Ryan Rilette Lays Out His Plans for Round House Theatre

The new artistic director intends to make some changes at the Montgomery County institution.

By: Sophie Gilbert

Meet Ryan Rilette, the new producing artistic director of Round House. Photograph by Kevin Berne, Marin Theatre Company.

Since news broke last week that Ryan Rilette would take over from Blake Robison as producing artistic director of Round House Theatre, life has been something of a whirlwind for Rilette. The New Orleans native and producing director of the Marin Theatre Company starts his new job August 1; he’s currently house-hunting with his wife and two young daughters and preparing to tackle Round House’s 2012-13 season, which includes shows about war, weddings, Sherlock Holmes, and unscrupulous real estate salesmen. Not to mention the fact that today is his 39th birthday.

Rilette didn’t offer any specific thoughts on the upcoming season when he addressed a small group of actors, creatives, and community members at Round House this morning, but he did mention he plans to make some changes at the theater’s Bethesda and Silver Spring venues. As current president of the National New Play Network, he’s a passionate advocate for contemporary theater, and he sees Round House’s Silver Spring space in particular as the ideal incubator for new work. “The second I walked in, I said, ‘My God, this is my dream theater for new plays,’” he says. “‘It’s the perfect size, it’s flexible, and you can do anything in there.’”

In Marin, Rilette oversaw collaborations between theaters, including a joint series of plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney that he says “created a huge sense of excitement among audience members” and fostered a sense of community among actors. Rilette mentioned a number of playwrights he’d like to do the same thing with at Round House, including Sam Shepard, Lynn Nottage, and Bill Cain, whose Nine Circles is being staged by Forum Theatre at Round House Silver Spring in 2013. Rilette mentioned he’s interested in staging Cain’s newest play, How to Write a New Book for the Bible, at the same time at Round House Bethesda, and possibly commissioning Cain to become an artist-in-residence, as well.

Rilette’s other intention is to host more pre- and post-show discussions so he and the rest of the Round House team can get to know the audience better. “I believe in expanding the work beyond the stage, providing as much context as possible in the program and on the websites, and then keeping people back to talk about the show afterward,” he says, noting that Marin currently hosts six talkbacks a week. And he addressed pricing, saying that Round House currently isn’t doing the best job of serving everybody in the community, and that he hopes to simplify pricing so everyone can know there’s a ticket price available for them.

Ultimately, Rilette says, he sees producing theater as similar to being a drug dealer: “You have to offer the first taste for free; get them hooked on it. Then you follow up and continually raise the price. I’m going to ask you all to be dealers for me and get people addicted to Round House.”