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Fall Preview / The Arts | How I Chose My Season

His Impossible Task Is to 'Stimulate Heart, Body and Soul'

Sheldon Epps / Pasadena Playhouse

September 15, 2002|SHELDON EPPS

Sometime in late spring, the mailings start to arrive: season announcements from area theaters, providing a range of shows for nearly every taste. Usually there's a familiar name on the roster--maybe a playwright or a production, an actor or a director. Often there's a world premiere or a local premiere. Occasionally, there's a classic. Always there are surprises. For some venues, the season has already started; for others, September marks the beginning of the year. In scanning the rosters, many people wonder how these shows were selected. Is there a magical formula involved in putting together a season? We asked the decision-makers at five theaters to share how they made selections.

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Imagine planning six fabulous dinner parties over the course of the year. In this case, the guest list will number in the thousands (all of our subscribers and a huge number of single-ticket buyers). And those who come to dine on our theatrical fare will have a vast array of tastes and preferences. I hope to please them all.

I know this is an impossible task. But it is my job to put together six evenings that will stimulate heart, body and soul. That is how I think of planning the season for the Pasadena Playhouse.

Over the course of the year, I hope to entice our audiences with a bill of theatrical fare that is eclectic, diverse, satisfying and often surprising. I would like each meal to be different from the last, with something to appeal to every kind of palate. I hope our theatrical year will introduce some to spices and flavors they have never tried before.

And I believe that the quality of the meals we are offering at our theater is such that even the previously unknown theatrical cuisine will be appealing.

I hope that the guests at the table will be as interesting and diverse as the menu. And so the season is chosen with an eye toward attracting an audience of diversity. Certainly I hope that our guests will be of all colors, but also of all ages and of varying social and economic backgrounds. The after-dinner conversation is always so much more lively when the guest list has been widespread. (God save me from the dinner party where everyone looks, thinks and feels the same way.) I want the conversations in the courtyard after a performance to be the result of stimulation, provocation and even disagreement.

That is what makes for an exciting after-dinner drink, and that is what makes a theater that is healthy, alive and vital.

The factors that go into the choice of the season sometimes seem almost endless. They include availability of rights, budgetary considerations, marketing issues, the long-term artistic vision of the theater, and, somewhere in there, even my own personal tastes and desires (which may, for example, give life to our current production, "Blue," or next year's revival of "House of Flowers," a musical that I have longed to bring to the playhouse stage for years).

I certainly must bow to many of those demands and considerations. But first and foremost, I try to guarantee that the bill of fare at this theater will be interesting enough to both fill you up and also leave you longing for more.

I sometimes think of playwrights as chefs in the kitchen. And what a brilliant group of writers the playhouse has in the coming season. Included in the mix are the wit, sophistication and elegance of Noel Coward's "Star Quality" (a North American premiere); Gary Socol's biting humor in a very funny play about depression, "Bicoastal Woman"; and writer-director James Still seasons his play "Looking Over the President's Shoulder" with a liberal dose of historical fact mixed with a moving emotional and deeply personal perspective on the presidency that is strongly resonant in our country's current state of affairs.

Fine meals indeed. Diverse, rich, and very tasty!

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Sheldon Epps is artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse.

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