DannyLee Hodnett, a theater instructor at Sheridan College, has been working for several months with Bill Rapp, as well as representatives from the city, Sheridan College, Forward Sheridan, the Chamber of Commerce, the WYO Theater and the Civic Theater Guild, to create an annual theater festival that would feature theater productions being shown before audiences for the
Hodnett said a fundamental problem with theater production is a lack of venues to ‘test’ new plays. He noted that producing a new play can cost theater production companies many thousands of dollars. Oftentimes, these investments are made without a company having seen the play performed before an audience and seen audience reaction to it – good or bad.
“There’s a big problem in the professional theater world,” Hodnett explained. “The problem is it costs a ton of money to produce a play. It is a big risk. For a lot of professional theater companies, their fiscal health is tied to how many tickets they can sell. So, if you’re running a theater company and you know the fiscal risks, it makes it really hard to produce a new play if it hasn’t been tested. That’s where we can come in.”
Hodnett said by creating a theater festival, playwrights, working in conjunction with professional and non-professional actors, can roll out their plays in front of audiences and representatives of professional theater companies. For the playwright, such a premiere may show how the play can be improved before moving on to a larger venue and theater company representatives can see the play in production, gauge audience reaction to it and decide if it is a good investment for them to make.
“For us, it can cost a few thousand dollars to produce versus tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hodnett said.
“It is not a premiere but workshop production.
Maybe after seeing it, they (theater company owners) will like it or be thankful they didn’t take it!”
“We need a place to test things out and polish them and see them in front of an audience,” he continued, adding that sometimes a well-written play on paper needs details worked out once it is on stage.
“Eventually you need to see it in actors’ bodies and hear it, that is when you can fix the problems and make it ready for the professional theater world.”
The first full festival will premiere in summer 2015, but Hodnett said this summer will feature a glimpse of what theater-goers
can expect next summer.
In July, Gerry Hansen, an expert in Shakespeare and the Italian comedy form commedia dell’arte, will come to Sheridan to work with local thespians on two plays to be shown Aug. 15-24 in the new Mars Black Box.
“She is doing a modern version of Hamlet and a commedia dell-arte version of Hamlet as well,” he said. “So one night we’ll laugh and one
night we’ll cry!”
Of course, Hodnett envisions great benefits for Sheridan, in addition to benefits for thespians and theater companies.
He said other small communities, such as Cedar City, Utah, have created just these sorts of festivals and have enjoyed great success, creating an
important tourist attraction that brings millions of dollars into the community.
He said in order to make attending the festival a full experience and a real draw for people from around the country, the group will aim to work in conjunction with other art offerings in the Sheridan area, so that people coming to attend the festival could also attend an art exhibit at a local gallery or a music concert.
He said once it is operating at full capacity, the festival could have plays being shown in the WYO Theater and Mars Black Box theater, with possible expansion to other locations such as the outdoor amphitheater at Whitney Commons, the bandshell at Kendrick Park, the Carriage House Theater and other venues.