What’s In A Season?: Talking to Artistic Director, Katherine Owens about the Thread that Ties it all Together

Modern families come in a multitude of configurations. There is no clear cookie-cutter mold or example of what a family is or should be. These family ties – that bind, and sometimes break – serve as the common thread that ties together Undermain’s 32nd season. Each of the four plays Undermain will produce this year presents the story of a very different family. First we’ll meet The Droll’s “mismatched roving band” of Players that reluctantly adopts young Nim, then we’ll be introduced to the tumultuous and gritty realities facing familial ties in The Night Alive. In February, we’ll meet the second theatrical family of the season, this one dysfunctional and drug-infused and courtesy of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Finally, we’ll find our way to the spiritual and far-reaching, odd and seemingly coincidental clan in Jonah.

Choosing a season is one of the most difficult tasks facing the artistic director of a theatre company. In addition to finding plays that fit together to form a season, artistic directors also have to consider how the season fits into the company’s mission statement. Then, from resources, to properties to which premieres are available when….there is so much that falls outside the company’s control. Once you have an idea of the plays you’d like to include in the season, it’s far from over! … you’ve got to be able to cast the plays, to get them designed, and find directors. In the words of the artistic director of Undermain Theatre, Katherine Owens, “it’s a big constellation of choices that come together at one time.” It’s important to think about variety, but as Owens attests, a season cannot subsist on variety alone. When contemplating the season, Owens is looking for experimental work that is somehow ground-breaking, but says she must also find cohesion and something that speaks to the zeitgeist.

“It’s as if you’ve been given a year, and someone’s said, ‘What are you going to do with this year? What are you going to say? What is your message to this year?’ And the season is a way to speak to the year.”

This year, Owens found the common thread of the season between Meg Miroshnik’s The Droll and Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Both plays involve theatre families, which intrigued Owens. As The Night Alive by Conor McPherson and Jonah by long time Undermain collaborator and great American poet, Len Jenkin fell into place, so did the through line of Undermain’s 32nd season.

“We belong to many families in America today: families at work, at home, around the neighborhood, across the globe. Families bind us together and yet can often contain the engines of their own destruction. They demand much from us but may be our greatest source or respite. Families are often the source of much trauma but may also possess its salve. In our unprecedentedly ambitious 2015-16 season, Undermain details four portraits of different types of families. Some are self-defeating, others remarkably encouraging; some are mismatched roving bands, others deeply spiritual. Written by some of our most daring, inventive, careful, and curious writers, each of these productions will draw us to a closer examination of our own relationships, our own rough-hewn families, both the ones we’re born into and the ones we choose for ourselves.

Here at Undermain you’re a part of your own kind of theatrical family. This summer, as part of our season plan, where we set forth our goals for the next few years, we’re working to better live up to our Undermain culture. Each of these plays present a challenge and a word of encouragement. They demand us to love better, forgive easier, fight for our own voice to be hear, and to make the unheard voice unignorable. For our 32nd Season, we hope you’ll join our invitation to partake of this challenge through these four remarkable plays”

Katherine Owens
Artistic Director

Undermain Theatre

After noting how the plays in any particular season fit together and how that season fits into the larger picture of the company’s mission, Owens is also looking at the writers in Undermain’s production history and how they relate to one another. She points out that the modern writers we work with owe a debt to a lineage of great writers including Strindberg, Beckett, and Williams. This is not to say that each playwright we produce is directly influenced by this cannon, but that the work of these canonical playwrights sets the precedent that makes possible the writing seen on stage at Undermain. Undermain Theatre has found much success producing the work of writers who paved the way for contemporary plays like the regional and world premieres that will be produced and further developed at Undermain this year. This season will feature a play by one such influential playwright, Eugene O’Neill, whose experiments with form have shaped American theatre. Katherine Owens will be directing Long Day’s Journey into Night by O’Neill this spring. She says it will be both one of the most challenging and exciting opportunities this season. Though it is “a very difficult and large and long play,” it is also “a chance for these really developed actors in Dallas to put themselves in those roles” that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to tackle in their careers. Owens mentioned that though O’Neill is a “great” and “experimental” writer, his work is rarely produced in the region: “It might be the only – one of the only, if not the only – professional O’Neill that will happen in Texas this year”. It will be a worthwhile endeavor, and will certainly add to an intriguing 4-show season.

In addition to the O’Neill, season 32 will feature three premieres of poetic new works. A “very unusual and exciting” world premiere by Meg Miroshnik entitled The Droll {Or, a Stage-Play about the END of Theatre.} will kick of the season next Saturday, September 26. Undermain is thrilled for Miroshnik’s return after she joined us last season for the regional premiere of The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls. The second production of the season, directed by artistic associate, Dylan Key, is also creating quite a bit of buzz around the basement. The regional premiere of The Night Alive promises to be a “tremendous play” by a “great modern writer,” Conor McPherson.  The final world premiere this season will be the newest Len Jenkin, a “great poet and playwright” with whom Owens had the pleasure of working at Sundance this summer. She is excited about the extensive possibilities with this production of Jonah and is thrilled to go into rehearsals for this play having learned so much from seeing “people respond to [Jenkin’s work] in a context outside the Undermain” after extensive work developing the play at the festival.

Each of the four playwrights featured this season takes a look at where we’ve come from and how it’s shaped where we’re headed. As author Alex Haley put it, “in every conceivable manner, the family is” the “link to our past” and the “bridge to our future.” No matter where we come from or where we’ve gone since, we are part of families that we were born into and the families that we’ve found along the way, and those families are a part of us. By looking at these familial microcosms this season, we hope to learn a little more about ourselves and the ways that we’ve been shaped by our own families.

Abigail Birkett
Undermain Emerging Artist

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