Live Local, Live Small: Justin Smith and Chiaki Ito pass the City Stage baton to Nick Gray and Rachael Moser
City Stage, known for producing edgy, rock-infused musicals, like “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Tommy” and “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” among others, has announced a changing of the guard. Long-time artistic team of Chiaki Ito and Justin Smith are stepping back from guiding the company and have selected Rachael Moser and Nick Gray to take it forward. For well over a decade, City Stage has been putting on shows primarily in the 220-seat beautiful Masonic Temple theatre inside Level 5. Unlike a 50-seat theatre, 220 seats is tough to sell out—but it has been done and hopefully will again. Curious what this new phase of City Stage was going to look like and how it might impact our arts community, I interviewed Nick Gray to shed some light on future plans.
encore (e): What are your new titles going to be?
Nick Gray (NG): Rachael Moser and I are the co-artistic directors and co-managining directors of City Stage Co. As our combined vision is that of a company and a collaboration, it was only fitting that we begin by working together.
e: What made you decide to do this?
NG: While I have been involved in several community projects in my eight years of living here, I can look back in hindsight and say firmly that a lot of the work I was doing in life was with the intention of eventually taking me away from Wilmington. After recently spending some time in Los Angeles pitching a television series Hilarie Burton and I developed, I came back to Wilmington because I didn’t want to be anywhere else; I now knew. I set the goal for myself that I wanted to melt into Wilmington this time and see what strengths I could bring to an opportunity exactly like this one: committing to putting roots down and watching them grow.
After being approached by Justin about his willingness to pass the baton—and the initial shock of it all—I went to Rachael and begged her to be my partner in this new endeavor. We are kindred spirits, and we’ve always worked remarkably together. She even made me take a Jung Personality Test to make sure we’d work together well. Turns out we are the dynamic duo: the scientist and the visionary.
e: What changes are you going to make?
NG: Any changes we make are more about procedure than product. City Stage, in its various bodies through the years, has a built-in audience that has come to count on a particular brand of theater in Wilmington. We are only looking to propel that legacy forward. I think the beginning of our upcoming season certainly speaks to that.
The big change in moving forward is how we work within our space at Level 5. We are doing a summer-long massive clean-up of the space—I’ll think we’ll all be surprised how far a fresh coat of paint can go. While there are long-term considerations for education programming and a possible show choir, it’s most important that we take over where Justin and Chiaki are leaving off, which is in entertaining our community with theatre on the edge.
e: What does your first season consist of?
NG: As of now, we have tacked down the front of our 2014-2015 season, which begins on October 16th with “Carrie: The Musical.” I will direct, and Bryan Putnam has recently returned to Wilmington from New York, and will be joining us as music director, with Kendra Goehring-Garrett choreographing. Following that will be “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” Justin and Chiaki are slated to head up what has now become the annual New Year’s production (still to be determined) on the main stage of Thalian Hall, which we will be following up in January with “The Inaugural Wilmington Fringe Festival.” Four spots remain after that, on which we are still making confirmations.
e: Are you bringing back Crumpet, from David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries”?
NG: Not this year, at least. When “A Christmas Story: The Musical” became available, it was too hard to say no to it. We’ve seen “A Christmas Story” on stage here in Wilmington before, but not yet in its new musical form. We are certain our audiences will love it as much as we do.
e: Are you bringing any opportunities for local writers?
NG: Absolutely. Nationally, the theaters that are at the top of their game are almost only workshopping and producing new work. While that is certainly not our initial goal, we want to at least begin bringing an element of that into City Stage Co. That’s what The Wilmington Fringe Festival is all about. We are currently accepting submissions of full-length and one-act plays and musicals from local writers and writers who may not live here currently but have recent ties to Wilmington. The pieces accepted into The Fringe will be handled in different ways: either as a reading, a workshop, or a production, depending on what the piece is deemed to most benefit from in its current stage.
There will also be a 10-minute play series integrated into The Fringe—“How-To-Make-A-Killing-in-10-Minutes-or-Less.” [They’re] pieces about money, manipulation, and murder. I had such a blast on the one I did a few years back in the Studio of Thalian, and knew I wanted to include it with The Fringe. Submissions are being accepted via e-mail to CityStageCoFringe@gmail.com
e: How are you funding this?
NG: The 2014-2015 City Stage Co. season will continue to be executive produced by Ian Moseley and Tanya Wildman. However, we will be supplementing this funding with fundraisers throughout the year. Our first is The Wilmington Green Party—an opportunity for our supporters to gather together in their finest green fashion as we unveil the refurbishment to our space at Level 5.
e: Can you explain the basic break down of a show financially? How much do rights cost? How expensive is it to rent rehearsal and performance spaces? How much do you budget for costumes, sets, props, lights, etc? How many jobs would you say you create?
NG: As Rachael and I continue to learn the ropes from Justin, I’ll let him handle this one as numbers go. What I will say is that it’s not cheap to produce a show, and a featured musical is budgeted quite differently from a smaller straight play. Budgets can span from $13,000 to $45,000. I can’t say for sure how many jobs we create, as in the early stages of City Stage Co., Rachael and I are committed to providing opportunities for our locals—opportunities to indulge in their artistic craft, whatever it might be, as we encourage and challenge them to foster their potential toward growth.
We’d love to be creating as many jobs as possible down the line, and while those that work with us will always be paid something, I think a re-evaluation of numbers can’t happen until the end of the 2014-2015 season when we see how well we truly did with filling those seats. Any additional salaried positions we might be able to open up based on our success this year would be a fantastic happening!