The Tennessean 17/18 Season Preview

Nashville Rep looks to spark lively conversations with new season

AMY STUMPFL | THE TENNESSEAN

There’s a distinctive buzz that accompanies the opening of any new theatrical season. But for Nashville Repertory Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director René D. Copeland, one of the most exciting elements of the new season is the conversation it generates. 

And judging by the 2017-18 lineup, Nashville Rep audiences should have plenty to discuss.

“So much goes into putting a new season together,” Copeland says. “There’s always that short list of plays I’ve been dying to do, things that interest me as an artist. I’m always looking for fresh ways to explore interesting ideas and issues. And then, of course, I need to consider what shows will make the best use of our incredible acting pool and creative team.

“But as I stood back and looked at this season, I realized that these shows all push the envelope in some way or another. And that’s pretty exciting at a time when the status quo has been blown to bits in every area of our culture.”

The season opens in September, with Kate Hamill’s clever adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved “Sense & Sensibility.”

“This new adaptation approaches a familiar story in sort of a freewheeling and incredibly theatrical way,” Copeland says. “It really shakes things up in terms of staging, giving the piece more of an ensemble feel. Everything is very fast and fluid, with scenes often overlapping. It sort of reminds me of ‘The 39 Steps,’ with actors playing multiple roles and this really inventive script. So, Jane Austen meets ‘The 39 Steps’ — how cool is that?”

In October, the company will present the rollicking rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which offers an irreverent look at our nation’s seventh president, a true rock star of his era.

“What I love about this musical is that as outrageous as it is, it asks some really prodding questions about how we Americans view our president,” she says. “It’s such an emotion-based relationship that we have with our president right now — whether you love him or hate him. But I would love people from across the spectrum to come see this show and see where it lands for them. Plus, Jason Tucker, who directed last season’s production of ‘The Last Five Years,’ is back to direct, which is always good news.”

Of course, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without Nashville Rep’s “A Christmas Story.” And Copeland says the charming tale of 9-year-old Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun remains a Rep favorite.

“It’s amazing to me — and really moving — that so many people have made this show part of their family’s annual holiday celebration. Most of the cast is returning, which is wonderful — it’s like a big fabulous holiday party.” 

The season continues in February, with Lydia R. Diamond’s “Smart People,” billed as a “smart play that explores the inescapable nature of racism and other tricky topics.” 

“‘Smart People’ asks some amazingly pertinent questions about race — and how we talk about race. We’re so thrilled to have Jon Royal directing. He’s just a really sharp director, I totally trust him, and I’m so excited to see where those conversations take us.”

Finally, Nashville Rep will close its season with the classic courtroom drama “Inherit the Wind,” presented in collaboration with Lipscomb University.

“In looking at ‘Inherit the Wind,’ I was really struck by the relevance right now — looking at how we still struggle to balance faith and science and intellectualism. We’ve become so polarized, so stratified in what we believe. So again, maybe it’s time to have some honest conversations. And I’m really delighted to be working with Lipscomb University — any time we can collaborate with young, hardworking artists, we’re happy to do so.” 

For Mike Fernandez, dean of the College of Entertainment and the Arts, that partnership represents a great opportunity for both students and the community.

“The large cast means there will be opportunities for our students to work alongside some of Nashville’s best talent, both on stage and behind the scenes,” Fernandez says. “That in itself is so profound for us. But to me, one of the most important functions of theater is to spark conversation. And this play really offers that. Whether you’re a Christian organization or otherwise, there needs to be a gracious, yet candid conversation between differing sides of any issue. I’d like to see audiences, students and city leaders all coming together for meaningful discussion.”

Ticket information

Season tickets for Nashville Rep’s 2017-18 lineup are on sale now, ranging from $139 to $189 per person for four shows. Single tickets will be available July 6. Early-bird subscription discounts are available until June 13. (Subscribers can save over 25 percent off the full ticket value of single show tickets, and also have the option to purchase tickets to “A Christmas Story” at a discount.)

To learn more, visit nashvillerep.org, visit the box office or call subscriber services at 615-782-6560. All Nashville Rep performances take place in TPAC’s Andrew Johnson Theatre, 505 Deaderick St., in downtown Nashville.