Compelling stories that reflect the relatable emotions and struggles of millennials. That’s what the Playground Theatre, an emerging theater company, is all about.
The Dayton-based theater is dedicated to staging fresh new works from some of today’s most established and promising playwrights. Last winter, it debuted with an enjoyably strong production of John Hughes’ iconic 1985 film “The Breakfast Club,” and will return next season with two highly anticipated local premieres.
Here’s a look at what Playground is all about.
Who’s behind The Playground?
Sinclair Community College theater alums Christopher Hahn, 25, and Jenna Burnette, 29, established Playground in 2014, after two years of living together in Chicago.
Burnette, who interned at Profiles Theatre, and Hahn, who continued his studies at DePaul University, felt an urge to revitalize Dayton’s theater scene by supplying contemporary, edgy works that could appeal to untapped audiences.
What’s the mission?
In addition to staging raw, character-driven plays rooted in realism and heightened with intimacy, one of Playground’s primary aims is to reach twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are more inclined to spend an evening at the movies than take a chance on theater.
“Theater is very expensive,” Burnette said. “For instance, telling young people to spend $18 on a play they’ve never heard of can be a challenge. They would rather spend money seeing a movie at The Greene starring Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt because they know what they’re getting. This is why we want our audience to know we’re doing things a little bit differently. We want to take away the preconceived notion of what theater is about.”
On what they learned from ‘Breakfast Club’
Nostalgia certainly worked in Playground’s favor when launching with “Breakfast Club,” a known quantity that helped build momentum for them within the arts community. Response was encouraging, but the troupe still feels next season will be a pivotal test in their development. In fact, Burnette and Hahn regard “Breakfast Club” as a soft opening in many respects.
“We did ‘Breakfast Club’ to get people interested in us, but we’re definitely going outside the box next season to branch out and do shows not many people know that really speak to us,” Hahn said.
“Choosing ‘Breakfast Club’ was very strategic,” Burnette echoed. “We wanted to pick a title people knew while grabbing audiences that weren’t average theatergoers. The show really resonated and people appreciated what we did. We are learning how to balance artistry and attract an audience. You have to find that middle ground.”
The 2015-16 Season
Playground will bring an acclaimed pair of engrossing dark comedies your way.
Paul Downs Colaizzo’s 2012 off-Broadway hit “Really Really,” a tale of ambition and violence on a college campus, opens the season Dec. 3-6, 2015. Neil LaBute’s 2009 Tony Award-nominated “Reasons To Be Pretty,” a commentary on physical appearance and relationships, serves as the finale March 24-27, 2016. Both plays are sure to strike conversation and debate.
“These shows will keep you on the edge of your seat,” said Burnette, who will direct “Really Really.”
“Marketing is crucial,” Hahn admitted. “The only way to get people to see shows in this day and age is to market the hell out of it. We have to build up an almost epic, movie quality feel.”
“The people in our generation who love arts and culture are mostly film buffs,” Burnette explained. “Some of them feel theater is old or stale, but we’re here to change that perspective. Theater can be really cool.”
On making an impact
Playground is grateful for the support received from the Victoria Theatre Association’s ImPACt program, a three-year initiative which encourages the growth of emerging artists and troupes. Having presented “Breakfast Club” at Rosewood Arts Centre, Playground looks forward to having a more permanent home over the next three years inside the black box Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center.
“The Victoria believes in our brand,” Hahn said. “They are hopeful we can have our own space and be a professional theater company after we leave the program. It’s truly exciting.”
“We are definitely moving in the direction of becoming a professional theater company, which has always been a goal,” Burnette added.
Auditions are coming up
Interested in having fun on the Playground? Auditions for next season will be held June 19 and 20 downtown inside the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 Main St., Dayton. All positions will receive a small stipend.
“We want to build a breeding ground for actors to stay in Dayton instead of going to Chicago and New York,” Hahn said.
“We’ve also received interest from professional troupes in Chicago, Columbus and Cincinnati so it’s cool they know about us,” Burnette added. “We’re getting the word out.”
For more information about auditions, visit http://theplaygroundtheatre.org.
Hopes for the future
Substantive growth is imperative for any newly formed troupe, but Burnette and Hahn are confident in the Playground’s appeal to theater insiders and outsiders.
“Some people who came to see ‘Breakfast Club’ told me they hadn’t seen theater before, which is great,” Burnette said. “I feel like we’re bringing something new and fresh to the community. Dayton has so many great theaters, but we have a very specific style.”
“We are about to enter a big building year so we can self-sustain,” Hahn added. “We are going to push ourselves from the acting to the marketing to continually grow and get better.”