Goodspeed's Norma Terris Won't Have a Subscription Season in 2007

News   Goodspeed's Norma Terris Won't Have a Subscription Season in 2007 Goodspeed Musicals, the Tony Award-honored Connecticut not-for-profit long committed to new musicals and musical revivals, will abandon its new-works subscription series at the Norma Terris Theatre in 2007, Playbill.com has learned.

Four staff positions, including two part-time and two full-time jobs related to the operation of the Terris — the 200-seat venue devoted to the development of new works — have been eliminated, Goodspeed spokesman Dan McMahon confirmed.

But McMahon cautioned that the company is not ending its commitment to the development of new works (and indeed new works may yet emerge there in 2007) but is seeking to reinvent how shows are produced at the Terris, a theatre it owns.

The theatre is not being sold, McMahon said.

In recent years, the house annually hosted three fully-produced productions of new musicals (such as Meet John Doe, its current work, and The 60s Project this past summer).

The troupe's Goodspeed Opera House in nearby East Haddam usually focuses on musical revivals, or revisions of classic work, rather than new shows. Like the Terris, the historic East Haddam venue offers three titles per year (Li'l Abner, Pippin, The Boy Friend are among recent productions at the flagship space). The programming of six annual shows in two venues — and the scheduling challenges of that plan — is no longer viable for the theatre, and prompted the change for 2007.

McMahon said Goodspeed Musicals is financially able to produce three fully-staged new works in 2007, but executive director Michael P. Price no longer wants to be locked into a subscription plan, which might obligate the troupe to present something inferior in order to simply fill a slot.

There could be full productions or staged readings of new musicals at the Terris in the coming year, but no plan is ready to be announced. Indeed, past subscribers have not yet been officially told of the plan.

Playbill.com first learned about the plan to end the subscription series when contacted by musical theatre writers connected to Goodspeed who were concerned that a major nurturer of new works was closing shop.

Musical writers interviewed for this article who wished not to be named hoped that at the very least Goodspeed might retain a more affordable staged-reading scenario so projects would have the benefit of "getting up on their feet" in front of an audience.

In May 2006, Goodspeed broke with tradition and programmed a staged reading of a musical, Caraboo, Princess of Javasu, instead of a full production. It was part of the 2006 Terris subscription series. The script-in-hand show was directed by Gary Griffin (The Color Purple) and offered bare-bones scenic design, actors in their own clothes, and scripts in hand — as well as a great deal of movement.

"What was formerly the pre-eminent 'musical theatre' theatre in the country is having to virtually shut down their new-musical wing of operations, at exactly the time when everyone else — the Alliance, Human Race, Mark Taper, TheatreWorks in California, Village Theatre in Washington — is stepping theirs up," one writer who has been produced at the Terris told Playbill.com, adding that members of the writing community are "heartbroken."

"It's all really sad, whatever the reasons," the writer said.

Literary/scouting positions held by Casey Hushion and Lawrence Thelen have been eliminated, along with an administrative position and a tech position, McMahon confirmed. However, Goodspeed still has staff committed to seeking out and producing new work, he said.

Goodspeed lost a major player in June 2005 when associate producer Sue Frost — long a champion of new works — exited the company to pursue other musical theatre producing goals. She was not officially replaced.

Frost previously told Playbill.com she was proud of everything she had to do with "keeping the Norma Terris a home for new musicals," adding that shows so often get "workshopped" and "developed" around the country "but they don't get produced." At the Norma Terris, new musicals got full productions and eager audiences — but no pesky drama critics showing up.

"It's that experience that a writer needs," Frost explained in 2005. "I wish we could have done more."

Frost began at Goodspeed in 1985; the Terris opened the year before and she would soon become its line producer, working on almost 50 new shows. When she joined Goodspeed, Frost was production coordinator, charged with rebuilding the production department. She graduated to associate producer, working closely with executive director Michael P. Price.

On her watch at Goodspeed she saw a program with New York University-Tisch School's Musical Theatre Writing Program begin and evolve. The program allows new writers to work on pieces of their shows and hear their work performed by professionals.

Recently, Frost helped create the new Goodspeed Musical Theatre Institute in which undergraduate performers or recent grads come to the Goodspeed campus to interact with musical theatre professionals and/or new writers.

For more information about Goodspeed and its programs, visit www.goodspeed.org.