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.