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=”″>Race and Representation: The African American Artist in the World</a> from <a href=””>Theater J</a> on <a href=””>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=”″>Post Show Conversation: The Past, Present and Future of HBCUs</a> from <a href=””>Theater J</a> on <a href=””>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.

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Programming Updates for THE HAMPTON YEARS

We’re well into programming for THE HAMPTON YEARS and I’m pleased to share some thoughts and updates.

Last night we had a late-in-the-game programming addition:

 The Art and Artists of Pre-War Vienna

  • Ori Z Soltes teaches theology and art history at Georgetown University. He is the former Director and Curator of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum.
Theater J Council Member Elaine Reuben speaks with Ori Soltes.

Theater J Council Member Elaine Reuben speaks with Ori Soltes.

Ori was fantastic, providing context for the art scene that Viktor Lowenfeld was leaving behind in Austria. He described the Lowenfeld’s as “refugees from an extreme example of people drawing a particular kind of boundary around a particular kind of people”; reflecting on the play itself as it speaks to the human tendency to want to do just that–put metaphorical, and sometimes even literal, boxes around people.

Ori spoke of “degenerate art”, the English translation of the German Entartete Kunst, a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe art that was banned because it was “un-German”. Or as Ori put it, because it was “too Jewish”. Thus by the 1930s, the only acceptable art in Germany (and Austria) was likely to be of “classical inspiration…heroic figures…smiling faces”.

In 1937, Nazi officials purged German museums of works the Party considered to be degenerate. Of the thousands of works removed, 650 were chosen for a special exhibit that opened in Munich and traveled to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. In each installation, the works were poorly hung and surrounded by graffiti mocking the artists and their creations. Over three million visitors attended the exhibition.

Hitler visits the Degenerate Art Exhibition.

Hitler visits the Degenerate Art Exhibition.

Soltes also pointed out the irony that “not a single member of the Nazi Party leadership actually looked (like the people they wanted portrayed in these paintings) — the Aryan ideal.”

On Sunday, June 9 we hosted:

A Conversation with Julian Bond: Civil Right Activist and former NAACP chairman, with Tanya Bowers, Director for Diversity, Office of the President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

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The Social Protest Movement in Israel

Shirley here.

As much of the city was gathering chilled beverages and saucing up their Buffalo wings, we gathered in the Gonda theater following the 3pm showing of BOGED for a final Voices from a Changing Middle East panel discussion.

The talk, titled: The Social Protest Movement in Israel and the Regional Earthquake, brought together

  • Moderator Stephen Stern, Theater J Council
  • Anton Goodman, Jewish Agency Israel Engager Shaliach to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
  • Allison T. Hoffman, Senior Writer, Tablet Magazine
  • Yoram Peri, Abraham S. and Jack Kay Chair in Israel Studies Director of The Joseph B. and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies University of Maryland, College Park


The conversation vacillated between reflections on the play itself; talk of Boaz Gaon’s prominent role in the J14 Social Protest movements that happened in Israel during the summer of 2011; and the results and ramifications of the recent elections in Israel.

The social protest movement was an “uncorking of…frustration and anger…and also art in a certain way” Allison Hoffman observed. Because so much of the protest focused on domestic issues within Israel, this left American Jews wondering “is this our fight?”

Yoram Peri told us about a letter her wrote to Boaz (his former student) in March 2011. He expressed an appreciation for what Gaon’s generation was doing “Don’t wait for people of my generation” he translated from the original Hebrew in his letter, “change in Israel won’t come from my generation…revolutions are led by the young!” He lamented the need of his generation to “be cautious, take very small steps”.

And so—a record number forty-eight new members were elected to the Knesset, many of them coming out of the social protest movement. And yet—Peri expressed his frustration with this younger generation’s complete avoidance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue which—in his view—will bubble underneath everything else until it is solved.

Anton reflected that the energy of the play mirrored the energy of the protests for him–that of “An Israeli society wanting to be better and wanting to do the right thing”

The question in both the play, and in real life is–what happens when there are many different views on what actually is “the right thing”? What if one person’s hero is another’s enemy of the state? Indeed, what then?

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Israeli Elections…

And may have been, if not afraid, then hesitant to ask. Because, I gotta say (this is Shirley) as an American overly-used to our for-all-intents-and-purposes two-party structure, the workings of the Israeli electoral system can seem pretty complex.

That’s why we were so glad to get a great group of smart and articulate people together to talk about it. Check out excerpts from the conversation on Vimeo, which featured:

Bonus round: pick out Shirley and Ari’s laughs on tape.

And p.s. While Yair Lapid isn’t quite a dead ringer for George Clooney, I can totally see the comparison.