A.J. Holmes and Andrea Ross in Arizona Theatre Company's "Next to Normal," which was a co-production with San Jose Repertory Theatre.


Arizona Theatre Company's 2013-14 season - its 47th - is full of promise.

There's music ("Xanadu"); laughter ("The Importance of Being Earnest"); drama ("The Mountaintop"); and politics and suicide (you get them both in "Other Desert Cities").

It also promises four co-productions with other regional theaters around the country. This is the third year in a row that ATC has had four co-productions in a season.

Without them, audiences here would likely see a much-diminished season. In a co-production, the costs are divided among participating theaters.

ATC has been a leader in lining up co-productions.

In the last 22 years, the company co-produced 46 plays with more than 18 theaters, said David Ira Goldstein, who has directed five of those.

Today, it's rare to find a professional regional theater that isn't doing a co-production.

"Monetarily, it can be $200,000-$300,000 savings in a season," Goldstein said.

Initially, he said, co-productions allowed the companies to stage bigger productions, such as the large-cast "As You Like It," an ATC co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2000.

"Now, it's almost a financial necessity," said Goldstein, adding that ATC's budget this year is $7.2 million.

"It would be very hard to do seasons without co-productions."

Money is certainly an issue, said Lou Bellamy, founder and artistic director of the 37-year-old Penumbra Theatre, which has done three co-productions with ATC and is slated to be a co-producer of "The Mountaintop" next season.

"A financial reason isn't quite enough," said Bellamy, speaking from the St. Paul, Minn., theater, which gained fame and a national reputation for its long association with playwright August Wilson, who started his career at the Penumbra.

"There's certainly an advantage financially, but for me, it's more artistic. Two companies can come together to do something neither could do apart. You have to find people who have similar aesthetics and production values. Those are the folks I tend to work with."

Rick Lombardo, the artistic director of San Jose Repertory Theatre and a frequent collaborator with ATC, agreed.

"I gravitate toward the theaters where I know we share artistic values," he said.

"When I work with ATC, I know it will be very smooth with directing, casting, designers. I have an enormous level of trust with Goldstein, and I think vice versa."

This season, San Jose Rep and ATC collaborated on the musical "Next to Normal," which saved ATC about $101,000, Goldstein said. It also allowed for a production that had a soaring two-story set.

"That very beautiful set might have been out of reach of either theater individually," Lombardo said.

Co-productions aren't all roses, Goldstein acknowledged. "It means there are less (theater) jobs overall; there are less roles available to actors," he said.

And there's a danger if too many theaters sign on to one production.

"If there are too many theaters, you feel as though you no longer own your work," Goldstein said. "So it's a trick to balance it."

A large reason ATC is in demand as a co-producer is because its production team has developed an expertise in creating mobile sets, a consequence of ATC's two-city schedule, opening here and then moving to Phoenix. ATC is unique among professional regional theaters in running a two-city theater operation.

"ATC's production staff is really capable," Bellamy said.

"Many of them have worked there for quite some time, so there's a real ownership, and a buildup of craft at a level you can't buy by just putting pieces together."

September is about the time artistic directors start discussing possible collaborations for the next season.

If and when they decide there are productions that interest both theaters, the schedule shuffling begins.

"The scheduling becomes very key, because you don't want too much time to lapse between venues because you don't want to lose actors," Goldstein explained.

The collaboration doesn't end with the selection of a play.

"All artistic decisions are jointly made by artistic directors," Goldstein said. "Castings, designers, sets, all around - the artistic directors are intimately involved. It's a joint project artistically."

The cost-splitting stops when a theater opens the production. At that time, a theater takes over for the salaries and the costs of running the show, Goldstein said.

Beyond the costs and artistic collaborations, reputations grow with co-productions.

"When we've produced (with ATC), David comes up for the opening and speaks to people here, and that's an extension of ATC, just as it is an extension of Penumbra when we go to Tucson," Bellamy said.

Goldstein agreed.

"It gets ATC's name out there nationally," he said.

2013-14 season

Arizona Theatre Company's 2013-14 season (dates are tentative):

• "The Importance of Being Earnest," Sept. 14-Oct. 5. Oscar Wilde's classic comedy about the extremes some folks will go to escape tiresome social affairs.

• "The Mountaintop" - Oct. 19-Nov. 9. Playwright Katori Hall imagines what Martin Luther King did the night before he died, what he talked about and who he was with. The play, which won London's Olivier, that city's equivalent of the Tony, is a co-production with the Penumbra Theatre.

• "Xanadu" - Nov. 30-Dec. 21. The musical by Douglas Carter Beane and Jeff Lynne takes us to the 1980s, puts on roller skates and turns on the disco music. The spoof of the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly movie is a co-production with Seattle's The Village Theatre.

• "Other Desert Cities" - Jan. 14-Feb. 8. The play, a finalist for last year's Pulitzer Prize for drama, brings together a family with opposing political views and dark secrets. It's a co-production with a theater not yet announced.

• "Around the World in 80 Days" - March 1-22, 2014. This Mark Brown adaptation of the Jules Verne novel manages to bring us all the adventures in the story - including 30 characters, an elephant and steamboats - with just five actors and a couple of sound artists.

• "Venus in Fur" - April 5-26, 2014. A director auditioning for a play based on a sexy novel struggles with an actress who is everything he doesn't want, but becomes everything the novel's lead character was. A co-production with a yet-to-be-announced theater.

To buy tickets

Tickets for Arizona Theatre Company's 2013-14 season are $82.50 to $337.50. Get them at 622-2823.

Did you know?

Arizona Theatre Company is a member of LORT - League of Resident Theatres - the largest professional theater association in the United States. LORT has 75 theater members around the country; ATC is the only one in Arizona. It does the negotiation for union contracts for actors, directors, choreographers and set designers, and serves as a conduit for information about marketing, development, education and technology for its members.