For those wondering about the relevance of community theaters in these modern times, Lee Krhenbhl, the new artistic director of the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, has an answer: They're more important than ever.
"Think of it, this is the first generation in which live interaction is an option," he said.
With the nearly ubiquitous use of computers, cell phones, and social networking, some people can go for days without actually speaking to anyone, he said.
"I'm seeing it in my classes more and more. The skills of communicating are atrophying," said Krhenbhl, who holds a doctorate in theater from the University of Oregon and is on the adjunct Communication faculty at Mercy College of Northwest Ohio and Monroe County Community College
Stage productions engage the audience on a one-to-one basis. Each person will have a unique reaction to what's going on in front of them.
"The beauty of live theater is that it's never a finished product," Krhenbhl said. With humans in the roles, the audience will see a different show every time, no matter how well the cast knows its lines. Timing and body language can change, and even mistakes - and recovery - by a performer can engage an audience much more than a filmed performance.
As artistic director, Krhenbhl is taking over a job vacated by Gloria Moulopoulos, who retired earlier this year. That's a pretty big act to follow, he acknowledges.
"For the last eight years, the answer to most questions [at the Rep] has been 'Ask Gloria.' I want to put procedures in place to follow so that more than one person knows how to do things."
He'll be working on that goal during the Rep's "Season of Smiles," which is heavy on light-hearted shows.
"One of the challenges of community theater is to balance what we feel are important shows with what the audience is willing to see," he said. In these tough times, the theater's play-selection committee decided that fun was in order.
Thus, it opened the season Friday with Hats! The Musical, a tribute to the Red Hat Society and all women of a certain age. Even though it's fun and occasionally frivolous, the show is not without its edge, Krhenbhl says. "It deals with the kinds of issues that women in the second half of life are dealing with, whether they embrace those issues or not."
Also on the Rep's schedule are Rupert Holmes' comedic whodunit, Accomplice!; the traditional production of A Christmas Carol; Ken Ludwig's gender-bending farce Leading Ladies; Auntie Mame, and a major production of Victor/Victoria, which will be presented at Owens Community College, which has a stage big enough to handle the elaborate sets.
For those craving a little more drama in their lives, the EdgyRep Reading series offers one-night minimalist presentations of Edward Albee's The Man Who Had Three Arms, which explores the meaning of celebrity; David Harrower's Blackbird, about the meeting between a criminal and his
victim 15 years after the crime; and Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner, which considers the place of artists and intellectuals in politically repressive times.
Also doing a lot of smiling (with a touch more drama) will be another of Toledo's long-established community theaters, the Village Players. It opened the season Friday with Squabbles, a comedy about a couple whose lives take an unexpected twist when her father and his mother move in. Squabbles will be followed by Murder Among Friends, a comedy/mystery about an aging actor, his rich wife, and an agent who loves them both; The Melville Boys, a gentle look at family, life, and valuing those around you; Third, Wendy Wasserstein's drama about a college professor who accuses a student of plagiarism; and the classic musical The Fantasticks.
As for professional shows, Theater League will save the best (or at least the most anticipated) for last this season. The multiple-Tony Award-winning Wicked, based on Gregory Maguire's book about the villainess of The Wizard of Oz, will settle in for a three-week run in the Stranahan Theater on March 31.
Preceding it are three shows making their Toledo debuts: The Wedding Singer, based on the 1998 Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore movie; The Drowsy Chaperone, which deals with an agoraphobic fan of Broadway musicals; and The Rat Pack is Back, a celebration of the life and times of Frank Sinatra and his cronies.
One thing that's missing from this year's production list: the old standards. Theaters are working hard to find and present newer productions to please their audiences. For every Fiddler on the Roof (Oregon Community Theatre, Nov. 6-14) or The Odd Couple (Fort Findlay Playhouse, March 11-20), there will be a Burning Patience (Bowling Green State University, Oct. 1-4) or The Santaland Diaries (Glacity Theatre Collective, Nov. 27-Dec. 14).
With such variety, theatergoers will face some tough choices this season.
What a wonderful problem to have.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6130.