There may be “no business like show business,” but when it comes to deciding what to offer to customers, the theater world is much like any company. All companies strive to attract customers with must-have products, and the same is true for community theater. As Onstage in Bedford opens their 32nd season in January, the lineup of shows will undoubtedly offer superior entertainment. But just how the shows are chosen in an art unto itself.
Artistic Director Michael Winters — now in his fourth season in this role after 12 years at Onstage as actor and director and backstage crew member — is responsible for choosing what shows will be done each year.
“I work a little differently than many artistic directors do. Rather than reading a bunch of scripts and picking shows first, I kind of work the opposite. I try to find directors first whose work I’ve seen in other theaters — ones whose vision and style I like,” Winters said.
After a director agrees to come on board, Winters works with them to determine shows they are passionate about. “I enjoy the working relationship between me and the directors in trying to find what will best fit their directing style.
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“Together we find shows that tell good stories and go about the task of finding the production staff and work to find designers that can bring us the overall creative elements that are up to our standards.”
After a couple of seasons that offered a few R-rated adult dramatic plays (think Proof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), the upcoming season is different.
“This coming season I made a conscious effort to give our audience a little bit of an emotional break,” Winters said. “Because we have put them through several strong shows that have a lot of emotion the past couple of seasons, I wanted to give them a season to laugh. So every show is a comedy.”
Be My Baby launches the new season on Jan. 27 and is the North Texas premiere of the play. “The show has some really funny moments but some touching, really poignant moments as well,” Winters said.
Playing a hugely significant role in choosing shows is getting the rights to produce it and paying the required royalty fees. Winters said royalty costs can be as low as $750 to many thousands of dollars per show. Royalty fees are based on the theater’s ticket prices, the number of performances and the size of the venue.
"Our theater is 99 seats, so we won’t pay as much in royalties as Casa Mañana, for example, which is an equity theater with many more seats. It’s a whole business aspect of theater that people don’t think about,” Winters explained, adding that average royalty costs have increased during the past several years. Occasionally, the rights to produce a show can’t be granted due to timing conflicts or the proximity of another venue that is also doing the show.
A separate, fixed expense is the production costs for lighting, sound, props, sets, costumes and other creative elements. “I keep pushing our production staff to be a resourceful as possible on our limited budget.” He said the financial limitations enable him to follow the advice of his graduate school mentor who said: “You are never creative until you run out of options.”
Winters is particularly excited about bringing the show Disaster! to Onstage later this year. The show played on Broadway earlier this year and was a hit in the theater community. “It’s a fun, silly romp that’s a spoof on all the ’70s disaster films and has lots of fun disco music like Hot Stuff, I Am Woman, Muskrat Love and Hooked on a Feeling. We are only the second production of the play in the country,” Winters said.
A typical season at Onstage will require 150-200 actors, production staff and crew. Another 300-350 volunteers are needed to work as ushers and box office and concession sellers. And the all-volunteer board of directors also works very hard.
Ticket prices remain very affordable at $14.99 each with discounts for Bedford residents, military, students and season ticket holders. “We’re much less expensive than the larger venues and even priced competitively with going to the movies and buying their concessions,” Winter quipped.
Winters says he constantly encourages people to take advantage of the smaller venues in the area and describes Onstage as “the undiscovered jewel of the Mid-Cities.”
“There is sort of a stigma to not being in Dallas or Fort Worth and people sometimes think small venues are not as good of a theater. Onstage is doing some phenomenal work, and I hope people will take the short drive to Bedford and give us a try.”
The current season is wrapping up with the hilarious production of Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge with shows performed through Sunday. Check out the new season lineup at www.OnstageinBedford.com where you can also purchase tickets or season packages.