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New Repertory considers new frontier of theater

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
New Repertory considers new frontier of theater
Michael J. Bobbitt, artistic director, New Repertory Theatre PHOTO: DJ COREY

Despite the abrupt end to its spring season, New Repertory Theatre, like many in the Boston area, has taken its programming online to keep audiences engaged. New Rep leaders are also considering what should change before they reopen to the public.

Artistic director Michael J. Bobbitt was enjoying a successful first season at the theater’s helm. He says New Rep saw a 26% increase in patrons and a 43% increase in revenue during the season and was beginning to build up financial reserves. But even without the physical performances, he still believes New Rep’s work is crucial right now.

“The arts can be really healing. They can also be a really good distractor. I mean, I think I’ve finished Netflix,” Bobbitt says, laughing. “If you think about the thing that’s keeping people together, keeping people connected and keeping people entertained while they’re stuck in their houses, most of that is the arts.”

One of those entertainments will soon be a series of plays drawn from the real lives of Bostonians. “We have asked our patrons to share with us their funny quarantine stories and then we’ll give them out to playwrights to turn into monologues or small scenes,” says Bobbitt. By the end of the month he hopes to have a few of these mini-plays live online.

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Bobbitt has also been moderating a semi-weekly program called “In the Wings: An Artists’ Salon.” During the segment, which airs on Facebook on Sundays, Bobbitt chats with creatives in different areas of theater work about their experience during the pandemic and their unique perspective on live performance. He’s so far spoken with playwrights and artistic directors, and on Sunday, May 17, he’ll chat with artists of color about their experiences.

Programs like that one may live on even after social distancing rules have been lifted. Bobbitt says that during a recent conference with a theater communications group, a lot of the discussion was about moving forward. “We discussed what the future of theater looks like and can we use this time to correct some business practices that aren’t working but maybe have been around for a long time,” he says.

Many of those practices limit accessibility, for example, a subscription model that hinders theatergoers financially or even the idea of going to a physical theater to see a show, which is not an option for everyone. As part of his ongoing mission to bring more diversity and inclusivity to New Rep, Bobbitt and others are taking time to consider what should and shouldn’t return after the COVID-19 restrictions.

In the meantime, New Repertory Theatre will continue searching for ways to keep its audience in good spirits. “Typically I don’t believe that hope is a good management model to use, but right now I think it’s the best tool that we have,” says Bobbitt. “So anything that we can do to fill their minds with hope and remind them that we’re here is a good tool to use.”

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