“This is our crowning achievement,” Mark A. Rhea told me the day after I had seen Hair at Keegan Theatre. I saw the show on a Wednesday night, at one of the performances that had been added to a run extended through Apr. 27th. The house was full and very enthusiastic.
Rhea is Keegan’s Producing Artistic Director and its Founder, so his perspective on the production’s place in Keegan’s 17 year history is unassailable. But he was speaking more specifically about his pride as the production’s co-director. He directed this production with the company’s Associate Artistic Director, Susan Marie Rhea. “We did it together,” he stressed; “Susan and I collaborated throughout — as well as Jake Null, Music Director, Rachel Dolan, Choreographer, and her assistant Ali Crosby, as well as the rest of the artistic team. It was a full team effort. Can you tell that I’m proud of this show and my artistic team?”
To illustrate his point about the team effort, Rhea told me about a particularly unexpected instance of collaboration. There is a scene during which the tribe is tripping…The sense of a hallucinatory experience is achieved in part through the use of a black light interacting with white costumes. So where did that idea come from? Lighting Designer? Costume Designer? One of the two directors? “The ‘trip’ was an idea our Hair Stylist Craig Miller had at a production meeting. We were unsure what to do, but he gave us this idea. After discussing it, we all said, ‘Hell, yeah!’”
Neither of the co-directors had seen the play staged before. Rhea told me that someone said to him, as the project developed, that it is people who have never seen it before who bring the most to Hair. “They bring something different to it.” Hair is not a cookie-cutter kind of play, Rhea asserted and added, “I’m a very passionate man. Susan is a very passionate woman. We tried really hard to put our own feelings into it.”
This is an exciting time at Keegan. The company now owns its space. (“That’s awesome,” Rhea said.) They’ve bought Church Street Theatre, which earlier had been New Playwrights Theatre and later was where Keegan got its start back in 1997 with a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Keegan has embarked on a capital campaign to renovate the space, making it ADA compliant, increasing the rest room capacity (go to see Hair, you’ll know what I’m talking about), and supplementing office and other space. Rhea told me that all is copacetic with their neighbors. “There’s no discord there; there’s really good support. We’re feeling pretty good.” The renovation will be extensive, rendering the theatre dark for a period of seven to nine months. It should begin around the first of July. Rhea is in the midst of doing a lot of work — interviewing contractors, dealing with zoning issues, getting permits. And, of course, raising funds.
File this under reverse sticker shock. It shocked me, given the eight and nine figure sticker prices for some of the other recent renovations in town, that Keegan’s work will only be in the range of $2.1 million. Keeping up one of the, if not the, oldest and most storied small performance venues in the city, and encouraging more wonderful work such as the current production, strikes me as important. It also strikes me that a modest contribution that might get lost in a $135 million campaign at a larger company will make a huge difference at Keegan. Naming opportunities are available for the contributions that are less modest! Information about that can be found here or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.