What If…One Extraordinary Production A Year Found A Truly National Audience?

by Tim Jennings

in What If

Learn more about the What If…? Project

What if… theatres collaborated to share one extraordinary production a year with a truly national audience?

By Tim Jennings, Managing Director, Seattle Children’s Theatre

What if, on a regular basis, a single exceptional production could be chosen by artistic directors and producers from around the country to be seen all over the United States to demonstrate ‘the best of what theatre can be’


What if all of the regional theatres and presenting houses alike in these communities put their efforts behind advocating for this piece and its importance in a unified campaign to awaken people to this level of work?


What if all of the theatre venues in a city went dark to promote the power of this extraordinary, transformative theatre and to ensure that audiences knew how important it was that we, as curators, feel they see ‘this work’


What if this piece was made accessible to everyone through broader fundraising efforts and a belief that ‘this work’ should be seen?  This would not be $50 or $150 tickets (even if it is worth that), but $20 seats, with daytime school performances, ASL performances and translated performances for the ESL populations of our cities.

What if all of our audiences shared this remarkable common experience?

We have such an enormous range of cultural choices is in front of us. In a world of institutions that produce significant, powerful art every season, we sometimes lose track of the ‘transcendent work’ that redefines us or elevates us beyond the level of own ‘regular’ masterpieces.

Every artist I know can point to one or two specific productions as being ‘transformational’ in their growth as artists and sometimes as people. These experiences, in my opinion, turn occasional attendees into dedicated audiences who crave the next transformational experience.

This is not to downplay our own art by any means. Rather, this is to remind us that even within a portfolio of our own remarkable work, there are pieces that stand above that which can be easily achieved within the context of a standard season, rehearsal period, investment return, etc.

My own theatre recently hosted a conversation of several larger regional theatres who were interested in this idea of a ‘shared’ producing experience. This idea was generated by what felt like the opportunity to bring one of these remarkable pieces to our community. It was something beyond our normal collaborative spirit and involved discussions beyond our normal investment or reach. We all wanted this experience for our audience – although I think for varying reasons. It felt like it had real power to find a combined future audience and to bring us all together in a new way. Whether it occurs or not, that door is now open and I want to keep a foot in it so that it never closes.

Internationally, I liken the idea to the National Theatre of Scotland’s program, where the idea to find a piece of significant theatrical work and bring it to fruition under the eye of a more national body of experts has created a new model that I feel has terrific power:

From The National Theatre of Scotland’s Manifesto (portion)

The National Theatre of Scotland has no building; there has been no great capital project involving architects and contractors. Instead, we are taking theatre all over Scotland, working with the existing venues, touring and creating work within the theatre community. We have no bricks-and-mortar institutionalism to counter, nor the security of a permanent home in which to develop. All our money and energy can be spent on creating the work. Our theatre will take place in the great buildings – Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and Glasgow’s Citizens – but also in site-specific locations, community halls and sports halls, car parks and forests.

As well as producing our own work, we will collaborate with the best companies and individuals working here already. We will travel all over Scotland taking work to school and communities, offering plays for adults, young adults and family theatre. We will be able to create large-scale work, music and spectacle. There will be opportunities for our great playwrights to write big, important plays and to do new versions of those which have not been seen in Scotland for many years. This will create parts for the great Scottish actors spread over the world and at home. We will tour internationally and bring international work into Scotland

As well as producing our own work, we will collaborate with the best companies and individuals working here already….it is the chance to throw open the doors of possibility, to encourage boldness.

While I am not advocating by any means for a ‘National Theatre’ here (which, in the US context I think would not hold this place), I am advocating for a national project of theatres. I think that if the US theatre community can embrace a similar level of investment in work of national significance and see these works as a regular united centerpiece for our art form, we would find that our audiences similarly embraced the idea.

I think it could offer a national profile that we are presently missing and could allow us to put in front of the Country an ongoing message about theatre as an artform and as a vehicle for improving aesthetic understading. We all speak about theatre as a ‘common shared experience’ but we mean that in, generally, a localized context that tends to be about our own halls or communities. It is, perhaps, time to explore a larger context.

Tim joined SCT in 2008, after spending 8 seasons as Managing Director of Roseneath Theatre (Toronto, Canada). At Roseneath, together with Artistic Director and Playwright David S. Craig, their work was nominated for over 15 Dora Awards (Canada’s Tony) – winning 6 – and receiving 2 Canada Council Prizes. In 2007, Tim was nominated as the Canadian Artist Manager of the Year. Tim’s carreer has included theatre management for such notable companies as The Canadian Stage Company, The Canadian Opera Company, Ainsworth Production – SkyDome, Theatre Passe Muraille and the River Run Centre – Guelph. He has worked as a professor of theatre production and management at Ryerson University (Toronto) and Humber College Theatre Programs (Toronto). Tim currently serves on the Board of the Washington State Arts Alluance and is a past membership chair of International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY).