“I’m kind of crazy about this season,” says Ted Pappas of his 2017-18 programming for Pittsburgh Public Theater.
The company’s 43rd season is also his last as artistic director. Pappas aims to provide audiences with a journey of infinite variety and imaginative vision. His selections are consistent with the wonderfully balanced array of plays and musicals he has programmed at PPT for more than two decades. What’s his formula?
“It’s a simple bit of chemistry,” says Pappas. “I produce the way I like to attend.”
Pappas is simply celebrating playwrights, directors, and actors he loves for his own finale season.
“I made it extra special for me, the directors, and I hope for the audience.” He’s also providing some terrific roles of the actors who will appear at the O’Reilly Theater stage beginning Sept. 28 and through July 1, 2018.
His tenure is a run of substantive programming that is at once entertaining and thought-provoking. While Pappas loves both directing and choreographing (as he will again for PPT’s annual musical), he has a knack for crafting a season with broad appeal and inroads for even the youngest or newest theater goers.
Audiences members will move from the deepest regions of the human psyche to the peak of musical theater frivolity. Along the way, patrons will meet Vietnam hero, an American family at a holiday dinner, an unlikely couple, and some very silly Shakespeareans.
The first productions are all works that Pappas considers as three of the most acclaimed works in theater–all Tony winners for Best Play, presented “back-to-back”. They are followed by “three very special projects” that also reflect PPT’s range. These six major productions are complemented by a solo show with undeniable Pittsburgh roots.
“Each of the plays is a blockbuster and all are monumental,” says Pappas.
Pappas was thrilled at PPT’s popular run of Shaffer’s Amadeus, so to open the season he revisited the British playwright as Equus “speaks passionately to the transformative power of the theater…and engages the audience In such a visceral way.”
Decades before the innovations of War Horse, Peter Shaffer’s Equus (1973) called on actors to portrays horses that are central to the plot’s central incident. The compelling psychological mystery connects a disturbed stable boy’s violence and a curious psychiatrist. Pappas praises “the extravaganza Shaffer demands of the director and designers.”
In his 29th PPT appearance, Daniel Krell portrays Dr. Martin Dysart. Pappas says he chose Equus “especially for Dan” but also as the play “epitomizes the team work we’ve built over the decades.” Six men in sculpted metal heads and hooves portray the horses in a cast of 14 in Equus, running Sept. 28-Oct. 29.
For this season, Pappas also observes that “the new plays seem to balance the comedy and serious so well.” This quality is a hallmark of playwright Stephen Karam’s work which includes The Humans, Tony winner for 2016 best play (and finalist for a 2106 Pulitzer Prize).
The play is bound to conjure some beloved yet uneasy family gatherings for audience members during its Nov. 9-Dec. 10 run. Pappas says it may seem like many family members are part of this play and admits the pre-holiday timing is fun.
A Brooklyn couple hosts Thanksgiving for family members from back home in Scranton, PA (the playwright’s own hometown). All the neuroses and doubt swirling around dinner tables today provide alternately comic and dramatic moments. Karman’s script has been praised for its honest realism and wit–qualities Pappas couldn’t resist.
He also knew the script was a strong match for director Pamela Berlin. She returns for her 11th production with PPT, having staged Clybourne Park, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Between Riverside and Crazy.
Pappas, who considers The Diary of Anne Frank “a very significant production for the company”, emphasizes that Berlin “attracts great designers and actors”. PPT is one of the first companies to stage The Humans following its Broadway success.
And, no, Rocky Bleier didn’t have to “fight back” for another run of his solo show The Play at PPT; Pappas was eager to invite the Steelers legend to again “star in his own story”, Dec. 28-Jan. 6. He gleeful admits most any Steeler fan would love tickets for one of Bleier’s nine performances, calling The Play “a great night out and I’ve done your Christmas shopping for you!”
In 2018, Pappas will both stage and choreograph A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a timely and infectious comedy that weaves all things classical with hysterical situations.
He directed Forum in PPT’s pre-Cultural District days two decades ago at the Hazlett Theater.
“In a way, it’s a ‘thank you’ from me to the company for allowing me to be part of the company for the past 20 years.” Pappas promises “a new production of a musical that is both funny and great to look at…frisky and delightful.” Forum plays Jan. 25-Feb. 25.
City Theatre’s most recent artistic director Tracy Brigden returns to direct Heisenberg, her fourth PPT production and a director Pappas is “just crazy about.”
Heinsenberg was a surprise hit about a woman who falls for an older man after a chance meeting. Pappas saw the show and “got the rights while it was still on Broadway. I predict it will one of the most produced plays in American over the next two to three years” says Pappas. The title alludes to the physics of attraction in this two-character play by Simon Stephen whose work includes The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Heisenberg is on stage March 8- April 8.
Pappas has produced Shakespeare about every other season with a balance of comedies and tragedies. Along with Equus, Hamlet was still on Pappas wish list of future productions. He describes his final production as “a classic production and beautifully designed”, running April 19-May 20.
Once more, student matinees will bring young people to each of PPT’s offerings during additional matinees. Pappas considers students “the future of theater and our country.”
“We don’t believe in dismissing the potential of student audiences. They will see all of our plays. Student performances of Hamlet are already selling out,” says Pappas. “We create the audience of the future through these plays.”
And a fun finale to the whole season is the return of the Reduced Shakespeare company in their Will’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), May 31-July 1. What should we expect? What could possibly go wrong? Pappas says “pandemonium on stage at the OReilly!”
Pappas considers the Public as “one of my favorite audiences and theaters” but the season he’s created will demand much of him.
“I’d like to go out with a little bit of fireworks, Pappas says. “My hope is to hand off the company in a top condition.
“I’m taking my vitamins.”
About Season and Ticket Options
Each of Pittsburgh Public Theater’s six main productions run about four weeks, with The Play having only nine performance dates. Single tickets starting at $30 are on sale September 5 with some popular subscriber dates already listing limited seating. A wide range of tickets options including flex packages of just three shows as well as group and other discounts, including 70% savings for students and anyone 26 or under. Tips: Take the time to explore PPT’s ticket info for interesting options and events such as post-show talk backs. You might want to some varied seating in the 650-seat O’Reilly throughout the season. Most any seats closest to the stage (regardless of price or seat level) afford some interesting perspectives. Visit online at: ppt.org