Janet Luby on Starring in ‘Bad Dates’ and What’s Happening at Bay Theatre Company by Amanda Gunther

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Janet Luby. Photo courtesy of Bay Theatre Company.
Janet Luby. Photo courtesy of Bay Theatre Company.

It is always difficult to hear that a theatre is closing down regardless of the reason, but especially when the cause is economical. And in May of 2013 Bay Theatre Company announced that their production of Arthur Miller’s The Price would be their final show. The theatre, nestled into the Annapolis scene quite comfortably at 275 West Street, would close its doors at the end of the run forever. This was indeed tragic news for theatre goers in Annapolis as Bay Theatre Company provided inspiring quality professional work at reasonable prices to their audiences.

In less than a year, Co-Founder and current Artistic Director Janet Luby has turned the grim fate of Bay Theatre Company around and with the help of the board has gotten things back in motion to get the company back on its feet. They are taking it one step at a time but it’s a relief to hear that this impressive institution is not lost forever. In a brief interview, Luby has given us a head’s up about what to expect in the future for the company.

Amanda: In a nutshell what happened and what’s happening going forward with Bay Theatre Company?

Janet: Well we did our last performance back in May of 2013, Arthur Miller’s The Price, that ran through June, and then there was a staged reading right after that…that was the period at the end of the sentence. Now starting back up we’re still going to be Bay Theatre Company. We’re still incorporated, we’ve kept the name, we’re all the same people moving forward, well mostly. We’re working with a pared-down version of the board, but it’s all the same as before. We’re looking forward to getting back on our feet.

It’s going to be a process, obviously some things have changed— like our location and our current standing with the Helen Hayes Awards. I’ve been in touch with them and at present because we’re only doing nine performances for this show and because we’re temporarily moved up out of Annapolis we’re not currently in consideration for awards, which is a shame, but that will change as we go forward. I’d like to see us get back on their radar as we have been in the past. I believe the last thing we had nominated was at last year’s awards, our production of The Belle of Amherst, Kathryn Kelley was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Play. Helen Hayes, just like everything else, will take time, but right now the focus is on getting the word out there that we’re starting the company back up and are getting back to making good theatre.

Tell us a little bit about the show that you’re currently doing, the show that is Bay Theatre Company’s first show in their new season?

It’s a one-woman show; I’m the one woman starring in it. I’m not self-directed though, I got Richard Pilcher directing the production— he’s directed for Bay before, Wit and the double bill we did featuring Christopher Durang’s Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All and The Actor’s Nightmare, among other shows. And we’re now at the Chesapeake Arts Center’s Black Box Studio 194 theatre. It’s a nice space, seats about 110, and is really perfect for this sort of show.

Chesapeake Arts Center.
Chesapeake Arts Center.

You know this production was going to be in the main stage theatre season back when I thought I still had a theatre-and it was supposed to be part of our four show season, so this was already on the slate. And there were many reasons that I had picked it for the season: first of all I think it’s a really great play, I really like the playwright, Theresa Rebeck, I like her writing. As an actor, I don’t get to do things every year, I haven’t done anything on-stage since Becky’s New Car back in the December of 2011. Every couple of years I like to do something, so I had this all lined up and then the theatre closed down.

I actually didn’t know what was going to happen. I mean my board was still involved; nobody left me after we shut down or anything like that. I thought to myself, “…well I don’t really know, but let’s just wait and see what can happen.”

And then I met with Chesapeake Arts Center, with Executive Director Belinda Fraley Huesman, and she started asking me if I could do a one-woman show. And actually she started talking about a one-woman show that she had done called Menopause Outlaws, and when she said that I started laughing and told her that I was supposed to have done this one-woman show called Bad Dates and we both just started talking about it. And I told her that if I did some fundraising I could probably get this show up on its feet, and we decided that I would do Bad Dates and she would do Menopause Outlaws and we could rotate them, you know, run them in rep. That was our plan. It didn’t actually end up happening, at least not like that, Bad Dates is still happening, but it’s just me, we were never able to work out the other show. But that’s fine, I’m really excited to be doing it.

So is this going to be the new home for Bay Theatre Company, or are you planning to move back to Annapolis?

You know, I don’t even know yet. I got really enthusiastic about having the opportunity to not only do a show but to have Bay Theatre being doing a show again. So I’ve decided that we would just take things one step at a time, and let’s not reinvent the wheel here. Maybe committing to four shows a season, and paying rent was just too much for us, it was just too much to try and keep up in Annapolis. You know, for as wealthy as it is, Annapolis is a pretty darn tough town to keep a non-for-profit going on, at least for a theatre, I think.

What tends to happen is that people want to play nice with everybody and there are now a bunch of theatres that claim residence in Annapolis and I think the Arts Council now feels like they really have to play fair with everybody, and in doing that there is less to go around. It’s great that we have the support of the Arts Council but it’s become tougher over the years because the costs for running a company like Bay Theatre are more expensive than most of the other theatres in the area.

I think the problem is there is a lot more cost involved in running a theatre like Bay Theatre, and I think with the Arts Council and the Donors, they don’t realize how much more expensive it is for us to produce a show with the contract tiers that we have in place, and giving us the same amount of funding that they give everyone else, unfortunately just wasn’t cutting it for us. We can’t be treated financially the same because we just need more money to produce what we were producing.

Now the ticket sales were pretty darn good, we were holding out on ticket sales, it was just that the donations from the Arts Council were not reasonable for what we were putting out. I think it’s a lack of understanding on their part, because I know they mean well and want to be supportive, but I just don’t think they understand how much money it really took to keep us going. It’s a bittersweet pill to swallow when you hear everyone saying, “Oh, that’s too bad that Bay Theatre is closing, they were really great,” and not having anyone doing anything about it. I think we really needed more muscle, financially, behind us in order to keep going like we were. We need more financial muscle behind us more than the other theatre companies do and we didn’t get it and that’s what really sunk us.

Going forward I figured the best approach was to just do a huge reorganization. We would go to Chesapeake Arts Center and see if anybody follows us and let’s just take it one step at a time. We’re going to raise the money, do a show, see how it goes, and then see what the next step is. But I’m not going to commit to four shows and then run out of money halfway through and have to wonder “Gee, can we even afford to produce the next show?” No, we’re just going to take it one show at a time.

The pressure, financially, is way easier when you’re fundraising one show at a time. Like for Bad Dates, I know this show is basically paid for. So if we don’t make any money on it, while that’s unfortunate, we also didn’t technically lose any money either. We just don’t have money to do the next one. Which means that “Alright, everybody, if we want to do another show then we have to get out there and raise the money to do it.” And when we raise the money for the next show, then we’ll do the next show.

Now, where will we do it? Chesapeake Arts Center? Maybe, we haven’t signed onto any big commitments with them, this is like a date with them. To see if we like them, and they like us, it’s a trial run. So it’s kind of like Bay Theatre is behaving a little bit like a production company, where we’re just going to take it one step at a time. We’re completely obliterating the old model because it worked for a while but then it stopped working for us. We’re trying something new and I think this is going to work for us.

Have you ever considered a more permanent change of venue to say Washington or Baltimore?

I’ve been told before that Bay Theatre Company was always in the wrong zip code, now I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. And of course I’ve had people suggest to me, “Hey, what if you did something over in Washington?” or “Why don’t you join up with another theatre in Washington and co-produce something?” So I mean, not that I’ve had any specific offers to go and co-produce with any particular other theatre, but if the opportunity arose I would say “Ok, Annapolis board, do we want to spend the money and go co-produce a production in Columbia? Or Washington or wherever.” And then the hope would be that if people want to see a “Bay Theatre” production that they just get into their car and drive a little bit.

I would love to stay in Annapolis. You would think that with a company that became as successful as Bay Theatre Company was that it would not be completely out of the realm of possibility for the city or the Arts Council to say, “Here’s a building for you,” but again I think the “if we do for one we have to do for all” mentality kicks in and it just wouldn’t be practical, or even financially feasible for the city of Annapolis to be handing out a building or a space to every theatre company that wanted one. So I’m now adjusting to us not having our building in Annapolis, and back to that thing I keep saying— we’ll just take it a day at a time.

Janet Luby in 'Bad Dates.' Photo by Stan Barouh.
Janet Luby in ‘Bad Dates.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Tell us a little bit more about the actual play Bad Dates.

Oh my God, it’s hysterical! It’s this single woman with a 13-year-old daughter living alone in New York. She’s the manager of a restaurant and she’s just starting to get back after a real dry spell, and a divorce, and she’s just starting to get back into the dating world. And she’s kind of juggling all that, with work and the daughter, and dating. And guess what? Hi, I’m Janet Luby and I live in Arnold with my 13-year-old son and you know, I can relate. I can relate! And a lot of people can relate to this, not just me. This is a very, very relatable play whether you’ve been married for 40 years or not, people connecting with other people always speaks to the masses. Its something everyone can relate to.

This one is definitely a comedy. It’s a 90-minute play with one intermission. I think I’m keeping everybody’s interest, so far so good. People always give me the “what I like best” when they see me in shows. They like to say “Oh, I liked this better than this other show you did, or this one was my favorite.” And so far I’ve heard people say they really liked this one. This show is pretty high up in the rankings from the people that have seen it, which is always nice to hear.

Now this show reminds me a little bit of the last show people might have seen me in, playing Becky from Becky’s New Car. This is like Becky only before she was happily married. Now she does talk to the audience, not putting anyone on the spot or anything, but she talks with them and breaks that fourth wall a little bit. But she does so without embarrassing anybody! I don’t want anybody to be afraid to come! I would never make an audience member uncomfortable, never, never, never. I don’t like that sort of thing myself and I’m an actor. But it’s a great show, and it’s a lot of fun and I think the audiences are really liking it.

This is a one-woman show, I know I’ve said that already, but as an actress, for every actress I think, a one-woman show is the thing that at some point in your life that you really want to do. I was off-book on first rehearsal, 90 minutes of dialogue and I was memorized by the first rehearsal. Now, usually when you show up to a first rehearsal you don’t know anything, you’ve gone through and highlighted your book and that’s about it. This is then a huge undertaking as far as rehearsal for me, because I started on Labor Day working on this. I think everyone that does a one person show does it that way, you have to. It’s just what you have to do or you’re going to be in a really bad spot in a really bad way. But it’s been so much fun for me, getting to be back on the stage in a piece that is so relatable for me and for the audience; it’s a great piece for getting the company back up on its feet.

So that’s Bay Theatre Company’s reboot in a nutshell, then? One step at a time?

You got it. One step at a time. It’s going to be very, very Zen. It’s going to be a Zen theatre company. You know there’s a lot of talk about Zen at the end of this particular play, which I think is a fabulous tie-in to this new approach we’re taking. Let’s just stay calm and see where things are going, one step at a time.

Bad Dates 9-page-001

Bad Dates plays through January 26, 2014 at the Chesapeake Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre— 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park, Maryland. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.

To follow the progress of Bay Theatre Company and to see what’s next, visit their website.

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They’re Back! Bay Theatre Company’s ‘Bad Dates’ Opening 1/10/14 at Chesapeake Arts Center’s Studio 194 Theatre by Janet Luby.