"I'M THINKING of starting a dinner theater." No one broke out in hives or hysteria at Norman Aronovic's whimsy. I, for one, knew that a structure, stoves, plates, food and other essentials that only money can buy were needed prior to undertaking such an ambitious venture. And then there was Norman's track record for dealings in the cold, calculating world of business. At age 31, he had opened a Gatorade stand on the balcony of his high-rise apartment. The stand closed two days later. Ridiculous!
Two months after Norman's declaration, the King's Jester opened. We began innocently enough with talk of food, the acquisition of group theater parties and, in Norman's own words, "thought-provoking productions presented in an environment conducive to serious theater-going." (This meant that you ate in one room and watched the play in another.) The food issue was resolved immediately when the artistic director--we drew straws for the position--contributed the brilliant idea that the chef work in the area of food. Acquiring groups would be no problem because someone's mother belonged to a church. As for thought-provoking productions, Norman busied himself negotiating for the rights to "The Little Elephant Is Dead."
Our staff of three divided responsibilities. For example, the patron might be greeted by the same individual who would sell tickets, check coats, serve cocktails and then escort the patron from the dining room into the "environment conducive to serious theater-going."
Accustomed as they were to sitting for five hours in the same seat for dinner and show, not all patrons relished the idea of abandoning their dinner table to search out some long-distance environment professing to harbor a play. Children sulked because they could not play pyramid with the dishes. Some patrons had to be carried. Many refused to sit unless they could fondle food and silverware during the show. More desperate cases were wrapped up in their tablecloths. As talk mounted of installing shackled theater seats for patrons void of willpower, the situation subsided. Familiarity does breed content.
Someone with foresight suggested we should ready a production or two as reward for our weary travelers. Norman, artistic director, headed up the Thought-Provoking Play Selection Committee in hopes of accelerating the realization of his aforementioned dream: the presentation of thought-provoking plays in an environment conducive to . . .
"Frighteningly obnoxious," "a veritable eyesore," "a ship badly in need of drydock repairs" were some of the more positive responses bestowed on our first production, the sex farce "Not Now Darling." Norman's idea, I think, was to make his first few millions fast on this commercial piece of fluff and then invest big bucks in more cerebral, thought-provoking pursuits. I was all for pulling the farce early and substituting "An Evening of Readings," comprised of the 17 memorable "Darling" reviews.
We have made progress. Now going into our fourth season, the King's Jester has a growing number of faithful patrons who enjoy the brief exercise between dinner and the play. The media are showing more interest, especially when we mumble or delete the words "dinner theater." We now have set designers, a business manager and an artist (as in painting). Norman, no longer on the Thought-Provoking Play Selection Committee, is now in charge of Special Events. For an upcoming production of "Julius Caesar," he is hard at work planning a toga party. Roman-attired patrons will be admitted free. A historical exhibition of Italian accomplishments will be displayed in the lobby. Working with a limited budget, Norman has contracted an Italian intepreter for the play. With the $3.47 remaining in the budget, he has managed to rent "Highlights From Popular Art Nouveau Italian Sleepers," which boasts the sneak trailer "Attila The Hun Meets Little Topo Gigio." A sacrificial commemoration consisting of the reenactment of Julius Caesar's death will follow the play. Patrons are encouraged to keep their dinner forks and knives for a mock stabbing of the lead player.