Step One, Collaborate: Emerson Stage Plans a Season

In order to do this, Emerson Stage has a process that we’ve used to select our past two seasons and that we are using to select our 2022-2023 season. This process begins with all community members of, and stakeholders in, the performing arts department at Emerson College being invited to anonymously submit titles that they would like considered for the upcoming season. The first challenge in increasing that shared interest and sense of responsibility in the season selection process is encouraging participation in the submission process from everyone. I know there are titles that students love, feel connected to, and are curious about, so it becomes a question of turning a casual, “You know, you should consider producing this title or that title,” into a more formal submission that gets the submitter (anonymously) sharing the reason for their personal level of enthusiasm. Not everything is going to be the right choice for Emerson Stage’s producorial and pedagogical needs, but the more fascinating temperature check comes from seeing what stakeholders submit.

Over the course of the summer, all submissions are vetted by one of five subcommittees, covering the different BFA programs: acting, theater, design/tech and stage management, musical theater, and theater education. Each of these subcommittees is made up entirely of students and led by a faculty member. For our 2022-2023 season, over ninety titles were submitted for the subcommittees to vet. The challenge then becomes deciding how the members of each subcommittee begin to make calls on which titles should move forward as they make their way through this first pass of vetting.

Each subcommittee has some specific criteria since each of these choices will impact different program curricula in different ways. But each subcommittee needs to consider the underlying questions: Can Emerson Stage produce this show? Should Emerson Stage produce this show? Do we have the right and the ability to tell this story as intended by the playwright without causing unintentional or intentional harm? At the end of the summer, each subcommittee puts forth its top five titles from the submissions for further consideration by the full Season Selection Committee. The idea here is that every title that we really begin to consider has passed through the brains and hearts of our students.

Then, the Emerson Stage Committee takes these top five titles from each subcommittee and starts slowly and carefully piecing them together into our nine-show season. While originally the Emerson Stage Committee was made up of only faculty and staff, for the past three years it has been joined by a student representative from each of the five subcommittees and a sixth at-large student representative, making it more representative of the department .

The task of season selection is framed for all involved through our mission statement: The purpose of the Emerson Stage season is to safely produce a diverse range of necessary stories that give us the opportunity to experience different styles and voices that we can and should elevate. So, when examining these top five titles from the subcommittees, we need to consider what opportunities they offer, whose story is being told, and if Emerson Stage has the capabilities to tell it truthfully and fairly.

Of course, the desire to tell the stories featured in each title put forward isn’t the only piece of the equation. There are considerations that are highly visible to some areas and invisible to others. For example, in an effort to create as many opportunities as possible for our acting students, we might elect to program a season of shows that all offer cast sizes of twenty people or more. However, there is no way that our costume shop could accommodate large cast shows all season long, so even with enthusiasm for multiple large cast shows, there needs to be a balance. This balance often catches students by surprise as they begin to shift their perspective from individual needs to season needs.

In addition to costume shop considerations, what about our student designers across the disciplines? If we put on a season of all hyper-contemporary plays, do we deny our designers the opportunity to build period costumes or design a unit set? While titles that skew more towards nonrealistic uses of space or hyper-contemporary costume needs might initially garner a lot of enthusiasm, to overprogram them in a season that would miss the mark for our pedagogical needs as a laboratory for our designers.

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