And directors who believe that a felicitous set is unimportant are encouraged to find work in another business altogether. Which has nothing to do with my final wish:

Plays To Please. These are some of the plays I'd like to see in the New Year: Ionesco's Exit the King, Montherlant's The Dead Queen, any Jacobean play by Ford or Webster, Shakespeare's Richard III or Measure for Measure, anything by Anouilh or Giraudoux, German plays by Kroetz or Handke, a Polish play by Kantor, David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, Euripides' The Bacchae, something by Brian Friel, Strindberg's The Ghost Sonata, Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change, Ibsen's Brand or The Master Builder, John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, Harold Pinter's The Collection, Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, Chekhov's Three Sisters, Albee's Virginia Woolf, August Wilson's Fences, something by Claudel, Sartre's The Flies, something by Neil LaBute, The Memorandum or some other play by Vaclav Havel.

Those are my wishes.

I'll be watching all year to see if any of them are granted.

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