In a recent phone conversation with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s Lynn Meyers, I mentioned that her company’s audiences love what ETC does — premiering shows not seen locally. It’s a fact borne out by many subscribers, who renew even before the next season’s shows have been announced. Meyers acknowledged the truth of this, but also added, “We’re still looking for audiences to come back.” Ticket sales since the COVID pandemic wound down have been growing slowly, strengthening since the beginning 2023. But for a theater that relies on ticket revenue, it’s important to offer shows that satisfy both subscribers and single-ticket buyers.
Meyers has tweaked her upcoming 2023-2024 season to have a bit more flexibility. Past seasons have offered six productions. “We’re only doing five shows instead of six,” she explains. Each will still run for three weeks, as in the past, but there will be some breathing room between productions. “I want to give time to build an audience. Several shows for the current season could have run for another week," Meyers said.
She also plans on some developmental offerings in between shows — readings of works in progress, guest speakers and such. “Five shows and four other offerings will make kind of a richer season,” she said. “We’re getting close to a year-round season since we don’t close until the end of June. We’ll just keep going."
This week, Meyers is announcing the five shows to be offered during the 2023-2024 season. It will include two world premieres, a fan favorite and a pair of solo shows that will get people thinking. Several of them, she says, are about “loving our country for better or worse. It will be a slice-of-American-life kind of season.”
What the Constitution Means to Me
Sept. 9-Oct. 1
Heidi Schreck earned college tuition by winning constitutional debate competitions across the country. As an adult, she crafted this funny and hopeful monologue featuring her teenage self as she traces the Constitution’s impact on her as well as four generations of women in her family. Schreck’s solo Broadway performance from 2019 (also toured and offered on a streaming platform) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award nominee. Considering the turmoil in the U.S. after the 2020 election, she updated the text in 2022. Noting that she’s been pursuing rights to stage this show for several years, Meyers adds, “We plan to work with students and have them write essays about what the Constitution means to them.”
Fiona: The Musical
Nov. 29-Dec. 29
The Cincinnati Zoo’s famous hippo makes her musical debut in this world premiere. The show, by Cincinnati native Zina Camblin and ETC composer David Kisor, follows Fiona’s journey from premature baby to larger-than-life heroine and media star. This show will differ from ETC’s typical holiday musical fairytales, since it chronicles a true story of tenacity and hope featuring the keepers at the Zoo and several animals, with actors playing both kinds of characters. “It’s definitely not a children’s play or a fairy tale,” Meyers said. “I am confident this show will appeal to multiple generations. It will appeal to multiple generations.”
How I Learned What I Learned
Feb. 17-March 10, 2024
One of the greatest American playwrights, August Wilson, learned many lessons over his life (1945-2005). From life-or-death moments to the deepest love, from comedic stand-up to bursts of pure joy, his poetry and timeless stories are radiant. This one-man show was written and performed by Wilson, tracing his life from his beginning as a young Black poet from Pittsburgh to the literary giant we honor today. Meyers, noting that ETC has produced several of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” plays (as have other Cincinnati theater companies), says, “It’s time to get to know more about the man behind the plays.”
The Match Game
April 13-May 5, 2024
Steven Strafford won ETC’s Jackie Demaline Regional Collegiate Playwriting Competition with this play. Following a one-night reading at ETC last summer, it’s getting its world premiere. Steph, the central character, has typical mid-life woes —a precocious daughter about to finish high school and an absentee father who is possibly faking dementia. And she has cancer. The family gathers for a birthday party with a hidden agenda, leading to the revelation of truths they’ve been afraid to acknowledge. Calling the show “a comedy inside a drama,” Meyers says it hilariously reflects on how families aren’t always well-matched.
Hands on a Hardbody
June 8-30, 2024
In a departure from past practices, Meyers will resurrect a show from a decade ago that’s frequently mentioned by ETC subscribers as one they’d like to see again. Based on a true story first told in a 1997 documentary, the show’s Broadway debut earned three 2013 Tony Award nominations. Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright (the playwright for two other ETC hits — I Am My Own Wife and Grey Gardens) wrote the script about 10 hard-luck Texans, armed with nothing but hope, humor and ambition, who fight to keep at least one hand on a brand-new truck to win it. Featuring blues, R&B, rock and country tunes by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio (lead guitarist for the band Phish), the show opened ETC’s 2014-2015 season, the first production following its Broadway success. Meyers has a long friendship with the playwright and hopes he might visit during the production.
For more information about ETC's upcoming season, visit ensemblecincinnati.org.
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