Talk to people who run theaters, directors, actors or just about anyone else involved in making theater and you hear brave talk about pushing the envelope, challenging audiences and variations on that same theme of theaters being responsible for offering audiences risk in the plays available to them.
Put these same people in front of an audience of season ticket holders, and you're likely to hear a completely different message. For the most part the regulars go to the theater because they enjoy what they're getting -- that's why they go.
"I like the word 'nudge,' " said Eric Fraisher Hayes, artistic director of Danville's Role Players Ensemble Theatre. "I might ask our audience to take just one step out of their sphere. They may say, for example, the work of Eugene O'Neill is dark, but I would like to have them replace that word with 'powerful.' "
So, working in tandem with the local Eugene O'Neill Society and Tao House, O'Neill's Danville home, Hayes feels obligated to give his audience both at Role Players, and Tao House, where he will direct "The Iceman Cometh," in September, a rounded view of O'Neill, and other playwrights whose work was made possible by the bard of Tao House.
Those going to Tao House during the annual O'Neill Festival in September will get "Iceman," while visitors to the Village Theatre at about the same time, will see "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," by Tennessee Williams, an author whose work was certainly made possible by O'Neill's pioneering efforts.
And it is with this eye toward gently nudging his audience that Hayes has put together a schedule of the rest of the year's offerings in something he is calling his "cat and mouse" season, with plays loosely built around the spirit of the chase, beginning with Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore," which follows last year's production of "The Mikado" in what could become the theater's regular G&S slot.
"I picked 'Ruddigore' because it is the show they wrote after 'Mikado,' and it has always seemed to be in the shadow of that show," he said. "But after reading it and looking at productions of it I was able to find, I think it could be the silliest of all the Gilbert and Sullivan Shows."
The show, which plays from April 18 through May 10 at the Village Theatre, 233 Front St. in Danville, has a group of Victorian nobles gathering in a castle haunted and cursed by a witch, dealing with the spooky side of life as the residents of the joint try to measure out good and evil through a very strange and silly formula.
"What I enjoy about Gilbert and Sullivan is that Victorian sensibility, which isn't English exactly, but Victorian, with certain propriety, where everyone knows the right way of feeling and acting" Hayes said.
That will be followed by "Cat," then "The Ladies Man," adapted from the French farce by Georges Feydeaux, and finally by "Of Mice and Men," adapted from the Steinbeck novel.
In all those shows, audiences will have a close-up look at the action in the relatively intimate setting of the Village Theatre. This also offers some examples of how large-scale theater can be cut back, through smaller casts, actors doubling in roles and other means to transfer a show to a smaller stage.
Tickets to "Ruddigore," on sale now at $20 to $28, may be reserved at 925-314-3400 or www.roleplayersensemble.com. The show will be performed in the theater at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.
"BROADWAY'S NEXT HIT MUSICAL," an improvised musical comedy awards show, stops at Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center at 8 p.m. April 12 for a single show.
The cast includes New York improvisers Deb Rabbai, Rob Schiffmann, Robert Z Grant, Kobi Libii, Stefan Schick, Rebecca Vigil, host Greg Triggs and pianists Eric March, Andrew Resnick and Gary Adler. At the start, improvisers gather hit song suggestions from the audience. The show's first act is an improvised award ceremony with songs from four "Best Musical" nominees based on audience-created song titles.
The audience votes for their favorite song and watches as the cast turns it into a full blown improvised musical -- complete with memorable characters, witty dialogue and plot twists galore. Every lyric, melody and jazz hand is made up on the spot to create a show that is spot-on, energetic and rolling-in-the-aisles funny.
The show plays in the Firehouse at 4444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton. Tickets, at $20 to $32, may be reserved at 925-931-4848 or www.firehousearts.org.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.