Change is mandatory in theater—imagine a plot without it. Among local companies, most significant changes come before the start of the academic year; it's part of how the creative ecosystem cross-pollinates. When Hannah Grannemann left PlayMakers Rep for Children's Theatre of Charlotte, Michele Weathers became interim Managing Director—leaving an interim position at Theatre Raleigh for promising undergraduate actor Maigan Kennedy to fill.
But not all changes are so routine and benign. When eight professionals leave a musical theater program in three months' time at troubled William Peace University, people wonder. Particularly when neither of the program's interim co-chairs—controversial chancellor Debra Townsley and vice-president for engagement Julie Ricciardi—has a degree in theater or music.
Another tough break: Tim Scales, who brought savvy marketing, P.R., fundraising and production support to arts nonprofits, has placed his Wagon Wheel Arts Promotion on hiatus to replace Heidi Reklis as PlayMakers' interim general manager, leaving no one to fill his shoes in a role that area directors and producers had come to count on.
"We're back to square one," says former Wagon Wheel client Joseph Megel, director of UNC's Process Series and Streetsigns Center for Performance. "You realize how much we need what he had to offer."
Megel has had to deal with other inauspicious changes. After Chatham Mills management vetoed his ambitious Piedmont Performance Factory just before a crucial May fundraiser, Streetsigns found itself without a venue for its new season. Luckily, the group found a home for Torry Bend's new puppet theater work, If My Feet Have Lost the Ground, at Manbites Dog Theater in October, with two more productions (including a Howard Craft premiere) booked at UNC's Swain Hall in 2015.
Among the less fortunate: Raleigh's Honest Pint Theatre, still seeking a venue after a notable first season. And in 2015, companies will have to contend with higher rental fees at the mecca of regional independent theater, Common Ground Theatre, as its board tries to stabilize its finances. Common Ground holds a benefit fundraiser Sept. 13.
Other questions you might have about the current theater season: What made award-winning director and educator Patrick Torres leave the theatrical hotbed of Austin, Texas to take the helm of Raleigh Little Theatre?
"At RLT, the artistic director is responsible for production and programming, but also has a big hand in the education department," he says. "It seemed the perfect marriage of the two things."
And why would you stage three of your most challenging productions simultaneously, as Burning Coal is doing with the ambitious Iron Curtain Trilogy?
"The collapse of the Iron Curtain is the most important event of our lifetimes," says Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis. "Its consequences continue to play out in today's newspapers across the world. David Edgar's Iron Curtain Trilogy is the greatest work of art created about that event, and the 25th anniversary of the event seems the right time to do it."
THEATER: 10 TO SEE
There are more than 90 local productions slated before the end of 2014. Here's my list of the 10 most intriguing. —Byron Woods
PLAYMAKERS REPERTORY COMPANY: RODNEY KING (Kenan Theatre, Sept. 2–7)—Roger Guenveur Smith has called his solo performance "less a performance than it is a prayer," as it looks at the life and legacy of the man whose 1992 beating by Los Angeles police remains entirely too topical today.
BURNING COAL THEATRE: THE IRON CURTAIN TRILOGY (Burning Coal Theatre, Sept. 4–27)—If you missed Burning Coal's award-winning productions of David Edgar's geopolitical thrillers Pentecost, The Prisoner's Dilemma or The Shape of the Table in recent years, now's the time to catch up. A workout for cast and audience alike.
BARE THEATRE: CORIOLANUS (Halifax Mall, Sept. 18–Oct. 4)—G. Todd Buker dares to stage Shakespeare's examination of governance and sociopolitical unrest outdoors—on the site of the Moral Monday marches.
MIKE WILEY: DAR HE (Raleigh Little Theatre, Sept. 19–22)—In one of Wiley's strongest solo performances ever, he plays a series of characters presenting their testimony on the lynching of Emmett Till. Simply put, do not miss it.
RUDE MECHS: NOW NOW OH NOW (Sheafer Theater, Sept. 24–27)—Ever participated in a LARP—live action role playing game? You will when Duke Performances hosts this very unconventional production from Austin, Texas' world-famous theater company.
TAYLOR MAC: THE 1910S (Memorial Hall, Oct. 1–2)—The emcee from PlayMakers' Cabaret is working on an endurance piece: a 24-part marathon documenting 240 years of popular music in the United States. Carolina Performing Arts commissioned the decade we'll hear, compressed into about two hours.
ARTSCENTER STAGE: INTO THE BREACH (The ArtsCenter, Oct. 10–19)—True tale: All of the schoolboys in one historic 1913 production of Henry V in Stratford-upon-Avon fought several years later in World War I. In Ian Bowater's new play, the group meets again on no man's land—and endeavors to put on a show.
DUKE THEATER STUDIES: THE PERFECT DETONATOR (Sheafer Theater, Nov. 13–23)—The themes of terrorism and anarchism in Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent inspired Alfred Hitchcock—and Unibomber Ted Kaczynski. Jodi McAuliffe directs her own adaptation.
MANBITES DOG THEATER: I AND YOU (Manbites Dog Theater, Dec. 4–20)—After Manbites' no-brainer season opener—a September revival of The Best of Enemies—two high-schoolers confront alienation, mortality and each other during a homework assignment on Leaves of Grass in this 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award-winner.
LITTLE GREEN PIG THEATRICAL CONCERN: THE KRAFTWERK PROJECT (305 Dillard, Dec. 4–20)—Yes, we want to see hmlt, Little Green Pig's minimalist take on Hamlet in September, but a new theater/dance piece based on the essential German electronic band should give the holidays a little extra fahrvergnügen.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Dramatic departures"