Theater Ransom Notes

It was recently announced that the Iowa City Community Theatre is in debt and needs $20,000 by the end of May.

ICCT has known for a while that they were in debt; this is not news to them, they almost canceled their production of Wonderful Town because of their debt.

I don’t remember when their production of Wonderful Town was, it might have been while I was still living in Chicago. Their production of Wonderful Town went on because of some last minute fundraising. An email that was sent out by board member Kehry Lane says this:

This past year has been a struggle. We nearly canceled Wonderful Town (due to lack of funding), which was saved by the extraordinary fund raising efforts of it’s production team. Due to their hard work, ICCT was able to proceed with the show, and make some money in the process.

Unfortunately, the money made on WT wasn’t enough to bring us out of the hole. We still find ourselves in need of a substantial amount of money, or we should seriously consider closing our doors. The target is $20,000.00 by the end of May. We’re hoping for 200 theatre lovers to contribute $100.00 each. If we meet this goal, we’ll be able to retire our debt, and start next season with some cash on hand.

So, they only did fundraising to put on Wonderful Town? They didn’t raise money to pull them completely out of debt?

The email continues:

We’ve assembled a line-up of shows (and directors) for next year that we believe will enchant and delight audiences. We’re planning on pursuing grants to help us sustain ICCT over the long term. We’ve got a strong slate of candidates for next year’s board. We’re moving in the right direction, and we need some brave, generous folks to contribute.

So they’ve already planned their new season and have a line-up of both plays and directors. I would like to know why they’ve planned a season if they’re so deep in debt that they can’t go on if they don’t have $20,000 by the end of May.

I then read Kris Joseph’s post on this same issue. This is brought about by a production of Blood Brothers at Gladstone Theatre that might close two weeks early due to slow ticket sales. (Which, I do have issues with.)

From what Kris has written, it’s being made out to be that if Blood Brothers closes early, it will be because YOU didn’t buy tickets. Which is blaming the public and a future audience and only pushing them further away.

DO NOT DO THIS.

This is what ICCT’s plea sounds like: We didn’t pull out of debt because not enough people saw Wonderful Town. (I didn’t even know it happened; I must have still been living in Chicago at the time.)

That is, of course, not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that ICCT has known that they are in debt for quite some time and this is the first time that they’ve really done something major about this. Someone, a managing director or a board member, should have seen this coming and said something.

I do realize that this occurs with some theaters; some theaters are genuinely caught off-guard by lost revenue from a show or a project, especially with bad weather. But if a theater does this, they have to prove to me that they will stay out of debt. If you get press and you get attention and people donate, does that mean they will come and see the plays? Not necessarily. What will you do to keep this from happening again?

Theater is a business; money has to be earned in different ways to keep the theater afloat. I can personally say that fundraising is something that genuinely terrifies me when it comes to running a theater, but I realize that by courting businesses to sponsor plays or to do joint projects, it can keep my theater open.

There is a certain urgency to saying, “We need $x by this date.” It is, as Travis and Kris put it, a ransom note. But when you provide the facts, people that don’t have bleeding hearts might seem a bit skeptical.

Ultimately, it’s not over until the artistic director chains himself to the stage door.

Good News, Everyone

That picture is of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus at Halsted and Harrison. My mom and I were walking around after my interview for the theater program and she noticed the building, I noticed the flags.

The photograph is related to this post because I will be attending UIC in the fall to study theatre arts with an emphasis in design and directing. I found this out last night because of the internet, but I had already been accepted to the theater program. This means that I’ll be moving back to Chicago in August to my own apartment because I did not enjoy living in on-campus housing at DePaul University.

I also quit my job in retail because I was so stressed out, my hair was breaking off and falling out. I have learned to never work in retail again, that Iowans are really stubborn and the sandwiches at Roots Market on Main in Cedar Falls are amazing.

Because of quitting my job, I also decided to stage manage a play, so be prepared for some plugs.

Theatre Cedar Rapids Actually Announces Their 2010-11 Season

Whenever it is discussed that Theatre Cedar Rapids is back and better than ever, no one is joking. Their 2010-11 season only proves that. Their upcoming season has such a great line-up that I would consider flying from O’Hare to see some of these plays. Even though they’re not doing August: Osage County, which I had predicted they would do because they have the space, the budget and the chutzpah to do that show.

Anyway, time to stop with the hyperbole and be serious.

Their first play is the musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain, Elegies) and book by Rachel Sheinkin. The musical focuses on six contestants vying for the championship of the bee. The musical will run from Sept. 10-Oct. 2.

The second play is Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Jason Alberty. The play focuses on a rehearsal that is interrupted by six fictional characters that demand for their story to be finished. Alberty will also be directing the play and it will run from Oct. 15-30.

Their holiday show will be White Christmas, more commonly known as Irving Berlin’s White Christmas to distinguish it from, you know, Martin McDonagh’s White Christmas. Based off of the classic film, it follows Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who have a successful song-and-dance act, that follow two singing sisters to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge. White Christmas will be performed from Nov. 26-Dec. 18.

Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart will be the next show in the season. The play focuses on the Magrath sisters that have gathered Hazlehurst, Miss. to await news of their dying grandfather while looking at their failures. Crimes of the Heart will run from Jan. 28-Feb. 12, 2011.

In March, Theatre Cedar Rapids will be performing Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. The musical tells the tale of the murderous, vengeful barber Sweeney Todd who teams up with Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a meat pies shop, while on his quest to avenge the death of his wife. The musical will run from March 4-26. (It is also listed as being rated PG-13 for “excessive meat pies”)

The next play will be Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice. This play retells the myth of Orpheus through the eyes of Eurydice, who journeys to Hades to reunite with her father. Please note that there will be no giant fish on stage and that Eurydice will run from April 8-23.

In May, Theatre Cedar Rapids will be performing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, as dramatized by Joseph Robinette. The classic C.S. Lewis story focuses on four children that walk through a wardrobe to discover the land of Narnia, currently being ruled by the evil White Witch. It will run from May 13-28.

The final play of the season will be the classic musical Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Losser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. During the prohibition, Nathan Detroit tries to find a place to hold his game while his persistently ill fiancee Adelaide suffers and Sky Masterson tries to woo the uptight Sarah Brown. Guys and Dolls will run from July 8-30.

All productions will be performed at Theatre Cedar Rapids’ home, the Iowa Theatre Building, at 102 Third St SE, Cedar Rapids. For more information, visit their website at TheatreCR.org.

Update: You can read the complete press release here.

Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s 2010-11 Season

Cedar Falls Community Theatre has announced their 2010-11 season, which will be performed in the Oster Regent Theatre, which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary.

First up is Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, which is the classic musical about what happens to River City, Iowa (based on Willson’s hometown of Mason City) when “band salesman” Harold Hill comes to town. Willson’s music is complex, delightful and memorable and the musical itself brings up a bit of Americana. The Music Man runs from June 4-13. I do want to know, will the slogan for the show be, “You’ve got trouble right here in a river city”?

The next play is Kitchen Witches, which won the Samuel French Canadian Play Contest. The synopsis on Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s website says that, “Caroline Smith’s Kitchen Witches capitalizes on the publics interest in cooking shows. Two cooking show hostesses have despised each other for over 30 years, ever since Stephen Biddle dated one and married the other. When circumstances put them together on a TV show, the insults are flung harder than the food and the show becomes a rating smash as their antics top both Martha Stewart and Jerry Springer.” The premise of the play sounds interesting and it will run from July 29-August 6.

The third play of the season will be The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which will apparently have inspiration from the visuals that Gary Kelley, a well-known and award-winning artist in Cedar Falls, provided for a version of the story. I’m not too sure how that will work out with the transfer from the page to the stage, but it is very artistically ambitious and would be interesting to see. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow runs from Sept. 30-Oct. 10.

The holiday show will be Robert Fulghum’s Uh Oh, Here Comes Christmas, which will examine the commercialism of the Christmas season. That runs from Dec. 3-12.

The final show of the season is Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, which is about a great vaudeville duo known as “Lewis and Clark” that is going to be retired by CBS. I’m not familiar with The Sunshine Boys, but I would like to say thank you for not doing another production of any form of The Odd Couple. The Sunshine Boys will run from Feb. 18-27.

There are no directors listed on CFCT’s website, but it still sounds like an interesting season.

Review: “Proof” – Theatre Cedar Rapids

Disclosure: I do know one of the actors in the play and I did talk to him after the play.

Are genius and insanity connected? What is the line between the two? And how long does it take to get from the South Side of Chicago to Evanston? Those questions are brought up in David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Proof, which is currently being produced by Theatre Cedar Rapids.

Without the right cast and director, Auburn’s script can come across as a stage version of a very intelligent Lifetime movie. But under the direction of J. David Carey, the cast of this production brings out the emotion of this play and transforms it into a moving, thought-provoking work.

Auburn’s play focuses on Catherine (Rachel Howell), a brilliant young woman that has to deal with the death of her father, Robert (Demetrios Hadjis), a brilliant mathematician. Due to the mental instability of Robert, Catherine fears that she too is crazy. As her Chicago-loathing sister, Claire (Jessica Link), comes in for the funeral, the possibility of her insanity and genius is questioned more as one of her father’s former students, Hal (Rob Merritt), makes an important discovery.

While Auburn’s script has some inaccuracies—it does not take 30 minutes to get from the Hyde Park to Evanston—the play frequently stays on the topic of Catherine’s possible mental illness, with occasional moments of discussing a proof that Hal discovers and the romance between Hal and Catherine.

But Howell’s performance is the gripping emotional center of this play. She brings feistiness and sarcasm to the role that makes her seem defensive against Claire and Hal. Howell’s performance is easy to sympathize with; she put her father before herself and stopped her life for a few years.

Hadjis gives us a very sweet Robert, enabling us to see the connection that Catherine and her father shared. With that we can understand why Catherine took care of her father, why she gave up going to college. The relationship that the two characters share is often tragic as we see glimpses of his insanity, most evident in a scene where Catherine reads a proof that he is working on.

Although Claire frequently seems like a bitch, especially if you have lived in Chicago, Link brings depth and nuance to the character. Her actions don’t always come across as a perpetual need to control situations, but at one point seems as though it might be an atonement for her previous actions. Merritt gives a great performance as Hal, notably in a flashback scene where we see a Hal, Robert and Catherine interact four years previous to the action of the play, his performance in that scene brings us a younger, less certain Hal.

One of the most striking things about Carey’s production is that the ensemble works together as one, which makes the play resonate and strike at the heart.

Bret Gothe’s set shows us the age of the house, something frequently referenced in the script, by having worn shutters and dead ivy around the porch. Haddon Givens Kime’s music for this play works well with the dramatic action of the play and often provides more emphasis.

Although it has taken a while for the play to be performed at Theatre Cedar Rapids, there is a connection that the audience has with the actors and the story, creating a heartbreaking, engaging play.

“Proof” continues through April 18 at the Iowa Theatre Building (102 Third St SE, Cedar Rapids). Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances and 2 p.m. for Sunday performances. Tickets are $20-25, $15 for students, and $12 rush and can be purchased by visiting the Theatre Cedar Rapids box office, calling (319) 366-8591, or by going to TheatreCR.org.

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did pay for my ticket for this play.

Questions I Have as “Addams Family” Opens On Broadway

Tonight, The Addams Family opens on Broadway. I had reviewed it when it was in Chicago for the out-of-town tryout and had huge issues with the play. Since there was going to be some tweaking done to the play and Jerry Zaks had been brought in to do something with the revision (I’m not exactly sure what he was going to do), I have some thoughts about what is happening with the play since I already know that “Clandango” is no longer in the play. (Thank goodness)

-Does Mr. Beineke still get molested by a squid?

-Does Morticia still have a midlife crisis that doesn’t seem to fit the play?

-Does Gomez still seem to blur the line between acting and Nathan Lane doing his shtick?

-Does Wednesday still seem like an angsty teen a character from the Broadway Abridged version of Spring Awakening.

-Does the plot still focus around the concept of love? Because that seemed odd for The Addams Family musical.

-SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME THAT JACKIE HOFFMAN IS ONSTAGE MORE OFTEN.

-Is the family still aware of their differences in relation to the rest of society?

-Will this show be “critic proof”?

Although I would have been interested to see the play during it’s Broadway run, I will not get that opportunity. So, for these questions to be answered, I’ll have to read the reviews tonight.