Addison — The board of WaterTower Theatre faced tough choices.
“They had a decision to make,” says Shane Peterman, who was hired as the company’s Producing Artistic Director in March, several months after previous Artistic Director, Joanie Schultz, resigned. “It was either shut down the theater company or see how we can move in another direction to keep WaterTower alive.”
The good news for North Texas—which couldn’t lose another Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) Small Professional Theatre (SPT), having lost Trinity Shakespeare Festival in 2018—is that WaterTower is indeed alive.
Judging from Peterman’s new season selections, that required moving the programming in a different direction than Schultz's. She was responsible for some of the most innovative programming in the theater’s history, with challenging plays and musicals, world premieres and newer works with a larger percentage of writers of color, women directors, and diverse casting than we typically see at North Texas’ professional theaters.
“Joanie was doing exactly what she was hired to do as an artistic director. They hired her to program groundbreaking works, which she did. Her shows were artistically amazing,” Peterman says. “Unfortunately, the community didn’t respond [by purchasing tickets].”
Peterman says that in the current season, Schultz’s second to program, individual ticket sales dropped by double-digit percentage points. Season subscriptions, as with many arts organizations, have been declining for more than a decade, notably since the 2008 economic recession. When that happened a decade ago, WaterTower had money in the bank to make up for the losses.
Last year, WTT board president Grace Daniels told me that “With Joanie, we were introduced to new audiences. It’s a delicate balance of pushing that creative envelope and respecting subscribers too.”
Pushing the envelope resulted in losing some donors, including a well-publicized hit from the Canterbury family in reaction to Schultz’s immersive production of Robert Askins’ Hand to God, which was a critical hit. They pulled their name from the main stage at the Addison Theatre Centre, which has now been renamed in honor of WTT’s first artistic director, Terry Martin.
Peterman says the theater was looking at a six-figure deficit. To that end, he was hired because of his business experience—he and his wife, Erica, run the successful Acting Studio, with locations in Grapevine, Keller, Frisco and Rockwall. Peterman was previously Associate Producer at Lyric Stage, a company devoted to musicals classic and new.
Since starting the job at WaterTower, there have been staff reductions (down to five full-time employees, plus a slate of part-timers and contractors), and he reduced the pay for non-Equity actors and designers in the previously contracted productions of Everything is Wonderful (currently on stage) and the upcoming The Ballad of Little Jo (Peterman says the contract made an allowance for that possibility). The one-woman show Unveiled in June was not affected. Peterman says his salary is “significantly less” than his two predecessors, Schultz and Martin.
The 2019-2020 season, selected by Peterman, is decidedly more populist. Big musicals are back—no surprise considering Peterman’s history as a musical performer. He was Anthony in WaterTower’s 1999 production of Sweeney Todd, and appeared in all three of WTT’s outdoor summer musicals in Addison Circle Park; and has performed at Lyric Stage and Casa Mañana.
The season opens with Sister Act and includes the first local professionally produced staging of Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County. The season also includes the 1944 hit comedy and Pulitzer Prize winner Harvey, by Mary Chase; and a Christmas residency by locally based Lone Star Circus. The fifth show looks fill the repertory slot that traditionally would have been reserved for a more challenging play: Dallas native Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, one-actor I Am My Own Wife.
Given that the current season’s final show is Godspell, replacing what was to have been the world premiere of Nathan Alan Davis’ Origin Story, and in the summer 2020 there will be a to-be-announced, non-subscription musical, lovers of musical theater—not to mention performers and musicians—are probably thrilled to see musicals returning to Addison. Schultz’s seasons had one musical each, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years in 2018 and the upcoming Little Jo.
“When [former subscribers] heard about Sister Act [which was known before the official season announcement], some were already renewing their subscriptions,” Peterman says.
What will be troubling to those who were energized by Schultz’s embracement of diversity that went far beyond the “token show,” is the scaling back on that front, although the WTT news release about the season touts: “Our goal is simple: to build community through diverse storytelling that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. Our 24th season focuses on unique stories across generations, emphasizing the importance of diverse backgrounds and the communities from which these stories are told.”
Yes, I Am My Own Wife is about a transgender woman in Nazi Germany and Sister Act will have a diverse cast (as will Godspell), but all of the season’s shows are by white writers and composers, with white directors. Harvey is by a woman, both Sister Act and Madison County have women collaborators, and Lone Star Circus is run by Fanny Kerwich. To boot, Sister Act and I Am My Own Wife will be directed by women (Cheryl Denson and Ashley Puckett Gonzales, respectively), and Vonda K. Bowling will music direct Madison County. Dick Monday will direct Harvey and John de los Santos will direct Madison County.
Peterman says that in future seasons, he’ll be looking at new works and diverse playwrights, noting that he has some surprises for the 25th season in 2020-21.
For now, the focus is on helping WaterTower return to financial solvency. His production of Godspell, which has a limited two-week run, will be about half of the budget that Origin Story was slated for, Peterman says. He notes that when a proposal with a smaller budget was given to the Origin Story creators, they decided not to move forward with it at WTT.
Other cost-cutting measures: Next season, the shows will only have a three-week run, as opposed to four; and WTT will return to one preview performance with the opening on Friday night (years ago Martin changed the structure to three preview performances with a Monday night opening). Peterman is also outsourcing the media relations job, which has traditionally been held by a full-timer. “We’ll have to work longer days to get everything done, but that’s what has to happen,” he says.
“I’m lucky I’ve had two [administrative] employees who have been here for several years to walk me through this, and my learning curve has been less than it might have been,” he says, referring to Associate Artistic Director Kelsey Leigh Ervi and Director of Finance and Administration, Delynda Moravec.
Also, don’t look for a festival, à la Martin’s Out of the Loop or Schultz’s Detour, to return anytime soon. “It will have to make financial sense if it happens,” Peterman says.
“We’ve had to get lean and mean,” he adds, noting that he will hire a full-time Associate Producer to fill the job when Ervi leaves for grad school this summer. WaterTower will also launch an “Ignite the Mission” fundraising campaign soon.
“My main goal is to make sure the company survives and thrives,” Peterman says.
Below is the full news release with the 2019-2020 season, dates, descriptions and subscription information:
Shane Peterman, Producing Artistic Director, today announced details of the Company’s 2019- 2020 Season. This season marks the 24th for WaterTower Theatre, and the first full season programmed by Producing Artistic Director Shane Peterman. The 5-show subscription season includes Jason Robert Brown’s Tony Award-winning musical adaptation, The Bridges of Madison County, Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, I Am My Own Wife, a holiday celebration co-produced with Lone State Circus, Cirque Holidays, and a host of exciting additional programming.
“I’m delighted to present to you my first season as the Producing Artistic Director for WaterTower Theatre!” said Peterman. “Our goal is simple: to build community through diverse storytelling that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. Our 24th season focuses on unique stories across generations, emphasizing the importance of diverse backgrounds and the communities from which these stories are told.”
The 2019-2020 Terry Martin Main Stage Season kicks off with the musical adaptation of the hit 1992 film, Sister Act (October 24 – November 10, 2019), directed by Cheryl Denson and music directed by Adam C. Wright.
Filled with powerful gospel music and outrageous dancing, this adaptation brings the film’s iconic flair to life on stage. The season continues with a holiday co-production with Lone Star Circus, Cirque Holidays (December 5- 22, 2019), which will celebrate holidays from around the world through a unique blend of theatre and circus.
The new year will ring in with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Mary Chase’s play Harvey (February 6-23, 2020), directed by Dick Monday. This American classic follows Elwood P. Dowd and his unique friendship with a six- foot, three-and-one-half-inch invisible rabbit named Harvey. The fourth show of the Main Stage Season follows the astonishing true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in I Am My Own Wife (April 16-May 3, 2020), directed by Ashley Puckett Gonzales. Written by Doug Wright, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play tells the fascinating story of an elegant and eccentric 65-year old German transgender woman who, against all odds, managed to survive survived the Nazi and Communist regimes in East Berlin. The season concludes with The Bridges of Madison County (June 11-28, 2020) with music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, book by Marsha Norman, directed by John De Los Santos, and music directed by Vonda K. Bowling. Based on the best-selling romance novel, this touching and powerful story follows the 4-day love affair between an Italian-born housewife and a National Geographic photographer, and how what happens in those four days alters their futures forever.
The five-show Main Stage Season will be enhanced by a limited-run engagement of a musical, to be announced at a later date.
All productions will be staged at the Addison Theatre Centre at 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001.
Five-show season subscriptions are on sale starting April 30. The renewal deadline for current subscribers to keep their same seats or received priority reseating is June 30. Subscribe or renew by August 1 and receive up to a $26 discount. Subscriptions range in price from $119 (Preview Thurs, Wednesdays and Sundays) to $156 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). Subscription prices increase after August 1st to $145 (Preview Thurs, Wednesdays and Sundays) and $175 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday). New subscriptions are available by calling the Box Office at 972.450.6232, and renewals can be made by phone or in person. Individual ticket prices for the 2019-2020 Season range in price from $33 - $39. Individual tickets go on sale in September.
For more information on WaterTower Theatre and the 2019 – 2020 Season, visit us online at www.watertowertheatre.org or call the Box Office at 972.450.6232.
THE 2019-2020 SEASON
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, Book by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner
Directed by Cheryl Denson
Music Directed by Adam C. Wright
October 24-November 10, 2019
After witnessing a murder, disco diva, Deloris Van Cartier, is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won't be found: a convent! Finding herself at odds with a rigid lifestyle and the uptight Mother Superior, Deloris uses her unique flair and singing talent to inspire the choir, breathing new life into the church and community. In doing so, however, she blows her cover and soon her gangster boyfriend and his cronies are giving chase. But little do they know that they’re about to find themselves up against the power of Deloris’ newfound sisterhood. Filled with powerful gospel music, outrageous dancing, and a truly moving story, Sister Act will have you REJOICING in the power of sisterhood!
A Co-Production with Lone Star Circus
December 5-22, 2019
WaterTower Theatre, in partnership with Lone Star Circus, will celebrate the diversity of holidays from around the world through a magical collaboration of theatre and circus with Cirque Holidays! Featuring international stars alongside Dallas’ amazing and entertaining circus talent, audiences of all ages will be treated to incredible acts, ranging from hula-hoops to death defying trapeze stunts all tied together with a charismatic host and hilarious clowns. Forget your troubles this holiday season and get ready for a bright tomorrow!
by Mary Chase
Directed by Dick Monday
February 6-23, 2020
This Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows Elwood P. Dowd – a polite man with a very strange best friend. Elwood’s sister, Veta, is concerned her brother’s friend will interfere with her life as a socialite. And who can blame her! Elwood’s friend is a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch invisible rabbit named Harvey. To avoid future embarrassment, Veta attempts to have Elwood committed, but after her frantic recount of her brother’s condition she finds herself mistakenly committed instead. The truth quickly reveals itself, and the search is on for Elwood and his invisible companion. But Elwood and Harvey’s influence on more than one of the doctors leads Veta to realize that maybe Harvey isn’t so bad after all.
I AM MY OWN WIFE
by Doug Wright
Directed by Ashley Puckett Gonzales
April 16-May 3, 2020
Based on a true story, and inspired by interviews conducted by the playwright, Doug Wright, over several years, I Am My Own Wife tells the fascinating story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an elegant and eccentric 65-year old German transgender woman who, against all odds, managed to survive both the Nazi onslaught and the repressive East German Communist regime. Using more than 30 characters, Wright pieces together Charlotte’s captivating and controversial life. Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play, I Am My Own Wife is a profound story of survival.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Book by Marsha Norman
Directed by John De Los Santos
Music Directed by Vonda K. Bowling
June 11-28, 2020
Based on the best-selling novel, The Bridges of Madison County recalls the unexpected affair of Francesca Johnson, a devoted Italian-born housewife, and Robert Kincaid, a roving National Geographic photographer. Set amidst the cornfields of Iowa in 1965, this sweeping musical romance about the roads we travel and bridges we dare to cross brings to life four sensual, heart-stirring days that will alter Francesca and Robert’s lives forever.
With a soaring score by Tony Award-winner, Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison Country is a touching and powerful story that will leave you breathless.
Current subscribers are able to renew their season subscriptions by mail, fax (972.450.6244), by calling the Box Office at 972.450.6232 or in-person at the WTT Box Office (15650 Addison Rd). New subscriptions will be available by phone.
Renewals and new subscriptions are on sale on April 30th. However, seating will not be assigned until July.