How does Grand Rapids Civic Theatre decide to perform Holes, Ragtime, and Thoroughly Modern Millie? Are shows randomly selected? Do they go through an evaluation process?
Civic Theatre’s Selection Committee is responsible for crafting a selection of plays each season. The Committee consists of actors, board members, staff, and members of the community. Additionally, they seek a variety of input from other theatres, the community, and online to select a season.
We asked Sherryl Despres to shed light on the challenges, timeline, and considerations in selecting a stellar season. Sherryl is currently Co-Chair of Civic’s Selection Committee, Executive Secretary of Civic’s Board, and an actress. She has been a part of the Committee for over ten years and enjoys reading the plays, seeing what is new, and solving the puzzle of putting together a season.
How far in advance does the season selection process start? What is the process for selecting a season?
The process varies as to when it starts and how long it takes. Typically, the Committee will meet once or twice in the Spring, once or twice a month in the fall, and oftentimes weekly leading up to the Board’s approval of the season in December. A couple of years ago, we made it a goal to work on a five year plan of plays we hope to do. This has made parts of the process easier, but still doesn’t help with acquiring the rights to shows. If a professional tour of a show is visiting remotely close to Grand Rapids, they will not grant us permission.
In selecting a season and the shows within, what are some of the key factors that you take into consideration?
- The number of roles available for men and women
- Current events and audience interest
- Schedule and availability — whether we can get the rights from the publishing house
- Diversity in roles and topics
Does being an actress affect how you view season selection? If so, how?
Being an actress doesn’t affect how I view season selection, but it does affect how I visualize how each play will present on our stage. Input from staff is also important as to how feasible it will be to produce — build sets, costumes and props for shows in that timeframe.
What are some of the challenges you face in being on the Selection Committee?
- Season opener that will work during ArtPrize
- Choosing comedies, which are harder to select than dramas because dramas typically appeal to more intense emotions that stand the test of time: love, hate, loss. There are typically more dramas to choose from.
- Getting and keeping the rights to a play. Sometimes we are approved; choose a season, and then the publishing house revokes our rights and we have to choose an alternative
What is a favorite memory you have from the season selection process?
A personal favorite memory is when we wanted to do Ken Ludwig’s “Leading Ladies” in 2007. They weren’t releasing the rights to anyone, so I called the playwright’s manager myself and got them to give us the rights. A favorite memory for the whole Committee was when we were one of four community theaters who were selected to gain the rights to produce Les Miserables in the Spring of 2015. It was an honor.
We announced our 2017-18 season this week and are incredibly excited to bring you these beloved productions in the coming year! The best way to make sure you don’t miss any of our upcoming productions is with a Season Subscription – on sale starting February 24!