Theaters put a lot of effort into getting you to their productions. With increasing frequency, they’re now trying to keep you thinking about those shows long after the curtain comes down.
Ever since its 2011 production of David Mamet’s “Race,” Florida Studio Theatre has been organizing community forums about racism, the racial divide and other important issues raised in at least one of its plays each season.
This year, the focus has been on the civil rights movement to tie into its current production of “Thurgood,” about the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Asolo Repertory Theatre holds talks after every Tuesday-night performance, occasional pre-show discussions and other programs designed to give people a better understanding and appreciation of the stories they have seen or are about to see.
One of those special programs is Monday night’s “Thicker than Water,” mixing discussion with scenes from plays about family relationships, which is a common theme for the Asolo Rep’s season. It will be presented at 7 p.m. in the Cook Theatre (351-8000; asolorep.org).
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe marked Black History Month by launching a new series of discussions, this one centered on entertainers in the civil rights movement inspired by its production of “Harry and Lena.”
FST started its discussions during the run of “Race,” because it touched a lot of issues that are often difficult to talk about. Over the last few years, the panels and forums have expanded to add to the audience and community experience, said associate director Kate Alexander.
“When a person sees a play there are as many vantage points as people in the room,” she said. “To me, the walls of the theater should be very fluid. The conversation starts on stage, but you want it to continue.”
The theater wants to expand on the experience audiences have with the plays. “Thurgood” came in a year of notable anniversaries (the March on Washington, Emancipation Proclamation, the 100th anniversary of Sarasota’s Newtown neighborhood). All of them added to the impact of the play, Alexander said.
The play also has inspired new approaches, such as the addition of sermons to the theater’s discussion website, www.fst-blog.com. The Sarasota Ministerial Association has helped the theater coordinate those sermons, some of which are published online.
It’s a new way to extend the dialogue, she said.
“If I saw the play and then my high school child saw it and then I read in my church bulletin that says here’s a conversation about the play, you’re getting more perspective and points of view,” she said.
Discussions of every kind are a way to help audiences better connect with the theater and the plays they see.
Asolo Rep programs, for example, are built around common themes of the theater’s five-year exploration of the American Character, said Kathryn Moroney, Asolo Rep’s education director.
“Every play was selected because we think it speaks to experiences or context or issues that the audience is living through,” Moroney said. “We hope these plays that touch a chord are starting a conversation in the lobby and in the parking lot and on the drive home.”
The discussions also give the theater a chance to assess what their patrons are thinking and how they are reacting to the shows they are seeing.
Both theaters are trying to break down the walls that Alexander mentioned. Audience members get to express their thoughts and learn at the same time.
Moroney said some of the discussions allow Asolo Rep staff to share things that “we have already learned and discovered in the process of putting a production together. These public events allow us to throw open the door and share those same things with the audience.”
Remembering a talented musician:Friends and family are holding a memorial mass for the late musical director John Visser, who died in November. Visser toured the country as musical director of shows starring Robert Goulet, among others, including a Broadway run in a revival of “Camelot.”
Goulet was the frequent star of many of the national tours he worked on, including "South Pacific." He also toured with Richard Harris in "Camelot" and Mitzi Gaynor in "Anyting Goes" and worked on such other shows as "Man of La Mancha," "The Fantasticks" and "Les Miserables." Over the years worked with such stars as Yvonne De Carlo, Monique Van Vooren, Peter Palmer, Harvey Presnell and Allan Jones.
But this relatively quiet, unassuming man was probably best known to area theater audiences for the dozens of shows he worked on as musical director at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, including “The Student Prince,” “The Music Man,” “Li’l Abner,” “La Cage aux Folles” and “Funny Girl.” The mass will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in the chapel at Church of the Incarnation, 2929 Bee Ridge Rd., Sarasota.
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and president of the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.