Interview

How do you plan a season?

We can’t wait for Seattle Rep’s 2021/22 season to begin this December! We sat down virtually with staff members in our Season Planning group to get inside info about the selection process, what they’re most excited for, and what’s different following a year+ away from live performances.

 

What do you look for when selecting a play for Seattle Rep's stages? 

Braden Abraham (Artistic Director): There are a few layers to it. One part is my own feeling, intuition, taste, and curiosity as an artist over time. Another part is the nuts and bolts of what makes a good play, something you recognize through close listening, experience, and careful analysis in the areas of form, content, voice, and meaning. The other critical part is never losing track of the big picture; we have the privilege of putting together a season of plays, and therefore I'm looking for a balance of voices, tone, style, and experiences for audiences, or a particular emphasis that reveals itself organically through the planning process.

No two seasons will be the same or follow a set formula. An exciting season exposes us to the cultural richness and diversity of our region and our world, and as a planning team we're committed to addressing systemic inequities at our theater and in our industry. We also consider which of our two spaces will best suit the productions and then there's the practical matters of budget, availability, and schedules.

Angie Kamel (Public Works Director): I look for good story telling, a clear and authentic voice, some dramatic tension, and cultural representation. As a member of the season planning group, I take the reading process very seriously. Kaytlin [McIntyre, Director of Casting & New Play Development] leads a separate group that reads through a lot of plays and suggests things up to the season planning group. Braden will also bring plays to the group he’s seen elsewhere or is interested in developing. Many of us are involved in both groups and get to read all sorts of plays that are incredible and never make it to our stage.

Elisabeth Farwell-Moreland (Producing Director): It's a team process. As an advocate for art that opens your mind, I look for great story telling, a different perspective than my own, a voice I haven’t heard before. How one play fits into the arc of other plays we are presenting or reading. Do we have BIPOC voices, female voices, LGBTQIA+ voices? How do we support the play as an institution? How can we invite the community into the discussion, into the process? And of course, as a producer, I have to look at the cost of producing the play and create a model that supports the play, the artists, and the realities of the annual budget.

Nabra Nelson (Director of Arts Engagement): Potential community partnerships and youth audiences are considered throughout season planning, especially when looking at the final line-up and making sure that there will be strong content for our Student Matinee program.

Jamie Herlich McIalwain (Director of Development): Hearing about plays in consideration early on allows me to consider possible funders/funding opportunities to align with them; since some funding opportunities take 12-18 months, it is important to have “insider” information about plays in consideration well in advance. 

What does a typical Season Planning meeting look like? 

Kaytlin McIntyre (Director of Casting & New Play Development): Each week we pick a different play to read and discuss. Much of the discussion feels like a book club – we talk about what engaged us (or didn’t) about the play, our favorite characters, and what themes or questions we were left with. When we find plays that have exciting artistic merit then we’ll talk about where we could see them fitting into future seasons and artists that might be interesting to collaborate with. If there’s time left in our meeting after the play discussion we’ll move to logistics: looking at calendars, checking in on deadlines, and coordinating communication with artists and patrons. And if there’s time after all that, we’ll talk about performances we’ve seen recently, any personal projects we’ve got going, and what’s inspiring us, generally. Surprisingly, sometimes we actually make it to all three topics!

EFW: We have open and deep conversations about each play. We often have different opinions and feel safe voicing them. We do not sit and judge a playwright’s talent or work – we discuss each play and how it would fit into our season and how it intersects with other plays we are reading.

NN: This season, for the first time, we engaged a reading group of community leaders and artists to provide feedback on one of the plays we were seriously considering but did not have robust representation for the identities that the play featured within the season planning group. The discussion with that group was so enriching and we plan to include community members in season planning in that way in the future.

AK: When we get closer to budget building time, we have a sketch of the season mapped out so our teams can figure out how we spend and earn some of the money needed to make it happen. If a show in our working line-up changes, sometimes that simple act can change the entire budget for a season. The puzzle is very delicate and complex. We’re always trying to figure out how to make the best theater we can with the resources available.

How do you decide when to program a show in our season line-up?

BA: It's always different. I've read a play once and gone into the season planning meeting the next day determined to get it into the season. Other projects take years of planning and development. Sometimes it starts one way and ends up the other.

EFW: There are so many factors that place a play into our season. We always have several iterations of a season with different plays and slowly it feels like the season reveals itself to us. There may be a play that we have been developing for several years that we know is in the season, and other plays fill in around it. It is not random, nor by chance, but sometimes it does feel magical.

JHM: Over time, a short-list of shows is created. We often discuss how all these shows play against each other, in the same season, etc. What is needed to balance it out? The result is that sometimes shows are dropped or moved to a future season, new shows come in, etc. This is also when exciting opportunities come our way (like the tour of Freestyle Love Supreme), which can shift things around too.

AK: Braden’s is the final word, but I might advocate for something that we haven’t seen on our stage or gives our audience a deeper (or different) experience of something they’ve seen before. I’m interested in variety in subject matter, voice, but also in style.

How far in advance do you plan out seasons?

AK: This is a tough question to answer because there’s the hope and then there’s the reality. Particularly over the last few years. I think we’d like to be planning 2-3 years in advance, with the knowledge that things might change or an opportunity that we just can’t pass up might present itself in the meantime. We’re getting there! There’s a list of plays we know we’d love to see. If there's a piece we’ve shifted out of one season, we might put it in the next season or the one after that.

BA: We try to plan 12 to 18 months in advance, sometimes longer, but it's often fluid right up to a couple months before we announce the season. That's just the nature of it when you're juggling multiple projects, budgets, and schedules.

EFW: We are always planning. Once we lock in on a season, we immediately start work on the next one. As we develop new work, commissions, and national partnerships, we often need to work two or three seasons ahead.

KM: Every year it feels like it’s further and further in advance! That being said, as Jamie and Angie mentioned earlier, sometimes there’s a last-minute shuffle and we end up looking for a show to program right away. It’s a fun challenge to hold the short-term and long-term in your mind simultaneously.

What show are you most looking forward to and why?

EFW: Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Cheryl L. West is an amazing and generous storyteller, and this play is amazing! Also, it will be our first fully in-person performance with a live audience since March 2020 and that will feel like life returning. Fannie is an important story for right now and for always.

KM: It’s very challenging to pick, but in this moment the show I’m most looking forward to in our season is Teenage Dick by Mike Lew. Set in a high school political race, the story is Richard III meets Election and it’s screamingly funny (until it’s not).

AK: If you twisted by arm, I would have to say Teenage Dick. It’s so cleverly written and more a translation or interpretation of Richard III than an adaptation. Also, it’s really funny. I laughed out loud multiple times while I was reading it.

JHM: I’m excited about them all for different reasons! Fannie and Ghosts will be particularly fun because we’ve seen them in development over the last couple of years and it’s always fun to see shows through to be fully realized on stage. But I’m also looking forward to both Teenage Dick and Selling Kabul; they both tell such interesting stories that I know will really be engaging and thought-provoking. And both Freestyle Love Supreme and Bruce are going to be high-energy, super fun shows – one coming post-NYC success and one on its way...

As we return to live theater, what is special about this season?

BA: The theatricality is explosive in this season, especially in the first half. Fannie activates the audience almost like we're at a civil rights march. Freestyle Love Supreme is a different hip hop show every single night. Teenage Dick makes you an accomplice in a clever and unsettling tale of revenge.

KM: I love the emotional variety in this season. Whether it’s following the highs and lows of the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, laughing your butt off at the improv absurdity in Freestyle Love Supreme, or on the edge of your seat in the riveting play about Afghan interpreters, Selling Kabul, I think there is a vibrancy and urgency to each of these works and after the isolation of this past year, it will be very powerful to sit in an audience and feel everything at 100%.

JHM: I think this season is really well-balanced. Both fun entertainment and thought-provoking storytelling, both bigger and more intimate shows, both plays and musicals.

AK: We’re going to be together again. Honestly, I’ve so deeply missed being in the theater, the actual space. I can’t wait to sit next to other people and watch real, live actors share a story.

EFW: After a period of our stages being silent, it is a time to recommit: To our community. To becoming an anti-racist organization. To being an inclusive and equitable organization. To the work on our stages. To developing more humane practices.

Describe this season in three words.

EFW: “A new beginning”

BA & KM: “We are back!” 

 

Check out our full 2021/22 season. Subscriptions are now on sale!


The Other Season workshop for Bruce (2020). Photo by Angela Nickerson.