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April 14, 2009


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amen sister. this shit is gettin' booooooriiiiiiing.


Something that's really important to note: there's almost no excuse for this anymore. The ability to find out who is doing what has grown exponentially in the past years; it's harder for a company to shrug and say "Well, I hadn't heard that this company across town was doing the same thing."

As I recall, collisions like this are part of why Messrs. Granata and Keenan started the CTDB project...


My impression of myself last night:

(Ed sits staring at his computer screen for several seconds.)

Ed: They're going to think we're idiots.

(shrugs, sighs, hits 'send')


This is probably going to be maddening to some, but ... I suspect that people might be completely aware of other theatre companies producing their show, but don't give a rat's arse. They think that they'll do the version that nobody's seen before with better acting, better directing, better production value, better venue, etc than the other theatre company. Don't think you haven't thought that, artistic directors. (Adam Thurman's recent blog was, chillingly, dead on.) OR... which has happened to us in the past ... you announce your season after keeping everything secret and another company announces their season on the tail end of your announcement, also keeping their season secret ... and you have the same show.

I do think the data base will help. Thank you, Dan and Nick and all the others making it happen.

It's been disappointing to see company's season announcements recently and realize that several of the shows have been on the short GreyZelda list for a couple of years but ... them's the breaks. Just have to put our noses to the reading grindstone s'more.

Great entry, Kris.


In our case, we didn't find out about the conflict until after we'd picked the show as the result of a pretty lengthy and rigorous season selection process, applied for the rights, and announced our season to our patrons (which preceded the press release by a few weeks). It's unfortunate to be somewhat in competition with a company that I consider to be friends of mine (and I look forward to seeing their production), but at least we aren't simultaneous. I know enough about their aesthetic and ours to be positive that both productions will be well done, valid renditions that are quite different from each other. Would we be doing "The Fantasticks" next season if we'd found out three months ago that Porchlight was also doing it? Probably not. Though we would still do it eventually- despite its initial appearance as something of a staid, safe choice, it actually is in excellent service of our mission and we're very excited about it. I consider "The Fantasticks" to be sort of the "Our Town" of musicals- i.e., the show that everyone forgets is awesome and truthful because of how many bad sentimental high school productions they've seen. Which doesn't mean we'll be frying bacon in our production. Not necessarily, anyway.

p.s.- but Kris, don't fret about "The Illusion." We did better business and reached a larger audience for that than any other show we've done. The Jeff Recommendation probably helped. Lord knows the time slot did us no favors!


Drats, there goes our season of Desire Under the Elms, Proof, and True West.


I know enough about their aesthetic and ours to be positive that both productions will be well done, valid renditions that are quite different from each other.

I don't think that's really the issue, though...no matter how aesthetically different or well-produced multiple productions of the same play in the same season are, both productions have an uphill struggle to contend with for audience and for that nasty boggart of preconceived notions.

There are people who will rent both Olivier's Henry V and Branagh's, and then watch them one after the other, but I don't think that's a majority of people.

Who this ends up hurting, of course, are the smaller theaters...an audience will flock to the larger space, the more recognizable names, and the higher ticket price for the same show that a smaller company might actually be doing a better job producing.


I appear to contradict myself...I should clarify that I think the conflict becomes more pronounced depending on the relative size of the two producing theaters. Two theaters of similar size are locked in close combat for audience; if one theater is significantly larger and better funded, then that theater has less of a struggle.

Alma Cerda

Here's a season for you, tentatively entitled "Chicago Heights," made up of Chicago-based playwrights I love:

Mia McCullough: "Chagrin Falls"
David Barr III: commission a new ensemble piece
Jeffrey Sweet: "The Substance of Names"
Lydia Diamond: anything, really
Jon Steinhagen: "Sexposure" (play) or "Inferno Beach" (musical)

It's been over 10 years since the Sweet and Steinhagen titles were seen, I believe; almost that long for the McCullough play. Better yet, can't some canny producer spring for the rights to a few novels/stories and commission them to do some adaptations? Or start a theater collective wherein Chicago playwrights (not just the five mentioned, but several) are asked to create plays or musicals inspired by contemporary themes/stories?

Or maybe I have too much time on my hands. Ah well. Pipe dreams.

Guess I'd better purchase my "Twelfth Night" tickets...

Kerry Reid

Despite the fact that there have been approximately twenty gajillion productions of "The Last Five Years" in, well, the last five years, I have not seen it. Go figure.

(But that's not a hint for somebody to produce it.)


I can't speak for everyone, but it would be fair to say that Court's choice of the Illusion was driven by:

1. The desire to continue the Newell/Kushner pairing after Caroline

2. Our audiences desire to see a bit of French Baroque and some comedy.

You put those desires together and out springs Illusion.


I think a lot also has to do with the fact that relatively few artists read a lot of plays. The works taught in college tends to stay pretty close to home. So folks only seem to know the same set of plays.

I don't necessarily think there's any intentional malice; however, lack of time, and access (and sometimes interest) in reading unknown writers keeps the pool of writers seasons are chosen from pretty small.

Matthew Reeder

My, this hits close to the bone.

At BackStage Theatre Company, we are about to open "On An Average Day," by John Kolvenbach. It is the second production of the play in six months.

I chose it for very specific reasons. 1.) It fit our mission like a glove, 2) was a perfect counterpart to another show in our season, and 3) until 6 months ago, was a Chicago premiere by a still relatively unknown playwright who, I believed, warranted some attention.

So, we finalized the rest of the season, applied for the rights, handed out press releases, cashed in our marketing budget and printed the brochures. Not a week after the brochures were sent out (with "Chicago Premiere" in beautiful bold typeface above the title) a new theatre company from LA (with decidedly more money to spend) sweeps into the city and lays claim to a Chicago Stage . . . bringing Kolvenbach's play in tow. They produced it quickly, with decent acclaim . . . yanking the "premiere" away from us (sniff sniff) and leaving us to try and figure out what the hell to do.

Ultimately, we stuck with the play because (with our limited resources) we had already set it in motion, but even more so because we wanted to preserve the integrity of the selection process as it relates to our mission. It is the right show for our company and it tells a piece of the wider story that we were trying to tell with our season. We decided that, in the context of our season, this show (even though produced less than six months ago) still had a compelling voice to add to the dialogue in which we were trying to engage with our growing audience.

Sometimes, a company's best efforts still cannot prevent two productions from crashing headlong into the other.


What a timely post. I was just telling one of the directors I work for about the shows I'm currently doing, and as one title passed my lips he said, "hey, we're doing that show this summer."

So if I get THAT gig...I get the cool challenge of designing the same show twice, and trying to find a whole new approach for the second go-round.

Which oughta be fun.


A lot of the issues also comes from those who give the rights and the odd way they decide who gets them and where they can produced. We all try to put out there our season as fast as we can and that doesn't even help. Why bother setting it out there within the PerformInk only to see a few months later another company has also secured the right and are now opening before you. Did they even read that you'd planned it for the Spring of that same year? Plus - as you well know with audiences the way they are, it's hard to bank the entire longevity of your company on a show that is either new or not known.

I believe that, at least in my experience, AD's look to see when it was last produced before picking their season. When OEP did Assassins it had been years. It took a year to get it accepted to Storefront. The planning was over a year out securing rights, design teams, casting... We had no knowledge that Porchlight was thinking of putting it their same season. We're not on the same radar, our AD's didn't know each other, and in the end we both produced it.

You justify it by saying that you're not competing for the same audiences (if you're a storefront vs say Court) and hope that the critics keep the budgets in mind when reviewing. That you should be reviewed on your production, not some larger company's vision of the same piece. But, it is frustrating when you find the perfect piece for your ensemble, your mission, and your budget only to find out that New York has decided to put that play on hold...or that two other theater companies thought the same thing.


...and another thing! Ubu Raw by Defiant (RIP) RULED! :D

Mark Jeffries

Of course, Sara was lucky enough to be in the same role in *both* OEP and Porchlight's productions of "Assassins" and get a Jeff out of it as well--but I was saying when the Porchlight opened that it didn't need to be done for a while now.

And OT but--folks, don't you want Sara to play Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) in "Animal Crackers" at the Goodman? I do.

Kris Vire

Just to be perfectly clear, this post was meant fondly; I hope it's been clear in everything I've written about this issue over the years that I don't think any one company is trying to maliciously undercut another with duplicate productions. I think much of the problem (outside of the public-domain classics) goes back to the licensing houses' misunderstanding of the Chicago theater biosystem.

But for those who don't follow my Twitter stream (and there's no need to start if you don't), I'll point out here what I noted there last week, after I submitted this week's theater listings to TOC's chief copy editor. She IM'ed me back: "So, just checking, there are two companies producing Old Times this week?" Sigh. Yes.


Hey Kris- Understood. Don't sweat it. Mark- I'd love to see her play that, plus just about anything else she wants.


...perfectly clear. ;) 'cept the Ubu Raw statement *glares shaking fist*

Terry McCabe

Oh please. There are well over 200 theatre companies in and around Chicago, which means there are easily between 750 and 1000 productions each year. Your complaint is that there is a handful of cases where there are some good plays being done twice? [And the Frankenstein example doesn't even count: BoHo's doing Barbara Field's play PLAYING WITH FIRE, which takes place *after* the events of the novel, though it flashes back to some of them; it is not the same play as Sean Graney's adaptation of the book to be done by The Hypocrites.] As for OLD TIMES, spare me your sighs. Over here at City Lit, we have had several audience members tell us that they are planning on seeing both our production and the Remy Bumppo one, so that they can compare the two. OLD TIMES is about ambiguity; if there is a play that can be profitably seen in two different interpretations, this is it. The overlapping City Lit and Remy Bumppo productions are an opportunity, not a problem, for audiences.

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  • Kris Vire
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