In Hamlet, the titular character says: "More relative than this, the play's the thing. Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."
After what was a record for season ticket sales for its 2010-2011 season, Boise Contemporary Theater opens 2011-2012 on Wednesday, Sept. 7, with a schedule that could well incorporate Hamlet's sentiment as a mission statement. It would, however, have to be modified slightly to include "more plays in one season than ever before's the thing" and something about how the theater company hopes to capture the collective consciousness of its patrons by offering more world premieres, the return of popular playwrights and a program designed to let young playwrights see their creations writ large.
For the first time, BCT will stage six plays instead of the usual four. Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark explained that two additional plays, which the company refers to as add-ons, will "bookend" the other plays. Along with the children's reading series, the 5x5 reading series, the music series and the new BCT Theater Lab for students, any additional performances seem like an exercise in near-insanity. Clark admits that he is looking at an incredibly busy season, adding that there is a simple reason why the company chose to include the add-ons.
"We had a great year last year, not only from an artistic perspective in terms of the kind of new and challenging work we were doing, but more people were coming," Clark said.
BCT temporarily dropped season ticket prices to $99 for four shows and sold far more season tickets than ever before. And when BCT asked its patrons at the end of the 2010-2011 season (in which three out of the four plays were world premieres) what they wanted out of 2011-2012, the company was able to deliver.
"We did some surveying during the last show last year," Clark said. "One of the common comments we got from people was, 'We want more. We want to see more plays.'"
Clark was happy to oblige but knew it had to be done in such a way that he didn't send the entire BCT cast and crew into fatigue-caused comas.
The first add-on, which opens the season, is the world premiere of Dwayne Blackaller's Re/fraction. BCT patrons will remember Blackaller, who is now an associate artist at BCT, as Peter in last season's The Pavilion. Clark said Re/fraction is more of a "workshop production" with a short rehearsal period and a very short run of only three performances. In Re/fraction, Dexter suddenly has no feeling in his thumb. He turns to his dental hygienist, Chelsea, the one person he feels he can talk to, for help.
"This play cracks at certain points and the truth leaks out in interesting ways," Clark said. "And it's also about Macbeth," he added enigmatically.
The second add-on, which closes the season, is award-winning playwright Andrea Caban's Questions My Mother Can't Answer, much of which was written in Boise while Caban was here playing the part of the narrator in The Pavilion. In Questions, Caban stars as a woman who, after being hit by a cab in New York City, interviews eight women--including "a sexy Moroccan ballroom dancer" and "a donations-only prostitute"--in a search for "inspiration and guidance."
In between Re/fraction and Questions, audiences will see four more productions that explore the human condition, a signature of BCT's programming.
Shipwrecked! by Donald Margulies is the fantastical 19th century story of French-born Louis de Rougemont--the full name of the play is Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself).
De Rougemont regales the audience with his tales of "the high seas, populated by exotic islanders, flying wombats, giant sea turtles and a monstrous man-eating octopus" in a play that makes the line between fact and fiction difficult to discern.
Idaho's own Samuel D. Hunter returns to Boise on the heels of his acclaimed Norway and A Bright New Boise with an as-yet untitled piece commissioned by BCT. Clark wanted to leave most of the details for opening night but revealed that the story is about a man who returns to his childhood home to find that his mother has painted everything white--even boxes and cans of food. Untitled might be an apropos title for this one.
Rajiv Joseph, whose Animals Out of Paper was staged at BCT in 2009, brings Gruesome Playground Injuries in which two 8 year olds meet in the nurse's office. The play follows them through the "bumps and bruises" of the next 30 years.
Closing the season is Off The Record, Lynn Allison's play that opens with an attractive senator sitting across from an undercover cop who arrested him in an airport bathroom. Off The Record was hugely popular during BCT's 2010-2011 5x5 reading series, and Clark said this is one of the most anticipated plays of the season.
In addition to the plays, Loudon Wainwright III, Curtis Stigers and more yet-to-be scheduled musicians will perform as part of BCT's growing music series and classes for the youth theater lab, which will be directed by Blackaller, begin in Monday, Sept. 19. Clark expects to be busier than he has ever been in his professional life but this seems to be a logical and vital step in BCT's continued evolution.
"I have more on my plate than ever before but it's motivating," Clark said. "We work, work, work. We close a show, have a day off, then we start the next show. We are just going to go and lean into it."