Beyond the Stage Takes a Bow

Former DC-resident, the Giant Panda Tai Shan, eats an enormous summer Popsicle in an attempt to beat the DC heat.

Former DC-resident–the Giant Panda Tai Shan–eats an enormous summer Popsicle in an attempt to beat the DC heat.

As the temperature rises and the city slows down, we’re over here in the Theater J offices marveling at the fact that we made it to the end of this amazing, chock-full, stunningly diverse eight-show season. Things slow down just a bit here as well as we catch up on meetings; sort emails; dive into play reading; look at pictures of Cavachons on the internet (wait, what?); and take a minute to step back and look at what we accomplished in our 2012-2013 season.

And what besides those eight main stage productions did we accomplish?

Programming, programming, programming.

With help from our super intern Lauren, I’ve just completed our Programming Spreadsheet for the season (we do this for various record-keeping purposes) and I’m pleased to report that we had a stunning 106 additional events this season. That includes Locally Grown and other readings, Tea@Two’s, a Teach-In, Miriam’s Kitchen visits, talk backs, and panels.

And speaking of panels, we’ve had a few of those to wrap up our season as well.

On Sunday, June 16 we discussed:

Race and Representation: The African-American Artist in the World with

Juanita Hardy, Executive Director of CulturalDC and co-founder of the Millennium Arts Salon
Jennifer Nelson, Theater Director, Playwright and Educator, former Producing Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre
Dr. Dianne Whitfield-Locke, Collector of African-American Art and owner of The Locke Collection

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/68719528″>Race and Representation: The African American Artist in the World</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/theaterj”>Theater J</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

And on Sunday, June 23 we turned to:

A Lasting Legacy: The Past, Present and Future of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) with
Sandra Jowers-Barber, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, History Program Coordinator, The University of the District of Columbia
Jim Loewen, American sociologist, historian, and author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Dr. Leslie Richards, Professor of Urban Affairs, Social Science & Social Work, The University of the District of Columbia
Gerald Allan Schwinn, former Hampton Institute Instructor

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69188390″>Post Show Conversation: The Past, Present and Future of HBCUs</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/theaterj”>Theater J</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This past week we also wrapped up our second Locally Grown Reading Festival with a reading of a brand new play by Renee Calarco (author of THE RELIGION THING) titled PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

Adrienne Nelson, Sasha Olinik, Celeste Lawson, and Lawrence Redmond. Photo by Bill Petros.

Adrienne Nelson, Sasha Olinik, Celeste Lawson, and Lawrence Redmond. Photo by Bill Petros.

As directed by Allison Stockman, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK asked us to consider how far we would go to believe a story that’s too good to be true. Partially inspired by the story of Rabbi Menachem Youlus—the self-dubbed “Jewish Indiana Jones”—the play goes to “some uncomfortable places,” according to Calarco.  “We all yearn for survival stories,” she says, “and I’m obsessed with the stories that we collect and re-tell and believe—beyond the point of reason.”

The very next evening we gathered in the theater for our Locally Grown culminating event, a Playwright’s Town Hall Discussion which gathered the community to talk about the progress we have (or haven’t) made in the past year when it comes to supporting new work, and especially–encouraging opportunities for playwrights based in the greater DC region.

Allyson Currin, David Snider, Nan Barnett, Ari Roth, DW Gregory, Liz Maestri, and Mary Resing.

Allyson Currin, David Snider, Nan Barnett, Ari Roth, DW Gregory, Liz Maestri, and Mary Resing.

DW Gregory has a great wrap up over at her blog, and Gwydion Suilebhan just published the numbers he (and his stats team!) have compiled looking at the breakdown of the 2013/2014 season from a number of different angles.

The evening’s conversation surely felt like we were barely scratching the surface of what promises to be a layered and complex discussion–we’re hoping that this is just the start of this kind of gathering.

And finally! On Sunday, June 30 I spent my (thirty-hmmuble-mumble-ith) Birthday watching Ari Roth lead this talk:

Blacks and Jews in the 1940s: From Swastika to Jim Crow
Stephanie Deutsch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South
Dr. Joyce Ladner served as vice president for academic affairs from 1990 to 1994 and as interim president of Howard University from 1994 to 1995. She is a senior fellow in the Governmental Studies Program at the Brookings Institution and in 1997 she was named Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian for her work in education.

Stephanie Deutsch, Dr. Joyce Ladner and Ari Roth

Stephanie Deutsch, Dr. Joyce Ladner and Ari Roth

We didn’t record this one, but my hastily jotted down notes remind me of how articulate and impressive these two women were.

Dr. Ladner was an essential part of the “From Swastika to Jim Crow” documentary that was produced in 2000, sharing her vivid and illuminating memories of her time at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi under the mentorship of Professor of Sociology Ernst Borinski. Borinski was, like Viktor Lowenfeld, a refugee scholar.

She was first taught by Dr. Borinski in 1961, and was not ambiguous in her explanation of how that event shaped her future. “What he taught me was that I could do anything I wanted to do. That there were no limitations.” Later, when graduate school applications became too expensive for the ambitious student to accommodate, Borinski “wrote a check for my applications”.

Stephanie Deutsch shared with us stories and accounts from her vast and ever-growing knowledge of Julius Rosenwald, especially as regards his relationship with Booker T. Washington—“a name that everyone knows, but a history that few understand.”

An Alabama Rosenwald school in a photo from the Tuskegee University Archives.

An Alabama Rosenwald school in a photo from the Tuskegee University Archives.

She reminded us that Rosenwald called for the Jewish community to consider, “We all look down on the Russians because of the way they treat Jews, but look at how we treat African Americans in this country.” It was this important recognition that led him to join the Tuskegee Institute’s board of trustees, and for Washington to reach out to him with his idea to provide rural southern African American children with safe, purpose-built school buildings. Together they launched one of the most successful and important matching grant programs of the 20th century. You can read much more about Stephanie’s research and her book at her blog, You Need a Schoolhouse.

We’ll resume with programming in September, and until then–we’ll have our planning caps on. Feedback? Suggestions? Recommendations for panel guests? Send them my way at shirley@theaterj.org.

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