The Sandra-Feinstein Gamm Theatre is well-known for its personal and unique take on famous stories. With the 2017/2018 season starting this month, artistic director Tony Estrella takes us backstage and reveals the process behind choosing the season’s shows.
According to Tony, the planning happens way in advance. “You’re always trying to think ahead as far as possible,” he says. “I also like to think about the people with subscriptions – how will the plays speak to each other?” The team searches for shows that capture whatever is inspiring them, which means that their choices are often informed by current events. “Some stories are old, some are new,” Tony says, “But they all need to speak to where we are right now.”
With titles like Incognito and The Importance of Being Earnest on the slate, The Gamm’s new season will be working with themes of identity, transformation and empathy – ideas that Tony feels are important in our current political climate. “I think a lot of people feel that the systems in place aren’t working, and they’re looking for something different,” Tony says. “These plays deal with the difficulty and necessity of change. Each in their own way asks: How do we live now?” Those heavy themes all trace back to The Gamm’s main goal: to tell epic tales in an intimate space. “We’re not afraid of big stories,” Tony says.
The Gamm works with both classic and contemporary material, but Tony says it all plays like it was written for today. “Theatre ought to be transporting and revisiting and reinventing different periods,” he says. “The shows may be speaking a different language, or have different customs, but they are all a mirror.”
In particular, Shakespeare has long been a part of The Gamm’s work, and Tony sees As You Like It as the perfect tale for this season. “It’s a young woman exiled from a corrupt court who goes out to nature with a new set of rules,” he says. “In the end, there’s resolution and people come together.”
Even though he loves Shakespeare, Tony realizes that audiences can be intimidated by the language. “Shakespeare can feel removed; it can feel like you’re going to a museum,” he says. “But those stories are immediate and they speak to us now.” More than anything, he values Shakespeare’s ability to examine the human mind and heart. “People are blown away by how powerful it is.”
Tony also believes that theatre can give audiences the chance to experience genuine connections. “It’s not a dead thing, it’s something you’re involved in,” he says. “With theatre, you get that tactile response with living, breathing human beings. You’ll be opened up to something that will stay with you.”
The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre
172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket