Industry Editor Exclusive: The Return of TheaterWorksUSA Summer Theatre
Last year many families were disappointed by the lack of TheaterWorksUSA free summer theater, which had become somewhat of a New York City institution. This year it is back, sort of. During the week community partner groups will be able to see DOG MAN: THE MUSICAL for free (or almost free); average weekend theatergoers will pay.
"There are 48 performances," said TheaterWorksUSA Managing Director Michael Harrington of the run beginning at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on June 28. "18 of those performances are consistent with the previous model."
Harrington explained that TheaterWorksUSA heard from a lot of non-profits, camps and community partners how much they missed the summer offering and TheaterWorksUSA wanted to bring it back, but it had to do that "while also being fiscally responsible." So no more free summer theater for everyone. Now we have this hybrid model. Most organizations get in for free during the weekday performances, though some are charged $1.50 per student if the organization requires the full theater. Tickets for weekend performances are $29 - $85. For those individuals who desperately want to go to one of the weekday performances, if available, rush tickets will be available for a discounted $20. Free tickets are not available for unaffiliated individuals. There is no lead presenting sponsor for the summer theater, but there are sponsorships and grants helping the program along. There is also a membership program helping fund the effort.
Based on the bestselling DOG MAN book series by Dav Pilkey (the guy behind CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS), DOG MAN: THE MUSICAL has a book and lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila and music by Brad Alexander. Jen Wineman directs and choreographs. DOG MAN was not the show that was supposed to happen in NYC last summer before the offering was cancelled -- that was ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER & FRIENDS, which is currently on tour. Harrington said the "opportunity" that the company had with DOG MAN, a world premiere, was simply greater, making that the choice for this summer.
The book series, published by Scholastic, Inc., is a big hit. It centers on two 5th graders who create their own comic books starring their own hero, who is part dog, part man. Each book is based on a classic novel. The musical is based on the third book in the series, which is DOG MAN: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES. Wineman, who is new to the TheaterWorksUSA universe, says that adapting this book to the stage has been exciting, especially because it seemed "impossible."
"It has required a huge amount of imagination," she said. "A cat in a robot suit who is battling a bunch of buildings, yup, that is my wheelhouse."
Wineman said that a two-week winter workshop was helpful in working out the kinks and now the team really believes they have something special.
"This is something that kids love an insane amount and freak out about," Wineman said, noting that a friend of hers called it "HAMILTON for 7-year-olds."
Harrington said ticket sales have been brisk for the show, so the non-profit is feeling good about its re-entry into the major NYC market. It is also bringing a musical adaptation of THE POUT-POUT FISH to the New Victory this fall. And Harrington said the non-profit's efforts to be "fiscally responsible" expand beyond its New York endeavors -- it is expanding to new venues, creating smaller shows and has "re-energized [its] development pipeline."
There is no way of telling whether TheaterWorksUSA will ever be able to offer free summer theater for individuals again. Hopefully a sponsor will step up one day, but meanwhile, even with this model, many kids will get to experience the joy of theater that didn't last year.