"At this point, we consider this a test year," says Penumbra Executive Director Ervin Dixon. "If it does better, we'll stay [at the Fitzgerald theater], if it doesn't, we'll have to seriously consider a smaller space." Have they thought about giving the show a rest? "It's been talked about, but we haven't thought about it in a real systematic way. What compels us is the fact that on visits to other places over the summer we learned that Black Nativity is now being done in other communities."
It's tough to know which came first: the need for such massive revenue from seasonal shows, or the availability of it. Have theaters dug themselves into a financial pit, expecting to climb their way out on a Christmas tree? It seems the answer, in some cases, is yes. A few local troupes have shied away from that game, including the Jungle Theater; this will be their first year in the pageant, with a double bill of Kevin Kling's storytelling and a reading of A Child's Christmas in Wales. It's also a first for the smaller-budget Eye of the Storm, which will present a late-night one-man show at the Loring Playhouse alongside the Ballet of the Dolls' Nutcracker?!.
Perhaps most bizarrely, the tiny Burning House Group will be doing a somewhat holiday-oriented show, the Grimms' Bremen Town Musicians. This from a troupe better known for heady productions of Jules Feiffer and inscrutable East German playwright Heiner Müller! Burning House Group's Randal Berger admits they're not expecting a blockbuster. "We wanted to give an alternative to Black Nativity and A Christmas Carol. Even though there's a zillion shows, we intentionally made it a very basic show, where people go to see actors, where people have a chance to think about the experience of being in an audience with a group of people, together, without all the spectacle. That's what this holiday is supposed to be about."
That and visions of Santa delivering an oversized, Publisher's Weekly-sized check, downstage center.