Theater, no matter how brilliant, is nothing without an audience to watch it. Without that connection to the people who consume and connect with the performances, the messages and meanings designed to resonate with viewers cannot flourish.
That won’t be a problem this season though, as Chautauqua Theater Company leadership said this summer will feature one of the most accessible rosters of plays in recent memory.
The lineup this season consists of The Christians by Lucas Hnath, a show about confronting long-held beliefs and the repercussions that may come when those beliefs change; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare’s lighthearted romp through a fairy-laden forest; and One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean, which takes audiences on a comedic ride through Brighton in the 1960s.
Although shows like The Christians might seem intimidatingly introspective, CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy said the play will have something for everyone.
“The Christians gives us a scenario where someone has changed their worldview and shows us what the process of that might be like, what some of the repercussions might be,” Corporandy said. “And I think everyone can relate to that on some level.”
And for those concerned that the dense language of Shakespeare’s play will serve as a barrier to access, that fear need not exist, as CTC is performing a rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that has been translated into modern verse by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba tied the choice to use a modern translation back to connecting with all audiences, no matter who they are.
“It’s exactly that: accessibility,” he said. “It’s not about distrusting or throwing away Shakespeare’s work. That’s not what it is. But a lot of times, people spend moments in Hamlet wondering what a fartle is, which takes them out of the play instead of bringing them into it.”
In addition to updating the language, CTC will also take the show on the road, bringing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Allen Park and River Walk in Jamestown, Lakeside Park in Mayville and the Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, as well as on Bestor Plaza.
Building on the underlying theme of accessibility, both One Man, Two Guvnors and The Christians will be running for three weeks, from July 26 to Aug. 11, and June 28 to July 14, respectively, in Bratton Theater. These three-week runs are a new model for CTC, up from its traditional practice of two-week runtimes. The schedule is designed to provide Chautauquans with more chances to see the shows.
Additionally, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run from June 25 to July 31, giving audiences ample time to attend a performance.
CTC will also produce three plays as part of their New Play Workshop. How The Light Gets In by E.M. Lewis is a romantic comedy about four unlikely individuals connecting with one another after one faces disaster. On the Exhale by Martin Zimmerman is a deep, intimate show that examines the issue of gun violence through the eyes of a mother who finds herself inexplicably drawn to the weapon she once despised. Agent 355 is the first musical to be workshopped, and follows a contemporary, all-female band as they try to discover the identity of an unnamed female spy who helped lead George Washington’s armies to victory in the American Revolution.
Such a diverse lineup of shows presents an opportunity for audience members to find the experience that best fits their interests.
“They’re six, very different, unique experiences,” Corporandy said. “Every time you sit down in Bratton, or you go out into Bestor and see the Shakespeare, it’s going to have the CTC stamp on it, but it’s going to be a completely different experience.”
Many of this season’s plays will also put heavier emphasis on an aspect of theater the company does not typically focus on: music.
From the Motet Choir performing on-stage in The Christians, to the live skiffle band that will perform period music for One Man, Two Guvnors, to the fully musical nature of Agent 355, CTC will be providing audiences with a season unlike any that have come before it.
Borba has strong opinions as to what live music adds to a performance.
“Everything,” he said. “Which is why we’re so excited about it. It literally moves you. You are experiencing vibrations that you weren’t experiencing before you came into the theater.”
So whether it takes the form of Shakespearean fairies speaking modern English, an introspective evening set to the sounds of the Chautauqua Choir or a glimpse at any of the newer plays being workshopped in the NPW series, Borba and Corporandy said this season of theater performances boasts offerings for a variety of audiences.
The season kicks off with the opening night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 4 p.m. Tuesday on Bestor Plaza, followed by the opening of The Christians at 8 p.m. Friday in Bratton Theater.