Theater Commentary: Stages Search for a New Balance

By Bill Marx

Kate Warner, the New Rep's new artistic direction, wants to strike a new balance.
Kate Warner, the New Rep’s new Artistic Director, wants to strike a new balance.

WGBH’s Jared Bowen is more of a publicist/fan than a journalist, but his recent “Greater Boston” interview with Kate Warner, the new Artistic Director of the New Repertory Theatre, gives the honcho a chance to talk about some of the strategies mainstream companies are cooking up — under the rubric of “balance” — in their efforts to cultivate younger and more diverse audiences.

So far, Warner’s approaches to the challenge of “making it fresh” sound somewhat halfhearted, but economic necessities will propel more courageous and innovative thinking. According to Warner, theaters around the country are taking a 18% to 40% hit in their revenues. A chunk of these vanishing theatergoers are not coming back, though no doubt there will be crackerjack productions of Neil Simon in nursing homes for the die hard.

The upcoming season, as described by Warner, leans toward reassuring the older contingency. A current fad appears to be updating Gilbert and Sullivan (classics refurbished), what with New Rep’s “Hot Mikado” following on the heels of “Pirates” at the Huntington Theatre Company. I am curious about how Warner directs “Mister Roberts,” an olde Broadway hit with name recognition that isn’t produced often enough to be called a chestnut. Still, “Indulgences” and “Opus” are welcome newbies on the main stage and there is a New England premiere in New Rep’s Black Box theater.

Expect to hear more PR rhetoric from artistic directors about turning theater productions into “events” and renovating the experience of going to a play; it’s the price that must be paid for the healthy scramble to come up with productions that appeal to generations that have not got into the habit of going to the theater.

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