The World Premiere That Almost Wasn't
In the script form they know so well, Kristen Coury and Cody Nickell capture the latest crisis at Gulfshore Playhouse along with flashbacks to other dramatic moments in their 10-year history.
Kristen Coury stands on the stage that is bringing to life Gulfshore Playhouse's first world premiere play.
Kristen Coury.......founder and producing artistic director of Gulfshore Playhouse
Maura Lohan.......audience services and marketing coordinator
Cecily Bigham.....company manager Stage Manager
Cody Nickell........artistic associate Eryn Bates...........general manager Maggie Cahill......artistic director of Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, N.Y.
Bob Harden.........board chairman
Lights up. Mid-day, opening night of The God Game. Office of Gulfshore Playhouse. Kristen Coury breezes in the door to the office.
Maura: You guys on break?
Kristen: (Sitting down at her desk and beginning to scroll through the copious amounts of emails waiting for her.) Yep. We’re on a 10.
Maura: How’s rehearsal? Ready for opening?
Kristen: I really think we are. Suzanne has made some wonderful changes to the script. The beginning of the play is more streamlined and really launches into the story in a more dynamic way. The tweaks she made to the characters are paying off, and the cast has embraced them. It feels like we have really found the play.
Maura: Can you believe it? Our first world premiere. The first time any- one in the world will see this play in production. How cool is that?
Kristen: SOOOO cool. And it really is amazing that it is happening at all. You remember this time last year?
The lights come up on a separate part of the stage. Maggie Cahill enters the stage, phone in hand. It is one year earlier, and we see both sides of the phone conversation between Kristen and Maggie.
Maggie: Hi, this is Maggie.
Kristen: Hi, Maggie, my name is Kristen Coury. I’m the producing artistic director of Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Fla., and I want to talk to you about The God Game by Suzanne Bradbeer. We got a copy of the script from an actress who is working with us right now, and we love it and want to produce it this coming season. Her agent had previously told us it would be a world premiere if we chose to produce it, but now that we’re offering an actual con- tract, the agent suggested I get in touch with you, as you’ve expressed interest in it as well.
Maggie: Well, we’ve more than expressed an interest. We selected The God Game from more than 200 scripts for our new play festival, and I got in touch with Suzanne’s agent ages ago—and in fact, I’ve already sent them a contract.
Kristen: You have, really? Well, we’re planning to pro- duce it in January 2014. When were you aiming for?
Maggie: May. Kristen: So I guess officially we would be producing it first...
Maggie: But we’re not going to produce it unless it’s a world premiere and since we already have a contract ... her agent has said it will be our call to give it up. I love the play, directed the reading and am scheduled to direct it for our theater. That’s something I don’t want to give up. We’ve put a lot of time into the show and working the details out with Suzanne’s agent, so I’m not motivated to change. Maybe I could come and direct the show for you and then we could move it to Albany?
Kristen: Well, that won’t work for me. I started this company nine years ago, and I have worked night and day to make it work. I’ve also worked very hard to procure a world premiere, and I am certainly not going to let our first world premiere be directed by someone else. So, no problem. Go ahead and take the premiere, we’ll produce it in the ’14-’15 season. We like the play, and will produce it eventually.
Maggie: Well, when you put it that way ... OK, I get it ...We have a solid history of world premieres. And I understand the desire to be the director of record ... Here’s the thing. This was our most-loved entry in our New Play Summit this past fall and I loved the cast that read it. But, I know you are a wonderful director—because I checked you out with actors you’ve worked with—and I’m older and sometimes wiser ... so, in the spirit of being artistic director colleagues, I am willing to give up directing, if
I can have a strong voice in casting. I’m willing to let you direct it first at Gulfshore Playhouse and then come up here and direct it. And then you could have your dream.
Kristen: Perfect. The lights fade on Maggie and we are back in the present in the Gulfshore Playhouse office.
Kristen: I know, right? Just goes to show you. Hard work and tenacity go a long way, and then you have to put it out into the universe, what you actually want and need, and so many times in the Playhouse’s life, it has worked.
Cody and Cecily enter the office.
Cecily: Oh good, Kristen, you’re still on break. I was hoping to catch you. We’re all set to take the designers and the playwright to the airport tomorrow since we open tonight, and get them back to New York. And if you can check out the lobby display on your way back into the theater, that would be great.
Kristen: Check. Cody: And I have a draft of the narrative section for the grant application I need you to take a gander at.
Kristen: Great. Cody, we’ll get to that in a second. Cecily, thank you. Your timing is amazing. Cody, we were just talking about hard work and determination, but most importantly putting what you need out there and every- thing working out the way it should.
Cody: Well, yeah, sure. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t done exactly that.
Cecily: What do you mean? I don’t know this story. Cody: Really? I was down here as a freelance actor working on Blithe Spirit, and things were a little crazy with the production...
The lights cross fade, indicating we have gone back in time again. Cody, Maura and Cecily fade into the background and the scene focuses on Kristen, three years ago, as Stage Manager enters.
Stage Manager: Kristen, we have a situation.
Kristen: What? The actress can’t remember any of her lines?
Stage Manager: No. Her daughter was in a car accident and she has booked a plane home.
Kristen: We open in six days. What should we do? Cancel? Can we find someone? Have someone go on with a book? What should we do?
Stage Manager: I’ll start calling around. I’ll ask the rest of the cast if they know anyone.
Kristen: I’ll call our casting director in New York and see if he can dig anyone up on short notice.
Stage Manager: OK, thanks. Stage Manager exits. Cody enters.
Cody: Kristen, I have a proposal for you. I think you should hire me as your artistic associate.
Kristen: That’s very nice of you, but right now I need to find an actress to cover this role, and we open in six days, as you very well know.
Cody: I’ll call some actresses in D.C. that I know. I’ll see what I can do. But please think about this.
Kristen: I have thought about it. We have a tiny budget, we have plenty of needs that we can’t pay for. I don’t have any extra money for an artistic associate and I don’t need one anyway. We have designers to pay for, traveling professional actors to and from New York, housing and cars while they’re here, a warehouse to build our sets in, a costume shop, an office space, royalties, and theater rent...
Cody: OK ... just think about it.
Kristen: OK, I will.
Lights shift, indicating another shift in time, still in the Gulfshore Playhouse office, a week later, Kristen sitting at her desk reading the review for the show in the newspaper.
Kristen: “Gulfshore Playhouse serves up witty wordplay, gorgeous period fashions and a few pesky poltergeists during the Noël Coward comedy Blithe Spirit. Kristen Coury ends her season on a high note as the production captures perfectly the droll rhythms of the snobby British upper class. Blithe Spirit faced disaster when the actress originally slated to play Madame Arcati was forced to leave the show. East Coast actress Elizabeth Dimon, who played Mrs. Meekly in January’s Unnecessary Farce, came on board only six days before opening night. Despite the late arrival, Dimon makes the role her own. If Coury hadn’t announced the re-casting before Friday’s show, the audience would never have known.”
She puts the paper down.
Kristen: Crisis. Averted. Cody enters.
Kristen: Cody, I’m glad you’re here. If you’re still interested in the position of artistic associate, we should talk. I’m thinking about expanding to six shows in the next season or two, and if we do, I won’t be able to direct everything. I’d be interested in having you direct at least one show and act in a few. What did you have in mind?
Cody: I would also be happy to read as many plays as I can to help you plan the season, and I’d be interested in helping write grants. And I would really love to help develop a New Works Festival for you guys. I have been a working actor all over the country for nearly 20 years, but I only stay at each theater for several months at a time. I think I could learn a lot by being behind the scenes of a growing theater company, but I also think I have a lot to bring to the table as well. I think I would be an asset.
Kristen: OK, let’s make this happen. And you better start saying “us.”
Cody: What do you mean?
Kristen: You said, “develop a New Works Festival for you guys.” It’s gonna be “us guys” from now on. “Teamwork makes the dream work” is the motto around here.
Cody: Right on. “Us” it is.
Kristen: When can you start?
Cody: I could start a year from next August.
Kristen: Great. It will give me time to figure out how I’m going to pay you.
The lights return to normal, and we are back in the present in the Playhouse office, with Maura, Kristen, Cecily and Cody.
Eryn enters with a stack of mail.
Eryn: Mail call! And you better get out the “gratitude” bell, ’cause it looks like there are some donations in here. So get ready to ring!
Kristen: Awesome! Let’s get ready to be thankful.
Kristen reaches for the bell on her desk, as the lights cross fade and we find ourselves drawn back in time yet again to five years before. Kristen is with Bob Harden, the board chairman.
Kristen: I need $35,000 by Friday or we will have to close.
Bob: Kristen, maybe you’re overstating it. We’ve always made it through up till now, and we’ve been in business for five years already.
Kristen: But it hasn’t been easy! We have performed in spaces in Sanibel, Fort Myers, FGCU, the band shell in Cambier Park, and now finally the Norris Center. We don’t have any money; we only have one and a half staff members and two people who work part time, and no office space to speak of. If a check needs to get written and signed, I have to stop rehearsal to do so. I’m working night and day, and for what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there isn’t an interest in high-quality theater in Naples. Maybe there isn’t a niche to fill with self-produced professional theater.
Bob: Why are we in a situation right now?
Kristen: We opened our Christmas show just a few weeks after the Lehman Brothers announced their bankruptcy. The bubble has burst. No one came down at the holidays. That put us way behind. There’s no wiggle room in our tiny budget. Actors’ Equity, the professional actors union, requires us to give them two weeks pay for each and every Equity actor in advance, and in this production of Tartuffe there will be seven Equity actors, so if we don’t have the money for that, along with a host of other bills to pay, by Friday, we will have to cancel this show, and close. I don’t know what to think except this must be a sign from the universe that I’m supposed to be some- where else doing something else and that a professional regional theater is not what’s needed or wanted by our community right now.
Bob: I’ll find the money.
The ringing of a bell causes the lights to shift back to the present and we are back in the office. Kristen is ringing the “gratitude” bell with glee, and the staff is jumping and hollering around her.
Eryn: (With check in hand) This is incredible. Wow. $12,500 total! $10,000 for the annual campaign and $2,500 to sponsor the gala.
Kristen: Yay! They are so excited to honor Bob Harden at the gala for all he has done for us.
Eryn: The generosity and support in the community for what we are doing here is so cool. It just keeps getting better and better.
The Stage Manager enters and stands in the doorway to the office.
Kristen: Uh-oh. She’s here. Must mean the break is over.
Stage Manager: Yep. It’s that time. We are gonna pick up at the end of the act and finish up. We’ve got a world premiere to open!
Cody: Can Eryn and I walk with you to the theater and run a couple of these grant ideas by you?
Kristen: Sure. Whatcha got?
They exit the office, walking toward the theater. Eventual- ly, Eryn and Cody exit, leaving Kristen alone. She turns to the Stage Manager, who has been patiently waiting for her to come back to rehearsal.
Kristen: It always amazes me all that I can get done on a 10-minute break.
She turns and walks through the theater doors, as the lights fade down around her.
HOW THE GOD GAME PLAYS OUT
THE GOD GAME FOCUSES on Tom, a Virginia Senator and a rising star in the Republican Party. He’s asked to join the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate. The only catch: He needs to sound “more Christian” on the campaign trail. Will he sacrifice his firmly held belief that faith and religion are private matters, or give up an opportunity to govern the most influential country in the world? Privacy, politics and public personas take center stage in this drama.
GULFSHORE PLAYHOUSE AT 10
THIS YEAR MARKS THE 10th season of Coury’s dream theater company. And a lot has changed. The group has settled into a home at the Norris Community Center, while still holding out plans to eventually construct a permanent theater of its own. But a small stage with limited seating hasn’t kept the company from growing. Since the dark days of the economic crash, the troupe has grown more than 400 percent with no debt. This summer it will produce its second New Works Festival and in 2015 it will produce a second world premiere, The Butcher, which was workshopped at the first New Works festival in 2013. (The first festival was so successful, Gulfshore Playhouse received more than 100 submissions for the second installment in 48 hours.)
Coury has said her fellow artistic directors have marveled at her ability to grow the playhouse during the recession, even stopping her during a national conference to talk about strategies. She attributes it to keeping things simple. “We know when to say, ‘We can’t afford that’ or ‘It’s beyond our budget,’ which comes from being a young and small company when the economy tanked,” she says.