“Premiere-itis,” Several Mini-Reviews, and Plans

Erin Cohenour, Brandon Alstott, and Parrish Williams in "Bus Stop" at Civic

I was sick the opening weekend of “Bus Stop” at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre so I reluctantly cancelled my media passes and stayed home.  However, a friend had turned me on to William Inge’s work a couple years ago so I very much wanted to see a live production of this William Inge play.  I got over my bug eventually and was able to buy a last-minute ticket to one of the final performances in the run. (I attended Thursday, February 4, 2010.)

I want to thank Civic for producing this 1956 Tony-nominated play about a group of people that get stranded at a small town bus stop in Kansas during a blizzard.  It is thought-provoking in new ways, I imagine, now that it is an historical rather than contemporary piece.  And, except for the lighting design (or perhaps just its execution), which sometimes mystified me, all of the design elements – set, costumes, etc. – in this particular production were excellent.  The acting was excellent, too.  All of the characters engaged me with their life stories and their interactions with each other.  The last line knocked me over in a way that it wouldn’t have, I’m sure, if I had simply read the script. 

I am not going to take time to write a full review of this show because a) I have been having home computer problems and therefore b) I am now several posts behind, but I do want to record who did what.  I’ll do that at the end of this post.

I would also like to use this mini-review of Civic’s “Bus Stop” to explore a comment that contemporary playwright Eric Pfeffinger made on a thread on IndianaAuditions.com recently.

Premiere-itis

The thread was about a show called “The Housewives of Mannheim” that ran at the Phoenix Theatre earlier this year.  Some media sources said the piece had its world premiere in New Jersey (last year?) but someone else on IA said he had seen and enjoyed a production of it at the Bloomington Playwrights Project here in Indiana before that.

Eric said:

“It did win the Reva Shiner award at the Bloomington Playwrights Project and was produced there in 2006.  (Which just goes to show that the whole concept of ‘world premieres’ has grown slippery and meaningless, a development that ought to – but probably won’t – cure theaters of the disease they call premiere-itis.)”

He also said:

“The New Jersey production was promoted by its theater as the world premiere and the media picked up on that accordingly; whether that error was made on the part of the theater or the playwright, it’s impossible for those of us on the outside to say.  Either way, presumably it was an honest mistake, but it does beget other mistakes; if the New Jersey show is promoted as the world premiere then it’s natural for people or media to assume that the Phoenix production is the Indiana premiere.  And in the end the BPP doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

Mistakes of this nature are inevitable as long as theater administrators continue to cling to the notion of world (or regional) premieres as marketing coups to be prioritized over other matters. The best way to avoid them is to get away from premieritis and attach value instead to second and third and ninth productions of worthy plays.”

(Read the full thread here.)

I confess – without shame – that I am interested in premieres:  world premieres, regional premieres, local premieres, even local community theatre premieres and workshop readings.  There is just something inherently exciting about a first time.

On the other hand, in live theatre, every production – even every performance – is like the first time because anything can happen.  It is live.

And I do understand and agree with Eric’s frustration.  A new play is not like a new car.  If it is good, it should increase in value over time, not decrease.  Unfortunately, too many good, new plays are abandoned in favor of the next world premiere simply because a world premiere is easier for a theatre to market.  Old, tried-and-true award winners are even easier.

I don’t have a solution for any of this…except to keep going to a variety of shows myself as often as I can, and to keep encouraging others to go as well – not because “we should” but because life is richer and more satisfying with a shot of live theatre in it.

The Pleasure of Personal Premieres

“Bus Stop” at Civic was a world premiere for me.  Or maybe “personal premiere” would be a more accurate expression.  I had never read the script, nor seen the movie, nor even read my press release very carefully.  After seeing an all-volunteer production of Inge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Picnic” last year (also without much preparation), I simply wanted to see everything else of his that I could.

I also wanted to experience it the way that a theatre reviewer or other audience member on opening night at the Music Box Theater on March 2, 1955 would have had to experience it: in the moment, with very few preconceptions.

On the other hand, I also love seeing “the same” show done by more than one theatre company.  It is interesting to see how their interpretations of a script vary, fascinating to see the wealth of artistic choices that can be made around one good (or even so-so) script.

I even love seeing multiple performances of a show at one theatre, if it is a show that intrigues me and/or delights me, because it will probably be repeatedly satisfying and yet have additional aspects that I missed the first time.  It will never be exactly the same experience twice.

A Handful of Mini-Reviews

In fact, if I had time, I would go to Theatre on the Square this month to see Pfeffinger et al’s “Assholes & Aureoles” again.  It runs Fridays and Saturdays only through February 12, 2010 on the TOTS Main Stage.  I first saw and loved this brilliant theatrical anthology when it had its (I think!) world premiere here at the Indy Fringe Festival in 2008.  It has since gone on, I think, to be produced in other locations.  (This is where a professional journalist would stop writing and contact Eric Pfeffinger to ask him for confirmation and details, but I have only a short time left on this borrowed computer so I am forging ahead with this post.)

Anyway, I loved “Assholes & Aureoles” the first time and I would be interested to see how it has matured since then, especially since I would also get to revisit Ron Spencer in his “Mr. Charles” piece on the same night.

My first experience of Tennessee William’s 1955 Tony Award-winning “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” was this past Friday at the Carmel Community Playhouse.  I forgot that the cast members were all volunteers.  I forgot, even, that they were actors.  Tennessee gave his characters long, explanatory speeches that no one would ever make in real life, but somehow, with these actors, under the direction of Brian Noffke, it works.  It is a painful yet cathartic story about humanity’s timeless yearning for love and acceptance.  I wish I had time to see it again.  It runs only one more weekend: Thursday-Sunday through February 21, 2010.

But the night before that, I saw what I am sure is the regional premiere of “Call Me Boricua!” written and performed by Ricardo Melendez at the Phoenix Theatre.   It too, runs only one more weekend, Thursday-Sunday.  The Sunday, February 21, 2010 performance will be in Spanish and admission will be free.  This live memoir is only a small sampling of the personal stories this bilingual, multi-talented artist has to share, and what he left out (that I even know about) from his life was as interesting to me as what he chose to include.  I therefore hope I can look forward to “Call Me Boricua – Part Two” and three and so on.  However, this particular evening of well-blended music, dance, comedy, and confrontation is neatly contained and richly stimulating.  I left feeling inspired and intoxicated by its authenticity.

I was also privileged to be present at the world premiere of Gayle Steigerwald’s first foray into storytelling as opposed to acting.  She was one of the featured tellers at the “Jabberwocky” event at the Indy Fringe building last Tuesday night.  The event was co-sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana.  I turned to my friend Ellen afterwards and said, “I knew it!  Gayle is a natural.”  I loved listening to Gayle’s stories.  I deeply hope that I get to hear more of them.

And last night I enjoyed Megan McKinney’s debut at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre.  She plays both a matronly mom and a sexy-trashy country singer in B&B’s production of “Footloose” and is, as I expected, fabulous.  What I had not expected (only because I hadn’t really thought about the plot ahead of time) was to be weeping over Eddie Curry’s portrayal of the preacher with the grief-hardened heart.  I don’t think I had ever seen Eddie in a dramatic (i.e., not at all comedic) role before.  Seeing that segment of his acting range was as satisfying as seeing a successful world premiere of a new kind of play by a beloved playwright.

(And although I had seen the movie version of “Footloose,” I had never seen the stage version, so that was a personal premiere for me, too.  It is a hoot.)

Tonight I went to Theatre on the Square’s Stage Two to see “Spring Cleaning” – a collection of eight short, new plays by a group of Indiana playwrights called Indy Playmakers.  Some of the plays were stronger than others, but the range of topics and approaches was broad and therefore interesting.  I enjoyed the evening of premieres.  I also appreciated that it gave me good food for thought about the making of plays.

Writing Plan

I would like to write more about each of these shows.  My time on this borrowed computer is now about up, though, so I’ll just sketch out what I plan to write about in the next few days after (I hope!) my home computer comes back hale and hearty from the shop:

  • Mailbox:  “Free Ticket February” and other news from the wealth that has been waiting too long(!) in my email box. (In the meantime, that link sends you to BroadwayWorld.com for the info about free tickets in Feb/March for people ages 13-19 years old.)
  • Discovery: Sports Tellers!
  • Storytelling Review:  “Jabberwocky: Once Upon a Time”
  • Theatre Review:  “Call Me Boricua!” at the Phoenix
  • Hardhat Palladium Tour (update 3-3-10 – I am skipping this topic for the moment, but will write about it once I am caught up with reviews.)
  • Theatre Review: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at Carmel Community Players
  • Theatre Review: “Footloose” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre
  • Theatre Review: “Spring Cleaning” at Theatre on the Square

There are many other shows running now or soon that would be personal premieres for me as an audience member.  I wish I had time to see them all!  Next weekend on Saturday, February 20, 2010, I am going to hear Carmen Deedy tell stories at the Indiana History Center for sure.  That one-night-only event is co-sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana

I am also, I hope going to hear one or more of the new one-person shows at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.  I have a special fondness for one-person shows, and these will all be world premieres to me.   Actually, what I would love to do is take most of next weekend to play catch-up with my writing, and then have an IRT weekend the following weekend.  I think that Saturday, February 27, 2010, is the one day on which you can see all three one-person shows on one day.   Hmm.

And then it will be March.  There is a lot going on in terms of live theatre and storytelling in the Indianapolis area in March, too!  Yay and yikes.

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By the way, if you didn’t already see it, there is a wonderful article in today’s Indianapolis Star that happens to be about some of my favorite set designers.  Jay Harvey wrote it.  Here is a tiny link to it:

http://tinyurl.com/yjmg8w3

Okay, I have to give up this borrowed computer now.  ‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Also follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter for random, quickie comments before and after shows.

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Photo above is of (left to right) Erin Cohenour, Brandon Alstott, and Parrish Williams.

“Bus Stop” was written by William Inge and directed at the Civic Theatre by Michael J. Lasley.  Set/Lighting designed by Ryan Koharchik. Costumes designed by Jean Engstrom.  Sound designed by Michael J. Lasley.  Hair/Wigs designed by Debbie Williams.  Properties designed by Janet Sutton.  Stage manager: Denise Stockdale.

Sarah Dygaard played Elma Duckworth.  Carrie Bennett Fedor played Grace Hoylard.  Tobin Strader played Will Masters.  Erin Cohenour played Cherie.  Paul Hansen played Dr. Gerald Lyman.  Joe Matthew Steiner played Carl.  Parrish Williams played Virgil Blessing.  Brandon Alstott played Bo Decker.

2 thoughts on ““Premiere-itis,” Several Mini-Reviews, and Plans”

  1. Thanks very much, IzzyBeth! I see from your blog that you are involved with the Carmel Community Players and enjoying it very much. That is fun to read, too.

    Everyone, here is a link to IzzyBeth’s post about working on “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”:

    http://izzybeth.blogspot.com/2010/01/theatre-update.html

    My home computer is still in the shop, getting cleaned and “optimized” and having its Vista insides replaced with Windows 7. All of this, I hope, will make it possible for me to produce a sentence in four minutes instead of the four hours (I kid you not) it had been taking. I am doing this quick update on a borrowed computer, but hope to be posting on a regular basis again soon!

    Thanks for missing me. 🙂

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