Since its inception in 1981, the Next Theatre Company has produced over a hundred productions in its compact, 167-seat space within the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. In the past decade alone, the theatre has received critical acclaim for staging works such as “The Overwhelming,” “Yellowman,” “Omnium Gatherum,” “The Adding Machine,” and more. Throughout its history, the company has strived to produce “socially provocative, artistically adventurous work.”
Carrying on that tradition is new artistic director Jason Southerland. Mr. Southerland came to Evanston after having served as the founding artistic director for Boston Theatre Works since 1998. While at BTW, he “…oversaw the development of over 60 new scripts,” and takes pride, he says, in the fact that, “I have worked on the world premiere of dozens of plays either as producer, director or assistant director over my 20 years in theater.”
When recently departed artistic director Jason Loewith approached Mr. Southerland about the opening at Next, the positives were overwhelming.
“Next has established a reputation locally and nationally for doing cutting-edge work,” says Mr. Southerland, “and the commitment here to new plays and to the process of commissioning and developing new work is a passion of mine.” The Next’s passionate, supportive board of directors helped sway his decision, and so did the city of Evanston and its, “intelligent, savvy theater-goers.”
“The Evanston community reminds me of a cross between Berkeley (where I went to college) and Cambridge (where I attended grad school at Harvard). The average Evanstonian is smart, politically active, opinionated and engaged. This is a wonderful community and, being at Next, I get to think about serving the community of Evanston as much as I think about ‘what works in Chicago.’ I have access to the best artists in the country but the luxury of thinking about the work the way a regional theater does.”
Despite the country’s economic woes, and the fact that Mr. Southerland, among others, are, “disturbed by the City of Evanston’s decision to cut arts funding entirely this year,” he adds, “But in spite of this, we have been able to launch the Dark Night Series as a way of expanding what Next Theatre Company does, without adding a huge expense line to our budget.”
“The Dark Night Series is an attempt to change the perception of Next and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center as a place where things happen ‘occasionally,’ he says. Many people currently ask themselves, ‘When is the next show at Next?’ I would like them to say, ‘What’s going on tonight at Next? They always have something interesting happening.’”
“The project could go forward because this season Next was able to secure rehearsal space through an arrangement with the owners of the Evanston Shopping Plaza. Since we no longer needed our
theater space for rehearsing the next show, I wanted to find ways to program local performances that interested us and matched Next’s aesthetic, but couldn’t sustain a four- or five-week run. This includes one-night events like films that touch on issues our audience finds compelling; readings of new plays by Northwestern graduate students; a night of stand-up comedy by local comedians; and one- or two-week runs of shows like the puppetry of Michael Montenegro, mime expert Dean Evans, and a one-man show starring Campbell Scott.
The future looks bright and busy for the Next and Jason Southerland.
To find out about the Dark Night Series, visit www.nexttheatre.org or call 847-475-1875.