In a theater town as highly saturated as Washington, there is no guarantee this will come to pass. The trend across the nonprofit theater world is declining financial resources, owing among other things to the economic downturn and a consequent downtick in donations. This, of course, affects the ability of companies not only to stage expensive productions but also to develop effective strategies to retain customers and lure new ones. Rilette is banking on both an alteration in artistic philosophy and a new structure for ticket pricing to help him raise Round House’s profile. It has a relatively small number of subscribers, about 2,000 households. About 60 percent of the company’s audience lives in Montgomery County, Rilette says, while 20 percent are from Northwest Washington and 15 percent from Northern Virginia.
What’s changing is the range and potentially the vitality of the works on the 400-seat Bethesda main stage, and an expansion of the companies invited by Rilette to use its satellite black-box theater in Silver Spring. Gone is the programming built around stage adaptations of literary works favored by his predecessor, Blake Robison. Rilette says his tastes are closer to those of the man Robison succeeded in 2005, longtime producing artistic director Jerry Whiddon.
“This year is going to tell us a lot,” Rilette says. “We’re changing drastically from what Blake has done, but not from what Jerry had done. It relates more to an earlier Round House.”
In Bethesda, Round House will open the 2013-14 season with a revival of Martin McDonagh’s searing black comedy, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” (Aug. 21-Sept. 15), directed by Jeremy Skidmore and starring Kimberly Gilbert and Sarah Marshall, as a wildly disturbed daughter and mother in rural Ireland. It will close the season with the regional premiere of an off-Broadway musical, “Ordinary Days” (May 28-June 22, 2014) by Adam Gwon (“The Boy Detective Fails”) to be directed by Matthew Gardiner, Signature Theatre’s associate artistic director.
Between those will be offered “This” (Oct. 9-Nov. 3), a new play by Melissa James Gibson (author of “Current Nobody”); two Broadway comedies, Nicky Silver’s “The Lyons” (Nov. 27-Dec. 22) and Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar” (Feb. 5-March 2, 2014); and August Wilson’s comedy-drama “Two Trains Running” (April 2-27, 2014). Rilette will direct “This,” Whiddon will stage “Seminar” and John Vreeke will oversee “The Lyons.” No director has been named for the Wilson play.