For NTAC, ’Tis the Season

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Rae Cohen of the Newport Theatre Arts Center says it takes a lot of work to put together a diverse season lineup. Photo by Roger Bloom

Newport Theater Arts Center has just announced its 2011-2012 season lineup, and the 33rd season promises a diverse mix of shows: thought-provoking, comical, historical, dramatic – and one fun musical.

Many people may not realize the tremendous undertaking it is for a community theater to put together a season that is well balanced and appealing each year.

Rae Cohen, the president and executive producer of the Newport Theater Arts Center,explained the process which begins with reading scripts.

“We read scripts most of the year, off and on, but in earnest around November and December,” she said. “It takes us a few hours each week, depending whether or not we like something. If we like it, we may reread it again and will pass it on to another person on the play reading committee.”

The committee consists of four, sometimes five board members who read scripts, see other productions, and make suggestions on what to consider.

Once plays are selected, Cohen begins the process of applying for the rights. She says that getting the rights to plays from each agency is a “very different thing.” She has become very adept at navigating her way through each agency’s  particular rules and timelines.

Two of the main agencies she uses are Dramatists and Samuel French. Both publish, license and make scripts available for production.

Often, after applying, for the rights to a show, it can take months to get a response, only to find out the application has been denied.

“We had applied for rights every season for 10 years to get Lillian Hellman’s ‘The Little Foxes,’ which we did in 2004. This season we applied for another Hellman piece, ‘The Children’s Hour,’ and were denied. Upon pursuing the reason, we were told that they were doing a production in the West End, that means the west end of London, and so no one else could do the show.”

Samuel French Inc. has a policy of not accepting applications more than 12 months in advance for a show.

“When you are putting your season together 15 months or so out, in order to prepare your brochure for season ticket subscriptions, it makes it necessary for you to select plays from some other publisher for the shows later in your season,” said Cohen.

These types of factors often dictate which shows you are doing and where you place a show during the season. It is the reason NTAC always does its musical as the final production of the season.

“We can obtain permission [for musicals] more than a year ahead of time. Musical rights are the most expensive but quite easy to obtain, unless the show is fairly new”

While the entire upcoming season line up looks superb, one show not to be missed is “Crown Matrimonial.” With the recent royal wedding and the Oscar-winning movie “The King’s Speech” still on everyone’s mind, “Crown Matrimonial” by Royce Ryton, is the story told from the point of view of the Queen Mother Mary and her son Edward VIII, who abdicates the throne to marry a divorced American woman.

Cohen says that the show “Pack of Lies” is also of particular interest.

“Written by an excellent playwright, Hugh Whitemore, who also wrote the powerful play ‘Breaking the Code,’ it is a thought-provoking piece about relationships and involves mystery and espionage.”

The season also includes Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues”, which follows 20-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome from Brooklyn, who has been drafted during World War II and is in boot camp in Biloxi, Miss.

“Eugene learns to cope with fellow soldiers from all walks of life, falls in love, and loses his virginity under less than ideal circumstances, all while having to navigate around the eccentricities of his drill sergeant,” says Cohen.

“Sitting Pretty” by Amy Rosenthal, is about two sisters in their 50s who are both single and sharing an apartment. Nancy, the chubby, self-conscious sister suddenly finds herself unemployed and obtains a job as a model for an art class. She is shocked when she finds out that she must pose nude, but as time goes on she finds the experience “unexpectedly liberating.”

And finally, the musical for next season will be “The Boyfriend,” by Sandy Wilson. A “witty and stylish musical cartoon of the Jazz Age,” says Cohen.

The new season will start in September and subscriptions are available now. A subscription for all five shows for Thursday, Friday, or Saturday evenings costs $65. Buying each show individually would total $86.

For details and tickets, call 949-631-0288 or visit


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