Williamstown Theatre Festival Touts Record Season
Ten Cents a Dance Closes August 28
By: Charles Giuliano - Aug 22, 2011
There is no question that the first season of Williamstown Theatre Festival's artistic director Jenny Gersten has done well at the box office. In the release excerpted below WTF announces that its sales for August are double what they were in August last year. Overall they are stating attendance at some 44,000.
Which is terrific. Congratulations.
The WTF season winds down this week with the closing of Ten Cents a Dance on Sunday, August 28.
The WTF board will undoubtedly be pleased with the impressive bottom line.
If money were all that mattered this would be an unqualified success.
Let us hope that board members also read the reviews which have been sharply diverse and wildly divided. Productions which some critics have praised have been trashed and panned by others.
Curiously, some of the most glowing reviews have been posted by the New York Times, the Boston Globe and, on a couple but not all occasions, The Berkshire Eagle.
To counteract the mostly negative reviews by local and on line reviewers WTF has made a habit of plastering the lobby with billboard scaled blowups of the Times and Globe reviews. As well as one from the Albany Times Union. But Not the Eagle. Insiders regard that as a snub and signifier of Gersten’s and WTF’s fixation on praise from New York and Boston.
If you listen to word of mouth, or posted comments to on line sites, a number of patrons who have bought tickets for Ten Cents Dance based on those glowing reviews and aggressive marketing have come away disappointed.
To make a case on behalf of WTF it departed from tradition in the smaller Nikos Stage by not just presenting new plays. There were revivals of such classics as Streetcar Named Desire and A Doll’s House. Both productions strove for fresh new interpretations. As we have noted the critical responses have been all over the map.
Ironically the strongest production on the Nikos Stage was its last You Better Sit Down: tales from my parents’ divorce. It was an independent work by the New York based conceptual, multi media company The Civilians. It had a very short run. Prior to the season it was presented as “not for review.” That changed later but after critics had filled in busy schedules. Then there was another late switch and it opened in conflict with The Game at Barrington Stage. Critics had to choose one or the other. By rescheduling we managed to see and review both plays. The Boston Globe critic cancelled The Game to cover WTF. While The Advocate’s critic passed on WTF.
While WTF sold twice as many tickets this August, compared to last year, do not imply by this that the plays were twice as good. Nicholas Martin, in his final year of a three year contract, on an aesthetic level had a triumphant program. The Gersten season was at best ambitious but unfocused. The production values often were more notable than the selection of plays and their performances. It is not reassuring that a lot of the critical dialogue has been focused on the sets.
While the Times, Globe and Eagle raved about Ten Cents a Dance the consensus opinion would be that it lagged behind the success of other Berkshire based musicals.
In Pittsfield audiences were treated early in the season with killer revivals of Guys and Dolls at Barrington Stage and Tommy, starring Randy Harrison, at The Colonial Theatre. There were mixed responses to The Game now running at Barrington Stage. By any reasonable critical standard Ten Cents a Dance would finish last in the field of four musicals.
Overall, with an uneven season, WTF has been knocked out of its top tier position among the four major theatre companies. The honor of pole position is a neck and neck battle between Barrington Stage and the newly formed Berkshire Theatre Group.
Shakespeare & Company continues to struggle with mixed programming and the lack of a cohesive development, marketing and pr strategy. The company policy is to have its staff actors double up with administrative posts. This continues to impede its progess in the challenge to retire debt.
For informed observers there is no question that there has been a reshuffling of the deck in the Berkshire Theatre community.
It will be an interesting winter as the companies make plans, revive strategies, and cope with the head wind of a tough economy and stiff competition.
Already Barrington Stage is first out of the box announcing plans to open its 2012 season with a revival of the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof. Any tickets it sells will be money in the bank during the long, cold, off season.
What follows is the press release from WTF.
WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL CLOSES THE RECORD BREAKING 2011 SEASON
In the final week of the 2011 season, Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) celebrates a summer of incredible artists and audiences.
This season, WTF presented three productions on the Main Stage including Jon Robin Baitz’s Three Hotels, the Nicholas Martin directed She Stoops to Conquer, and the American premiere of John Doyle’s Ten Cents a Dance. On the Nikos Stage, WTF presented the David Cromer directed A Streetcar Named Desire, Lewis Black’s One Slight Hitch, the Sam Gold directed A Doll’s House, the East Coast premiere of Bess Wohl’s Touch(ed), and The Civilians’ You Better Sit Down: tales from my parents’ divorce.
In addition to these productions, 188 public performances including Free Theatre, Fridays @ 3, SITSTANDWALKLIEDOWN, and dozens of productions created by WTF’s workshop program of directing and design interns, apprentices, and non-Equity actors entertained the Williamstown audience.
2011 August sales are double that of August 2010, and on August 16 the box office reported a record day of sales for this year, beating the typical watermark of Box Office opening day in June. The success of Ten Cents a Dance is certainly contributing to the local economy, as WTF has heard anecdotally that hotel occupancy and restaurant business is up this month. WTF is proud to have supported the Berkshires community by bringing nearly 40,000 audience members from 44 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom while they attended the work of 412 members of the WTF Company including staff, apprentices, and artists!
There is still one week left to catch Ten Cents a Dance, closing the 2011 season on the Main Stage on August 28.