Olney Theatre Center has resolved the problem of how to satisfy a diverse audience by announcing a nine-play 2014 season (they run on a calendar year) divided in thirds: three for audiences with a taste for the classics, three for audiences who like contemporary plays, and three for family audiences. Memberships (they no longer call them ‘subscriptions’) for these series are now available.
During the 2013 season productions of Spring Awakening and The Submission, Artistic Director Jason Loewith actively encouraged patrons to voice their opinions – whether it was asking them to tweet about the show during intermission to receive a free drink, email him directly (he responded to all emails) or engage in conversation on Olney Theatre Center’s new Patron Reviews page on their website. In a special event for current Olney Theatre Center subscribers, Mr. Loewith reported that they were evenly divided between fervent supporters and virulent objectors.
“After many years of trying to serve ever-more diverse audiences with the same broad array of programming, we’re digging deeper for each of them, and asking patrons to choose what they want and how they want it,” Mr. Loewith explained. “By offering a Classic Series, a Contemporary Series, and a Family Series, we can pursue each with great rigor and without apology.”
The series will include Once on this Island, the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical about a young Haitian woman in the early part of the last century who uses the power of love to overcome social differences. Once on this Island will run from April 4 to May 9 on the Olney Stage. The company recommends it for ages five and up.
Olney invites audiences aged eight and up to see its National Player’s production of The Tempest, the last play for which William Shakespeare was the sole playwright. The Tempest is the story of an earthly king who, stripped of his powers and exiled, with his daughter, to a tropical island, learns to take dominion over the forces of nature and magic. In the height of his mature years, he has a final reckoning with his enemies, and brings peace, forgiveness and love to a broken land. Jason King Jones will direct this production, which will run July 17 to August 4 on the Root Family (outdoor) Stage.
The Olney Family Series will also feature a holiday family musical, not yet selected, for its November 12 – December 28 slot. Olney members choosing the Family Series will receive “special meet-the-cast, family-friendly events surrounding the show,” the company says.
Olney’s series of Classic productions includes three plays of notable emotional and political impact. Olney kicks off the season with Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, the story of an American in Germany during the last days of the doomed Weimar Republic (book by Christopher Isherwood). In love, or at least in relationship, with a cabaret singer at the Kit Kat Klub, he experiences the moral decay of a culture soon to collapse into Nazism. Loewith will direct, thus fulfilling an aspiration he has had since he was nine. The production will run from January 29 to February 23.
On May 7, Olney will present August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, the story of a 1930s African-American family in conflict over whether to sell an heirloom piano in order to buy land their ancestors once worked upon as slaves. Jamil Jude will direct this production, which will run until June 1, on Olney’s Historic Stage.
The third Olney Classic production will be Clifford Odet’s Awake and Sing!, the story of an impoverished family in depression-era New York, where a young man seeks to better himself against the frantic wishes of his domineering mother. Directed by Kimberly Senior, Awake and Sing! will run from September 24 to October 19.
Members of Olney’s Classic series will get, in addition to the plays, “free seminars about the plays and dramaturgy mailings,” the company promises. Olney recommends Cabaret for audiences age 13 and up and the two other productions for audiences 12 and up.
Olney’s Contemporary series will feature two rolling world premieres and the Tony-winning puppet musical, Avenue Q, which will run from June 11 to July 6 on the mainstage. Avenue Q, of course, is the fabulously foul-mouthed show populated by Muppet lookalikes singing songs like “It Sucks to be You (and Me)” and “The Internet is for Porn.”
It doesn’t suck to be I and You, but there are some challenges in Laura Gunderson’s world premiere story about two college students – Caroline, who is suffering from a rare disease, and Anthony, who seems to appear out of nowhere – assigned to work on a literary project involving Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Things go downhill from there. Eleanor Holdridge directs I and You, which will run from February 26 to March 23 in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab.
The Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab will also be the venue for Colossal, Andrew Hinderaker’s (Suicide, Incorporated) rolling premiere of a story about a football hero who is paralyzed as a result of an on-field collision. “By far the most physically demanding play I’ve ever seen, it’s also a deeply character-driven work” says the Austin Chronicle’s Jillian Owens. Colossal, directed by Will Davis, will run September 3-28.
Plays in the Contemporary series are for ages 14 and up, and Olney also recommends “parental advisement” for young people seeing Avenue Q. Subscribers to Olney’s classical series will, in addition to the plays, be “invited to developmental workshops and readings.”
People can choose any or all of the three Memberships using the form online or they can call the Box Office at 301-924-3400 to create their custom “My Olney” Series. They can also add shows to any membership for only $40 a ticket by calling the Box Office.