THE OBLIGATION OF REGIONAL THEATRES

by Casey L. Oakes 
Director of Artistic Engagement10425101_1526728704228741_7929174179063471211_n[1]

Gloucester Stage is a nonprofit regional theatre. This doesn’t mean Gloucester Stage does not make any profit, but instead that profits earned do not benefit any owners of the company. Gloucester Stage does not have private owners. Gloucester Stage is led by an esteemed board of directors comprised of businesspeople, artists, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals who volunteer their time and passion to maintaining Gloucester Stage as a viably progressive and artistically fruitful organization.

There are distinct benefits to being a nonprofit organization. At Gloucester Stage our purchases are tax-deductible. Cans of paint for sets, printing paper for the copiers, pencils, paperclips, staples, posters, cups, lumber, notepads, light bulbs, screws, toilet paper, power chords, screw guns, nails, stamps, and all items that are necessary for putting our art on stage we do not pay taxes on. A nonprofit has this benefit because we are here to serve our community. We are here to provide the people with a cultural and artistic experience unlike what they may find elsewhere.

Let’s back up.

Regional theatres were created to serve a very distinct purpose. These theatres sprung up during the middle of the 20th century as part of the little theatre movement in response to overtly commercial work being produced in New York City and the price tag for producing in the city increasing without stop. The goal was to create more locally relevant works, works that were artistically challenging and socially relevant to the surrounding communities for which the shows were being produced.

We have an obligation as a regional theatre not to just produce Broadway’s last hit but to also stage new topical and culturally relevant plays; plays that resonate within our community. We have an obligation to take risks and not simply rely on resale value. If we ignore that responsibility than we should be stripped of our nonprofit status and sell ourselves as what we truly are; subsidized entertainment for a select few.

Why go to Broadway when your local theatre is producing last year’s smash for tickets a fraction of the price?

As a regional theatre we are charged with producing works that stimulate and educate our audience as well as help push the art form forward. Every play should have an honest and mission driven reason for being produced, beyond being a pet project, beyond being a favor for a friend, beyond being an easy box-office take. Every show’s selection should be rooted in a very specific thought process; why this play, why here, and why now?

Gloucester Stage recognizes these trends and is putting programs in place to combat them. We are a theatre that prides itself on creating new works, and in our 35 years have had 32 World Premieres, 6 American Premieres, and 17 New England Premieres.

And we’re just getting started.

As we commence Act 2 of our theatre and enter into our next 35 years we have created The WorkshopA program for young playwrights that provides housing, pay, and a fully produced, professionally designed, Equity production of their play as a World Premiere, Mainstage show. This initiative was born out of necessity. While there are residencies in marked theatres throughout the country for established playwrights, there are very few opportunities for emerging playwrights to jumpstart their careers. Most are relegated to second and third jobs while spending their free time writing alone, hoping to breakthrough via playwright competitions or graduate schools. There is no chance for collaboration or work shopping. There is no one there to read the work or an opportunity for playwrights to see their words come to life onstage. The reality is that the programs just don’t exist for unproven writers to have their work professionally produced.

Now there is.

The Workshop is Gloucester Stage’s guarantee that every season will have at least one World Premiere written by an emerging theatre-artist.  This is where we came from, this is where we are going, and this is who we are.  We will keep fighting to find ways to let new professionals through the door. We will keep fighting to find ways of making it easier for audiences to follow on this journey. Whether that is through reduced ticket prices, free second stage events, or with programs like The Workshop we will continually find ways of opening the door. We will continue to push the bounds of what is safe and expected; we will because we have to.

Ultimately, we don’t want to hold the door, we want to remove it entirely.

Casey Oakes Signature

 

 

 

 

 

 

*GSC Blog posts are the select opinions of individual employees and may not necessarily reflect the views of Gloucester Stage as a whole.