New artistic director looks to lure audiences

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Beyond a new logo, slogan (“Experience the A.R.T”) and even re-spelling of American Repertory Theater’s name, new artistic director Diane Paulus is dramatically making over A.R.T. in Cambridge, Mass., with an eye toward shaking up — and attracting — audiences.

The director of the Broadway revival of “Hair” has programmed three separate festivals at A.R.T.’s two theaters, as well as at other theater spaces around the area, for its 2009-10 season, the 30th for the Harvard U.-supported theater.

The first fest, “Shakespeare Exploded!,” is made up of events inspired by a trio of classic plays by the Bard.

Paulus will revive the popular “The Donkey Show,” a disco adaptation of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” which had a six-year run Off Broadway beginning in 1999. The show, conceived by Randy Weiner, is co-helmed by Weiner and Paulus and opens Aug. 21 at the Zero Arrow Theater, the club-like venue that is the company’s second stage

 “Sleep No More” is described as sensory “adventure theater'” inspired by “Macbeth” and Hitchcock thrillers. The show, opening Oct. 8 at an off-site location to be announced, will be a co-creation with the Brit company Punchdrunk, making its U.S. bow. Devised and helmed by Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle and the company, the aud roams the environment to experience the show as it chooses what to watch and where to go.

Also set is “Best of Both Worlds,” slated for the holidays, an R&B and gospel tuner take on “The Winter’s Tale,” with book and lyrics by Weiner, music by Dierdre Murray and staged by Paulus, who previously helmed the piece Off Broadway in 2004. The production, which will feature a rotating roster of the area’s gospel and church choirs, opens Nov. 21 on the A.R.T. mainstage, the Loeb.

Second festival, “Boom, Bust and Baseball,” centers on American themes, with all three shows in the series staged at the Loeb.

“Gatz: Parts 1 and 2″ is a 7½-hour two-parter that consists of a reading of the complete novel “The Great Gatsby,” in the context of a man who reads it aloud at work, affecting those around him in the office environment. Created by the New York-based Elevator Repair Service and helmed by John Collins, the production, which marks the first time the Fitzgerald estate has greenlit the project, opens Jan. 8.

Also in this series is Clifford Odets’ rarely-produced “Paradise Lost,” directed by Daniel Fish and opening Feb 27. Third slot will go to “Red Sox Nation,” the preem of a baseball-themed tuner staged by Paulus with music by Robert Reale and lyrics by William Reale, opening May 8.

A.R.T. will also co-produce, with Beantown’s Huntington Theatre Company and the Institute of Contemporary Art, an annual fest of shows and readings called “Emerging America,” slated for May 14-16, 2010 and featuring a competish for a favorite new work based on votes by audiences.

 “I wanted to bring focus on the audience’s experience,” said Paulus. “I’m interested in a much more broad and populist sector of an audience, making the total arts experience accessible and inviting. For me, it’s so much more than the play on the stage.”

Paulus added she is seeking in “active discussions” for commercial enhancement of various upcoming projects. The resident company of actors and  artists, who also teach at the company’s Institute, will remain as a resource, she said.

Paulus also changed the spelling of the company name, changing the “Theatre” in A.R.T. to “Theater.”

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