Choosing the Season of Community Theatre

Having the job of coming up with a season of theatre for our community has been tough. But since taking the job of Executive and Artistic Director of The Foundation of Arts over two years ago, this may be the most fun part of the job for me. I love asking people what shows they would like to see on the stage. Talking about titles and why or why not particular pieces would work on The Forum stage energizes me. Reading scripts, considering which directors might love what projects, asking more people what shows they want to see or audition for, and even using my experience and passion for this art form to decide which project would float my boat are all among the most fun things I get to do at work. This is the third season that I’ve been at the helm of this process, and I think it might be good to explain some of the things to consider when choosing a title.

In the past, we’ve offered surveys asking for what people would like to see on the stage. The vast majority of titles we receive are ones we’ve done within the past few years, or their rights are not available. We still have open surveys on our web site, and open invitations among our audiences and volunteers to offer up whatever their hearts’ desires might be. So far, I’ve found that asking people in the community and among the FOA family of volunteers has proven especially helpful in giving me insight into the choices for 2016-17.

Besides making sure that the rights are available for a particular title, there are other traits of a good show. Often I like to talk about the fact that there are usually several “right answers” in any given situation when creating art or making something other than a strictly moral decision. There may be the absolute correct choice, but sometimes it takes several tries at other right answers before you can stumble onto the absolute. And those right answers are wonderful, too. The same can be said for titles in a season. Based on anecdotal surveys, written surveys, and my own preferences, there could be dozens of show titles that would work within a season. But there’s more to it than arbitrarily choosing from those favorites to simply line up from September to July. The FOA staff, the Community Development Committee, and even the Board of Directors have ongoing discussions about the following:

1 – will this show likely result in a net profit, and if not, is it a good balance in the mix?

Answering this question is a little like shooting craps. I mean, who really knows what people will come to? Of course, there is Oklahoma or Les Miserables or Annie – but that’s about it when it comes to knowing for sure what will bring people to the theatre in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Any other titles require a bit more of a healthy debate, without knowing the future. The FOA is not purely educational theatre, where healthy ticket sales are nice but not completely necessary to ensure the future of the business. We need robust ticket sales for the vast majority of our productions to maintain and grow the overall mission. Nevertheless, within a season, there should be one or two productions that “keep us honest”, thus practicing that noble (and possibly pretentious) tradition of “educating” our audiences.

2 – do we have directors who are vetted and educated about our mission who would be passionate about this show?

The FOA requires directors who can practice (or at least try) the perfect balance of creating the highest quality art possible, and providing a positive and organized experience for the volunteers who give of themselves and their time to make the show happen. Each show in the season should have a director who is passionate enough about the title to ensure the first requirement and the humble enough to work with me, the Artistic Director, regarding the organization of the production schedule.

3 – does this show fit in a particular time-slot in the season that would provide the right balance to attract kids, adults, the literary, music lovers, or whichever demographic is right for that time in the season?

For instance, The FOA presents shows to students at a free or reduced cost throughout the school year, so productions in time slots during the school year should be given consideration accordingly.

Many times, it is interesting that folks assume that the choice for titles in the season are chosen based mainly on what I fancy. That is almost never the case. But I will testify to praying over the choices, debating any number of titles, listening to many opinions, and, finally, coming up with a line-up that I present to the Community Development Committee and the Board, and then allowing them to shape it even further through more ideas and discussion. The Board approves the last revision, and then the task begins to get the season brochure and season ticket packages readied for the big reveal!

The process is long and arduous and exciting and fun. Also, it’s a lot of pressure to do our best to provide great community theatre for our community. And now it’s time to begin hearing what you think about next season…. So let’s begin…..

Kristi Pulliam

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