Friday, October 9, 2009

A Long Way to Come a Short Way Correctly: Picking Our 2010 Season

In early September, what was last year two people deciding what plays we should do, this year became eight people plus 23 submissions. And so with our multiplied voices sitting in a large room with gluten-free brownies and brown bag lunches, we voted for our top picks quickly, then debated that short list for another three hours. One of us was in London, one of us was texting from a set of all-day auditions, and six of us were trading a microphone around as we spoke to ensure that our London member heard everything.

Our resident stage manager, Laura Gomez, shares: "We had been instructed to pick our top six favorites, which was a difficult process because we had 22 intriguing and widely differing proposals to choose from. The discussion that ensued was critical, passionate, and even heated at times….Everything from amplification in the parks to venue suggestions were hashed out. But most importantly, we had to ensure that the plays chosen for the upcoming season were in line with the Curious Frog mission statement. We had to make sure that we weren't simply throwing actors of colors into roles for the sake of using them, but that we had a well-thought-out idea of what message we would send by using these actors."

Marie Morrow, Curious Frog’s resident movement director, notes that “what's so special to me about this particular group of artists is that we are varied in our given vocations, and we all bring a very different perspective on any given choice of material. It was important for all of us to weigh in, because when we combine someone who is a thinker, and someone who moves, and someone who feels, and someone who plans, etc... that is when a season that is well-rounded and intriguing can be built.”

In June, I had put out a listing through various channels, asking for submissions for our 2010 season. We knew we wanted a spring ticketed show, a fall ticketed show, and then of course our free summer Shakespeare tour in the NYC parks. For most of us, it was the first time going through this process, and for the company, it was definitely our first go at breaking down the variety of proposals we received.

This being New York, and in spite of the fact that we encouraged traditional titles with unique concepts, we received a lot of new plays. While we were open to them, we quickly realized that none of these particularly fit our mission. We found ourselves debating that point, as well as the quality of the written proposals themselves, continuing into venues, budgets ... the whole shebang. A few times we had a play everyone wanted to do that only one person passionately stood against, and we had plenty of times where enough people were able to articulate why a title should be included that the disinterested were swung in favor.

Our long-time publicist, Patrick Doolin, shares: “I remember a few submissions that didn't excite some of us at first, but after reading the proposals and moving to the scripts with fresh eyes, we recognized new potential in each one. Likewise, there were some works that excited us initially that proved to have limited potential once we carefully considered them against our mission. Selecting the season made us put our money where our mouth is: if we want audiences to see plays with a new perspective, then we have to challenge our own perspectives.”

In the end, we knew we wanted Tracy Francis to direct with us and though we liked her submission very much, we didn't love it. We asked her to look at our short list of titles we thought she'd be interested in, and she ended up very excited about Albee, who had come up several times in the meeting as a possibility. So, we start our April 2010 with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which thrills us to no end. Multicultural casting inside of these iconic characters and a truly unconventional performance space (stay tuned to find out) ensures that the entire company is thrilled with working on this gin-soaked favorite.

I was personally surprised and delighted that my own proposal for the summer Shakespeare was well-received and enthusiastically chosen. My adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sure to be an extremely robust, physical romp in the NYC parks' trees ... and are those faeries we see? It will also be our first show that will feature more of our company members ON the stage, instead of behind it.

But imagine how especially excited we are to have a second ticketed show this year. On October 9th, we'll open Naomi Wallace's Slaughter City. Director Jillian Johnson brought us a proposal that truly fit into the spirit of what we do. Her proposal also engendered a lengthy debate amongst the Frog members: if we already have prescribed multicultural casting, is it really upholding our mission statement to cast multiculturally in roles where it isn't normally done? Our resident properties designer, Chelsea Chorpenning, reacts: “When I read the proposal for Slaughter City I was struck by its emotional intensity, visceral design and focus on issues that echoed Curious Frog’s mission statement. It presents a challenge to the normal theatre experience and is written by a woman, which is what CFTC is all about. There are many plays that would have been great additions to our next season, but in the end, it came down to our mission to provide a stage for non-traditional performance that made us choose such a dynamic line-up for our 2010 season.” At the end of the day, after some time spent with Ms. Johnson over a cup of coffee, I will tell you this--the importance of showing the diverse faces of our country’s blue collar workers in such a raw, unconventional setting encapsulates the essence of what Curious Frog stands for. We are thrilled to bring this expanding work to our patrons, and as always, can hardly wait to hear the feedback on such an explosive work.

And, as Laura says, "[a]fter several hours of debate and collaboration, the Curious Frog Theatre Company's 2010 season was born and I am anxious to share the exciting news with my friends and all our Frog fans!" I'm with you, Laura.

- Renee Rodriguez

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