Syracuse Stage has announced the line-up of plays they’ll produce for the 2018 – 2019 season, including a popular farce, an original play with a local, historical connection, a holiday musical and an updated Jane Austen work.
WAER’s Chris Bolt and Stephen Shepherd of ‘Stage Right Radio’ find out what audiences can expect from Syracuse Stage’s Artistic Director Bob Hupp and Associate Kyle Bass.
Hupp says It takes most of a year to go over numerous plays, reading some, seeing others, until he and Bass pare down their list. After his first full year at Syracuse Stage, Hupp says he learned some things about the theater and its audience.
“I’m still learning. But definitely … I’ve been surprised we had tremendous feedback, more than we anticipated for Next to Normal or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Both plays did exceptionally well, as did The Wizard of Oz and Three Musketeers …. Syracuse is a fascinating community, diverse in its tastes and so we think it’s part of our charge to be very diverse in our offerings.”
Starting the season will be the play "Noises Off," which Shepherd notes has been done recently by community theaters. Hupp adds the British farce is essentially a play about a play, giving the audience a normal perspective, then turning the stage around and seeing the action from the actors’ point of view. He believes it will have broad appeal, as Three Musketeers did this past year.
The next play is a premiere, “Possessing Harriet” written by Kyle Bass, and based not on our most famous Harriet, Tubman, but rather on Harriet Powell. Her story starts in Syracuse and includes meetings with abolitionist Gerrit Smith and Elizabeth Cady. Bass says mush of the play revolves around that meeting.
“There’s no record of that conversation. What excited me about the story was there was no record of that conversation so I could invent. I was not looking to write a history play; I was really looking to write a drama.”
Bass says it took a surprisingly long time to find the right approach to the story.
“It really wasn’t until I connected the story of Harriet’s enslavement with my own family’s history of enslavement. More importantly I knew why I was writing it. … That personal connection to that history, the history of the country, and I really do thing of slavery as the essential history point of this nation, that allowed me to think of how do I make this story universal. How do I make this little-know event … to speak to a wider audience.”
Holiday season usually means something fun. Hupp is bringing the musical version of “Elf” to Syracuse. It’s the same story as the popular movie, which he notes, a whole generation grew up with. The production allows fo the use of Syracuse University Drama Department students as well, similar to this season’s “Wizard of Oz.”
A comedy with a serious side is next in the season. "Native Garden" covers themes ranging from borders and fences to immigration. Bass says the audience can feel a bit relieved to be considering such weighty subjects, but also discover that it’s ok to laugh.
The literary drama “Pride and Prejudice” gets an updating in the paly that will follow. Hupp calls it “one of the most fun nights of theater you can imagine,” largely because of the interpretation of Jane Austen’s classic novel by writer Kate Hamill.
“Kate has built an amazing career nationally for herself as the new voice of Jane Austen …. Kate brings an awareness, a sensitivity to Austen’s work that the last thing you’d think of seeing Kate Hamill’s adaptation is musty, old book. It’s anything but that. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, but it’s also the heart of Jane Austen.”
Syracuse Stage will announce one more play to round out the 2018-19 season, but contractual rights terms prohibit them from announcing it yet. Hupp gives the hint that it’s a Tony Award-winning work that was named best play by several media outlets. Stage expects to be one of the first theaters in the country outside of New York City to get the rights to produce it.
CALENDAR OF SYRACUSE STAGE 2018-19 SEASON
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Robert Hupp
Sept. 12 – 30, 2018
By Kyle Bass
Oct. 17 – Nov. 4, 2018
Elf the Musical
Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed by Donna Drake
Choreography by Brian Marcum
Musical Direction by Brian Cimmet
Based on the New Line Cinema film by David Berenbaum
Co-produced with the Syracuse University Department of Drama
Nov. 23, 2018 – Jan. 6, 2019
By Karen Zacarías
Feb. 13 – March 3, 2019
Cold Read: A Winter Festival of Hot New Plays
March 7 – 10, 2019
Pride and Prejudice
Based on the book by Jane Austen
By Kate Hamill
Directed by Jason O’Connell
March 13 – April 7, 2019
A Tony Award-Winner for Best Play
April 24 – May 12, 2019