July 14, 2014

Playhouse Merced prepares for new season

Playhouse Merced’s new theater season kicks off Aug. 29 with “Fiddler on the Roof,” and moves on to the musical play “Crowns,” adapted from a book about hats worn by black church women, and a concert version of “The Pirates of Penzance.”

A brief hiatus between theater seasons doesn’t translate into rest for Robert Hypes.

This month, when Hypes, Playhouse Merced’s artistic director, wasn’t busy overseeing the theater’s numerous programs and manning its Fourth of July fireworks booth in the sweltering heat, he was making plans for the stage’s annual fundraising gala and the launch of the 2014-15 theater season.

“When you look at our schedule we always have a different program happening every one or two months,” Hypes explained as workers took down a set from a recent production. “So we’re always building something new, doing that for a little bit, and then tearing it down and doing something else.”

He described Playhouse’s upcoming season, which features 10 plays, as “exhilarating.”

“There’s so many different genres that this season has. We’re doing some standards, but we’re also doing shows that I don’t think any theater in the area has ever done. So that’s always fun for me to try to do and find things that people aren’t necessarily familiar with.”

Hypes said planning for the 2014-15 season started in October, and ideas for productions came from theater patrons, actors and the community. He presented those ideas to the theater’s board of directors.

“It basically is a five- or six-month process, because once everyone is comfortable with what I’ve chosen, then I have to go through seeing about royalties, seeing how much rights cost and trying to secure those.”

“A lot of it is also reading a lot of shows and listening to a lot of musicals and trying to figure out what we think works best for our community ... and trying to provide something everyone can enjoy,” Hypes said.

Playhouse Merced’s new theater season kicks off Aug. 29 with “Fiddler on the Roof,” which runs through Sept. 14. Casting for the play begins Saturday.

The new season will also feature a variety of music.

For example, the theater is scheduled to produce the musical play “Crowns.” It is adapted from the Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry photography book, which examines hats worn by black church women. Hypes said the play will include gospel music along with selections from the book.

In addition, the theater will present a concert version of “The Pirates of Penzance.” “We’re getting singers. We’re doing probably a larger orchestra than we usually do,” Hypes said.

Perhaps the most demanding production Playhouse Merced will attempt is “Greater Tuna,” a series of four comedic plays set in the town of Tuna, Texas.

For the plays, Hypes and his brother Joe will play the entire cast of more than 20 male and female characters. Even more bold, the two actors will perform the entire four-show series in consecutive days, from Thursday through Sunday.

“In essence, we’ll have to memorize four different shows, because we will be running them (one after the other),” Robert Hypes said.

He is also preparing for Playhouse Merced’s annual fundraising gala, which will be 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. Aug. 16 at the 510 Bistro in Bob Hart Square in downtown Merced. The gala will have a Las Vegas-style “Night at the Sands” theme, with actors portraying figures from the Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

Tickets for the gala are $75 each; a table of eight costs $750 and a table of eight VIPs is $1,000 (the VIP fee includes dinner, drink tokens, season flex-passes and advertising in the gala program). Tickets can be purchased at Playhouse Merced, 452 W. Main St. or by calling (209) 725-8587.

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