Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Aug 26, 2013
11:16 AMStage Write
An Outsider's Perspective on APT
Theatre Communcations Group
TCG's Eyring: "You don’t hear too many theaters talking about how they have to do a controlled burn today to make sure the prairie’s doing well."
From the top of the hill at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, you can see a lot of the surrounding rural landscape. The national theater landscape, and APT’s place in it, is a little more difficult to visualize.
That’s one of the reasons APT invited Teresa Eyring, the executive director of the New York-based Theatre Communications Group, to chat with them last week. TCG, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, is a connecting force for the more than 500 U.S. resident theater programs that comprise its membership. (They also distribute grants, publish plays and American Theatre Magazine.) As part of a week-long stint in Cheeseland, Eyring met with APT staff and caught a performance of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead up the hill. In a brief gap in her schedule, she found a few minutes to speak to Stage Write.
Eyring’s resume includes stints at both the Children’s Theater Company and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which means she’s certainly familiar with the Midwestern theater scene. In a nice hint of dramatic confluence, she also got her start in theater at Baltimore’s Center Stage, where APT artistic director David Frank served in similar capacity from 1966-72.
Eyring notes that like most theater companies, APT is dealing with the challenges of slowly declining attendance figures and a fractured audience demographic. But they also have advantages—in particular, they’re not carrying a dangerous debt load that could sink them if the economy takes another sudden downturn.
“For them, things are looking good,” Eyring says. “The theater community overall is recognizing the power of their work to provide positive things beyond the work itself—in terms of civic engagement.”
Eyring characterizes APT as “a leader of sorts,” citing their carefully defined culture as a key strength. “They understand how consensus is a big part of decision-making and clarity of mission,” she says. “It’s exciting, and it’s resulted in a solid artistic experience.”
Eyring is also fascinated with APTs relationship to its natural environment, as well as that “up-the-hill” mystique Wisconsinites know and love, an advantage urban–based theater companies obviously can’t leverage.
“Let’s put it this way: You don’t hear too many theaters talking about how they have to do a controlled burn today to make sure the prairie’s doing well,” she quips.
Before coming to Wisconsin, Eyring caught another performance of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, this one at San Diego’s legendary Globe Theatre.
“That’s an outdoor theater, too, but it’s not up the hill,” she said. “There’s a real lore here that surrounds what it means to go up the hill.” Eyring notes that people who are into theater don’t necessarily travel to places other than New York to see a show—but they will travel to see classical and Shakespeare productions, a fact that bodes well for APT.
“The next question for them may be, ‘How can we become more well known nationally?’” says Eyring. “They’re known, but not in every circle.”