In Charleston's theater scene, where people have grown accustomed to the idea that there isn't enough money to go around, a certain amount of drama accompanies every show. But that doesn't adequately convey what's on the line for Season to Season, a late addition to the Piccolo theater line-up.
Season to Season was a world premiere about the marriage of painters Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner when Contemporary Theatre Lab opened it in March at North Charleston's South of Broadway Theatre Company. The critical reaction was good, the audiences were tiny, and the drama opened and closed with barely a ripple.
It was yet further evidence that Charleston's core theater audience is reluctant to purchase a ticket in North Charleston.
For Contemporary Theatre Lab, South of Broadway, and the burgeoning creative community now sprouting up around the East Montague Avenue commercial district, Season to Season represents an interesting test case: Can an art-themed play from the wrong side of town find love (and ticket sales) with a downtown arts festival audience?
And if it can, will that audience migrate north once the festival closes?
It's safe to say Mark Gorman and Linda Eisen of Contemporary Theatre Lab have some skin in this game. That said, the theater partners recognized opportunity when it called last month. They were offered a vacant slot in the Piccolo Theatre Series.
"It's just huge," Gorman says. "Now we will be able to have a broader reach for an audience."
Gorman directed the play with the intent of exploring the artist's "struggle to find self-expression, be it in the art work or the relationship or in life," and if that sounds like a metaphor for Gorman's experience as a theater professional, so be it. He started over in Charleston after 17 years working in New York.
"It's definitely personal," he says.
Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner are relatively well-known figures, but Season to Season isn't meant to play like a documentary on some cable channel.
"I told my cast, I'm not directing a biography here," Gorman says. "I trusted the playwright for the history and tried to explore the relationships between the characters. I tried to understand why they worked as a couple."
Like a lot of relationships fueled by alcoholism and ambition, their marriage didn't end happily. Manic genius Pollock is the better-known of the two, but "the most challenging role was Lee Krasner, just because there are so many levels of depth she has to go through and be present in," Gorman says.
He found his Krasner in Kristen Kos, who is, like Eisen and Gorman, a former New York Equity actor. She worked mostly in film before moving here in September and won this role at an open casting call — her first audition since arriving.
"I fell out of love with stage work in New York," Kos says. "But this has been a really good experience."
A festival hit doesn't guarantee progress for the cultural credibility of Park Circle's growing commercial and nightlife district, but the Contemporary Theatre Lab crew is definitely hoping to expand the horizons of Charleston theater-goers.
"We love what (South of Broadway) is doing," Eisen says, "and the next thing we do, we have every intention of doing it up there." —Dan Conover