Three companies, one playwright
Festival stages works by Boston-born Annie Baker
Even though Boston theaters are theoretically in competition with one another, there are times when a bit of teamwork makes strategic and artistic sense.
This is apparently one of those times. Next month, the Huntington Theatre Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and Company One will collaborate on the Shirley, VT Plays Festival, showcasing three plays by the highly regarded young playwright Annie Baker.
The Huntington will go first, with a production of Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation’’ Oct. 15 to Nov. 14, directed by Melia Bensussen. Next up will be SpeakEasy, with “Body Awareness,’’ directed by producing artistic director Paul Daigneault, which will run Oct. 22 to Nov. 20, and Company One, whose artistic director, Shawn LaCount, will helm a production of “The Aliens’’ Oct. 22 to Nov. 20.
The festival will be another example of a collaborative impulse that has already been seen this year in such projects as the recent “Grimm,’’ in which Company One presented short works by seven Boston-based playwrights inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales, and the Emerging America Festival in May, in which the American Repertory Theater Huntington Theatre Company, and Institute of Contemporary Art spotlighted the work of newer writers and performers.
“People are recognizing that audiences can have multiple allegiances,’’ said Peter DuBois, the Huntington’s artistic director. “The old idea that this is my theater, this is the one theater that I go to, is breaking down. People are seeing different work in different places.’’
“When the economy gets tough, we lose some theater companies, but the other thing that happens is that companies bond together,’’ added Company One’s LaCount. “You find ways of sharing resources and artists. There’s strength in community when you need it most.’’
While the three plays do not share characters or plots, all are set in the fictional small town of Shirley, Vt. The 29-year-old Baker, who was born in Boston and raised in Amherst, is currently on quite a roll: “Circle Mirror Transformation’’ and “The Aliens’’ shared the Obie for best new American play this year. The notion of devoting a festival to her work is the brainchild of DuBois, who instigated discussions with Daigneault and LaCount after seeing an off-Broadway production of “Circle Mirror Transformation’’ last year.
Though the three theater companies differ in size, resources, and aesthetic, the artistic directors quickly saw the possibilities for collaboration — and for drawing on three audience pools rather than just one. For instance, DuBois praised the way Company One and SpeakEasy have built a loyal following in the South End, where they are resident companies at the Boston Center for the Arts, and he made it clear he hopes the festival will prompt some of their younger urban patrons to give the more established Huntington a closer look.
All three plays will be performed in theaters within the Huntington-operated Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, and all three will feature scenery created by set designer Cristina Todesco. The plays can be seen on different days or, marathon-style, one after the other. A website, www.shirleyvtplays.com, contains information about the plays.
DuBois acknowledged that the festival contains an element of risk, in that three theaters must count on Boston playgoers responding positively to a single playwright. But, he noted, “When you collaborate among three companies you also spread out the risk. For each of us, it’s one show in our season. And my belief in her as a writer is so strong.’’
Daigneault and LaCount said they share that belief. “Circle Mirror Transformation’’ revolves around the sometimes-comical interactions of five strangers in a creative drama class. “Body Awareness’’ is about the disruptions that ensue on a Vermont college campus when a photographer known for nude female portraits is a guest in the home of two gay women. “The Aliens’’ depicts two alienated, Charles Bukowski-worshiping young men who take it upon themselves to offer life lessons to a high school student.
“Each company ended up with the play that best suits their aesthetic,’’ said SpeakEasy’s Daigneault. “If you are someone who knew Boston theater and you’d picked up all three of these plays, and like on ‘The Price Is Right’ had to match the play to the company, you’d win the new car.’’
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.