When is a season not a season?

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Center Theater Group is about to begin a celebration of their 50th anniversary season. It’s a cultural milestone for Los Angeles. We should celebrate with them, honor the legacy of the work they’ve brought to the stage and the American theater, and look forward to a reinvigorated conscience for the theater’s next 50 years.

This year’s Taper season began on January 31, 2017 runs all the way through May 13, 2018. That’s a really long season.

Now typically a theater season is a year-long affair, but this Taper season runs almost 16 months.

Why is it so long?

By extending the Taper season, Center Theater Group has built flexibility into their production schedule. As I wrote about last year, one of the challenges of a rigid production schedule is that the best work does not receive the attention it deserves. The shows that are hits close after the same number of weeks as shows that are flops. By adhering to the schedule rather than the audience, theaters that close a hit show too soon are robbing themselves of a chance to build an audience.

Think about it. You’ll go see a something or read something or eat something if you hear it’s a sensation that’s taking the town by storm. If the best restaurants in LA closed after six weeks, LA would be a tough town for eating. While theater is not that extreme, our best shows and our best shots for building an audience beyond the typical theater audience are hit shows.

By building more time between shows Center Theater Group has a chance to capitalize on a hit. That’s what they’ve already done with “Zoot Suit” announcing an extension before the play even opens. If Center Theater Group hits gold with even a couple of shows this season and extends the shows to fill the 16 months with theater and audience, Los Angeles comes out a winner.

On the other hand, are we getting our season’s worth? Center Theater Group is offering us six plays in the space that could accommodate nine. Almost the entire summer is dark. If you’re a pessimist, we get less theater and fewer slots for playwrights in the Taper’s new schedule.

Center Theater Group’s response to “Why the longer season?” is that this is a one time change and come 2018-19 they’ll be back to 12 month season – six plays in one year. Time will tell.

In the meantime, it’s less theater for Los Angeles and a dark summer.