Open rehearsals, Version 2.0: Last month, Woolly Mammoth skated onto thin ice by announcing a plan to let a limited number of visitors into rehearsals for “Civilization (All You Can Eat)” that they could Tweet about. Playwright Jason Grote hadn’t signed off on the idea, and was more than a little skeptical about letting outsiders into a realm that is generally roped off for artists at work.
As theaters explore new methods of turning people on to the product, spectators are connecting and sometimes finding their way backstage in a number of new ways. “We’re trying to develop a whole toolbox of real or technological tools,” says Miriam Weisfeld, Woolly’s director of artistic development.
Woolly’s “Tweet Up!” scheme was perhaps the most adventuresome and high-tech method of letting outsiders in, but Round House, Forum Theatre, Signature Theatre and Arena Stage are also among the companies opening their doors before opening night.
At Arena and Signature, seminars are the mode. Arena’s Theatre 101 is a $100, eight-session course that allows up to 50 people into everything from design presentations to conversations with the artistic team, culminating in tickets to the show. (The seminar cost is $50 for participants under age 30.) The idea came from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, where the goal was to show the business of producing new plays.
Arena ran the program for the new dramas “every tongue confess” and “The Book Club Play,” and this spring will offer controlled glimpses of “The Music Man” in a seminar that’s already fully subscribed.
“We’ve found real fascination with how this animal works,” says Artistic Director Molly Smith.
It must be true: Tuition is $300 for Signature Theatre’s “ ‘Brother Russia’ Presents,” which gets students a six-part look at the new musical by John Dempsey and Dana Rowe (”The Witches of Eastwick”). It even includes a Critics Corner after the final dress rehearsal, where participants can critique what they’ve seen.
“That’s not my favorite part,” says Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, who is directing the show.
Smith and Schaeffer say there’s little or no profit in the seminars (a refinement of donor-attended rehearsals that are widely offered as perks for supporters), but the goal is to get people in, open eyes and build loyalty. “Over four weeks, they become cheerleaders for us,” Schaeffer says. “And they have a stronger appreciation for what it takes to put on a new musical.”
That’s the hope, of course, behind any open rehearsal, an old practice more common among symphonies, dance companies, and in Europe. Even where the access is free, it’s not always clear what this door-opening means for the traditionally vaunted Sacred Space that is the rehearsal hall.