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Expanding the Idea of New Work: Part IV

by:  Charles Haugland at 05/26/2010

Contributed by Literary Associate Charles Haugland, responding to Lisa Timmel (Huntington's Director of New Work) in their recent posts about new work.

Okay, it’s up to me to wrap up the conversation. I’m going to provide a quick summary, and then leave us with a few provocations and things I will be continuing to think about.

I take you as defining three categories. (Art Hennessey also theorized three categories when he did his exhaustive tally on his blog, though he defined the categories differently)

New:

Artists are actively doing developmental work during their HTC production, particularly of text. Playwright is in residence.
 

Contemporary:

Plays that we have no relationship to the development. Usually they are written in the last 20ish years, but more often in the last one or two. (This definition also means that sometimes a contemporary play can be the same distance from its premiere as a new play being developed in its second production.)
 

Classic:

Plays that are older or canonical (i.e., We think of Fences as classic and Prelude as contemporary even though they are separated by only two years.)
 

These categories are not represented in our theatre haphazardly. As I discussed in my last post, we think of new work and classic work as different kinds of pleasure — active nostalgia versus active synthesis — that we try to balance. A season that we think will be both embraced and challenging to our audience includes both. (Challenging goes both ways; I think there are new work devotees, you included Lisa, who can find the idea of going to see and revisit classics “challenging” to your expectations and your taste.)

What is the breakdown of our new season then?

  • New: Vengeance Is The Lord's and Sons of the Prophet
  • Contemporary: Circle Mirror Transformation and Ruined
  • Classic: Bus Stop, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, and Educating Rita (Though I’m sure some would say Rita feels more contemporary than classic, it is from 1980, and has been so widely performed that I’d say it is canonical.)

A couple of wrenches that I can throw in the works:

  • Many audience members told me that they had never seen All My Sons. How does that effect reception? Is it “new” if it is new to you (a belief held strongly by our marketing department)?
  • A good chunk of our audience had seen the Boston workshop presentation of A Long And Winding Road or the New Haven production of A Civil War Christmas. Does it matter that they aren’t “new” to them? (In both cases, they were substantially different from their earlier productions.)
  • In Peter’s first season, four out of seven plays were new and in development during their production cycle, though our audience does not remember that season as being heavily focused on new work. Why? (One thought I have is that they were all period pieces, which I believe influences reception.)

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