Cultural Leaders Divulge What Goes Into Planning a Season
We attend performances at cultural venues, awed and amazed at what we’re watching but do we ever stop to think what goes into planning a major theatrical show? Better yet, planning an entire season?
Blood, sweat, and tears and an unflinching passion and desire to present a memorable experience that will bring audiences back through the doors for more. That’s the goal of cultural leaders like Barbara Stein, executive producing director and co-founder of Actors’ Playhouse and Eric Fliss, managing director of the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC).
Both oversee different venues with Actors’ presenting strictly theatrical shows for children and adults, while the SMDCAC down south is a mixed bag of theater, dance, and music, also for adults and children.
Knowing their audience and community is one important facet of planning the season for both of them.
“We definitely program to our audience and go out of our way to present some productions that push the envelope,” said Stein. “It’s getting the community to realize the value of professional regional theater. Their advanced support also entails our well being as a theater.”
In South Miami-Dade the demographic steers what’s presented during a season as well as the cultural diversity of the community.
“Our demographic is residents of Dade County and that includes families and full-time workers, so that goes into play in what we plan,” said Fliss. “That is why we have shows that begin at 8:30. Also, the broad range of cultures is liberating and allows us to do an event like Global Fest Creole Carnival.”
Both have their seasons planned out well in advance: the upcoming Actors’ Playhouse 2015-2016 season was in place by December 2014, and two plays are already in place for 2016-2017. At SMDCAC they’ll have their musicals for the 2016-2017 season, always the most requested shows, in place by the fall.
“Committing early is also important because there are grants that have to be submitted at least two years in advance,” said Fliss.
At Actors’ Playhouse the process includes securing plays, narrowing down the selections and often waiting until the rights become available, then working on getting those plays that come directly from New York. Number of cast members needed, the overall work that goes in the production and budget are then reviewed.
“It takes a lot of energy to get everything nailed down by January because you have to nail down three or four key shows, especially for the subscribers. We work really hard to get everything together by January,” said Stein.
She shared a behind-the-scenes video that shows exactly how hard they work.
In South Miami-Dade, given that it’s a smaller venue compared to the Arsht Center, the question is how to provide something unique and exciting and “we do that by booking boutique artists that have their own following. They may not be a household name but have plenty of followers and so we can attract large audiences because they will drive the 45 minutes to come and see them,” said Fliss.
An example of that is Etienne Charles, a Trinidadian Creole/soul jazz artist who was accompanied by a local steel drum player and pop singer and whose performance drew an audience of 500 people.
Or for example, a group like the U.S. Army Band, who asked to come back to perform at the venue for a third year in a row. And the group Siempre Flamenco has been returning for five years.
For these two passionate leaders, their other mission is to present shows that push the envelope: At Actors’ Playhouse, with plays like August Osage County and Murder Ballad, which garnered them a Best Musical award; at South Miami-Dade, with its Cabaret Series presented in their smaller Black Box Theater, which is now in its second year and this season features 20 artists.
“We’ve won awards for a lot of the productions we’ve presented where we pushed the envelope,” said Stein. For this season she’s particularly excited about The Toxic Avengers and The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Persistence pays off for Fliss, who says “I am not going to quit on certain things and the Cabaret Series is the perfect example. It was a bit tough the first year but the audiences ended up loving it. Cabaret is also where I can stretch the boundaries and it empowers me to respond and maybe move the audiences to our larger areas.”
The tactic is working, given that in just the first four years 250,000 people have attended shows, a number that surpassed all their projections.
Overall, putting the season together is a unified effort where “everyone really has to pull together to get these plays produced, it’s a really tremendous effort. They’re casting, designing, correlating musicians from out of town as well; and they also help boost the economy,” said Stein.
“We will continue to expand and work on meeting and surpassing the community’s expectations and keep our promise to be there for them culturally,” said Fliss.