Dawn-McAndrews_webI was recently asked by Portland Monthly Magazine to describe the process for how the summer’s theme is decided upon and how the shows are selected.  I thought this might be of interest to our entire audience, and since they cut down my responses considerably, I’ve put together the following mock interview to give you an idea of how it all comes together.


Q: So, how did the idea of Magic, Murder, and Mayhem for the season theme come about?

A: I start working on season planning well over a year in advance. Generally, the plays start to come together first and then the theme emerges. My first two seasons were developed as part of the interview process for the position and last season flew together with the exception of one final comedy. But 2015 was a little more difficult; in fact, I actually put together three full seasons before determining we’d found the right fit.

Q: Is there a model you follow in season planning? How does the theatre’s mission come into play?

Romeo & Juliet, 2014

A: I look at the season planning process through three lenses: Connection to Mission (Artistic Lens), Connection to Audience (Community Lens), and Fiscal Responsibility (Finance Lens). Our mission is to present innovative approaches to Shakespeare and other classic playwrights, so it just makes sense to start with the Shakespeare’s. While we are not mandated to produce two each summer, our audience has come to expect that they’ll see two plays by the Bard. As I start to think about plays, I also begin conversations with the directors; the artist that will be guiding the vision of the production plays a big part in the selection process. Next, I focus on the community aspect, what does our audience want to see? What is relevant in the lives of our community today? Once I’ve got a list of possible plays together, then I take it to the board and, in their role as community advisors, I ask them for feedback. I’ve invited our audience to send me emails or talk to me after performances, so I have a good sense of what they are looking to get out of the season.

Q: Does it all get messed up when you have to fit actors into roles in each of the plays?

A: We have a very complex casting matrix which is the end result of about a year of planning, feedback from directors, casting sessions in five different cities, and more than 100 video auditions—all to fill 16 to 30 tracks. Without a doubt, the most difficult part is figuring out how to take the cast of characters in each play and build the tracks that each actor will take on for the summer. In the end each actor will end up playing three or four roles throughout the summer—at least one major role and some supporting.

Q: We’ve heard you use the term rotating repertory—what does that mean and how does it affect how the plays are produced?

A: Rotating repertory literally means we have a number of shows in our repertoire each season and we present them on a rotating basis—Tuesday matinee is one play, a different show that night, the next day two other shows…lather, rinse, repeat. We also rehearse in rotating repertory, so the actors are working on each role in their simultaneously. Then each week in July we bring all the technical elements together and open a difference play each Friday night—four weeks in a row. So, an  audience member can attend The Winter’s Tale on Friday night, a Saturday matinee of Fool of the World, a Saturday evening performance of Turn of the Screw, spend Sunday afternoon at Fallen Angels, then finish on Sunday night with A Midsummer Night’s Dream followed by a post-performance discussion. And in between the audience member goes out to eat and our magic elves come in and switch the sets from one to the other and back again. On Monday everyone collapses and gets ready to start the cycle all over again. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it?

Q:  As the Shakespearean Theater of Maine, is there a minimum number of Shakespeare works that you commit to each year/summer?


The Knight of the Burning Pestle, 2013

A: Founding Artistic Director, Richard Sewell, shared with me that their intention in founding TAM was to produce great language plays. They were surprised and pleased when the state legislature named their endeavor the Shakespearean Theatre of Maine.  There are certain plays that just work better than others in Cumston Hall. While there are no hard and fast rules about how many Shakespeare plays we produce each year, we do generally present two. And in those two, we try to stretch with one and offer a well-known piece with the other. So, this year you have magic, murder, and mayhem between the two plays by the Bard.

Q: Where does your talent come from and where have they moved on to?

A:  We try to keep a balance of 50% Maine Made and 50% From Away company members so we are supporting the professional aspirations of local and early career professionals as well. As for talent that has gone on to greater things, there are many I’m sure but the three that come to mind immediately include two Maine-made and one From Away. They are McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey (I think everyone knows who he is) who worked here for a summer many years ago; Tim Simons, the son of a former board member who is currently appearing on the HBO show VEEP, and David Harbour, who not only was a company member for several seasons but has returned for the past few summers to see how things are going. Harbour currently has a starring role in State of Affairs and was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

So you see pretty much every season is the Magic, Murder, and Mayhem season controlled by a little thing called the Matrix. Supernatural indeed.