New Theater Programs, A Theater Facts Report, And A Retirement

Hartford Stage has been chosen to participate in the new Catalyzing Creative Aging Program created by the National Guild for Community Arts Education and Lifetime Arts. Twenty nonprofit arts organizations were accepted into the program, which supports the development of “innovative programming for an aging population that is living longer, healthier lives.” Hartford Stage Resident Teaching Artist Natalie Pertz attended a “Training and Technical Assistance” program two months ago at the Catalyzing Creative Aging Institute in Oakland, California. Her participation allows Hartford Stage to apply for seed grants so the theater can implement its own creative-aging programs.

Program Notes

Late last year, the Yale School of Drama, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of its founding, created a crowdsourced online project called Ensemble@Yale, dedicated to collecting, transcribing and annotating theater programs from shows at the YSD and the Yale Repertory Theatre. (The Yale Cabaret is barely represented.) Using a format pioneered by the New York Public Library, users can log in to the site and choose to “mark” or “transcribe” the scanned images of hundreds of theater programs.

Yeah, you can stargaze — School of Drama alums include everyone from Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti and Liev Schreiber to David Alan Grier, TV foodie Adam Richman, Jonathan Frid of “Dark Shadows” and Sorrell Booke (who played Boss Hogg on “The Dukes of Hazzard”). But some of these shows were noteworthy no matter who was in them: a production of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” from 1935, the same year the play was first produced in London; 1960s political satires such as “Watergate Classics” (with contributions by Art Buchwald, Jules Feiffer and Philip Roth); Joseph Heller’s “We Bombed in New Haven” and Megan Terry’s “Viet Rock”; and the August Wilson and Athol Fugard triumphs of the ‘80s. I can personally vouch for the brilliance of dozens of student-directed YSD shows over the past three decades, including “The Crazy Locomotive” (helmed by Annie Dorsen), “Tom’s Suite” (created by Loni Berry) and at least a couple of cool productions of “Peer Gynt.”

I happen to save all my theater programs, which are annotated with the notes I scrawled on them while still at the theater, so this Ensemble@Yale is a project to which I can deeply relate. Go mark it up, or just bask in it. And other universities, please do this, too. I would love to see the Hartt School and UConn programs archived this way.

TCG’s Theatre Facts Report

Theatre Communications Group, an organization that represents regional theaters throughout the United States (including, in Connecticut, the Long Wharf, Yale Rep, Hartford Stage and CT Rep) has released its 37th annual Theatre Facts report, covering the fiscal year 2015-16. Theatre Facts is compiled from financial data received from 131 theaters who have regularly responded to the annual survey, but also offers a “broad overview of the estimated 1,850 U.S. professional not-for-profit theaters.”

Among the findings: Inflation affected every “expenditure category” at theaters, while expense growth and earned income growth have not changed. Happily, this was offset by an increase in contributed revenues. Declining attendance at regional theaters is still a concern, but while ticket sales are down there has been an increase in income from things like presenter fees , co-productions and rentals. Of the 131 theaters that completed the survey (a subset TCG refers to as “Trend Theaters”), 41 percent were in the midst of some kind of capital campaign; that’s the most in five years.

TCG estimates that in 2016 not-for-profit professional theaters employed around 146,000 people, who created some 25,000 productions that ran for 235,000 performances and entertained 31 million patrons.

The complete report is online at tcg.org/pdfs/tools/TCG_TheatreFacts_2016.pdf

CD Round-Up

Lena Hall, who played Yitzhak in the Broadway production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (and later played Hedwig when the show was on tour) has kicked off her monthly series of “Obsessed” EPs with solo-guitar renditions of six “Hedwig” songs. These are stripped-down arrangements of tough tunes such as “Tear Me Down,” “Midnight Radio” and “The Origin of Love,” but they still rock plenty hard enough thanks to Hall’s expressive, hyperactive vocals.

(“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” composer and lyricist Stephen Trask grew up in New London, attended Wesleyan University, and lived in New Haven when “Hedwig” achieved its first flush of off Broadway success in the late 1990s.)

Also on the CD spinner: Mandy Gonzalez’s “Fearless.” Gonzalez originated the role of Nina Rosario in “In the Heights” and currently plays Angelica Schuyler on Broadway in “Hamilton.” The creator of both those shows, Wesleyan grad and O’Neill Theater Center alum Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote the title sone of “Fearless,” one of his excitingly verbose proclamations of finding strength in numbers, helping others and overturning adversity. “Hand in hand we can be fearless,” she sings, in a song filled with wall metaphors. The album closes with the “In the Heights” self-powerment ballad “Breathe.” Gonzalez also does a stirring inner-resolve song by Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal,” “If/Then”) called “Every Day” and even a cover (in the Sly Stone manner) of “Que Sera Sera.”

Boyd Bids the Alley Goodbye

Gregory Boyd, the artistic director of the Alley Theatre in Houston for the past 28 years, has announced his retirement. A press release from the Alley stated that Boyd was ready to announce his retirement last year, but stayed on to deal with the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey.

Boyd has a home in Connecticut and has directed some extraordinary productions here: “Dear Brutus” and “Journey’s End” at Westport Country Playhouse (both in 2005); and Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties” at Long Wharf in 2004. He did the ill-fated 2007 “Our Town” at Hartford Stage (which lost its star, Hal Holbrook, due to illness shortly after opening night) in 2007. He directed the national tour of “Love Letters,” which played The Bushnell in 2018. He also directed the Frank Wildhorn musicals “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Civil War,” both of which played the Shubert in New Haven prior to their Broadway runs.

One of the Alley’s hometown papers, the Houston Press, took issue with the haste of Boyd’s departure: He announced on Tuesday that his retirement would be effective on Thursday.

For those of us who’ve enjoyed Boyd’s work in Connecticut and New York, the issue on our minds is: Does retirement really mean retirement? Could Boyd still grace regional theaters with his directorial talents, as a freelancer?

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