After an experimental summer of theater, complete with comedy and tragedy in equal measure, Chautauqua Theater Company is using the off-season to prepare for its 2019 dramatic lineup.
CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba said he is proud of the work this summer onstage and offstage, and he is excited for the upcoming year.
Similar to how 2018 opened with An Octoroon — Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ provocative play about race in America — Borba said the 2019 season opener, Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, which will run June 28 – July 14, will challenge Chautauquans. The play centers on a pastor who causes a commotion in his megachurch after he renounces the existence of hell.
“Lucas was here this year in the Amp, and it’s one of those plays I’ve thought for a long time is a very Chautauquan play because it’s gripping and interesting theater, but it’s also … a way to look at two sides of an issue in dramatic form,” Borba said. “The schism in that play between the two main characters, I think, is one that many of us have asked ourselves.”
CTC is taking a new approach in 2019, said Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy, with two celebrated mainstage productions with extended runs. Borba said that the two mainstage shows next season will also contain plenty of live music.
“The Christians has a full choir on stage every show and One Man, Two Guvnors has a skiffle band that plays before the show starts and plays through the show as well,” he said. “That is a hoot. That is something that should be a relief to any intense themes that are going on in the week next year.”
Borba said that the second mainstage play, which runs from July 26 – Aug. 4, will be less challenging for audiences, but just as entertaining.
“One Man, Two Guvnors is in some ways a selfish choice, because I love farce so much, and I think we had such a great time last year with Noises Off,” Borba said. “This is also a big, broad farcical comedy set in the Beatles-era ’60s.”
As for the New Play Workshops, Borba said that CTC has commissioned Tyne Rafaeli to write and direct a new work, alongside two other yet-to-be-announced new plays.
“There is no title for (Rafaeli’s play) yet, but it’s a play about the creation of the birth control pill and Margaret Sanger,” Borba said. “We talked about whether she should bring a secondary director in, and she may for the full production, … but she figured (both writing and directing) is the most efficient way to get to the work once we have the actors here.”
Borba said CTC was challenged in 2018 by the number of productions staged — seven in total — as well as the scope of their content.
“We also very intentionally focused on community as a theme, and every single show investigated a different aspect of a different community,” Borba said. “It’s like a diamond — lots of different facets of the same thing.”
Borba credits the season’s success to the audience members, who embraced the season’s varied offerings.
“The Chautauquan audience took a deep dive with us on every single show,” Borba said. “Into the Breeches! is something that the Chautauquan audience may be more used to, but also … 22 percent of our audience for Airness were people who had never been to CTC before, never been inside Bratton Theater. That’s important for us to keep broadening and speaking to all of Chautauqua.”
Borba said CTC also broadened its audience through its traveling production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Next season, the free program will return to parks in Jamestown and Mayville with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by CTC Artistic Associate Sarah Elizabeth Wansley.
Borba said Wansley is toying with “alley staging,” where the actors perform between two groups of onlookers, akin to a basketball game.
“We still will have to experiment with acoustics and find out what those will be in each specific place,” Borba said. “We’ll continue to take advantage of what we discovered this year, which is the audience interaction. The closer you are to the event, the more fun you have and the more you really feel like you are part of the show.”
Although some aspects of the 2019 season are still being finalized, Borba said he is already looking to 2020’s season, which will coincide with HowlRound Theatre Commons’ Jubilee.
“HowlRound has asked theaters across the country to focus their works on women writers and people of color,” he said. “We’re excited to do it, and we’ve been on board with that for a few years and look forward to it. … I’m not quite sure what we’ll do yet with the traveling Shakespeare, but everything else, there is no question.”