After closing out a successful and historic 2019 theater season, Chautauqua Theater Company is looking to make 2020 an even more ground-breaking and progressive experience.
The shows for next summer will all share one key commonality: The plays, both those that have been selected and those yet to be chosen, will all be written and directed by women. The one exception to this rule will be CTC’s production of Twelfth Night, which will continue the burgeoning tradition of the company’s traveling summer Shakespeare — but CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba said even that show was selected, in part, due to its strong female protagonists.
Borba said shaping the theatrical season around the work and accomplishments of women writers and directors is a meaningful and important decision, and one he’s excited to take on.
“I think, historically, most plays have been written by and about men,” Borba said. “That’s something I’m very excited to dispel next season. There are so many stories to tell about so many different kinds of people.”
The 2020 season will open with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, modified and adapted by playwright Kate Hamill. Hamill visited Chautauqua during the 2018 season to present with CTC founder Michael Kahn and The Christians playwright Lucas Hnath on the morning lecture platform during a week on “The Life of the Spoken Word.”
“(Hamill’s) is such a fresh and playful adaptation of the play,” Borba said. “It’s very true to Jane Austen’s work, but it got a lot of heart and spirit infused to it. It’ll be a perfect fit for Chautauqua and a great way to start the year.”
Twelfth Night will also open early in the season and run throughout the first few weeks, bringing CTC’s work beyond Chautauqua’s gates to communities like Jamestown, Mayville and, for the first time, Westfield.
As the season progresses, CTC will put on two shows as part of its New Play Workshop, where newer works are supported and fine-tuned before being sent into the wider world of theater. The NPW shows are still undecided, but Borba said they will be chosen in keeping with the effort to highlight the work of women.
After the NPWs, CTC is looking to put on a yet-unselected one-woman show in the vein of 2018’s The Amish Project or 2019’s On the Exhale. One key difference, Borba said, is that CTC will be working to give the solo show a feel “more akin to a mainstage performance” than in years past.
The closing show of the 2020 season is one that both Borba and CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy are looking forward to. Though 2014 saw the world premiere of Molly Smith Metzler’s The May Queen, commissioned by CTC and the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, 2020’s closing show will mark the first time CTC is fully producing a play it has commissioned on its own.
The company is working with playwright Tyne Rafaeli to create a show centered around Margaret Sanger and her birth control activism. While the play is still a work-in-progress, Corporandy said she’s eager to see it come to Chautauqua.
“This is the first time we’ve commissioned a full play and promised it a full production,” Corporandy said. “We’ve committed 100% to giving this new show our full resources to really lift it up and then send it out past Chautauqua after Chautauquans get the first look.”
The yet-untitled show is set to follow three different generations of women in their experiences with birth control. First, it will focus on Sanger and her efforts to create and provide accessible birth control to women. It will then transition to a narrative set in the mid-1960s during the legalization of the pill and the sexual revolution. Finally, the show will take audiences into the 21st century and look at a woman who is confronting her own fertility and biology.
Regardless of which generation is under the microscope, Rafaeli said the play deals with some timeless themes.
“The essential question at the heart of this play is the tensions between one’s ambitions for themselves as a human being and their own biology, and whether or not that’s surmountable,” Rafaeli said.
The chance to take on a brand-new play and produce it for the very first time at Chautauqua is something that Corporandy said poses a great challenge and provides great excitement.
“When you choose to do a play that’s not brand new, you can already have it in your head and work things out,” Corporandy said. “But this play isn’t done yet. So we have to plan to be flexible, and equip ourselves as much as we can and just go for the ride. That’ll be a new challenge for us.”
As CTC gears up to tackle issues they feel are relevant and important to the world as a whole, Borba assured that, in addition to a thought-provoking and impactful series of shows, the company will provide the same quality of theater theatergoers have come to expect.
“In a general sense, people can expect more of the same,” Borba said. “Our pursuit of excellence and our varied programming over the nine weeks will continue. The programming may have a slightly different focus than this year’s, but I hope people will be able to look back and feel that it was as communal, satisfying and empowering as this season.”