CHESTER, MASS. — Rehearsals are over for Daniel Elihu Kramer. It's showtime for the new producing artistic director of Chester Theatre Company.
After four seasons as associate artistic director, Kramer officially took on his new job in September, replacing Byam Stevens, who left at the end of the 2015 season after 17 years at the helm.
"I've spent nine months preparing," Kramer said during a recent morning interview in his office at CTC's administration building near the top of Chester's Main Street.
"Now, we're at the part for which I've been preparing."
That part is the opening of Chester Theatre Company's 26th season — "My Jane," a new play by Kramer based upon Charlotte Bronte's beloved "Jane Eyre," that began performances Wednesday, June 29, at Chester Town Hall, where the production is scheduled to run through July 10.
"My immediate thought when I became producing artistic director had to do with how I wanted to start," Kramer said. "Everything doesn't ride on the first show, but the first show says a lot about us."
This first show — an imaginative exploration of Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel — suggests that Kramer is building on the foundation laid down by Stevens.
"People come to us for plays that are complex, thoughtful and which ask something of them," Kramer said; "that generate conversation in the theater or on the way home in the car; plays that will draw you into their world and engage you and then, when it's over, you're not done with it or it's not done with you."
So, what better introduction to audiences than a new play built around a 19th-century novel that came up 10th in a 2003 BBC survey of the British public's most beloved novels.
Kramer had done an informal survey of his own among a variety of people he knew regarding their thoughts and experiences while reading "Jane Eyre."
"People have had such intensely private experiences of the book such a depth of connection with this story. These voices kept saying to me 'Let me in.' So, I began to ask how these experiences, how these personal stories contribute to Bronte's story."
Kramer's association with Chester Theatre Company began in 2010 when he directed "Gulf View Drive," the third play in Arlene Hutton's "Nibroc Trilogy," all three of which have been produced at Chester. He has directed one play each season since — "The Turn of the Screw," "The Amish Project," "Tryst" and last season's "Blink." This summer, he'll be directing the regional premiere of John Kolvenbach's "Sister Play," Aug. 3-14.
The question for the 52-year-old Kramer is "where do we go from here?
"Among the places we go from here is perhaps more new play development," he said.
He's interested in building partnerships with other theaters.
"Partnerships are one of the ways we grow," Kramer said. "It brings us work we wouldn't otherwise get. It would also give us life at another company in the fall, outside our summer season."
He also wants to:
• establish relationships with playwrights; bring them to Chester to develop new work;
• "diversify the stories we tell and the artists who tell them";
• "make our process visible and bring audiences into that — a reading, perhaps, of something we're developing "
He also wants to strengthen the company's artistic and financial planning in order to secure CTC's future.
"I really come with such respect for what this theater is," Kramer said. "I feel I'm following the person who created the identity of the company as it is now."
ON STAGE ...
What: "My Jane" by Daniel Elihu Kramer. Directed by Knud Adams
Who: Chester Theatre Company
When: Now through Sunday, July 10. Evenings: Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8. Matinees: Thursday, Friday and Sunday at 2
Where: Chester Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester, Mass.
How: 1-800-595-4849; chestertheatre.org