What's the best way to build a theatre back up from the depths of bankruptcy and poor management? If you're Circle In The Square, the answer is put people in the seats -- by giving them an offer they can't refuse.
In order to do that, the theatre, now run by producing director Gregory Mosher and executive producer M. Edgar Rosenblum, will offer a special subscription plan, similar to the one Mosher and Bernard Gersten instituted at Lincoln Center. Members pay an initial annual fee of $37.50, plus a $2.50 handling fee. That entitles them to get one ticket to each show, which they can choose from "every seat, every performance, every production" for $10 a ticket. Non-member single ticket prices are $45. The previous Circle In The Square administration had charged a $150 fee for a 4-play subscription season.
The first show of the season will be Pam Gems' UK hit, Stanley, brought over from the Royal National Theatre. Beginning previews Feb. 4 and opening Feb. 20, the play, directed by John Caird, will offer a cast of 14, with 4 principles of the London cast coming over for this production: Antony Sher, Selina Cadell, Anna Chancellor and Deborah Findlay. Sher, a major English actor (Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company; an Olivier Award for the lead in Torch Song Trilogy), will be making his American debut. According to production spokesperson Michael Borowski (of the Bill Evans office), full casting has not yet been announced, though Bartin Tinapp, Peter Maloney and Barbara Garrick are confirmed. Sets and costumes are designed by Tim Hatley, lighting by Peter Mumford.
The length of the show's "limited run" has not yet been determined, though a spokesperson at Circle In The Square told Playbill On-Line the play would have a comparatively long run.
With M. Edgar Rosenblum leaving Long Wharf Theatre to take a senior producing position at New York's Circle In The Square theatre, another element is in place for the beleaguered Broadway institution to begin righting itself. This past summer, after the resignation of founder Theodore Mann and jettisoning of new artistic director, Josephine Abady, Gregory Mosher came on board, hoping to rescue the playhouse from its dire financial straits. "It's an impossible task," Mosher acknowledged in his phone conversation with Playbill On-Line. "The odds are incredibly long, but that's why I felt the need to do it. Four years ago, I left Lincoln Center Theatre -- at the height of its popularity. We had critical and commercial success, but it wasn't fun anymore. It was getting repetitive, maintaining that success, and the challenge was over. It was much more satisfying when things were difficult."
Mosher reflects back on when he was first asked, by then-Mayor John Lindsay, to head Lincoln Center Theatre. "We did many, many lunches, and he was basically begging me, but there was no way I wanted to do it. But then he told me, `This isn't just about the theatre. It's like politics, this is public service. Fulfilling a basic public trust.' I came on in 1975."
"But Circle In The Square is going to be different from Lincoln Center. This is the 90's, so we need to take unusual steps, to explore the possibilities of the future of theatre in New York City. You know, four years ago, when I left Lincoln Center, I took a lot of heat for saying the theatre might be dying. And I admit, that came at a moment when I was losing interest. But I still stand by the statement. Look at radio drama. If you told people in the 1930's that radio drama would disappear in this country, they'd've looked at you like you were crazy. They had Jack Benny, the Shadow. Then came television ... Now theatre people tend to be smug and lazy, `Oh, the theatre will always be around, it'll always be important.' That's just not necessarily the case. We need to protect it, and re-invent it."
But that takes money, doesn't it? "The money will come from individuals and dedicated subsidizers," stated Mosher. "I have confidence, because there are three groups in New York, the artists and creators, the audience, and generous people who give to keep that going."
Regarding the creative direction Circle will pursue, Mosher hopes to dedicate the theatre to giving playwrights a place they can call home. "So many writers turn out great works because they have a PLACE, they know their work will get produced. Circle Repertory was a home like that, for Craig Lucas, for Lanford [Wilson] and now THAT'S gone. And we need writers -- like Richard Nelson, Wallace Shawn -- who can have a home in New York."
That said, Circle In The Square's first production under the new regime will actually come from England. "I didn't see Stanley in London," explains Mosher, "but I read the script by Pam Gems and really liked it. The reason we're doing it here is that the show doesn't call for a proscenium stage -- and that's what nearly all the other Broadway theatres have." (Circle In The Square is a rounded playhouse, with the audience sitting on three sides looking down on a floor-level playing space.)
"We have so much preliminary work, and it's so behind-the-times here. We have two computers and they're not even compatible with each other. And you can't run a theatre on 6,000 subscribers. We need to find the new generation, to see what's out there, which is why I'm reading scripts like mad."
"I love the space, though," Mosher said of Circle, long regarded as a notoriously difficult house because actors' backs are to half the audience half the time. "It's like the Globe Theatre or the Newhouse. We're all in this place watching something together. It's my favorite space."
For tickets and information on Stanley, which won the 1996 London Evening Standard Award, call (212) 239-6200 or 1-800-CIRC-TIX. You can also order tickets on Playbill On-Line.
-- By David Lefkowitz