BWW Features: Picking a Season with Epic Theatre Company
Epic Theatre Company's had a nice run this year, premiering newer works like "The Other Place," "Tribes," and "The Great God Pan," alongside well-received productions of older works like "The Normal Heart," and the currently running "Angels in America." It was a season marked by similar themes and characters, but also by "name value" playwrights and plays. Recently, I sat down with Epic's Artistic Director, Kevin Broccoli, to discuss what goes into the choosing of a season as he readies his choices for next year.
So, what does Broccoli look for in a play when choosing a season? "Last year and the year before I was looking at title value. This year I was looking to grab newer titles," said Broccoli, who at 29 is part of a slew of young Artistic Directors making a name for themselves in Rhode Island. "It seemed like this past year everyone was looking at newer plays, it was trendy. My thought was, if you do a play that was well-received in New York, you'll see the same results here." Indeed, newer plays seemed to dominate the landscape this past year, and Epic contributed no fewer than six Rhode Island premieres in the last calendar year.
That's not necessarily sustainable every year though, and Broccoli agrees. This year, he'll be picking a season based how much he enjoys the script. "In years past, a mediocre script that got rave reviews in New York might work. Now, I look and say do I really like this script?" In addition to a visceral connection to the script, other factors come into play when picking a season.
"One of the things I look at is, can we do it on a minimal budget? It's in our mission statement that we'll strive to do stripped-down theatre," says Broccoli, in reference to his two spaces at the Artists' Exchange, which are small, but incredibly intimate. He also says that a good season is not just made up of good scripts, but of good scripts that fit together thematically or experientially. "You want every play to be an event, but you can't do 'Angels' 7 times. Every play has the chance to be an event, for different reasons: the story, a great performance. You have to find ways of making the show pop. If a person saw the whole season in one day, what would the experience be?"
Broccoli also believes that a show's position on the calendar can make or break it. The fall, for example, is a good time for new, bold work, as many audience members may be fatigued from seeing Shakespeare, musicals, and superhero movies all summer. He also believes that December can be a momentum killer, so January and February are good times for darker, statement pieces. April and May can be a good opportunity for a "tentpole"-type show that appeals to a wider audience, and in June, you have to "nail the ending."
Broccoli intends on showing 9-10 plays next season. "It's much easier to keep buzz and momentum going from show to show if you have constant content," says Broccoli, "but no one actor or director does all 9 shows, so it shouldn't be stale." When asked about the whispered phrase of "Too much theatre" in Rhode Island, Broccoli scoffs: "In other markets, there's content 7 days a week. If you think it's too much, you don't really like theatre." He adds, "I can't worry about audience cannibalization. If an audience member goes to see Mixed Magic's 'For Colored Girls' over something I'm putting up, the experience of seeing a wonderful show like that will inspire them to go see more live theatre."
When asked about specifics on his next season, Broccoli plays it pretty close to the vest, but still lets out a few details. "This year I had several plays dealing with homosexuality, but I'm not going to be the 'gay' theatre. I don't want to be a niche theatre, I want to contribute to a conversation," says Broccoli, "If next year everyone starts doing gay playwrights, I'll switch to Mamet and Shepard." He's looking at everything from Eugene O'Neill to Sarah Ruhl, from Jeffrey Hatcher's "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" to the brand new Off-Broadway controversial play "Cock, or the Rooster Play." "The bottom line is, I'm still picking," says Broccoli, "I have a wall of plays, and it's like going into your closet and having it be full and saying 'I don't have anything to wear.'"
The company is coming into its own now, in a landscape full of established equity houses, successful mid-level players, other young theatres, and some that are even younger. But Broccoli believes Epic still has time to form its identity. "We're still trying to figure out what we do and who we are. I'm picking up scripts now thinking, 'I've got something to prove," says Broccoli, "or maybe more importantly, 'Is this going to shake people up?'"