Smile Politely

An inside look at the planning of a season at the Station Theatre

Photo of the set with cast, 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche at the Station Theatre. Four white women and one Black woman are leaning over a small round table smelling a quiche. They are dressed as women from the 1950s. L-R - Heather Smith-Holley, Ellen Magee, Tiphaine Kouadou, Zoë Dunn, Erin Roux
Thomas Byler / The Station Theatre

Out of all the art forms we cover in this section, theatre is probably the area that I know the least about. I’ve gone to theatre productions, of course, but when the Station Theatre announced their 51st season, I realized I didn’t know much about how the whole thing comes together, from deciding on shows, finding actors, set design, etc. In addition to some recent theatre-related interviews — including with costume designer Vivian Krishnan, and an upcoming interview with scenic artist Christina Rainwater — I reached out to Jaclyn Loewenstein, Producing Artistic Director, to learn more about how a season at the Station Theatre takes shape.

Here’s what she had to say:

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Three women actors are on stage laughing while standing around a coffee table and chairs. The woman on the left is wearing a pink suit and holding a folder. The women on the right are in dresses.
The Station Theatre

Smile Politely: Tell me a little bit about yourself: what’s your connection to the Station Theatre, and to Champaign-Urbana?

Jaclyn Loewenstein: I’ve been a theatre person my entire life and have spent the past 32 years as a theatre professional in Chicago, New York City, Austin, and here in Champaign-Urbana since 2011. In 2014 I was cast in my first Station Theatre production and have been active ever since as a director, actor, producer and board member. I currently serve as Producing Artistic Director on our recently-formed Artistic Team (along with June Clark Eubanks and Christiana M. Harkulich).

When not focusing on Station productions, I also run Class Act performing arts studio, teach at Countryside School, and direct the Penguin Project, Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company’s musical theatre production for students with disabilities. (Insert shameless plug for Finding Nemo, Jr. August 25-27 at Centennial High School!)

SP: Can you talk about the planning of each season in general? How do you decide which shows to stage?

Loewenstein: We have an online submission form that is active year-round on our website. Anyone from our community (or the world) is welcome to submit plays they would like to see on our intimate stage. June Clark Eubanks leads a nine-person Play Selection Committee that reviews the submissions and votes to create a diverse slate of plays to present to the Board of Directors. Some scripts have directors attached, while others are left open so that interested directors can apply.

A Black woman wearing a black shirt stands behind a lectern on a theatre stage. She is holding a book in her hands. There is a white woman in a red cardigan and blue dress and a white man in a plaid shirt seated behind her.
The Station Theatre on Facebook

SP: How far out are things decided? Was there anything different or unique that went into the planning this year? 

Loewenstein: The Play Selection Committee typically meets in the spring to plan the September through August season. The upcoming 51st Season continues our commitment to telling inclusive stories and promoting empathy. This season’s playwrights are our most diverse group in the Station Theatre’s history, including African-American, Latinx-Hispanic, Asian-American, Indo-American, White, LGBTQ+, and female playwrights.

SP: Can you walk us through the steps of putting on a show?

Loewenstein: Oh, that’s a big question! Here’s a brief overview: As soon as a play is selected, we need to apply for the rights and pay for the license to perform it. Once that is granted, we can announce the show and start gathering a production team, including (but not limited to) a director, producer, stage manager, designers (set, lights, costume, props, sound, sometimes projections), dramaturg, graphic designer.

This is an approximate timeline:

10 to 12 weeks — Initial Production Meeting (Director shares overall vision with design team.)

8 to 10 weeks — Audition Promotion and Auditions/ Casting

6 weeks — Rehearsals Begin (an alternate location because our productions overlap); Designers work on set, costume, prop designs

3 to 4 weeks — Move into the theater and start production promotion

3 weeks — Actors off book (Memorized)

1 week — Tech week (Add lights, sound, costumes, props)

Performances run for one to three weekends, followed by Strike and Move-in for the next production!

A dark photo of the set of Cyclone the Musical. There is a large sign saying "Cyclone" with a fortune tellers box on the left. there are people standing in the foreground looking at the stage with theirs hands up shielding their eyes from the bright lights from the stage.
The Station Theatre

 SP: What is the audition process like?

Loewenstein: Typically, actors sign up for a timeslot and are asked to read scenes from the script (provided in advance) and/or prepare a monologue or song of their own. Sometimes auditions are scheduled in groups and sometimes individually. There is so much talent in the C-U community, directors often have difficult casting decisions! Since Covid, we have been casting understudies for every production, increasing the number of participants. This has worked out very well! Everyone is welcome to come audition, regardless of previous experience. 

 SP: Do you have a lot of repeat actors for your shows; do you often see new faces? 

Loewenstein: We have a wonderful mixture of repeat and new actors. In the pre-Covid days, pre-casting certain roles was common. The Station now holds open auditions for all roles, and this has increased audition turnout quite a bit. 

SP: What do you love most about the Station Theatre? 

Loewenstein: I love how The Station brings together so many people in our community who love good storytelling and are open to experiencing all kinds of stories. And I love the momentum we now feel after two sold-out productions this summer (The Absentee and Ride the Cyclone). 

SP: Do you have a favorite memory or past performance?

Loewenstein: So many! One favorite was the feeling of audiences coming back for our first production post-Covid: Feeding the Dragon, a one-woman play that I directed Latrelle Bright in. It was a simple production with poignant storytelling, and our audiences were so loving and supportive.

The photo is tinted pink and purple. There is a checkered floor. An actress with large fabric is on the floor. Actors are standing behind her with patriotic hats and dressed as the statue of liberty.
The Station Theatre

SP: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s season?

Loewenstein: Celebrating opening night for every production! There’s nothing quite like opening night energy!

SP: How can interested community members get involved? 

Loewenstein: Email us at [email protected]. In addition to actors, we are always looking for new designers, stage managers, producers, box office volunteers and other help behind the scenes!

The Inseparables
The Station Theatre
223 N Broadway Ave
Sept 14-24

WROL (Without Rule of Law)
Oct 26-Nov 5

House of Desires
Dec 7-17

Usual Girls
Jan 25-Feb 4

Mar 21-Apr 7

Describe the Night
May 9-19

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