by Len Lear
Last week Local Life ran an article about Yaga Brady, long-time director at The Stagecrafters in Chestnut Hill, whose play, “The Golden Coach,” just began its run in the theater at 8130 Germantown Ave. In my interview with Yaga, she made several interesting comments about theater-related issues. Here are some of them:
Since you started in the theater, what changes have you observed, if any, in audiences and subject matter?
As far as changes in the theater go, the most notable one has been an overall shrinkage of theater audiences, connected, of course, with changes in life style, people’s priorities and obviously the vast amount of home entertainment available to everybody. But while big Broadway theaters have been closing, and many for-profit theatrical enterprises have been crumbling, lots of smaller, non-profit, often artistically more ambitious and diverse theaters have been mushrooming all around. The Philadelphia area has now well over 100 different theater groups.
Attitudes towards what one says and does on the stage have changed tremendously, too. For example, it was exactly 20 years ago that I went through a most unpleasant, almost harrowing, battle at The Stagecrafters to be able to use the famed f-word, then unmentionable, in a play just once! Well, today, the f-word has become nauseatingly commonplace, but new obsessions have emerged. For example, I was told a few days ago with regard to “The Golden Coach” that I should warn the audience about smoking that would take place in this play on stage. But the smoking here involves exactly only four puffs on a cigar, which by the way is an herbal cigar, purchased by us expressly to be used on the stage.
Since ticket prices to downtown theaters are so expensive, is this a plus for community theaters, which are so much more affordable?
I cannot quite answer this question, at least in the form that you present it, since at this point in time The Stagecrafters officially describes itself as a “semi-professional theater,” not a “community theater.” As a matter of fact, through its 86-year history the theater has never officially referred to itself as “community.” The term “semi-professional” has been chosen as our theater’s present designation since The Stagecrafters at this point in its history pays all its actors, directors and some of the other talent, but it also relies very heavily on volunteers and is immensely proud of the work of those talented and dedicated people. But The Stagecrafters considers itself “fully professional” in the sense that it consistently creates high-quality theatrical productions with a complete understanding of what is involved in theater craft.
But in order to address your question, I have to still further explain that contrary to the old belief that theaters are divided into two distinct groups, “professional” and “amateur,” present-day reality can be described more accurately as a “spectrum” or a long “continuum” with respect to the goals, ambitions and abilities of theater groups but also with respect to their budgets, amounts paid to actors or technical help, ticket prices, audience appeal, and, of course, overall quality. So, as far as ticket prices go, our present prices are low on the spectrum. Of course, the revenue from the sales of tickets does not cover our production cost and the upkeep of our historic property. We do rely on the generosity of individuals and foundations.
Do you attend the plays of other community theaters?
It is very exciting to have an expansive and vibrant theater scene in the Philadelphia area which creates lots of positive synergy. And so I try to go to see all kinds of plays by various groups, always hoping I might see something really special. But because of time constraints, I see only a fraction of the theatrical productions I would like to see; and, of course, sometimes I am disappointed in what I see. Still, the pleasure of going and finding even occasionally something special is great. Two outstanding performances I have seen this season that were both part of rather uninspired productions came from two theaters which probably represent the two extremes of budgetary abilities: Scott Greer as Valere in “La Bête” at Arden Theatre Company and Loretta Lucy Miller as Eleanor in “The Lion in Winter” at Old Academy Players.
Do you think community theater should be judged by different criteria than professional theater?
If anybody is ready to put on a show for the public, advertise it and charge money for admission, then that person should be ready to be judged by the same criteria as anybody else who puts on a show for the public unless he/she makes some special stipulations at the outset, say, that everybody in that particular show was handicapped. And, accordingly, reviewers should judge all shows following the same rules.
More information about “The Golden Coach” at 215-247-8881 or www.thestagecrafters.org.