Today is Memorial Day, a solemn day of remembrance which we’ve decided should be the kick-off to all of our summertime festivities. And here in New York, the past weekend has indeed been sunny, steamy, and hot, the first such of the season. Thousands upon thousands have flocked to our beaches. At the Delacorte Theater, Phyllida Lloyd’s production of The Taming of the Shrew has opened the 2016 season of the Public Theater at Central Park. We even have the first tropical storm of the year (it’s dumped lots of rain down where my parents live). Clearly, summer has begun.
But in many ways, summer is already over.
The many, many summer Shakespeare productions which will be seen all throughout the city in the next few months – of which those at the Delacorte are merely the most prominent – are already deep into rehearsals. Most of them are already cast. Indeed, most of this summer’s shows in general are already cast – the Fringe NYC shows, which will go up at the end of August, are putting up their casting notices now, if their production wasn’t cast to begin with. So, if you’re an actor looking for something to do, summer isn’t really an option any more – it’s already time to prepare your auditions for upcoming Christmas productions.
If you’re simply an audience member looking for a summer show, your options will soon be narrowing as well – at least as far as outdoor Shakespeare is concerned (I’m harking on the outdoor Shakespeare a lot, but it’s kind of my thing). The production calendar for these shows tends to be frontloaded in June and July; perhaps half of these ‘summer’ shows will be done before the actual vernal equinox rolls around. A good chunk of the audience is off recreating in the Hamptons and travelling abroad for the second half of the season, and shows with short runs schedule themselves in order to catch folks while they’re here. So from a production point of view, summer tends to be shorter than you think.
This is, of course, built into the system. Shows need time to prepare their productions and rehearse. Seasons are prepared well in advance. In order to reach an audience, you need time to publicize the show properly. Regional houses cast for whole seasons at a time, so it’s not uncommon to go to a seasonal EPA to audition for a show that will be produced in a year-and-a-half’s time.
The problem with this system is it becomes difficult as an artist to respond to the larger world in a timely fashion. It’s not impossible – the framing device of the Taming of the Shrew production mentioned above is about as of-the-moment as it’s possible to get. (No spoilers, but its impact is yuuuge.) But for most of us, it’s impossible to react in real time as an actor or writer to issues and events surrounding us. For instance, I’ve just started sketching out an election-themed one-act play. Short though I expect it to be, it will be next to impossible to mount a production of it when it would have the most impact, which would be the right before the upcoming election (which, at the rate we’re going, could wind up being our last). And I’m a grizzled veteran who lives in New York City – a kid finishing their spring semester at college, arriving in the area for the summer, and looking for some role to challenge them and allow them to vent their feelings about their world, is pretty much out of luck.
Of course, all this assumes that we want to find projects to work on and productions to see. It’s entirely possible that you’d like to just chill out during the long hot days again, and enjoy a nice rest. And that’s fair enough. Considering the way the world’s going, we’ll all need to be nice and rested up before this autumn comes around.