Noises Off 

The Emily Company looks forward after a rough first season.

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For Katharine Clark Reilly, there is one primary consolation as she heads into the 2001-2002 theater season: It can’t possibly be as bad as the 2000-2001 season.

After a first full season plagued by disappointing attendance and lingering debts, the founder and producing artistic director of The Emily Company faces a new year bloodied but unbowed. “We’ve had such a hard year,” Reilly admits. “But we’re going on.”

There’s nothing simple about starting a new theater company, but a year ago, it seemed like the ideal time for Reilly to take a chance on a full season. The Emily Company had made a splashy debut with a 1999 production of The Belle of Amherst that sold out a seven week run at the McCune Mansion and was named best production of the year by the Deseret News. Then, in July 2000, The Emily Company’s production of W;t (Wit) broke box office records at the Rose Wagner Center. Both shows were profitable enough that Reilly was able to donate more than $15,000 to charitable organizations from the proceeds.

The financial success of those two shows helped drive Reilly towards her ambitious plans for a first season, but the deciding factor may have been one of the biggest hindrances facing any potential theater company: an absence of realistic production space. The plans for the new Jeanné Wagner Theater at the Rose Wagner Center made the decision to think big almost a no-brainer.

“With that success [of The Belle of Amherst and W;t],” Reilly says, “I saw the new theater going up next door, and thought, ‘You better get in on the ground floor even if you’re too young, because you might never have a larger theater to grow into.’ I’m here to tell you, there’s nowhere to rent in town.”

The announced season was promoted as “A Season of Masters,” featuring Chekhov’s Hedda Gabler, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth Broadway musical Company. But it was not the season Reilly first envisioned.

“I wanted to open with The Seagull,” Reilly recalls. “The director said, ‘No no, it’s too quiet, too this, too that.’ I picked Hedda because it was the smallest cast.”

And Hamlet—the first production at the new Wagner theater—wasn’t a first choice either. “With Hamlet, we wanted to do Communicating Doors,” Reilly says, but Pioneer Theatre Company had grabbed the rights to Doors for its 2001-2002 season. “The director said, ‘If you’re going to open a new space, you need to do something big.’

“I allowed people last season to say, ‘You should do this, you should do that,’” Reilly recalls somewhat ruefully. “I know now that I have to follow my own instincts.”

Despite generally positive reviews, both Hedda Gabler and Hamlet proved to be hard sells. As Company headed into pre-production, Reilly faced unpaid bills, and then the loss of the originally scheduled director.

“With Company, we were short on rehearsal time,” Reilly says. “We lost the director, so I directed it, which I’d had no intention of doing. I did not hire a set designer or a costume designer again after I became indebted for the ones I did hire. I didn’t know how to do Company any leaner than I did it. Eventually, we got to where we should have been on opening night.”

Reilly doesn’t shy away from discussing the financial fallout from that rough first season. “We did not end up in the black. I owe [director] Chris Hayes for Hamlet, and for the [actor] tutoring he provided, a lot of money. I’m sorry that everybody who’s worked doesn’t have a ‘paid in full’ check on their desk.”

“People have criticized me for starting a young theater so big,” she continues. “I’ve spent a lot of years honing and training, and have been a proven producer. For me to accept being in a tiny space for a number of years, just wasn’t in keeping with my background.”

So now Reilly looks forward, with the season already underway with the current production of Collected Stories (by Dinner With Friends playwright Donald Margulies). She sees the potential for creating a unique regional theater in a smaller market with limited arts dollars to go around. The trick, it seems, is finding out what her audience wants. “There’s a very bright, intellectual audience in this market that responds to certain material,” Reilly says. “I don’t want us to exactly duplicate what the other theaters offer. Maybe we can embrace a new group of people who don’t go to the theater.”

Reilly also plans to continue the outreach programs—like special student tickets for Hamlet and “Pay What You Can” nights—in the new season. “We tried to take situations that weren’t the best for us to do something for the community,” she notes. “You’re never going to get rich doing theater, that’s a given. If you’re going to do it, try to do something additionally good with it.

“I have a lot of the Pollyanna in me. That’s the same quality that it takes to be a successful actor, because if you thought every day about what odds are against you, you’d never get out of bed.”

In the meantime, Reilly takes comfort from the words of National Actors’ Theatre producer Fred Walker, a friend and mentor: “‘So you’ve had some hits, and had some flops—so what? This is show business.’” n

Theater Schedule for 2001-2002 Season

University of Utah Babcock Theatre (581-6961)

September 22 ? September 30: Antigone

October 17 ? November 4: Oh What a Lovely War

October 18 ? November 3: From Morn to Midnight

January 16 ? January 27: La Bête

April 10 ? April 21: You Can’t Take It With You

Hale Centre Theatre (984-9000)

September 14 ? October 20: Heaven Can Wait

October 26 ? November 17: Nunsense

November 24 ? December 22: A Christmas Carol

December 31 ? February 2: One Toe in the Grave

March 4 ? April 1: A Spring to Remember

April 5 ? May 4: Harvey

May 11 ? June 18: The Scarlet Pimpernel

June 22 ? July 27: Ghost of a Chance

August 3 ? September 14: South Pacific

Emily Company (799-0559)

September 12 ? September 30: Collected Stories

October 24 ? November 11: Pride’s Crossing

May 8 ? May 26:


TBD

July 12 ? July 29:


TBD

Pioneer Theatre Company (581-6961)

September 19 ? October 6: The Three Musketeers

October 24 ? November 10: Sophisticated Ladies

November 28 ? December 15: Communicating Doors

January 9 ? January 26:


Dinner With Friends

March 20 ? April 6:


Phantom

April 24 ? May 11: Tartuffe

May 29 ? June 15:


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Plan B Theater Company (201-9791)

May ? June [dates TBD]:


My Left Breast

July ? August [dates TBD]: Beowulf

Salt Lake Acting Company (363-7522)

September 25 ? October 21: The Memory of Water

November 13 ? December 9: The Beard of Avon

January 22 ? February 17:


Cabbies, Cowboys and the Tree of the Weeping Virgin

April 2 ? April 28:


Seeing the Elephant

June 18 ? August 25:


Saturday’s Voyeur 2002

StageRight Theatre Company (485-8038)

December 1 ? January 6: The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of ‘A Christmas Carol’

March 16 ? April 13: Wait Until Dark

June 15 ? July 13: Cactus Flower

August 24 ? September 21: Twelfth Night

Theater League of Utah (555-0000)

December 11 ? December 16:


Cabaret

April 16 ? April 20:


Les Misérables

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