It is quite the process…it actually starts about a year in advance of auditions…explore titles, apply for rights…booking touring shows…(on planning a season).

Jase Sullivan

Executive Artistic Director, La Crosse Community Theatre

Today we talked with Executive Artistic Director Jase Sullivan, and we dug deep into the La Crosse Community Theatre’s 2022 Season and what is on the horizon, we also found out about Jase’s background, the process when producing a show, How LIVE theatre is different now with covid and what is coming up!

This podcast is sponsored by Balancing Act.  
Balancing Act.
Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by Balancing Act, Teach, Coach, Mentor, Inspire, a collection of candid observations on the challenges facing business leaders today. Balancing Act is authored by Dr. Andrew Temte and is available today on Amazon and other fine bookstores. Today we talk with executive artistic director Jase Sullivan and we’ve dug deep into the La Crosse Community Theatre’s 2022 season and what is on the horizon. We also found out about Jase’s background, the process when producing a show, how live theater is different now with COVID, and what’s coming up. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website, I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 00:47
And I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 00:48
And this is La Crosse Local.

Jase Sullivan 00:50
Well, I’m Jase Sullivan and I’m from Richmond, Virginia. And I actually got into theater through how most people do with classes and summer camps and participating in things like that with my local community theater. You know, it’s definitely been my life’s journey starting out in community theater and now being executive director of La Crosse Community Theatre. So I have a real passion for theater and especially community theater, what it does for community, you know. How we, you know, can come in as children and all the way through, you know, later life be involved with theater through community theater.

Brent Hanifl 01:30
Just recently, you announced your 2021-2022 season, can you fill us in on the shows? I know I’m excited for a few, but I’m gonna let you kind of lay it out here for us.

Jase Sullivan 01:40
Absolutely. Well, you know, we’ve been dark for a year and a half now. We’ve had a lot of time to kind of look at what we’ve done in the past, what has worked, what we could do better as an organization. We also conducted a major audience survey, while we were dark this past year. And what we’ve done is kind of tailored things to our audience, so that people are seeing the things that they’re most interested in seeing and finding new opportunities to broaden their horizons as well. So what we’ve done is designed three series in our 2021-2022 season. The first one is the Broadway Series. It’s in the Lickey Theatre, which is a big proscenium theater here at the Weber Center. And it’s just what the title describes, you know, it’s what you’d expect from a Broadway experience, big shows, musical spectacle. That series opens October 8th with Blithe Spirit, which is a British comedy by Noel Coward. And I think after the past year, everybody really needs a good laugh. So we’ll be ready with laughter for our audiences to come back then. And following that in December, we have our holiday musical, which this year will be The Sound Of Music. And everyone you know, knows and loves that show. I think it’s shown probably every day during the holiday season. So this will be your chance to see the live version here at LCT. Then in January, we have a new play. It’s a drama called The Mountain Top. And it explores the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s life before he was assassinated. It’s a very compelling story. It won the Olivier Award for Best Play in London when it premiered. And I think it will really help shine a light on this incredible man’s life right around when his holiday is. And then in the springtime, we have a rock musical. It’s called Next To Normal. And we’re actually partnering with Gundersen and Mayo on this show. It explores family dynamics, a family where the mother suffers from bipolar disorder. And it’s actually a very uplifting show. It really shines a light on mental health awareness and issues and how we deal with that. And in the family dynamic. I tell you, I’ve done the show before and there’s just not a dry eye in the audience at the end of the show. It’s very, very uplifting. And then finally, something else new. We’re doing a musical for adults during the summer. And we’re doing a very adult musical, Avenue Q. And this show is with puppets, and the best way for me to describe it is Sesame Street for adults. It’s not one for the kids. We’ll have a kid’s version also, which I’ll tell you more about later. But that’s our Broadway series. Then we have our Black Box Series and this is in our Veteran Studio Theatre. It’s a 100 seat black box. If you’ve ever been to a show in this theater, you know that it’s a very intimate experience that happens there. And the Black Box Series is geared more towards an edgy dynamic. So if you’re looking for something that’s sort of gritty, and very raw, electrifying, you know, you’d want to come to the black box for these shows I’m about to describe. And by the way, this is, the series has a theme. It’s called Women’s Voices. So all the shows have all female casts are directed by women, you know, and written by women. And it’s a series that we’re going to do a different group every year that we’re representing here. So this first one is women’s voices. The first show opens on November 26th. And it’s called Whose Holiday and it is all about Cindy Lou Who from the Grinch that Stole Christmas. She’s middle aged now and she’s been divorced from the Grinch, she’s led a life. It’s a very adult, hysterical comedy that I think will be a great counterpoint to The Sound Of Music that runs at the same time. Then in February in the black box, we have a show called Night Mother. And it is an old surprise winning drama, it is very high stakes mother daughter drama. Following that in April, in the black box, we have a show called Single Black Female. This is a comedy. And the best way I could describe it is if you’re familiar with Living Single or Sex in the City, this is a female buddy kind of play. And they’re really exploring what it means to be successful and dating as black women. And finally, we have another new rock musical in June in the black box. It’s called Lizzy The Musical. And this is basically if you’re into true crime and into your into kind of rock and roll music, alt rock. This would be a show for you. It’s a rock concert musical that’s based on the life of Lizzie Borden. And if you know the rhyme, we do have an axe in the show. And so that’ll be a fun night for adults as well. And then finally, we can’t leave out the kids. Right? So we have our Theatre For Young Audiences Series. This is something new we’re doing this year as well. We’re bringing in starting in January we’re bringing in four touring children’s shows. These are done by professional touring companies that tour all over the country. Companies like Theatreworks USA, Virginia Rap, Griffin Theatre. And they come in and they’re going to do these shows here and La Crosse for us, for our kids and families. So the first show, and they’re all based on beloved children’s books. The first show January 9th is called The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales. If you have kids, all these titles that I say you’re going to recognize all these books. The second one in March is called Have You Filled Your Bucket Today The Musical, then we have Pete The Cat. And then finally Rosie Revere Engineer and Friends. So that will be just a fun day at the Weber Center with your kids. Go out for ice cream or have a nice walk along the River Walk with your kids, go to the park after that. But we’ve got something in store for everyone and our season passes on sale now, our series passes. There’s lots of ways you can do this, you can buy a single pass to one of these series I explained. If you buy multiple passes and bundle together, if you buy two or three series, you get discounts for each successive series you buy. And then we also have six pack and 12 pack passes where you can pick any one of those shows I just mentioned. So you can create your own season, if you’re just into family fare, and you want to see The Sound Of Music, and the kid shows and stuff like that you can create that adventure. Or if you just want to see Lizzie and Avenue Q and the more edgy stuff that happens in the different theaters, you can do that as well. So we’re really excited. It’s a lot of new stuff that we’re doing this year. And we think after the last, you know, year and a half, we’ve all been cooped up, it’s time to get out and mask up and get your vaccine and come to the theater.

Brent Hanifl 08:57
Absolutely. I know my kids would be excited for Pete The Cat. I actually showed them this morning for them to check it out. And they’re definitely in for that one. And probably a few more. It’s really nice to see some kind of fresh shows that are coming to the La Crosse Community Theatre. You know, like you said with that intermission about 18 months or whatever it was, it’s been kind of exhausting for people for you know, so it’d be nice for people to come on in.

Jase Sullivan 09:19
We just want people to come and have a good time. You know, the theater is really about escapism, it’s about kind of forgetting about your life for that hour or two that you’re in this space and just having this magical journey of seeing other people’s lives and living other lives. And yeah, Pete the cat, I have two year old twins, and they love the new cartoon of Pete The Cat that comes on now. They’ve got their little Pete The Cat board books and all that good stuff. So I know they’ll be excited next March to see them.

Brent Hanifl 09:51
So what’s the process like when producing shows like this? I mean, I’m sure it’s pretty exciting, you know, working with individuals to kind of put these pieces together and then it’s finally showtime. I mean, I was just thinking about it this weekend about just the labor intensive-ness of it, but also just relationships that are built. And especially at a time like this with COVID, and things like that, what is the process like putting together just, you know, one of these shows?

Jase Sullivan 10:14
Sure, well I’ll let you know, we’re going through it right now. So we’re getting back up, you know, it is quite the process. It actually starts about a year in advance of actually auditions or you know, anything like that getting together with the planning process. And, you know, it takes a good three or four months to plan a season to, you know, explore different titles, to apply for rights, book these touring shows, all that good stuff. So about a year before anything actually ever happens, it’s the planning stage. And then we move into what we call pre production. And that’s where we formed the team of who’s, you know, the director, the music director, lighting designer, set designer, sound designer, all those roles, stage manager. And during the pre production process with that team, we have weekly meetings, where the set design is established and the lighting design, all those good things come together. And it’s all kind of like a planning phase where the production team gets ready for auditions. So we’re in the thick of it here with planning for Blithe Spirit. So you know, it’s a little different this year, because of COVID. So things are going to be different than they were in the past. But we are doing everything to make sure everything is absolutely safe for audiences, and for our staff and our actors as well. So in this process, we’re requiring masks in the Weber Center and proof of vaccination for anyone that wants to be involved as an actor or technician on the show. But then once we’re on stage, we won’t have masks. So we’re requiring those masks and the vaccine. So that we can put on the show without having to wear masks, is kind of the method. And we’re following what Broadway is doing and what the theater industry in general is doing. They’re actually going a little further than us and requiring vaccines for audiences. We’re only requiring masks for audiences at this point. But you know, Brent, with the Delta Variant, we don’t know what’s going on. So we’re just trying to take it day by day like everybody, other businesses and everything we do, by the way, is really for just safety. And we have, you know, this is a family community theater, we have summer camps going on here now with children under 12, who cannot be vaccinated. So we’re doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable, our children. So after auditions happen, that’s when the cast comes together. And they start rehearsing, they get their script, they work with the director on blocking the show, which is the movements that happen, you’re going you know from stage left to stage right or upstage, downstage, all that good stuff. And the great thing about community theater is if any of those words I just said you don’t understand or it scares you, don’t let it because we deal with all types of talent levels and skill levels here experienced levels. So if you’re not familiar with what stage left is or stage right, you will learn what that is during the rehearsal process when working on a show at a community theater. So after the rehearsal process, we move into tech week. And that’s when all the lighting designers and sound designers all that good stuff comes in. And the kind of the acting rehearsing stops and we rehearse what’s going to happen technically. So if there’s a, you know, a backdrop that needs to be pulled up at a certain cue, we’ve rehearsed that and you know, lighting cues, we rehearse all that good stuff, sound cues, and we work all those into with the actors so that it’s one seamless thing. We have our preview night, and then Friday, it’s opening night, and then we run with it for three weeks. So it’s about a year long process in the making. Once it’s opening night, boy, that’s the best feeling in the world, because you’ve done a lot of hard work to get there. And you’re just thankful the audience is there and they’re having a good time.

Brent Hanifl 13:56
Well I sure hope you have a successful 2022 season, the remainder of 2021. I mean, just the amount of work that goes into it is just amazing to put on these wonderful shows that people can come and attend. So what’s the best avenue for people to check out, maybe buy tickets, follow you on social, where should people go?

Jase Sullivan 14:12
Absolutely. Well, the best thing to do is go to www.lacrossetheatre, theater with an r-e .org. We have all of our series packages online that you can view every show you can see a description of the shows. We have ratings so that you can see if it you know if it’s PG or G or, or whatever the rating is for the show, and you can really plan and see which events are best for you by going to the website. You can also call our box office at 608-784-9292. Our box office staff can answer any questions you have about these different packages we have. Of course you can like us on Facebook and see lots of fun videos about these shows and see pictures of the rehearsal process and what we’re doing. But mostly, we just are looking forward to you coming back to the theater. It’s been a year and a half, this building, the Weber Center is this beautiful building everyone recognizes it, especially if you’re driving across the bridge to here from La Crescent. It’s a beautiful building. It’s beautiful on the inside, and we can’t wait to have people to come back inside and enjoy live theater again.

Amy Gabay 15:20
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About La Crosse Local

La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.

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