I am writing in reply to Ken Trainor's column of Aug. 24 regarding Festival Theatre ("Festival Theatre needs more Arthur Miller"). I want to say first of all, that all of us in the company are aware of and grateful for his support throughout the year.
I am pleased that he enjoyed and is supportive of our production of "All My Sons," but he also makes some statements I consider to be based upon misunderstandings of the theatre's policies and situation. I also feel that some of those statements might give a false impression to those who are not that familiar with the theatre.
First, the column (and some comments in the paper's review of "The Comedy of Errors") gives the impression that the theatre is in bad financial shape. Our debt peaked three years ago, at which time we made the decision that it was important to focus on providing quality productions in a financially responsible way that would reduce that debt.
After an initial cut in our budget I am happy to say that this is the third year in a row for us of shows in the black, increased memberships by the public and businesses, significant debt reduction and gradually increasing funding and budgets.
We also decided that part two of our plan would be, instead of retreating, to step by step increase the theatre's offerings. We have been very successful in this path.
Last year for the first time in over 20 years we presented more than one show in a season by adding Megan Wells's guest show. This year we went to an even more ambitious season by bringing back a guest show, offering our first modern classic, and the first ever season in our 30-year history that we produced two shows at the same time. Everyone was pleased with the results.
Mr. Trainor says that we have had stripped down sets for the past three years. In point of fact, last year's production of "Romeo and Juliet" featured an elaborate two-story set.
The year before we produced "As You Like It." This was one of our simplest sets. But, except for a couple of short scenes, the play is set in the forest. Most sets I have seen for this show featured artificial trees as the main set element. It wouldn't have made much sense to provide those in Austin Gardens. This year's set had to be kept fairly small because with a repertory schedule it had to be moved around every few days.
The simplicity of the set did not keep him from enjoying "All My Sons" this year and our previous two shows.
Shakespeare's plays were written with open staging in mind.
I don't believe that Mr. Trainor is aware of how hard we have worked to be creative in our ticket pricing.
There were several discounts that were offered this year in addition to our traditional reductions for students, seniors, children and groups. We offered $5 off to anyone who bought tickets for both shows at the same time.
Our two Family Day matinees not only gave that same discount for everyone attending but offered children's tickets for only $5. Two student nights offered students the opportunity to attend the plays for only $8, which is now less than what a movie ticket costs.
Coupons were also offered in Dine Around booklets. We are always open to suggestions (the student nights were first suggested by Mr. Trainor) as long as the fiscal reality of professional actors who must be paid even in poor weather is kept in mind.
Seeing a show at Chicago Shakespeare would cost $45-$60 for a ticket plus $15 for parking. At ticket prices of $10 to $25 with free parking, our shows are affordable for a much larger population.
If we were to stop presenting older classics and only do Miller plays we would not be offering our audiences options.
As I talked to audience members throughout the summer as well as theatre professionals throughout the Chicago area, I was gratified to learn that the community is well aware that ours is a theatre on a growth track, not hobbling along.
We plan to keep growing.
Not only do we plan to present a multi-show season next year, we are investigating the possibility of presenting an indoor production next spring. We do welcome public input into our future productions at festival.
Contributions are of course welcome to help support our growth at P.O. Box 4114; Oak Park, IL 60302.
Oak Park Festival Theatre