A venerable children’s theater company in West Palm Beach is expanding its demographics—offering, for the first time, a season for grown-ups, too.
Kimberly Rommel-Enright, managing director of KWP Productions (for a good laugh, ask her what the acronym stands for), has been mounting lavish, mainstage family musicals for the past six years, at venues such as the Borland Center and Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens. But this season, in addition to its family programming—“Snow White” just closed, followed by “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in December and “The Legend of Pocahontas” in May—KWP will be mounting an ambitious six-show black-box season for adults in the Betty Waldron Theatre at Actors’ Rep in West Palm (1009 N. Dixie Highway).
It includes the inside-showbiz comedy “It Had to Be You” (Aug. 19-Sept. 4), the improv-based Bard mash-up “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” (Oct. 14-23), Jonathan Larsen’s autobiographical musical “Tick Tick … Boom!” (Nov. 4-11), Amy Herzog’s cross-generational play “4,000 Miles” (Feb. 3-12, 2017), the durable lit-musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (March 3-12, 2017) and the Neil Simon romance “Barefoot in the Park” (April 7-16, 2017).
These shows will not meet professional eligibility standards, at least not yet; Rommel-Enright hopes to pay her actors a portion of box office receipts. But for just over $20 a ticket, KWP’s shows are the best deal in town. Rommel-Enright discusses her company’s transition, her programming process, her directing style and more with Boca Raton.
Is this your first foray into adult shows?
We did “The Addams Family” last year, which I would consider slightly more adult than “Mary Poppins” and “Shrek,” which were the other two shows. But this season, yes—we have numerous shows that are just strictly adult shows.
Is this the biggest season you’ve produced so far?
It is the most productions we’ve done in a season. I would say that our prior seasons, because of the magnitude of the shows—large-scale, large-cast, expensive musicals—were bigger to produce. But this is by far the most productions we’ve ever attempted to do in a season.
How many seats is the black box theater?
The black box seats 65 max. It’s very small.
I would say for South Florida theatre, that’s a medium-sized space.
We’ve been 500 to 850, so for us it seems teeny-tiny. It is a true black box.
What are some of the considerations you think about when programming a season?
The audience is a huge driving force, what people will want to come see. We take into consideration the talent we’ve worked with in the past—picking shows that we believe will be easy to cast based on what we know is in the area. And to some extent, the shows we want to do! There have been shows we’ve done over the past five years that we’ve done simply because I wanted to do them.
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” my husband (KWP managing member Steve Enright) has directed before. We like that particular show. “Tick Tick … Boom” is an interesting story for us. We’ve been working diligently to secure the rights to do “Rent,” because I have been involved for the past 20 years in the HIV community in this area. I do HIV work for my real job, which is a legal aid. I’ve been a member of the Palm Beach CARE Council for 20 years. So we’ve been wanting to do “Rent,” but long story short, we’re still negotiating with the tour company. But “Tick Tick … Boom” is a precursor to “Rent,” because it’s the story of Jonathan Larson. It touches on the issues of HIV and AIDS, because one of the characters’ best friends is HIV-positive.
Each show has a little story as to how it gets chosen.
“4,000 Miles” is a great little play that your audience probably won’t have seen.
Yes, and it was one I was not familiar with either—it was brought to me by one of our actors who had auditioned for it several years ago and really liked it. It’s been six years since I directed a straight show, and I jumped at the opportunity. I think it’s going to be easy for us to cast, and I’m chomping at the bit to direct a dramedy.
Most of the great South Florida companies have a brand: Dramaworks is often associated with the classics, and Slow Burn with off-the-beaten-path musicals. Have you thought about KWP’s brand as a company?
We are re-branding ourselves at the moment. We’ve always been known for family-oriented theater, so this season is very much a transition for us. Because we have our children’s series, working with children and producing shows for children and families is still very important to us, and it’s still one of our driving forces.
For us, it’s always been about trying to bring affordable, quality theater to as many people as possible. Our tagline has always been “inspiring the next generation of performers and theatergoers.” But it’s something we’re trying to figure out this season—where we fall in with the rest of the South Florida theatre scene. We’re certainly getting a little more attention since we’re doing adult shows now.
We work with a variety of actors—some with a lot of experience in South Florida theatre, others not so much. I came out of a repertory company that focused a great deal on Method acting and Stanislavski, so that is how I direct. I spend time when I’m directing a show in a teaching mode, almost. I don’t believe in having the actors just come in, tell them where to stand, and let them do what they’re going to do. I have them go through character analysis, and we talk about motivation. To some extent that’s a little different. I’ve had actors come up to me and say, “I’ve never spent so much time doing this.” I think a great deal of what we do is really working a piece.
Do the actors appreciate that approach, or does it frustrate them?
For the most part I think they’ve appreciated it. I’ve certainly had some that have been frustrated. But I think the feedback has been very positive, because our process is very collaborative at the beginning, working together to create the characters and the story. I think they’re more vested in the show and the character if they have something to say about it, and if they can participate in the process.
Some of these shows are common enough that audiences will have seen other productions—like “Putnam County” and “Barefoot in the Park.” Do you work to reproduce the more famous productions as closely as you can, or do you try to reinvent them?
We often argue about that within the company. Some of us want to stay very true to other versions, and some of us want to be a little more unique. I’m not directing “Barefoot in the Park,” so I’ll give the director the authority to do what he wants with it. I come at it with the thought process that there is a certain level of expectation when you’re doing a show that’s well known. All the Disney shows we’ve done come with an expectation that you’re not going to be crazy different. In my directing, I will stay true to the essence of what I think the expectation of the public is going to be, but I will put a twist on it if there’s something different I see or want to change.
These Disney projects are fairly sacred properties. If you buy a Coke, you don’t want it to taste like a Pepsi.
Exactly. You’re not going to “Tarzan” to see a female Tarzan—that would freak people out.
Tickets for KWP’s 2016-2017 season run $21 for plays and $23 for musicals. Call 561/339-4687 or visit kwpproductions.com.