Developing a season that will entertain audiences with a variety of shows can prove challenging for a community theater company. Depending on how many shows a troupe performs in a given season and the talent available in the community, a good mix of dramas, comedies and musicals is usually the key to overall success.
The old adage states “comedies make you money; dramas grow your audience.” Add musicals to the money-making list. One community theater company near Dallas is using its main stage exclusively for musicals. The three straight plays the company produced each year were moved to the facility’s second stage, which they shared with children’s productions.
So, in the spirit of community, here’s a suggested 10-show season of variety that is sure to fill seats and keep your platinum-level ticketing and association management software operating to its fullest capacity. The season is split between musicals and straight plays, with recommendations coming from four sources:
- The Theatre Communications Group’s list of the 10 most-produced plays of the 2017-18 season.
- The Acting Life’s top 10 most family friendly musicals.
Cue the orchestra -- lift the curtain:
- “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” by Mary Lynn Dobson. Kick off the season by giving the audience a comedic look backstage – or in this case, in a van owned by an aging hippie who is a tiny theater company’s tech master. The stars are the stage managers, tech crews, ticket takers…the people the audience doesn’t see who make sure the show goes on.
- “Chess” by Benny Anderson, Richard Nelson, Tim Rice and Bjorn Ulvaeus. The first and last names on the playwrights list happen to be the two B’s of ABBA, so you know you can take a chance on this musical. Filled with Cold War tensions, romantic rivalries and hit songs (“One Night in Bangkok”), this show provides opportunities for the strongest vocalists – especially men – in your company and is a crowd-pleaser.
- “On Golden Pond” by Ernest Thompson. The classic tale of a long-married couple who spend each summer at their home, which is on Golden Pond. Cantankerous Norman, who is not in the best of health, and stoic, good-hearted Ethel interact with their daughter, her fiancé and his 13-year-old son, who develops an interesting friendship with Norman.
- “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. This is the go-to Christmas show – produced 42 times by Theatre Communications Group member companies in 2017, according to the organization, and countless times by non-member companies. The story of curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge and his interactions with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future is one to which very few audiences can say “Bah, Humbug.”
- “The Sound of Music” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This musical has roles for men, women, boys and girls of all singing and acting levels, as well as some well-known songs such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Many will remember the movie starring Julie Andrews, or the more recent made-for-TV remake starring Carrie Underwood. The show also serves as a history lesson as the singing Von Trapp family escapes the Nazis in World War II.“Vrooommm!” by Janet Allard. “Steel Magnolias,” but in the 2000s instead of the 1980s, and on the race track, instead of the beauty shop. The six-woman cast tells the story of a fast new NASCAR driver who starts stealing the show, the rival who wants to sabotage her and all the crazy fans who populate the circuit. This might not be the tear-jerker that “Magnolias” is at the end, but it’s a laugh riot and a great workout for the women of your troupe.tlet to feature those youngsters. It could even be a camp show. One of the latest offerings from the Disney kingdom, it tells the mostly true story of the New York newsboy strike at the turn of the 20th century with great songs such as “King of New York.” This requires a large, mostly male, cast.
- “Blood Brothers” by Willy Russell. A more obscure musical, this show follows the lives of two twins, one of who is given up by his birth mother, a cleaning woman, to her childless employer. The boys don’t know their relationship, but become friends and eventually fall in love with the same girl. They die on the same day they discover the truth about each other.
- “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare. The Bard was the most-produced playwright during the 2017-18 season, the Theatre Communications Group found, and “Twelfth Night” was his most-produced play. The story of shipwrecked twins and a very strange love triangle was referenced several times in the movie “Shakespeare in Love.” If your company has the ability to do a “Shakespeare in the Park” production, this would be a good one.
- “Shrek: The Musical” by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire. If you don’t use “Newsies” for your camp/kids show, this will do just fine. The story or the green ogre, his fair(?) Princess Fiona and sidekick Donkey has been entertaining children since the first movie came out in 2001. There are lots of roles for children (and some adults). The musical does retain some of the movie’s off-color humor, but really nothing that would curl anyone’s hair.
Certainly, this writer knows there are hundreds of great options out there, and this fun list only scratches the surface. Ten productions would be an ambitious season for any company, and rights fees could get very expensive. But with grant money, marketing the theater like a business, some fund-raising events and the strong ticket sales that could result, the proceeds should pay for the rights. Here’s to a thriving community arts environment.