Summer Nights

Shirley here.

As my time at Theater J passed the one year mark last month, one of my resolutions was to be a better blogger. So far, so not so good.

Ari’s done a great job of updating us with a “how I spent my summer vacation” narrative (which, really, here at the J isn’t quite a vacation but more a month to ready ourselves for the upcoming producing year), but what about the rest of us? What have we been doing? What have we been reading about/thinking about/seeing/producing/participating in?

Summer is the time for theater festivals–around the country, and around the world. My schedule kept me from several of the new play festivals that I would love to attend in future summers (eg. PlayPenn, SPF, and totally SummerWorks.) But like much of the world, my theater-going experiences this summer have fit the catch phrase of the year: a stay-cation.

I saw several CapFringe shows, highlights of which included local actress/solo performer Zehra Fazal’s one-woman show HEADSCARF AND THE ANGRY BITCH. Worth all the hype, Zehra taught us about the Koran, about keeping halal and avoiding haraam (which made us think a lot about the similarities to following halakha)–all in a hilarious series of songs and stories. We hope we’ll have the chance to see Zehra’s piece again in the future.

I also attended a single (too short) day of events at the LMDA (Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas) conference, held in DC this year. It was exciting to be there and hear some familiar voices (the DC/Baltimore Theater community is teeming with dramaturgs very active in the field) and also to hear from new ones. There are fantastic blog entries about the conference from the folks at Arena Stage, and I loved this day-by-day account from theater friends up in Vancouver.


That’s local playwright/dramaturg/actress Jacqueline Lawton and me at the International Dramaturgy session, held at the Canadian Embassy. Incidentally, right above my head is Sarah Wallace, Literary Manager at Studio Theater–who I met face-to-face for the first time that weekend. It’s a shame we all get caught up in our own little worlds; so hard to find time to gather and share ideas in the way that a conference like this allows, yet such a treat when it happens.

I was also pleased to have a more-than-five-second conversation with Akiva Fox, classical dramaturgy super-star over at The Shakespeare Theater. He led the session on Classical Dramaturgy–a panel which I was very pleased to participate in (wearing my director hat this time) to talk about an updated production of Titus Andronicus that I’ve been involved with for several years. My colleague Shawn Northrip and I were sort of the “not-so-classical” voice of the panel (ours is a very loud, very punk-rock, musical version of Titus). But in addition to that, I was able to draw on our many discussions surround THE SEAGULL ON 16TH STREET during the talk.

For the most part, people seemed enthusiastic about loosening the reigns on the classics (I’ll note that many of the younger/recently graduated dramaturgs spoke articulately and passionately on that front), agreeing that there is plenty of room for both the traditional takes and the more out-there interpretations of these plays. At one point there was a flare up of a “Why can’t we just do Shakespeare straight?” battle cry–which, in a city that will see every Shakespeare play several times over in the course of a decade seems to me a waste of creative energy–and some talk about the rather radical KING LEAR that was then running at the Harmon Center (Which I caught, and was so glad I did. Set during the Bosnian War, my HONEY BROWN EYES research added to the fullness of the experience).

Which brings me to this morning’s reading, an article from The Independant, written not by an arts critic but rather an international affairs columnist. Of course, I haven’t seen the productions he writes about but, in general, I don’t agree with him. It gets under my skin when anyone declares with absolute certainty that there is a “right way” or a “wrong way” to do any play, but then I’m a director by trade–learning what does and doesn’t work by doing (not dictating) is what interests me most.

What do you think?


One thought on “Summer Nights

  1. Hi there.
    Shirley, thanks for sharing about what you’ve been up to this summer- sounds like some interesting times.

    I read the Adrian Hamilton article you posted. I can perhaps understand that there are some who simply don’t likethe idea of directors,producers, creating different versions of a classic, folks who simply don’t want to see the text changed. I don’t agree with Mr.Hamilton that creating these versions is about any sort of thought of “improving” the original, that the original is somehow “not quite good enough.” It has nothing to with that. I don’t believe that the folks creating different versions are thinking that way. I think it is about experimenting, taking great work and trying something different with it, taking it in a bit of a different direction, perhaps even opening up a classic to a new audience, to folks who don’t know it..would perhaps otherwise never be into seeing it. It can even maybe be seen as paying homage to a great work,instead of doing something bad to it. It’s about trying something new and different,experimenting.
    Thanks for sharing it.


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