Local theaters branch out? Well, not so much.

Every year American Theatre magazine publishes a list of the 10 most widely produced shows of the coming season — and most years that list is a look at what’s new and interesting and not so well-known. Granted, a small-cast Pulitzer-winner from a season or so before is likely to get a lot of productions across the country. But, besides A Christmas Carol and the plays of Shakespeare, you’re sure to see a lot of titles on that list that are just trying out their wings.

Not so much in Central Florida, where I just took a semi-systematic look at what’s scheduled for the 2010-2011 season and found a whole lot of same old, same old. The most popular playwright among the 60-plus theaters across Central Florida this season? Neil Simon, who’s now 83 years old and who hasn’t turned out a really good play (forgive me, but it’s true) in nearly 20 years.

Here’s the list of most performed shows for the coming season:

Tied for second place, with three productions apiece:

And in first place, you guessed it: A Christmas Carol, with nine productions of various adaptations thereof.

And here’s the list, in descending order, of the most-produced playwrights this season:

Now, some of those folks are the best we have. And of course we can attribute a lot of the tried-and-true to the area’s many smaller community theaters, which can only sell tickets for very familiar names.

And we can always be thankful that a few of Orlando’s scrappier theaters do go out on a limb.

But don’t you wonder what things would be like around here if more theaters took chances — and if more audiences urged them on?

I’m waiting for that day to come.

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18 responses to “Local theaters branch out? Well, not so much.

  1. I could not agree more. ( I type as I get ready to cast A Christmas Carol:)

  2. John DiDonna

    Oh just wait. :-)

  3. He won’t be alone. Maybe a trend can be started! :)

  4. Thank you, Betsey. Part of my lotto fantasy is to open a stage for completely new local work (mine, of course, he said humbly, along with the goldmine of talent in Orlando, including some of the names that appear right here) because it ain’t happening on the ones that already exist. Could we get an audience?

  5. I forgot to mention the obvious — that there’s not a woman on this list.

  6. Daryl Taylor-Hazel

    I agree with you. Now that I have children, it is hard to get out to see shows. It is discouraging when I have to pick between a show I’ve seen thirteen or fourteen times and one I’ve only seen nine or ten times. Lately, I generally opt for Netflix.

  7. Wow. Yes. How true. And how sad. Darn, Betsey. Now you have me rethinking some things ;)

  8. Michael Edwards

    I am proud to say I have performed many of the listed plays. I realize I am considered by the elite to be a (said with a sneer) “commercial actor” and yes it is a wonderful experience to be edgy and the first in an area to present a current work. OTP managed these premiere for many seasons. I recently did NOVEMBER ,Mamets political strike in a regional premiere. Having made a professional living for 40+years working in “what sells” my defense is -I have to make a living ,particularly in Orlando…..there is only a small dedicated audience for unknown and newer pieces. Oh yes, there are the promoters but not the seat fillers…..and its the fault of the community. They have chosen 4 quarters over 2 acts ….we do not have a sophisticated or theatre savvy ticket buying audience. I consider Winter Park Playhouse my base theatre,they present current off Bway ,small cast musicals and reviews and lesser seen works, along with sophisticated cabarets in an intimate setting. Mad Cow has stuggled for years to present unusual and different plays. Shakespears has peppered its season of Classics with new works and original plays. ALL are suffering financially trying to get butts in the seats. The community theatres and avocational theatres presenting the “warhorses” and tried and true standards are selling out and attracting ticket buyers. We can only hope to see a plethora of new works when we educate the population to risk and take a chance on “something new”. We have not done our jobs in training the audience. A few “scrappy theatre goers” who trust and anticipate dont make up for the thousands who fill the Arena and not the theatres. We are still preaching to the choir and not the masses.

  9. mikki scanlon kriekard

    have you seen rock and roll?

  10. mikki scanlon kriekard

    john…dont forget about me….i loved doing 9 parts for that exact reason…cant help wanting another…but i do fear addiction….

  11. Thanks for doing the research. It is frustrating. Even at Fringe our audience gravitate to the same tried and true things but for many, ticket prices make non-regular theatre goers want to go to something they are familiar with or at least have heard good things about, like MENOPAUSE , the musical.

  12. mikki scanlon kriekard

    reading ‘night Mother today. want to re read rock and roll…so much great work and so little brave choices.

  13. Neil Simon is partially to blame for my choosing of performance art. Another? Central Florida theater seasons. (Still… Looking forward to a dozen or so shows this season!)

  14. We are a couple of the theater-goers you all are talking about. Sure, we enjoy some of the classics, but please, the 3rd time for “Sylvia” was plenty! We want variety. Sure, some folks want familiarity for their dollar, but I, for one, want character, plot and interesting premise for my dollar. Many companies are just trading off producing the same plays in alternating seasons. I agree that OTP was where you saw shows like Copenhagen – give us more of that.