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The plays and musicals that are done to death

Nothing against them, but if I never have to see Grease! or It's A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play again, it'll still be too soon.


In community theatre (and even occasionally in the professional world too) there are some plays and musicals that are over-produced, mostly for the following reasons:

  • They have name recognition (and therefore will likely turn a profit)

  • Family-friendly

  • Easy to stage

  • Considered a "classic"

You know the shows I'm talking about. And trust me, I totally understand the above-mentioned reasons in deciding to do a tried-and-true title. After all, you can't keep the doors open if you can't get actors and audiences who are unfamiliar with lesser-known or newer works.


But as a theatre enthusiast and purveyor myself, I am often disappointed that local companies so seldom try to do something different mixed in with their season. Even worse, I frequently see the same show being produced by multiple companies in the same geographical area! which is double-overkill. Theatre groups may want to take a note from Disney and "put them back in the vault" for a moratorium period every few years, or, in some cases (ahem, Bye Bye Birdie) retire them altogether like sports jerseys hoisted to the rafters.


I'm not out to tell you that virtual theatre changes any of this, although I would assume that a production of Beauty & The Beast or A Midsummer Night's Dream that is done through Zoom is going to be a wholly different (for better or worse) production than one you will see in the auditorium of your local middle school.


There are ways to both stay afloat fiscally and stretch your theatre's lineup, even if it's only once or twice a season. For every Annie or Almost, Maine, why not throw in something like the under-appreciated (but no less wonderful) musical Fiorello! or The Simpsons-inspired dystopian play Mr. Burns? Licensing and royalty pricing for shows of this nature are often less costly, and therefore easier to profit upon. At the very least, a theatre will not take much of a hit financially if they have the big tentpoles to rake in the money, while the underdog gets a chance in the spotlight too.


There are some great, family-friendly, mainstream types of plays by writers like Jonathan Dorf, Don Zolidis, and others (mostly at playscripts.com) that will appeal to many audiences and offer something new and fun, whether you're looking for a holiday play, a new musical, or just something different. And most times, the fees to produce said shows are far more affordable than the big licensing houses.


I was recently thrilled to find a play told from Jacob Marley's point-of-view that was every bit as good as any A Christmas Carol I've yet to see. Similarly, a local company produced the musical version of the Neil Gaiman book and film, Coraline, which I had no idea existed. These are only two examples of theatres taking risks that still have massive appeal but are not your run-of-the-mill shows.


These are rare, though, and often not publicized well unless you know what to look for. They can run the risk of choosing material that is too avant-garde or experimental for most folks, and end up as something closer to the Saturday Night Live university drama club sketch. I greatly admire these groups for doing something different, but I also think there can be a middle ground between a season comprised of only hits like Mamma Mia and The Crucible, and experimental/new works.


Therefore, the community theatre groups that have established roots have a responsibility to pick up the mantle of selecting a play or musical here and there that bring something different to the stage. I know I'm not alone when I say that every actor and director has at least one play or musical they love that they never see produced. Everyone in the arts is always clamoring for something different and new, so why do so many companies stick with the old? There is gold to be found in those hills, even if it doesn't sell out the house.


In the words of a little red-head orphan, I'm hoping that tomorrow the sun will come out and shed some light on this needed change. With the right approach, I bet your bottom dollar you'll be glad you did.





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