In just two seasons, The Bard’s Town Theatre has assembled a strong ensemble of regular performers—so regular, in fact, that some have taken to working in the restaurant downstairs, so on any given opening night you might order your pre-show Much Ado About Empanadas from the same actor who will have you laughing or crying on stage upstairs.
“By and large, our audience still comes into our theater without any preconceived notions, as in, they’re not sure what they’re getting,” says executive artistic director (and restaurant co-owner) Doug Schutte with a laugh. “I think that’s a good thing.”
It’s an all-in-the-family, hardest-working-pub-in-show-business approach that’s modeled by Schutte himself, who writes, directs and appears on stage between shifts in the kitchen, planning his next season of plays while placing the bar’s liquor order for the week. He and co-owner/artistic director Scot Atkinson, who also acts and directs when he’s not pouring drinks behind the bar, have shepherded two seasons through their fledgling company with a growing momentum, quickly finding their footing with talented actors and a commitment to producing plays that have yet to be seen in town, like world premieres by Kentucky playwrights Liz Fentress and Nancy Gall-Clayton. Their production of Samuel Hunter’s Obie Award-winning drama “A Bright New Boise” was a stand-out of last season.
Their third season, which the artistic directors announced today, represents a stretching out of sorts, from the number of productions to the scope of their work. Stepping away for a season from full-length world premieres, in 2013 the theater will remount two company favorites, debut eight ten-minute plays and produce four recent plays that deal with identity and self-growth.
For the first time, the season was compiled with help from the ensemble regulars, many of whom have joined the theater’s board in order to play a larger role in steering the company. This is one formal way younger companies without literary departments can involve other artists during season selection time.
“I always want to read everything, but it’s nice to have other folks give you different opinions,” says Schutte. “The folks here really enjoy what we’re doing, they’re really passionate about it.”
Beginning in February, the company will remount an audience favorite (it won a 2011 LEO Reader’s Choice Award). Schutte’s romantic/literary comedy “Chasing Ophelia” was the company’s first show, and now that they’ve built up a loyal audience, Schutte says he wanted to give their new subscribers a chance to see the show that put them on the local map.
The season will include San Francisco Bay Area playwright Patricia Milton’s lay-off era dark comedy “Reduction in Force” (July) and New Dramatists resident playwright Kate Fodor’s pharmaceutical workplace depression comedy “Rx,” (October) which made its world premiere off-Broadway at Primary Stages last year.
“‘Rx’ was the first play that we thought, okay, we know we want to do this. This is something that fits,” says Schutte. “From that, some other things started to fall in place. That really fed into the other plays that deal more with the idea of identity and self-growth.”
“We tie so much of what we are to what we do that the whole season came together in that idea of one’s identity,” he adds.
In May, the company opens Jonathan Marc Sherman’s despairing addiction comedy “Things We Want,” which opened off-Broadway in 2007 with a production directed by Ethan Hawke and starring Paul Dano, Peter Dinklage, Josh Hamilton and Zoe Kazan. They’ll follow with Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” in June.
Schutte says while audiences are still figuring out what to expect from The Bard’s Town’s productions, he and his board are committed to thoughtful plays that work well on their intimate stage.
“I’m more interested in good stories, things that will engage the audience, and I’m not as concerned with visual eye-candy just for that purpose. It’s just not what we do,” he says.
The third annual Ten-Tucky Festival will premiere eight ten-minute plays written and directed by Kentuckians in September, and the season will close in December with the third seasonal run of Schutte’s holiday comedy “The Kings of Christmas.”
In addition to The Bard’s Town Theatre’s resident company season, the theater will also play host to eleven other theatre companies throughout the year. The first guest production is Bottoms Up! Productions’ “Nick and Corey Tell Some Stories,” which opens January 17.