Another Great Ensemble Show – This Town’s Been Crawling With ‘Em!

Just took in THE INVISIBLE MAN at The Studio Theatre and loved it. I think our student subscribers did too! Beautiful producing — a production that went through extensive workshopping, clearly, in New York (directed by Christopher McElroen, Founder of the Classical Theatre of Harlem) before its premiere last spring at The Court Theatre in Chicago. Loved its unfolding in three acts; three very well spent hours; deeply absorbing and refreshing in its novel theatrical choices (giving huge respect to the language of the novel itself). I’ll let our commenters hold forth. Only to appreciate that in this first month of theater-going, we’ve seen some great, great shows! Washington theater’s gotten off to an ambitious and brilliant start, and we here at Theater J are happy to be in the mix. Now here’s the money shot from the show at Studio.

This show inspires in so many ways. More on that soon!


Artistic Interpretation

Shirley here.

We do a fair amount of Artistic Interpretation here at the J: turning history and biography into theater; adapting literary work for the stage; or simply bringing to life the stories our playwrights create. But what happens when someone else Artistically Interprets us?

In May, Director of Community Outreach and New Media Becky Peters asked local comic artists to respond to THE HISTORY OF INVULNERABILITY through their art.  We received submissions from established and beginning artists alike, and all three were new to Theater J. We couldn’t have been more thrilled with these thoughtful, perceptive takes on the story.

From Carolyn Belefski of Curls Studio:

Carolyn displays a new Curls comic strip every Monday and Thursday and offends and/or entertains with her improv podcast, The Carolyn and Joe Show, each Tuesday. She collaborates with writer Joe Carabeo on the comic books Kid Roxy, Black Magic Tales and The Legettes.

Enjoy her blog, visit the Curls Studio store, and listen to her podcasts at

From Raymond H. Allard:

Raymond writes: I began my artistic career after graduating with a BFA in Fine Art by working in the advertising department of a great metropolitan newspaper.  Naturally I pursued the art of making comic books.  Later, I joined the Foreign-Service wife as we traveled overseas for twenty years, and I learned to teach academic writing.  In my life I have experimented with almost every known form of artistic expression except expressive dance. (I cannot dance.)  So I am an artist, print-maker, poet, playwright, author, cartoonist, essayist, musician, actor, teacher, comedian and gardener.

And finally, from Andrew Cohen:

And, while I reported on our disappointing techFail in recording some of our final panels of last season, I was pleased to discover that our panel with Local Comic Artists was recorded, produced, and posted on Carolyn’s blog–so have a listen! This subject relates not only to this production, but to our overall Locally Grown initiative mission–in which we aim to shine a light on artists living and working in the DC-area. So seek out these artists, and if you’re intrigued–buy their books!

Reporting from the Rehearsal Room of THE CHOSEN

The following blog post comes from Stephen Spotswood, our production dramaturg for THE CHOSEN. Steve is very much a playwright-on-the-rise in his own right (mark your calendars for his play about a successful resurrectionist — a bodysnatcher who digs up the recently dead and sells them to physicians and medical colleges for dissection) and we’re glad to have him working with us. Here he writes about a recent discussion involving writer/director Aaron Posner, about the unique challenges of adapting existing material for the stage.

The Art of Adaptation

Adaptation is an art unto itself. There are whole series of classes devoted to taking original material (novels, short stories, fairy tales, poems, biographies, etc) and creating something new from that source material for the stage. And the ability to write well is only one part of the skill set needed to succeed at this. Great playwrights can be terrible adapters. And, of course, not everything wants or needs to be adapted for the stage.

But, if you’ve decided to go down that path—as Aaron Posner did with Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen in 1999—how do you decide what makes it onto the stage and what gets left behind?

Aaron was asked that question recently. The cast and crew of The Chosen were invited to Tifereth Israel Congregation for Shabbat service and dinner, after which the cast read a short portion of the play. As in past readings at the synagogue, the congregation asked some incredibly sharp questions, including “What part of the novel that didn’t make it into the play do you regret losing most?”

“An adaptor has to have a really good ear,” explained Aaron, who also adapted Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, as well as works by Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, Mark Twain, and P.G. Wodehouse. “He or she has to listen to the source material and feel out what its core is, what parts of it need to be shown.”
Continue reading

New Forms or Nothing?

Shirley here. 

We gathered this Sunday, July 12 for our penultimate “Artistic Director’s Roundtable Discussion”, titled: “New Forms”: Adapting the Classics. The title of the talk came from a well-known line of Treplev’s from THE SEAGULL: “We need new forms of expression. We need new forms, and if we can’t have them we had better have nothing.” Of course in our version the line, and that specific cry for a more avant-garde theater, has changed to meet the circumstances of the world we’ve created. Which seemed a perfect launching point for this discussion…

Joining us on the panel were:
Joe Banno, Former Artistic Director of Source Theater, Freelance Director
Jacqueline Lawton, playwright and dramaturg
Jason Loewith, playwright and adapter, Executive Director of the National New Play Network
Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J, adapter of THE SEAGULL ON 16TH STREET

First though–two quick definitions of “adaptation”:
Literary Adaptation: Literary adaptation is the adapting of a literary source (e.g., a novel, short story, poem) to another genre or medium, such as a film, a stage play, or even a video game. It can also involve adapting the same literary work in the same genre or medium, just for different purposes, e.g., to work with a smaller cast, in a smaller venue (or on the road), or for a different demographic group.

Adaptation: The process whereby an organism becomes better suited to its habitat. Also, the term adaptation may refer to a characteristic which is especially important for an organism’s survival.

The second one–the biological definition–interested me. What happens if we substitute the word “play” for the word “organism”?

But back to the panel. With introductions out of the way we started with the question, “What about a piece of original source material inspires a writer to want to adapt it?” Continue reading