CINCINNATI—Some of this generation’s most-watched television programs—”Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “True Blood”—share this important trait: Episodes only make sense if you’ve watched those that came before.
Andrew Hungerford, the new artistic director at Cincinnati’s Know Theatre, believes the same imperative can work on stage. He’s testing his theory this summer with “Serials.”
Six new plays, all by Cincinnati playwrights, will roll out simultaneously over six mini-episodes, beginning Monday, June 23, at Know Theatre. Every evening—all of them are Mondays—each story sees roughly 15 minutes of stage time, culminating in series finales for each series on Monday, Sept. 8.
“People fall so much in love with these TV shows, these serialized dramas, and they become this big topic of conversation in ways theater isn’t,” Hungerford said. “Audiences get to spend time with characters week after week, whereas in traditional theater you don’t get that. At the same time, we’ve got so many great local writers and theater artists who are searching for other outlets for original work.”
Five of the six “Serials” shows are authored by men and are, to varying degrees, comedies. The sixth is an improvised comedy:
--- “Flesh Descending,” by Chris Wesselman, is based on people in a small Kentucky town who, in 1876, swore that meat rained from the sky. Wesselman is drawing on “Twin Peaks” and “True Detective” in a show hoping to inject with psychological thrills.
--- With “Fetus and The God,” playwright Ben Dudley hypothesizes that every fetus, before birth, is allowed to meet God and ask five questions. This series focuses on one rogue fetus.
---- Playwright Try Tatum drew “Mars vs. the Atom” from an actual oddity, in January 1961, when a B-52 bomber broke apart over North Carolina and dropped two bombs. The series promises the mystery and vibe of “The X-Files.
--- ”Inspired by song lyrics, playwright Jon Kovach has set “The Funeral” entirely in the bedroom of a young man hiding away from his grandmother’s funeral happening downstairs.
--- “The Listener,” by Mike Hall, focuses on one “listener” for the National Security Agency in the style of “crime procedurals and noir cinema with a twist of ‘Police Squad,’” Hungerford said.
--- OTRimprov is producing a series styled after high school dramas.
WCPO Insiders can learn more about the series and the challenges facing the playwrights.