The Perfect Puzzle of Plays

Jeffrey Binder is the Artistic Associate at Gulfshore Playhouse and is currently playing Doctor Thomas Stockmann in the upcoming production of An Enemy of the People. 

As you may or may not know –and if you don’t know, well… ta da! now you know – Gulfshore Playhouse just announced its ’16-’17 season. And what a doozy of a season it is! Everything from a world premiere to a three-person farce to a music-box production of one of the greatest musicals in the American canon to one of the most compelling dramas of William Shakespeare, Gulfshore Playhouse once again is pulling out all the stops and pushing the envelope on how we can charm, challenge, and entertain next year’s audience. As this is my first year as Artistic Associate and the first time I’ve had the pleasure of working with an Artistic Director like Kristen Coury to come up with a season, I think the most apt phrase to spring to mind after reaching the conclusion of several months of reading, arguing, cramming, sighing, finagling, and brainstorming to put together the perfect puzzle of plays is… how the heck did that happen?

Since starting up my tenure here in July and August, Kristen would surprise me with play or two on my desk or send me an email asking me to find or read a play recommended or submitted to her by friends and colleagues to be considered for next season. And I, along with our amazing Artistic Assistant Audrey Zielenbach, would read, discuss, and rate these plays based on a number of criteria, such as: “How many people does it require?”, “Can we fit the set this play requires on our stage?”, “Do we think it’s a fit for our audience?”, “Did we love this play or hate it and why?”. Plays that rated high on our criteria would be passed back to Kristen, who would then read it and either put in on the list of finalists to consider for the season, or veto our recommendation and send the play into the dustbin of Gulfshore Playhouse history. Sometimes we would all love a play and realize that the time just wasn’t right to put it in the season, it didn’t quite fit on our stage or with our audience, or that it was too similar to one of the other plays we were considering that we thought ultimately were a better fit. Sometimes, Kristen, with her seemingly endless supply of energy and inspiration, would have a light-bulb moment at 1 a.m. the night before about a play she had seen or read and excitedly get us to read it for consideration the next morning. My email inbox is full of 6am drive-by’s with play ideas from Kristen.

Some shows were favorites from the start – like The Christians, which Audrey had seen in Columbus, Ohio and later, Kristen saw the amazing production it received in New York at Playwrights Horizons. But by no means was even a slam dunk like The Christians safe… it was on and off the final list several times before we could see the overall arc of the season. But ultimately, we ended up with about 20 plays that we thought would be absolutely perfect! Great! Now we just have to whittle it down to six or seven! And here’s the funny thing… after all was said and done, we mostly ended up with a season full of plays that were never even on that list. By some fate, kismet, fallen-out-of-the-sky-last-minute-opportunities, blind-luck even, they muscled their way into Gulfshore’s lineup for next year.

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Jeffrey Binder (in Boeing-Boeing). This picture also represents Jeff’s face during season planning!

Now this may all seem maddening. I would be lying if I said that at some moments during this process I didn’t throw my hands in the air (not literally) and wish we had a dart boardwith the potential plays written all over it so we could pick our season with a few well-aimed tosses. But truly, I think the process highlighted the most important ideals Kristen, Audrey, and I held onto throughout in planning our lineup for next year: what plays made our eyes light up when we thought about doing them? What plays made us just a little giddy when we imagined spending an intimate year with them? What plays fit together in that perfect way that made it made us say Yes! Of Course! It HAS to be this way! It’s like the perfect song or poem – the rhythm, word, lyric, or melody in which one verse flows into another is important. The same can be said with a season of plays… we need to imagine one play flowing into another with highs, lows, laughs, tears, sighs, smiles, thoughtful challenges, and just plain fun, making the season a cohesive whole filled with excitingly diverse excursions into varied themes and styles of theatre. Onward! I’m deeply excited to watch it unfold over the next year and I’m looking forward to hearing from you how we’ve done! Maybe we can talk about it over a friendly game of darts.

 

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Jeff post season planning! 

 

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