American Stage, a professional theater company with first-rate productions, acclaim and packed houses, didn’t have one thing — a reputation for pushing the envelope or attracting younger audiences.
Thankfully, that’s changing.
Hope for a fresher approach came by way of Stephanie Gularte, appointed Producing Artistic Director on February 24, 2015. The founder of the Capital Stage Company in Sacramento had produced more than 80 plays and had become known for bold, high-quality programming.
After finishing out last year’s season at American Stage, Gularte selected plays for the 2016-17 season that corresponded with the theme “In Search of…America.”
The plays explore our nation’s ideals of freedom and opportunity (or lack thereof), ranging from comedies to gutsy dramas to a new adaptation of a 350-year-old French classic — Tartuffe, a world premiere currently in production.
“Play selection is the most important element of expanding our reach to younger audiences,” Gularte says. “We believe that the plays in our new season will appeal to a wide range of audiences, including those in their 20s to 30s who are hungry for visceral, edgy live theatre.”
Because of the cost of tickets and the lure of electronic media, getting younger people to the theater has become more of a challenge. Finding new marketing approaches and content that appeals to younger theatergoers is crucial.
According to Gularte, American Stage’s marketing department is always looking at attracting a younger audience while building and maintaining our base demographics.
“Marketing is acquiring a younger audience on several key areas,” Gularte says. “First, our branding has a more modern look. Second, we are using social media, such as Instagram and SnapChat to engage with a younger demographic. In addition, we have a Young American night and a new product, the Young American Pass to attract that age group with a subscription fee model. Another ongoing effort is to attend external events that interact with a younger audience to bring awareness to both theatre and American Stage.”
Gularte chose the current season’s content with the younger viewer in mind and shared with Creative Pinellas why she chose each play this season.
“Good People — I find David Lindsay-Abaire’s play to be one of the most exciting plays of the past 10 years. It is such a fulfilling journey for audiences because it is funny and intense and surprising and ultimately lends itself to some great post-show conversation. I wanted to open this season with this play to go ‘In Search of … the American Dream.’
Tartuffe — Written by French playwright Moliere in the 17th century, American Stage is creating a modern adaptation of this brilliant farce that will be set in America. Moliere was a genius at satirizing the vagaries of society and so we’re taking this opportunity to do a little lampooning of American politics as we go ‘In Search of…an American Idol.’
Joe Turner’s Come & Gone — The 10th and final installment of August Wilson’s century cycle will make American Stage the 13th theatre in the world to have completed this entire cycle of plays. Set in the 1910s during the country’s Great Migration when former slaves are moving north in hopes of finding opportunity this play takes an honest and poignant look at our country’s legacy of racism as we go ‘In Search of … a New Beginning.’
Informed Consent — A Tampa Bay area premiere by Deborah Zoe Laufer, the immediacy of this play was so powerful to me that I had to include it in the current season. The story of a woman trying to find genetic clues to the early onset Alzheimer’s that runs in her family raises provocative questions about the ethics behind DNA research as we go ‘In Search of … a cure.’
The Invisible Hand — Another Tampa Bay area premiere, Pulitzer-Winning playwright Ayad Akhtar’s follow up to his sensation play Disgraced takes an even more highly charged style in this political thriller about an American businessman being held hostage by an Islamic splinter terrorist group. While the man attempts to use the stock market to raise his own ransom play, the relationship between the hostage and his captors is alternately darkly funny and intensely frightening, exposing the universality of greed and the lengths that one might go to save themselves as we venture ‘In Search of … a Free Market.’
Sex With Strangers — One of the top 10 most produced plays in the country for the past two years, this Tampa Bay area premiere by Laura Eason is a sexy and smart comedy about two writers, a 40-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man who become involved in a passionate love affair. But when technology begins to come between them, the 12-year age difference begins to feel like a profound generation gap where intimacy is not so easy to come by as we go ‘In Search of … a Connection.’”