Olney Theatre to offer nine plays in three ‘mini-seasons’ next year


Alex Zavistovich in Molotov Theatre Group’s production of “Extremities.” (Courtesy Molotov Theatre Group)
October 8, 2013

Jason Loewith, Olney Theatre Center artistic director, has a plan. It is “either a brilliant idea or a disaster in the making,” he said. “We’ll see!”

The game plan: Instead of a traditional season for 2014, Olney will offer three “mini-seasons” with three productions in each. Next year will see the Contemporary Series (“Avenue Q,” “Colossal,” “I and You”), the Family Series (“Once on This Island,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Tempest”) and the Classic Series (“The Piano Lesson,” “Awake and Sing!,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”).

Patrons can subscribe to one mini-season, or subscribe to every single show, or put together a “pick your own” season made of any three plays of their choosing. It’s like Chop’t, with smarter punctuation.

Last year, Olney’s season included six productions; this year’s season had eight. The increase to nine for 2014 came from a desire to have “each patron who was a member here be here three times a year,” Loewith said. “You don’t want people to go too long without coming to the space if you want it to be their cultural home.”

So far, so good? “We’re already ahead of where we were last year for subscriptions, and we haven’t even sent out a mailing,” he said. “And in part that’s due to the fact that we’re making it easier for people to find the things that they like. Amazon does it. Netflix does it. Why doesn’t theater do it?”

The subscription model — whereby you sign up for every play in a theater’s season to obtain the benefits of membership, such as early access to tickets and special events — is an old one and, said Loewith, “I think we all recognize that the subscription model is failing. We’ve known this for 15 years.”

“The idea of trying to sell the same slate of plays to that wide an audience is mind-numbingly stupid, I think,” he said.

Olney funding, he said, “isn’t segregated,” so profits from, say, “The Little Mermaid” can be put toward next year’s Contemporary Series budget. “Everything we do pays for everything else.”

Don’t take it personally, theater people, but this isn’t really about you. “We’re also aiming at people who don’t go to the theater regularly, who aren’t culture vultures,” Loewith said. “We’re aiming at those people by saying: You only need to commit to three shows in a year.

“I feel like we’ve opened the door to a lot of people who otherwise would never” subscribe, he said.

Loewith has one major concern, and it extends beyond theater and into the way we all self-curate the culture (and news, music, and on and on) we consume: “What does it mean if the public square is shrinking because we have the ability to shrink it ourselves? That worries me, no doubt. Which is why I want to make sure that each of our series has variety and challenges people.”

But Loewith insisted that theater, which “is already a backwards-enough art form,” cannot afford to feign obliviousness of the shift in how people obtain information and experience art.

“We’d be a little bit ridiculous to not look at the fact that you can aggregate your news the way you want to, your TV content the way you want to, only ever watch what you’re interested in watching. Americans are consuming more culture now than they ever have, but they’re also choosing what culture to consume with greater and greater specificity, and we can’t ignore that.”

Olney Theatre Center is at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md., www.olneytheatre.org, 301-924-4485.

The horror, the horror . . .

Molotov Theatre Grouprecently announced a rebranding campaign: an effort at changing the way the bloodiest theater in town is perceived by the public. This upcoming season will be the first to be steered entirely under this new vision and semi-new management (Michael Wright, ­co-artistic director, signed on in September 2012).

“Where Molotov traditionally was focused on more of the classic Grand Guignol style, with this new direction, we’re trying to take contemporary plays and apply the aesthetic to it,” Wright said. “So there are moments of horror throughout every show.”

The first show of the season, “Extremities,” is about an attempted rape and its aftermath, both for the victim and the person who assaulted her. “Part of the Grand Guignol is, it’s about the human monster,” Wright said. “The horror isn’t always a werewolf or a Dracula. It’s more: What are we all capable of? When I decided I wanted to direct this play . . . I didn’t want it to be a play about rape. I was more interested in — obviously the man who is the attacker in this play is kind of a human monster. What would it take to transform a perfectly normal person into what a monster is capable of?”

See, now you’ve got something to fill that “Mr. Chips-to-Scarface” void. “There’s a dark side in all of us,” Wright said. “And when we’re all pushed to extreme stresses, the way we respond and react to those stresses can be as violent as someone who is clearly a monster.”

Alex Zavistovich, co-artistic director and Molotov founder, is co-starring in the production and working on effects and fight choreography, a level of multitasking he admits is “all-consuming. . . . But the ensemble helps each other.”

“Extremities,” said Wright, keeps to “one of the key elements of the Molotov manifesto: There is always a moment of horror. And this play starts with an attack, a rape. So that would be the first moment of horror. And as the play unfolds, it becomes clear that maybe that’s not the only moment of horror that we’re going to experience in this play.”

Bring your kids! (Or leave them at home, I guess.)

“We’re trying to push the boundaries of what theater is in this town,” Wright said. “We want to be the guys who [get] people saying, ‘Did you see what Molotov did?’ ”

Thursday through Nov. 3 at D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW, www.molotovtheatregroup.org, 703-624-6616.

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