Indiana State University Newsroom



Planning a season of Crossroads Repertory Theatre a logistical feat

May 26, 2015

When approaching a mammoth undertaking such as planning the Crossroads Repertory Theatre season, the staff's goal is simple -- to make it look easy.

"The whole reason to come to the theater is because it's magical," said Michael Jackson, production manager of Crossroads and associate professor of theater at Indiana State University. "If everyone walks out of the theater with a smile on their faces, we've done our jobs. If they're singing the songs from ‘Rent,' even better."

To accomplish this goal, planning for the new season starts in the fall -- just after the summer season wraps. Considerations are made for what plays and how many they are going to do, what the company wants to try from an artistic perspective and what they can handle in terms of personnel, casting, scenery and costumes.

This 50th anniversary season includes "The Rainmaker," which opened the first season of what was then known as Summer Theatre, a "50th Anniversary Musical Cabaret" as a nod to audiences' most treasured summer stage traditions, the children's science fiction classic "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle and the musical tour de force, "Rent," which has never been performed in Terre Haute.

"I don't think there's one factor that determines how the season comes together," Jackson said. And that's because there's so many logistical factors to consider. After the season lineup is decided, next is casting -- both of the actors and staffing production departments.

"One of my most rewarding jobs as production manager is picking the right team of people to work together or facilitating that collaboration," Jackson said.

As the Wabash Valley's only professional theater company, Crossroads attracts talent from major Midwest cities and gives deserving theater students paid experience.

"That's something that makes our department unique is we do try to give our students -- our best students -- their first professional experience," Jackson said. "It's a lot of work for them, but it's a great experience. Experiential learning -- there it is. It's about as good of an opportunity as you can get in the theater."

Because some actors are in multiple plays -- but not all the plays -- and local performers often have day jobs, just developing a rehearsal schedule can be like solving a Rubik's cube.

"It's really just a puzzle. I put things on a calendar, and we move things around when there are conflicts," Jackson said. "My job is to see the big picture - for four different shows, for four different directors, for four different companies of actors and four different stage management teams and design teams - which means you have to be flexible."

Even pre-season prep work can be difficult to pull off, when many of these creative brainstorming sessions -- conversations that would ideally be done in person -- must be done over the phone because of geographic limitations.

"A lot of logistical coordination that is pretty tricky to make sure everybody's on the same page and the director's vision for the production is actually being translated through the designer's work," Jackson said. "But the designer has to have a fair degree of autonomy to make decisions -- especially the set designer -- because we're all busy."

Once the season starts, the crews work for three weeks to build scenery, make costumes, hang the lights, set up the technology for the first show. The company opens a show a week for four weeks and then enters a rep cycle -- using the same New Theater space.

"I think that's one of the most exciting things for our audiences is creating this whole new world for a play, especially when we get into the rep cycle and we're doing a different show every night," Jackson said. "To be able to come and see four completely different uses of this space in four days is exciting for our audiences."

For example, "The Rainmaker" is more old chestnut theater, whereas "A Wrinkle in Time" is a spectacle.

"(For ‘Wrinkle'), we have to go to outer space, we have to go to other universes. So, we knew from the beginning that that show would incorporate video projection, which presents a whole set of contemporary problems we didn't have in the theater 20 years ago," he said. "Projections require technology that is expensive. They also require very specific skill sets that a lot of people don't typically have. We're pretty lucky that (Crossroads artistic director) Chris Berchild has been really interested in projections and incorporating projections vocabulary into theater performance for 20 years -- his whole career. It's just now that the industry is sort of demanding that."

In previous seasons, Crossroads might have had as many as four set designers. This year, despite how different each production is, there is one designer and one very adaptable set.

"The scenic designer has in some ways the most important artistic job of the whole summer. Obviously, the scenery is the biggest tangible thing we have to deal with, and four different plays presents four different scenic challenges," Jackson said. "This summer, we wanted to do one scenic designer for all four shows. And that set is sort of a chameleon, a shape-shifter. Depending on the show we're doing, it's sort of one mega-structure that rearranges for each show."

Just figuring out a window of time when the stage floor can be painted can be tricky, as it renders thespace unusable for 24 hours while it dries.

"I hope people come and appreciate the organizational effort," Jackson said.

At the end of the season, after the company has striked the last play and the costumes have been cleaned and packed away for another use, the staff of Crossroads will have another summer of memories.

"We all have real friendships that are made during this process," Jackson said. "There's something special about summer theater in America, because it's when all of the pros go and have fun making theater. And it's been that way for a very long time."

Crossroads Rep's season opens June 19 with "The Rainmaker" in Indiana State's New Theater, 540 N. 7th St. Season tickets are available for $52 each, and single-production tickets are $15-20 for general admission.

To buy tickets or donate to Crossroads Repertory Theatre, go to crossroadsrep.com or call the box office, which opens June 15, at 812-237-3333.

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Contact: David Valdez, instructor, department of theater at Indiana State University, David.Valdez@indstate.edu or 812-237-3337

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or libby.roerig@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

Crossroads Rep's season opens June 19 with "The Rainmaker" in Indiana State's New Theater, 540 N. 7th St. Season tickets are available for $52 each, and single-production tickets are $15-20 for general admission.

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