It's that time of year again: I've been organizing and packing my life into a summer-sized, fit-in-the-car packages as I prepare to head off once more into the time-honored tradition of summer theatre. This year, I'll be headed back to beautiful Vermont to work as the technical director at Dorset Theatre Festival for about twelve weeks.

Summer theatre, for me, invokes both excitement and dread. Dread? Yep, I said it: I sometimes dread the summer theatre scene. Those are some long days, long weeks, long nights, away from home and my son. And, let's face it: I'm not as spry as I used to be!

But for all of that dread, summer theatre is still exciting. I get the chance to work with new designers, new directors, and new carpenters. Without fail, the designs call on me to do things I've never had to do before (I have to build a Murphy bed, for example, this summer--if you've done one and have advice, I'll take any you have to offer!). The artists often take shows in directions I wouldn't have considered. And, while I'm always proud of the work our students do at Purdue, it's always invigorating to watch and listen as real pros bring a playwright's words to life in front of me.

My hard students have all left already--one for a different theatre in Vermont, Weston Playhouse (where I've been the TD before), and the other to Utah Shakespeare. These will be invaluable experiences for them, as they see how their peers work and learn how to interact with professional designers and directors in environments where the stakes are much higher than they are at Purdue. I am looking forward to seeing how they grow over the next few weeks.

And, of course, there's the chance to make new theatre friends. I cherish the relationships I've developed over the years; we all come together in that adrenaline-charged rush to mount too many shows that are too big for too little money, and learn to trust each other--to depend on each other--to get the job done. I have gained so many colleagues whose opinions and skills I trust and value this way.

So, yes: there's a part of me that dreads the coming few months. I'll be exhausted come August. But for all of that, I'm excited about all the new stuff that will come into my life during that time.

Where are you headed this summer? What are your favorite memories of summer stock? Share that one horror story!

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Comment by Rich Dionne on May 29, 2013 at 6:20pm
Thanks for sharing, Brian! Sounds like a great experience, and exactly what those summer stock experiences should be!
Comment by Brian Webb Russell on May 28, 2013 at 8:28am

For me, summer theatre was my first and ultimate proving ground.  I worked for 5 seasons at Bloomfield, IN's Shawnee Theatre, and let me tell you, this was a grind, mentally and physically.  6 mainstage shows in 8 weeks, plus a children's show with local youngsters aged 10-17 tagged onto the last week.  I went into the first season knowing the roles that I wanted to do....Renfield in DRACULA, Mordred in CAMELOT, Ensign Pulver in MISTER ROBERTS....and much to my surprise, I got them.  It was my first taste of professional success outside of college, and the feeling left me ready to begin a career. 

As for the experience itself, it was a true test of character, resilience and endurance.  When not working on a show, either in the morning, the afternoon or playing onstage in the evening, you were assigned duties in the shop.  Trust me, an Indiana summer is not pleasant at times, and the shop was usually ten degrees hotter than the outdoor temperatures.  But it strengthened me and my professional resolve in ways that aid me even today.  It gave me terrific credits for my resume that weren't my college, it gave me friends that I still have today, and it gave me contacts and a true beginning for my network.  Example:  A woman I worked with my second year there actually called me to come be a Guest Artist at the college she where she was teaching....and she has since called me back there three more times!

Shawnee was the toughest grind imaginable....and I wouldn't trade those hectic, maddening, frustrating, exhausting, totally sweet days of theatre for anything!

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