For years, TFA and the GMU theater department shared space on the GMU campus. What started as a good thing — the growth of the GMU theater, opera and music departments — became a competition for performance venues on campus. TFA conceded the space to GMU performing arts productions and moved to locations downtown. But the rental fee of those spaces combined with low ticket sales resulted in TFA’s missing all of its financial targets for the season.
TFA held productions on two stages at the Atlas Performing Arts Center and at the Lansburgh Theatre of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, “and we fell far short of our goal there,” Murray said. “We were hoping the cachet of [STC] and accessibility to the Metro would draw people in, and it didn’t.”
In December, Davis said, “we came to the conclusion that we should probably reinvent this because it was [fiscally] not sustainable.”
Murray said the past season was one of TFA’s most ambitious. “A theater that’s dedicated to producing mostly new work with unfamiliar titles is an uphill battle to begin with. No one had heard of any of our plays until we produced them.”
As GMU’s theater company in residence, TFA enjoyed university-provided office space and marketing but had to raise all its production money independently. As funds grew scarce, Murray said, “we didn’t want to scale that back and start doing what we were known for doing on a lesser scale.”
Theater at Mason, he said, will be “a brand-new model. It’s a matter of taking the resources that we’ve built up and trying to apply some of those resources to enhance the student program. We’re not trying to emulate the TFA production model on these student organizations. That would just put us right back where we were financially.”
Davis hopes Theater at Mason can “become an organizing principle for the idea of a professional theater ethos guided by professional theater artists in a liberal university context.”
“Galileo,” Davis said, is “a test case. It’s the first production under this new banner.” Davis is directing, the design team is made up entirely of professionals, and one equity guest artist will play Galileo. The rest of the cast consists of 22 students.
The sweet smell of success
Ask Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer whether he expected “Really Really,” a play about the collision of alcohol, sex, assault and entitlement on a college campus, to be a hit, and his short answer will be no.