Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rotating what? No friggin’ way!


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Tim Errickson.

One of the founding ideas of Boomerang Theatre Company is the concept of rotating repertory. When I mention this to people (designers, actors, even my Mom) I often get the look like I’m speaking Swahili (I get that look a lot from Mom). The idea seems easy to me…you rent a space, and then try to get as many performances to fill that space as you humanly can. Maximize your revenue, maximize the opportunities for artists, always seems like a win-win.

The idea came from when I was a young buck crossing the big pond for the first time in the winter of 1992. I was studying abroad for my junior year, and living in London about three blocks from the National Theatre. I was fascinated by the idea that you could have more than one show in a space at one time…how could that work? Did actors perform in multiple shows at the same time? How did you have to manage a space to retain flexibility yet be specific enough to serve each production fully? And from an audience standpoint, was it a plus or a minus? To me it seemed a plus, because you had the choice of seeing Greek tragedy on Monday or Moliere on Tuesday, for example. When setting up a company in New York in the late 90’s, only one company (the now defunct Jean Cocteau Rep) was running in rotating rep. Could it be done in NYC? More importantly, could it be done in Off-Off-Broadway (OOB)? Over the last 12 years, we have refined the model and made it work on the scale of OOB economics.

Rotating rep in OOB helps to control your costs. If you rent a theatre for four weeks, you can produce three shows and let them run in rep for 8 performances each. In theory, you can market all three separately or together (one postcard or eblast), and with a limited run like this you can increase the audience’s urgency to see the show (originally we modeled that after dance companies that did limited run seasons before taking shows on the road or pulling them out of rotation). You can reuse set pieces or props between shows, also cutting down your expenses. Creative collaboration between shows can even make the individual shows cheaper than doing them separately. And because of three shows running, potentially each of your audience members buys three tickets instead of just one.

From an artistic standpoint, Boomerang is always asked why three plays appear together in a rep season. More times than not, the shows are selected because I really want to do them, with any themes manifesting themselves after the fact. In 2004, we produced O’Neill’s BEYOND THE HORIZON with Kelly McAllister’s BURNING THE OLD MAN and Jason Sherman’s PATIENCE. All three shows were exciting individually, and huge challenges for the casts who worked on them. Just as we are preparing to begin rehearsal, someone said “Ya know, all three of these plays are about pairs of brothers dealing with what it means to be responsible to the other one”. After a moment of silence and awkward stares, I said “Well fuck yeah, sure. We knew that”. Um, not so much. I’m now of the mind that our shows (whatever three they happen to be in a given season) will inform each other in ways both subtle and broad, and that no matter how excellent an individual production might be, audiences will always get a fuller experience by seeing all three.

Since 1999 when we began producing rep seasons, the concept has been used by other OOB companies with much success, proving that the model can work for theaters this size. Yes, there are extra challenges of time, being smart with expenses and smart with people, but it can also provide you with the opportunity to produce a lot of work in a condensed amount of time and really inspire your company.


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