Saturday, July 6, 2013

Creating a Play List with the Charlotte Players

A version of this article appeared in the June 27, 2013 edition of Florida Weekly:

Charlotte Players Executive Director
Sherrie Moody

As Executive Director of the Charlotte Players, Sherrie Moody’s goal is simple:  to provide quality theater to residents of Charlotte County.  The implementation of this goal, however, is a bit more complicated.  With the line-up for the 2013-2014 season hot off the press, we thought it would be interesting to find out how the Charlotte Players go about deciding which shows will find their way to the stage.  

Amazingly, the selection process for the main stage productions has been the same since the  Charlotte Players’ inception in 1961.  At the end of each season, theatergoers, directors and actors are surveyed to find out what they’d like to see on the program.  Online research is done as well to find out what shows other community theaters across the country are producing.  Eventually a list of approximately 100 plays is compiled.  Perusal scripts are purchased, and a play reading committee, consisting of five or six people, reads all of the proposed plays and whittles its choices down to six or seven.  The Board of Directors, Moody, and assistant Melissa Cripps then make the final decision.  

Needless to say, there are a multitude of factors to consider.  Moody says that, “The name of the play is crucial.  If our audience doesn’t respond to the title, we won’t be able to fill the theater.”   Dearly Departed is an example of a show whose name didn’t resonate, leading to a lot of empty seats.  Moody went on to say that, “Sex sells.  If we have the word “sex” in the title of the show, it’s sure to sell out.  I sometimes wish that I could just throw the word into the title.  How about Sex and the Wizard of Oz or Sex with Annie?” Moody also shared that every season the Charlotte Players get a message on their answering machine to the effect of, "This is X.  I NEED to get tickets to that sex show!"   (Note that Sin, Sex and the CIA  is the name of the play slotted for January 2014.  Order your tickets now!) 

Having said that, Moody shared that the Charlotte Players’ audience actually tends to be on the conservative side.  Expletives don’t go over well nor does this audience want the Lord’s name to be taken in vain.  When the occasional play has pushed these boundaries, Moody has heard about it. 

Moody with future
Charlotte County thespians
The local talent pool also has to be kept in mind.  It’s harder to find actors than actresses for shows, especially musicals.  And here’s a shocker—it’s more difficult to find men than women to play bit roles.   Picking a production with characters who are 25-40 is potentially problematic given local demographics and the work/family demands on actors and actresses in this age group.   

Each year the Charlotte Players include at least one musical in their repertoire.   Moody has learned that people want to see tried and true shows that will send them out of the theater humming a tune. With the cost of producing a musical running $40,000+ (compared to $22-25,000 for comedies and dramas), it’s doubly important to choose a show that will be an audience favorite.  Moody has no concerns that Hello, Dolly, with its spectacular costumes and big numbers, will be a hit this season.   

Cut now to the Charlotte Players’ new black box theater, Langdon Playhouse.   Last year was the first season for this stage, which seats 50-75 people compared to 480 at the Cultural Center Theater.   Moody, Cripps, and Board President Steve Pignataro have responsibility for choosing the shows for this venue.  The same considerations—and more--go into this task.   The intimacy of the theater is a significant dynamic.   One or two actors are all the stage can comfortably hold, and scenery needs to be kept to a bare minimum. 

Over time, Moody hopes to bring “edgier” productions to the Langdon stage.   Last year’s season opened with Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.  It was the first production by the Charlotte Player that had an openly gay character.    When you consider that the Players have put on over 250 shows in the organization’s history, you realize how significant a statement that is.  

Like a good mother, Moody refused to pick a favorite play from this season’s line-up.  Her advice to theatergoers is to be willing to try something different.  Don’t just go for a play you’ve seen before or whose name sounds familiar.  Push the envelope a bit.  The Charlotte Players have a seat waiting for you. 

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