The Bay Theatre Company Inc. has built its fine reputation as the Annapolis area’s leading venue for stimulating theatre since 2002. C0-founder and Artistic Director Janet Luby carefully chooses her season selections – balancing a family choice around the holidays with some picks for comedy, and at least one ‘thinker’ that carries cerebral merit, throughout the year. She likes to say, “It’s called a season for a reason!” This well-rounded plate of stage offerings makes the subscription option at Bay Theatre all the more intriguing.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Janet about her passion for theatre, performing, and supporting the arts. She is an experienced actress who has performed in New York and San Francisco both onstage and television. She is excited about what Bay Theatre is presenting this year, and if her season is anything like her delightful and engaging character, we’re in for some great theatre experiences at The Bay Theatre Company Inc.
Why do you enjoy being the Artistic Director of The Bay Theatre Company, Inc.?
This has been a learning experience for me as I start my second year as solo Artistic Director. I feel more responsibility and more freedom at the same time. Bay Theatre is starting to make a real impact in Annapolis as well as gaining respect in DC and Baltimore and it feels great. I am so excited about this theatre company. I’ve got wonderful people on board because of it and the best part is that they have become my friends as well as co-workers.
I think it’s great that you offer subscriptions. To me, it’s smart to schedule the arts into your year, and just like joining a gym and making doctor appointments – it makes for a healthy year. What are the benefits of subscribing with Bay?
The biggest thing is preferential seating. We’re a small theater and we’ve earned our reputation. We only seat about 80. There is also a small discount. Our subscriber base is building and remaining steady. We offer a three play mini-subscription or [standard] four-play subscription.
How do subscriptions benefit the theater?
We have a loyal subscriber base, which gives us some funding in pocket and more artistic freedom. There is planning and substance in the season. We have some shows that the audience can just laugh and enjoy themselves. and one with a little more substance. We have one biography, perhaps the first at Bay, The Belle of Amherst, which is about the life of Emily Dickinson. Kathryn Kelly, a well-known DC actress is starring as Emily Dickinson. Love Letters is a crowd-pleasing chestnut, and Becky’s New Car is funny and fresh, And of course we have Wit, our wonderful Wit.
Why did you select Wit to open your new season?
It was personal. My father who died last year was a physician and told me about the play – and how much it moved him. I read it and it was always in the back of my mind. It was then suggested to me by Richard Pilcher (who is directing it) and the timing just seemed right
How would you describe Rena Cherry Brown’s performance as Vivian Bearing?
She is extremely talented and has a quiet yet powerful stage presence. She considers this a role of a lifetime, and I know she will give a moving wonderful performance.
Why do you think WIT won The Pulitzer Prize for Drama?
Because it holds your hand and takes you where you are afraid to go. This is a powerful piece that will stay with you as long as you can remember it.
Tell us about the rest of your season and why you selected these shows?
I want to be moved, laugh, and learn something with theatre. I think the shows I’ve chosen do this. I made a dumb little rhyme “There is a reason it’s called a season.” Bay Theatre does four distinct different plays each year. If you just pick and choose and don’t commit to a full year – you will be missing out. There is something for everyone.
Is there a theme that runs through the 2011-2012 season?
A friend pointed out to me that this is the year of strong women.
Do you ever choose works by local playwrights?
We started with just established playwrights and familiar shows to establish ourselves. But now, I am very open to doing new plays, although this requires me to sit down and read them and that is a bit of a time constraint. I recently did an interview with a group that had a staged reading of some new plays and chose one for production with the company. I do want to keep fresh new playwrights in mind. Everybody needs and deserves a break. We artists have to help each other. Just talking to you, you’re giving me ideas.
I had also wanted to do a children’s show and we finally got it up last year and we did it Rumple Who?Maryland Theatre Guide gave it the 5 star! It was something I had done in NYC and always wanted to bring it back.
When and why did you co-found The Bay Theatre Company, Inc?
I co-founded it because there were no professional theatres in this area at the time. One had to go to DC or Baltimore. My son was really little and it made the idea of a commute at night very unappealing.
Who was the co-founder?
Cindy Merry Browne.
When did you move to this building?
We moved here in the fall of 2002.
As Artistic Director, what are your duties?
Well first and foremost my duty is to choose the season, directors, tech staff, and actors but you end up doing a lot more than that. The day-to-day operations are incredibly time consuming. I think most Artistic Directors are walking around with a long list that is never done and never will be.
What is it about yourself and your personality that allows you and helps you survive and cope with this stressful job?
It’s something between passion, a calling, and drive. Help me find that word and that’s the answer. When the theater first started there was a “Let’s see what happens” kind of attitude. Now that we are more recognized with a growing audience – I feel an incredible sense of gratitude and responsibility to anyone who has written a check or helped out in any way. Even if it gets stressful – it is a privilege to be the Artistic Director of this theatre.
I get a lot of support from my board who are really trying to get us stable in these tough financial times. I also have a group called the Designers Circle who help with operations and fundraising, and four Associate Artists. And last by not least my boyfriend Steven Strawn, who is my biggest supporter.
Tell is about your performance space.
Little, little, little. But it works and people love it.
How does this space make your performances unique?
Sometimes people say, “Oh I saw that play on Broadway and I liked it better here.” Well that is a really nice complement of course – but I think it has a lot to do with the intimacy of the space. A two-person play on Broadway is going to look like ants.
Ha! Hilarious! How would you describe a Bay Theatre production?
A typical cast for a play here is under seven people, although we have had up to twelve. We have actors from Washington, Baltimore, New York, or Annapolis. There is usually a mix of new actors and a couple familiar ones. The quality is very high in my opinion, and we remain true to the script. Our audience is usually ¾ full or more, and everyone from the actors to the ushers feel like it’s their theatre.
How has the city of Annapolis assisted you in promoting your season and supporting the theatre?
The city of Annapolis was instrumental in helping us get our current space. They are very helpful in promoting us and helping our space to be visible to the many tourists that come to the city. The county has been extremely helpful as well as the state.
Who are you seeing in your audiences?
Lots of repeat customers!
Who would you like to see in your audiences?
More new audience members. We have the Naval Academy here and they need to bring their dates to Bay Theatre!
You have starred in productions here at The Bay Theatre. Name some of your favorite roles.
Stevie in Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who is Sylvia and Sylvia (The Dog) in Sylvia by A.R.Gurney.
Which role do you wish you had said “No Way!” to and “Why?”
I can’t name the theatre or the role as I don’t want to offend – but the big problem was having to wear slippers instead of sturdy shoes (which was more right for the character I thought), and it totally messed up my role – but the costumer would not budge – so I just suffered in my slippers. I now do my own costumes.
And which role that you have never played, but would ‘kill’ to play?
Becky in Becky’s New Car – and I’m doing it!
Why did you choose the play and why is the role coveted?
It premiered Washington State and was suggested to me. It’s unique and actors love Playwright Steven Dietz. Everyone came out of the woodwork for auditions. Becky is a great role – and first and foremost – I am an actress. Performing is important to me because it keeps me connected to the theater.
You have had a prestigious career in film, TV and theatre, What are some of the highlights of your career?
My time in New York was invaluable and I didn’t know it at the time. I worked with a director named Jeffrey Coen who was Artistic Director of Redeemer Arts Performance Project (R.A.P.P.) in The East Village. His thing was taking classical plays and bringing them to a new context whether it was a time period or different country etc… but what it did in a nut shell was force you to think differently about how to approach a character. He was a teacher to me although I don’t think he meant to be. I wonder where he is now. There were some unbelievably talented actors that worked there. We were all trying to ‘make it’ and I think about them, and would hire a lot of them in a heartbeat. [R.A.P.P is now The Connelly Theater]
What have been some of your favorite productions here? And which production was a disappointment for you?
The Foreigner that Vinny Lancisi directed. It was so great going through the process with him all the way from the auditions to opening night. He is a true pro. The last show of the season Chesapeake was a bit of a disappointment because it was a fabulous script, and a fabulous actor – but we had lukewarm audience attendance.
Why should theatre-goers support The Bay Theatre Company, Inc.?
Because good theatre should entertain as well as educate and I think we do that. The more art in a community – the nicer it is to live there. It improves the quality of life.
Originally published September 11, 2011.