Picking Plays

By on 30 May, 2011 in Art, Fun, Greg Thornton with 2 Comments

ROSENCRANTZ : Oh, I say – here – really! You can’t do that!
PLAYER: Why not?
ROSENCRANTZ: Well, really – I mean, people want to be entertained – they don’t come expecting sordid and gratuitous filth.
PLAYER: You’re wrong – they do! Murder, seduction and incest – what do you want – jokes?
ROSENCRANTZ : I want a good story, with a beginning, middle and end.
PLAYER: (to GUILDENSTERN): And you?
GUILDENSTERN: I’d prefer art to mirror life, if it’s all the same to you.

This brilliant exchange takes place in Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. It is among many brilliant exchanges and terrific scenes in one of my favorite plays. Setting two of Shakespeare’s “minor” characters from Hamlet to fend for themselves in a world that is not of their own choosing, Stoppard examines life and death, the interplay of truth and façade, the sorting out of identity and one’s place in the world — all the simple things that vex us everyday! But this particular bit of dialogue strikes at the core at what is taking shape at the Cloverdale Playhouse. That is: how a theater company, particularly the artistic staff, engages in the task of picking the plays that will fill out a season and strike a true balance and, hopefully, appeal to a broad spectrum of the audience.

As we await renovations (beginning very soon) at the Playhouse, other concerns take up the day and night, some even keeping us up into the wee hours. Should we start with a musical, maybe a murder-mystery, perhaps a comedy? Something new, something old, something … something.

I can’t help going back over programs and seasons of the theater companies I have been a member of — not for any nostalgia fix, though that can be fun, but to remind me of productions I may have let slip from memory and to re-consider many of the productions I have been privileged to a have been a part of. Truly, I have lost count of how many. The plays that moved, the performances that illuminated, the direction that held a moment in time and upended my balance and how I viewed a certain text — these are the works I am looking to re-visit. Then, of course there is the treasure trove of scripts I have never been involved with and have always wanted to work on. Or the plays that I have seen and left the theater wanting to be a part of, or the ones that made me wonder why I ever went in the first place! Most of those I have forgotten.

But, as Tom Stoppard sees the thing, it is the good story that holds, that builds from the beginning and, in the midst of it, attaches itself to your psyche, and then, finally resolves in a flurry of activity and the tying of loose ends, leaving you breathless, unable to stand. Those instances can be rare and all the more thrilling because of it.

What of the new play, or the undiscovered manuscript, or the unearthed piece that is screaming for new life? These are the ones I can’t wait to read and hope they inform the choices for the Cloverdale Playhouse’s Inaugural Season in 2012.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of being at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s 20th celebration of the Southern Writers Project. What a gift the SWP is, and what a rich history of discovery and innovation, of triumph and, yes, failure as well. To be on the ground floor of each new work, to be the first actor ever to read the words, or the first audience member ever to hear those words is a wonder-filled experience. To then continue on the path to a full-fledged production is one of the great joys in the theater.

It is my hope that among the plays we choose, there will be the play that you will always remember, the song that held you in suspension, the moment that scared the life out of you, the joke that made you laugh ‘til your sides ached, and the story that made you cry ‘til you could no more.

Whether it’ll be one of your favorites or one you’ve never heard of, we will have the pleasure and the privilege of being part of them together.

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

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  1. Lecia Brooks says:

    Full disclosure: I love and appreciate Greg Thornton. His performances have forced me to connect with feelings and emotions I wouldn’t let my therapist come anywhere near.

    Still disclosing: I’m on the board of the Cloverdale Playhouse and can’t wait for the 2012 season to begin. It will be magical!

  2. Can hardly wait for the first production, whatever it may be!

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