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Letter from
the Director

Our History | April 2024

The Eno River Players were founded in the winter of 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. The founding artistic director was me, Leo Egger. I was fourteen. The first round of funding was my Bar Mitzvah money. We held open auditions and cobbled together a cast from the community––academics, piano teachers, lawyers, students. Our first production was Hamlet, staged at the Mosaic Church of Durham on a tiny stage below a red cross.


The mission of the company was to bring challenging but accessible productions of Shakespeare to an area bereft of classical theater and to provide a much-needed artistic home for local theater-makers––on an extremely limited budget. The shows had to be financially and stylistically accessible enough to fill seats. At the same time, I wanted them to be professional, inventive, real––the kind of shows that would resonate with the audience of my hometown.


These constraints, far from restricting us, came to define our approach to theater. Our tickets were affordable, our shows funded almost entirely through donations. Not expecting significant ticket revenue, we minimized costs. Our shows, by necessity, were intimate, imaginative, and relatively short. But cheap tickets and short run times attracted audiences and freed us to take the artistic risks that made our shows feel fresh and exciting. The quality of the resulting work in turn drove philanthropic support and audience interest, enabling future productions.


Our model succeeded at a time when regional theaters all over America were going out of business. These theaters were characterized by inflexible and substantial overhead costs, including ownership of physical infrastructure . To try to cover costs, they typically planned long runs for only a few productions, often with lead times of at least a year. They staked their survival on expensive tickets—in particular, on annual subscriptions, which had been in steady decline for years and all but disappeared during the pandemic. Fewer productions, longer runs, and dependence on ticket sales discouraged creative risks and new work. Companies placed safe bets on familiar intellectual property, blockbusters with high production value, rendered in a safe artistic style. But audiences—especially young audiences—stayed home anyway, glued to their screens, which offered easy viewing, cheaper and easier.


Regional theater collapsed in Durham too, but Eno River Players stayed afloat. By 2018, we were the only noneducational theater company in Durham consistently making work for our community. Following Hamlet, we mounted productions of King Lear, Othello, As You Like It, and Waiting for Godot. We also workshopped In the Shade, a new and original musical about the poet Robert Lowell. While studying at Yale, I continued to produce work with the company during the school year and over the summer. Through Eno I directed well-reviewed original adaptations of Plato's Phaedo and Gogol's Dead Souls, which toured in New York City and London, in addition to performances in Durham and New Haven.


Now, after almost a decade in Durham, the Eno River Players has re-established itself as a 501(c)3 non-profit based in North Carolina, doing business in New York City. Although New York is home to the world's most active theater industry, it too struggles to stage culturally relevant shows sustainably and accessibly. Young adults in New York flock to other live events (comedy, concerts, sports, etc.) and enjoy other performance media (TV, film, short-form video, video games), but they don’t go to the theater. Why not? Perhaps because Off-Broadway and even Off-Off-Broadway productions charge $60-$100 per ticket, and still fail to recoup costs. Perhaps because, across America, even in New York, they face a cultural landscape without affordable and innovative theater––a cultural landscape, in other words, deprived of one of its most vital modes of expression.


This is the status quo we aim to disrupt.

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