New season, new challenge

Bay Theatre faces rising costs with innovation and optimism

August 14, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Now starting its seventh season, Bay Theatre is known for professional excellence, innovatively produced within the confines of its 20-foot-wide stage.

Its fame has grown, as I discovered in June at the annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association in Washington, where a few of the 90 critics assembled had heard good things about the Annapolis-based company.

Last season the nonprofit professional Bay Theatre Company became an Equity theater, a status that requires half of the actors in each production to be members of the Actors' Equity Association union. The change makes it eligible for consideration of the Helen Hayes Awards, based in Washington, and allows it to compete with Baltimore's Everyman Theatre and Howard County's Rep Stage.

In a recent interview, co-founders Lucinda Merry-Browne and Janet Luby agreed that the move to Equity status was required if the company was to improve.

"Equity usually means consistent quality and excellence in actors," said Merry-Browne

But operation costs significantly increased. A production with three Equity actors at $5,000 each plus an Equity director can cost $40,000, Merry-Browne said, along with the typical administrative costs. Ticket sales don't support the cost of the company's operations, she said.

Luby and Merry-Browne voiced their optimism about meeting all challenges, through the continued support of the community and the creation of innovative fundraisers like their proposed Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. They also are expanding educational programs, offering a children's production, and are fully involving the Beacons, a group dedicated to assuring Bay's success through fundraising and special events.

For its 2008-09 season, Bay Theatre will offer Tony award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays that center on challenging relationships between a husband and wife, siblings and their parents, and a pair of combative and elderly misfits.

From Oct. 3 to Nov. 8, Bay Theatre has scheduled Sam Shepard's 1980 play True West, the story of two brothers, Austin and Lee. Austin has a successful screenwriting career and a wife and children who agreed to housesit for his mother in her California home while she tours Alaska. His less successful drifter brother Lee soon arrives on the scene to rob his mother's neighbors.

The Fantasticks, on stage Dec. 12 to Jan. 24, is a wistful musical allegory written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt about two fathers who try to arrange for their children to fall in love. The musical enjoyed a 40-year run off-Broadway and boasts a score that includes the songs "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain."

D.L. Coburn's The Gin Game arrives on Feb. 20 and runs through March 28. The 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama tells of two nursing home residents who play a series of gin games where they reveal much of their regret-filled lives.

George Bernard Shaw's Candida will lose the season, with a run from April 24 to May 30. The 1895 play tells the story of a clergyman's wife who is attracted to a young poet who worships her. Pastor and poet become rivals for Candida's love, with her wisdom ultimately saving the day. The satirical play is filled with witty dialogue that remains contemporary and is considered among his best works.

Performances are held Thursdays through Sundays at 275 West St. in Annapolis.

Merry-Browne and Luby said they have reluctantly decided to raise ticket prices. They range from $25 to $30 for single seats, and season subscriptions cost $110 for adults and $90 for seniors and students.

Tickets may be purchased online at www.baytheatre.org or reserved by phone at 410-268-1333.

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