Duplication of plays is a tiresome trend

When I heard that Central Kentucky was going to get a production of Tracy Letts’ 2008 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County in the 2011-12 arts season, I was excited … the first time it was announced.

That was the University of Kentucky Theatre’s ­production, scheduled for February and ­directed by former Actors Guild of Lexington artistic chief Vic Chaney.

Then, Kentucky ­Conservatory Theatre/SummerFest announced it was going to mount its first indoor, school-year performance … of August: Osage County.

I am by no means ­suggesting that this ­production, which opens Thursday, will be a letdown. It is being directed by the dean of Lexington theater directors, Joe Ferrell, features an all-star cast of Lexington actors and an innovative set design. On paper, this is a great production.

And I am not trying to suggest that anyone was ­trying to bigfoot anyone with these productions – when this happens, it’s not always clear who had dibs on the show.

But I will say ­without ­reservation that it is ­indicative of a tiresome trend: multiple theaters in Central Kentucky putting up productions of the same show within a relatively short period.

Earlier this year, we had Bluegrass ­Community and Technical College ­Theater and Actors Guild of ­Lexington co-producing The Rocky Horror Show, closely followed by SummerFest presenting The Rocky Horror Show. A little later this fall, Project SEE Theatre and Transylvania ­University will present John Cariani’s ­Almost, Maine, a show The Woodford Theatre already has scheduled for early next year.

Seeing so much duplication makes me ask: Are there so few published plays ­available that theaters think they have no choice but to program the same show another company is already presenting?

In one way, the duplicate shows can give interested theater fans a chance to ­compare and contrast the approaches of two ­productions — in ­moderation.

Anyone who ran down to Danville this summer for Pioneer Playhouse’s The 39 Steps saw a very ­different production from Studio Players’ version, which closes Sunday. I am not complaining so much about that overlap; I really don’t think there’s much crossover in Pioneer Playhouse’s and Studio’s audiences.

But in the case of these other theaters, I see the same people in the ­audiences for their shows, and they are the people who I think are being shortchanged by the dual productions.

During the past year, we had six productions and three missed ­opportunities for theaters to give the Central Kentucky ­audience a richer experience by ­exploring different scripts and by bringing a greater variety of shows to the Bluegrass. Also, dual productions can create tension or at least the perception of tension.

So, it would be nice if we tried this: We all know directors and producers get joneses to do certain scripts that really speak to them. And that’s good. Passion is good — great, even.

But if you program a show, take a look at other theaters in the immediate area. If somebody else has scheduled it, let it go for a few years. Find another outstanding script and put up a great production of that play.

Really, there are a lot of scripts out there.

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