Spotlight on the Port City PlayhouseBy Laura & Mike Clark • Nov 8th, 2007 • Category: Backstage, Interviews, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday
Listen to Mike interview Ron Field, the President of the Board of Port City Playhouse [MP3 12:51 5.9MB].
Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. I am talking with Ron Field, the president of Port City Playhouse. Thanks for talking with me, Ron.
Ron: You’re welcome. Nice to be on your program.
Mike: So tell me a little bit about the Port City Playhouse.
Ron: Port City Playhouse is a prominent community theater in Alexandria that does it’s perfomances at the Nannie Lee Performing Arts Center in the Old Town area. We are now celebrating our 30th anniversary in business.
Mike: Well, congratulations. Thirty years is a significant run for a community theater.
Ron: Yes it is. Of course you know there are a number of prominent community theaters in the Washington area. We are very fortunate to have as much live theater here as we do. Port City is pleased to be part of that whole offering of theater, ever since it was founded 30 years ago by Jean Geutier and Tom Miller. We strive to provide the the community with a diverse range of shows that are somewhat different, a little bit distinctive than the usual fare that community theater’s are known to put on.
Early on we did offer musicals and indeed I was in some of the early musicals that Port City Playhouse produced. Namely Gypsy. We did The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And a number of shows that got good notices and very good audiences.
But as our performance site changed, we decided to stick with plays rather than musicals. We do four plays a year. Plays that are thoughtful, may have a history in the American theater literature. Such as the show we’re going to do this year, The Dresser. It is well known as a piece of live theater and it’s also been a movie. But we also are a theater that will reach out into the theater literature to do things that are even more thoughtful and, I don’t know if edgy is the correct word, but we will push the envelope, how’s that. In a way that brings theater audiences more than the common fare.
Mike: How are the shows chosen?
Ron: Like most theater organizations we appoint a play reading committee every year, early in the calendar year. The play reading committee meets beginning in the early Spring and they read a great number of scripts. They have instructions from the Board of Directors as to the kinds of shows they should be considering so that it fits with the tradition of Port City Playhouse. Then in September they present to the Board all that they’ve read: eight plays within the the four categories that they have been instructed to look at. Then it is the Board’s job by the end of October to have read those eight plays and of those eight to choose four for the next season. We are right on the doorstep of doing that. As a matter of fact this coming Sunday is our special board meeting to choose the plays for our 31st season.
Mike: Is it usually contentious or is it usually pretty easy to get to an agreement for those four shows?
Ron: I think generally there tends to be a fairly good consensus. There may be a play among the bunch of the eight that are given to us by the play reading committee that some feel more strongly about than others so we’ll have a lively discussion about that, but generally it’s fairly easy to come to a consensus on at least two or three of them.
Mike: How are the staff or the crew of these show chosen? Is that from the Board or is that part of the process?
Ron: After we’ve chosen a season then we will put the word out what that season is going to be and ask for potential directors to apply to do one of the shows during that season. We will then have a process (it’s like hiring somebody) to interview directors, to get a sense of their particular vision for the particular show that they are applying to direct. Of those that apply the Board will then choose those directors. Following that we will then look at who the producers will be. Some directors come with their own teams of producers and sound and light people. Others depend on us to fill those roles.
Mike: Switching the subject a little bit, you’re now at the Nannie Lee Performing Arts Center. Where else have you performed?
Ron: We’ve been at the Minnie Howard School Auditorium on Braddock Road. We were there for quite a long time. As I recall they closed that facility to renovate it and convert it back to a school. Then we moved over to a theater facility at T. C. Williams High School. We’re always trying to stay within the city limits of Alexandria. That is our charter. We are a theater company that was formed to provide theater for the people of the city of Alexandria. We do that, but people come from all over the metropolitan area to see our shows. After T.C. William we moved over to the Nannie Lee Performing Arts Center. That has been our home for a while now and for the foreseeable future.
Mike: Is there any dream of building your own facility?
Ron: There are always dreams, but that takes an enormous amount of money and not very many organizations have that kind of backing. The Little Theatre of Alexandria for instance back in the 30’s and 40’s when they were able to build their theatre. Most community theater companies do not have their own theater.
Mike: I’ve heard some theaters start with it and then end up selling it because it’s a lot of extra headaches that they’re not ready to deal with.
Ron: It is an enormously expensive operation. When you talk about building a theater you’re talking about millions of dollars. Not just for the show, but for all the special and electrical and technical stuff that that has to go into it. So it’s not an inexpensive endeavor. Then of course as you’ve said it takes a lot to keep it up.
Mike: Are there any challenges with having so many theater groups in the region?
Ron: That’s a very interesting question. Of course there are. You’re always competing for people’s attention and their theater dollars to stay in business. We have to be very careful about the kind of shows that we put on that are both challenging for actors, but also have a lo of audience appeal. We try to do both. We don’t want to just cater to shows that are popular to the public just to sell a lot of tickets. Because we don’t do musicals that makes it even tougher. Musicals are the most popular type of theater. At the same time we want to present for performers and directors an opportunity to be part of a show that is challenging for them and that they really would like to do. It’s kind of a fine line we walk. We’ve been in business for 30 years so I would say we’ve been fairly successful at it.
Mike: The next show that is coming up is To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. Have you seen any of the rehearsals?
Ron: Oh, yes. And I must say I’m really really pleased with the caliber of the cast and the direction. I think the public would enjoy it a great deal. It was a movie in the 1990’s and so it is somewhat known. It is a very touching story, not without humor. My best way of explaining it is that it is a very human story. It touches a lot of aspects of human life. I think the public will find it very enjoyable and will find things in it that almost anyone can identify with.
Mike: Ok, well how can people get tickets? Can they get them from your website?
Ron: We have a website: www.PortCityPlayhouse.com We’re really proud of the many shows that we’ve done over the years and I should say the many awards that we’ve won reflect the quality of our plays. Two seasons ago now I guess, our 2005 season, we closed the season with a very challenging show called Hauptmann which was the true story of the man who was convicted of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder. Only in recent years to have been vindicated. Although he was executed in his innocence. They did find who it was, but this man who for a variety of reasons was thought to be the culprit and was tried, convicted, and executed. Of course I suppose that is another story that could be written about this. That he was an innocent man who was put to death for a crime he didn’t commit. We won the Ruby Griffith Award for that which is a very coveted award for that in the broader metropolitan area of Washington. It is an endowed award given by the British Player, formerly the British Embassy Players for Over all Excellence in Production. There are probably about 70 community theater companies that compete every year or more.
Then just this last year we were first runner up in Excellence of A Play for our production of All My Sons. So we continue to give the public first rate theater at a very affordable price. Our telephone number is -snipped-. You can call for tickets that way.
Mike: And if someone wanted to get involved with the group, either backstage or on stage, how can they do that? Same phone number?
Ron: Same phone number or they can email us at -snipped-.
Mike: Ok. Well, hopefully some people will come out and see some of the shows and get involved with you.
Ron: Very good. We always welcome new people. It’s a wonderful way to make new friends and stay in touch with old ones.
Mike: Ok, well thank you very much.
Ron: Thank you, Mike. I really enjoy talking with you and thank you for the opportunity to talk about Port City Playhouse.
Mike: Absolutely. Glad to learn more about it.
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Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.