Last year at this time, the Sacramento Theatre Company was in the process of cutting loose its then-artistic director Matt K. Miller and replacing him with an executive director, Steve Barkett.
Barkett was known as a producer and director of low-budget science fiction B movies, but his tenure at STC didn't even make it into turnaround before he faded to black and was gone.
Michael Laun emerged as the company's producing director. He has overseen the season STC calls "A Season of Mystery, Music & Mayhem." Laun is directing STC's last show of the season, the campy musical "Little Shop of Horrors," and The Bee talked with him about the new show, which begins previews Wednesday, and the past year.
How's rehearsal going?
It's actually going pretty well. It is a full-blown musical with lots of musical numbers, book scenes and of course "the puppet" (Audrey II the carnivorous plant) but we've been in rehearsal for about a week and a half now, and we have the whole show staged and we're doing a lot of puppet work, vocal work and scene work. And I think we're on track. We're having a lot of fun. I think it's easy to lull yourself into "Oh, it's just a fun comedy" and so forth. And it is, but we're definitely doing the play like a fable, a musical fable. It does make references to the Faust legend. Seymour really does end up selling himself out. At the end there are consequences because of that there's a moral. The moral, of course, is "Don't feed the plants."
What's your feeling about how this season has gone?
I would say we're very, very pleased with its consistency. People have been coming back show after show, saying what a good time they've had. As we were putting together the season, I was really passionate that I didn't want to cut any programming. I know arts organizations around the country and I suppose here as well have had to cut back on their programming. Once again, (when) this season ends we will have produced seven shows, three cabarets and four educational shows. That's 14 shows in a nine-month period. I feel that we have been able to put the money that we have up on the stage and offer consistent programming that people have seemed to walk away enjoying.
Do you think STC has a better idea now of what its niche should be in the local professional theater landscape?
It's taken us a little bit of time for us to kind of settle in. When I look back at the history of this theater, let's say 20, 30 years ago, clearly the theater was producing classically themed plays. I want the theater to get back to that. To have a clear artistic vision of classically themed plays, and, I think, unique musical offerings.
Whether that be our Broadway Cabaret Series, which has done really well this year, we added a second weekend of performances for our cabaret. We, myself and the whole board, want to have a return to producing new works. Both classic and musical in nature. As thrilling as it is to put on a play that's consistently been done or put it on in a new way, I think there's nothing like producing new work.
Definitely next season is going to include one world premiere. So classically themed plays, unique musical offerings, and a return to producing new works I think that would fill a nice little niche here in Sacramento.
So you think STC will be doing more musicals?
People know about Music Circus. It is very well known. It's easy to surmise that there are people here in Sacramento and people who come to Sacramento that really love musicals. I've always thought that chamber musicals, musicals that the Music Circus probably wouldn't want to produce or need to produce or want to touch, that there would be a place for the Sacramento Theatre Company to do them.
Do I think that we want to do "Cats"? No, but I do think that there are unique ones that maybe no one's heard about that I've seen in Los Angeles or I've seen in New York or other people have seen there that we can bring to Sacramento, that we can do, that will stimulate audiences.
If I had a mentor or a hero it would be Harold Prince, and Harold Prince did start out as a stage manager like I did, then he became a director-producer. And yes, he is known for producing straight plays, also for producing musicals as well. I just know that when I see audiences coming out of "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" and lighting up from the music they heard during the dances or coming out of our "Christmas Carol" and humming the Christmas hymns, or coming out of "Ruthless" singing one of the songs with a smile on their face, it is clear that music has a way to move people, so I'd like to incorporate that into offerings that we do.
You've had a fair amount of management turnover recently. Do you think that has stabilized?
I think it has stabilized and I think STC has always been looking to find what is the right team. One of the wonderful things about theater is that it's collaborative. I like to joke that most people in theater are not making enough money to be unhappy, so they've got to be happy in what they're doing. We've now found a system that seems to be working. Me overseeing production and artistic; we've got Michelle (Hillen-Noufer) overseeing the school; and we've got Wayne Sherman working on business development.
Add to that our dedicated board members. We run a tight ship. There's no two ways about it. We're like most theaters: We're smaller staffed, we have lots of jobs we have to get done.
How are your subscription numbers?
We've had a very, very modest gain. At this time last year we had 1,950 subscribers for our play series, our youth series and our cabaret series, and our ticket sales were $464,000.
As of right now our subscribers are 2,010 that's 60 additional subscribers and our ticket sales are at $478,000, so we've had a very modest gain of about 3 percent over last year. I'm pleased with that.
About 50 percent of our income comes from ticket sales and another 20 percent comes from our school, so the other 30 percent needs to come from the wonderful, generous donations of individuals and corporate sponsorship.
Do you have anything else going on before the end of your season?
We're planning a Tony Award viewing party. We hope to bring together some of the other local theater groups, professional, educational and community.
I think that there can be a lot more of that here in Sacramento, and Sacramento Theatre Company wants to take the lead in that, in bringing all the theater companies together.