Amid the annual onslaught of legit season announcements, the Public Theater’s 2013-14 slate stands out — not so much for what’s unexpected on the lineup, but for its array of projects that seem to be coming to fruition after long associations with the theater.
Nearly every single title or artist in the upcoming season has had an enduring relationship with the Public. Unafraid of repetition — half a dozen shows on the roster have had prior Gotham runs, many of them at the Public — it’s a lineup that capitalizes on aud demand in a way that aims to get new work out to more people.
Taken as a whole, the season looks like a validation of the long-term development activities initiated by a.d. Oskar Eustis since he took the reins of the org in 2005, with a broad-minded approach to nurturing works and championing popular productions. “It’s always our goal to give any production the biggest possible impact it can have,” Eustis said.
The strategy has earned the Public its share of criticism, especially when some legiters began to think that programming was aimed at creating the next profitable Broadway transfer a la “Hair” or “The Merchant of Venice.” Besides that, the troupe’s efforts have been ambitious and multifarious enough that observers have in the past called it scattered.
But next year, with so many shows and artists set for full productions after reaping the benefits of the Public’s development programs, the 2013-14 season appears to confirm the merits of the approach.
This fall’s “Fun Home,” for instance, returns for a full production following a popular stint earlier this season as part of the Public Lab series of developmental stagings. The musical, based on the Alison Bechdel graphic novel, comes from two artists who’ve worked with the Public before, Lisa Kron (“Well,” “2.5 Minute Ride”) and Jeanine Tesori (“Caroline, or Change”).
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the return of the Apple family plays by Richard Nelson, with the trio of prior shows that have bowed at the Public over the last three years to be joined by a new, fourth title, “Regular Singing.” All four shows will play in rep with the same actors who appeared in the prior incarnations. Plus, there’s “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3),” seen as part of the Lab in 2009 and penned by the theater’s resident master writer, Suzan-Lori Parks.
There are new shows from Public vets Mike Daisey (“All the Faces of the Moon”), Elevator Repair Service (“Arguendo”) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (directing his new adaptation of “Antony and Cleopatra”), not to mention a team-up of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory on two plays (“The Designated Mourner” and “Grasses of a Thousand Colors”), a new show from Civilians creatives (“The Great Immensity”) and a return run of the Foundry Theater’s well-reviewed “Good Person of Szechwan,” which played a brief limited engagement at La MaMa earlier this year. (There’s only one title and creative team likely to be unfamiliar to Gothamites: “A Second Chance,” a new musical by financier-turned-arts-patron Ted Shen.)
“It does feel like all of these seeds are coming to fruition, and all these crucial choices we made years ago are paying off in the long term,” Eustis said.
With the company and its theatergoers involved in the public development of so many of these projects, the troupe expects to heighten audience engagement in its programming. The season also reps something of a justification for the expense of the additional activities Eustis has piled on the org since he arrived: At around $24 million, the nonprofit theater’s operating budget is about twice what it was when he assumed the post, according to Public leadership. (Last year the theater reported a nice surplus, Eustis noted.)
Still, the enterprising Eustis has plenty of items on his to-do list for the theater, which recently completed a $40 million renovation. First up: Creating more showcases for less established, emerging artists.
“The thing we’re still not doing as much as we’d like is taking unknown artists and giving them a platform,” Eustis said.