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Navigating New Production Opportunities: “Consider the Oyster” at Georgetown Little Theatre

Consider the OysterIn this guest blog post, Consider the Oyster playwright David MacGregor discusses his experience seeing a Canadian production of his play, community theater associations, and navigating new theater markets.

Was it just me?  That’s what I was thinking as I sat in a huge, professional theater in Toronto watching what was possibly the worst play I have ever seen in my life.  I had dragged my wife, fourteen-year-old daughter, and daughter’s best friend to this debacle, and I kept glancing at them trying to gauge how they were holding up.  As I later learned, critics had savaged the play, with one candidly declaring that the best thing about the show was the intermission, when patrons could flee the building.  The good news is that we weren’t in Ontario to see this overstuffed, overpriced production.  We had driven from Michigan to Ontario to see my play, Consider the Oyster.

It was being staged at the Georgetown Little Theatre in lovely Georgetown, Ontario, and we were headed there the next day for the Sunday matinee.  How all of this came about is instructive in terms of how and why theaters choose to do this or that play.  In 2008, a dark comedy of mine called Vino Veritas had premiered at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI.  The Purple Rose is a small gem of a theatre, founded twenty-five years ago by actor Jeff Daniels, dedicated to developing and producing new American plays, and still going strong.  In the audience for one of the performances was the artistic director for a community theater in Erin, Ontario, and soon enough, Vino Veritas was produced there as well.

 In the cast for the Erin Community Theatre production of Vino Veritas was an actor who would go on to become the Publicity Director for the Georgetown Little Theatre.  Unbeknownst to me, he had been following my plays and productions, with the result that earlier this year, I received an e-mail from Playscripts informing me that the Georgetown Little Theatre had just licensed the rights to Consider the Oyster for a production in November.

Consider the Oyster premiered at the Purple Rose in 2011 and has had a number of productions around the country.  It’s a comedy about a young man who breaks his leg celebrating an unexpected victory by his favorite sports team and gets patched up at the hospital with rods, screws, and a little bit of ground up oyster shell, because it has been established that oyster shell helps human bone repair itself faster.  The interesting thing about oysters is that they are all born male, then turn female later in life, a phenomenon known as protandrous hermaphroditism.  You can see where this is going, yes?  The oyster DNA fuses with our protagonist’s DNA, and he finds himself, entirely against his will, transforming into a woman.

The original production began with the Detroit Lions winning the Super Bowl, which not only appealed to Michigan audiences, but also let them know that everything that follows in the play is a bit of a fable.  However, I wrote in the play notes that any highly incompetent or unfortunate sports team could be substituted for the Lions.  In addition, in the original production, the role of Gene had been played by two actors, a male in the first act and a female in the second act.  Again, in the play notes I made it clear that the main role could be played in that manner, or also be played by a male or female actor for the entirety of the play.

So, when Georgetown Little Theatre contacted me and said they were casting a woman in the role of Gene and beginning the play with the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup, I knew for certain that I wanted to drive 250 miles east to see their production.  They invited me to see their first Sunday matinee, which was also the performance that was going to be adjudicated by the Association of Community Theatres—Central Ontario (ACT-CO).  Founded in 1932 and representing 46 community theater groups, its function is to encourage the development and appreciation of the performing arts, and every year an important part of this mission is their festival.

Ontario theaters entering a musical, drama, or comedy into the Festival receive adjudication from an established theater professional.  At the conclusion of the play, there is a public presentation, during which the adjudicator shares his/her impressions of the production.  This is followed by an in-depth analysis of the production, which provides the designers, director, and actors with feedback on their work and potential areas of improvement to take into consideration for future productions.  Ultimately, the adjudicators submit their selection of outstanding performances and achievements for the Thea Awards Gala, which is held each April.  Awards are presented at the Gala and the play selected as best production of the Festival goes on to represent the ACT-CO region at the annual Theatre Ontario Festival held in May.  This year, 48 plays have been entered in the festival (15 Comedies, 14 Dramas, and 19 Musicals).

The Comedy adjudicator for ACT-CO this year is Trevor Smith Diggins, an enormously experienced theater professional who has worked as an actor, director, and reviewer.  I’m guessing he was a bit surprised to learn that the playwright was in attendance, but since his adjudication was not intended to address the play, but rather the production, he was fine with that.  I simply played the role of interested spectator, and found his comments regarding such elements as lighting, blocking, and set design to be extremely insightful and pragmatic.  There is no question that the company was well-served by his thoughts and suggestions, and if the play goes on to receive any awards at the Thea Awards Gala, that will simply be icing on the cake.

In the end, I was very happy with the production and the cast and crew were delighted to have me there (or at least were gracious enough to pretend).  We chatted, took pictures, and then went out to dinner.  In speaking with them, I learned that it’s no easy task for any community theater to convince its board to do a new play.  It takes commitment, courage, and a real desire to give their audiences something potentially challenging, yet relevant to their lives.  So, if you happen to be one of those playwrights who is not quite dead yet and a community theater is producing one of your plays, I can’t encourage you enough to make the effort to go and see the production.  It will be good for you, and good for the people involved with the theater as well, because you’re really helping to validate what they do.

Our Ontario expedition ended with us walking out into the evening air to begin our trek back home.  My wife and daughter had seen the original production of Consider the Oyster, but it was completely new to my daughter’s friend.  As I started the car I turned to her and asked, “Well, what did you think?”  She simply smiled and replied, “That was really good.”  Reviews don’t get any better than that.

—David MacGregor

David MacGregor was born in Detroit, Michigan, and graduated from Michigan State University. His plays have been performed from California to New York to London. He is a Resident Artist at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Michigan, where his plays The Late Great Henry Boyle (2006), Vino Veritas (2008), Gravity (2010), andConsider the Oyster (2011) have all been produced. The independent film based on his play, Vino Veritas (2013), stars Carrie Preston (of HBO’s True Blood series) and Bernard White (of The Matrix films). In addition to writing plays and screenplays, he teaches writing and film classes at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and has also been a respondent for the American College Theatre Festival sponsored by the Kennedy Center.

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