Page-To-Stage Meets “G-d’s Honest Truth”

G-D'S HONEST TRUTH_final_IllustrationWe were back in the friendly confines of the otherwise cavernous Kennedy Center for their 12th annual Labor Day Weekend Page-to Stage Festival, (a project now made possible by one of the great theater supporters in our town, The Share Fund). As The Washington Post told readers earlier this week, Theater J’s been a hearty participant of this city-wide celebration of new work since the festival’s inception and it’s worth remembering and sharing with you now all the bountiful work we’ve presented at this annual gathering.

I go back in the interest of summoning some institutional memory—in this 18th season of my producing here at the J—Page-to-Stage provides as good an occasion as any to take stock in what we’ve done; what we’ve witnessed and created together. And in the Page-To-Stage Festival we’ve realized a two-fold ambition: of growing lots of brand new work (refining, revising and workshopping it assiduously) and, most importantly, of going forward to produce all this workshopped drama, seeing the script through to its most complete realization. We’ve let these new plays work their kinks out in public and have gone the distance with them through to production.   That estimable track record of workshop-to-production is no accident; it’s all been planned. We’re a theater company that doesn’t believe in workshopping a play to death and seeing it whither on the vine before fruition, as so often happens (truly the subject for another posting but one worth mentioning here).  We develop lots of work, but we remain committed to bringing much of that work forward to completion.  When we announce a season in the spring, we make a point of scheduling at least one of our new works to have a Kennedy Center workshop.  The results have always been gratifying; enriching.

Here’s a list of what we’ve presented over twelve successive Labor Day weekends (and there are lots of stories to tell about each one of these outings, but for now, let’s just run down the list and appreciate what the Kennedy Center opportunity has allowed us to do):

2002- THE LAST SEDER by Jennifer Maisel

2003 – PSYCHE IN LOVE, WELCOME TO MY RASH & THIRD by Wendy Wasserstein and 

OH, THE INNOCENTS written and composed by Ari Roth

2004 – The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

2005- Picasso’s Closet by Ariel Dorfman

2006- Either, Or by Thomas Keneally

2007 – PROPHECY by Karen Malpede

2008 – Honey Brown Eyes by Stefanie Zadrevec and

Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears  by Theodore Bikel

2009 – Mikveh  by Hadar Galron

2010 – THE MOSCOWS OF NANTUCKET  by Sam Forman and 

PHOTOGRAPH 51  by Anna Ziegler

2011 – THE RELIGION THING  by Renee Calarco

2012 – THE HAMPTON YEARS by Jacqueline E. Lawton

2013 – OUR SUBURB by Darrah Cloud

So for our 16th workshop reading at the Kennedy Center, this year we’ve presented Renee Calarco’s G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, which will be produced later this season in a world premiere staging by Jenny McConnell Frederick. We were thrilled to have all 7 cast members who’ll be doing the production later this season be with us. They included Audrey Bertaux, Rena Cherry Brown, Naomi Jacobson, Michael Kramer, John Lescault, Eric M. Messner and Sasha Olinick.

Our website describes the play this way:

Roberta and Larry always try to do the right thing – for their son (two and a half years into his engagement); for their marriage (never go to bed angry); and especially for their synagogue (which is always trying to build its membership—they’d be happy to tell you more…).

When they have the opportunity to help rescue a Holocaust Torah, they know they have to bring it to Temple Beth David. Partially inspired by the true story of Rabbi Menachem Youlus, the self-dubbed “Jewish Indiana Jones,” G-d’s Honest Truth asks how far we would go to believe a story that’s too good to be true. Told with humor and pathos by the Helen Hayes Award winning playwright and recent recipient of the 2014 Jewish Plays Project Award. 

So the play’s based on an episode that’s hit close to home in the Jewish community of Greater Washingnton and was closely chronicled in the local press.  Here are just a few of the links to news coverage for this story:

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October Round-Up II: Women Playwrights Produce, Make Money and Breakthroughs

Or put it another way:  At Theater J, we produce women playwrights and they deliver. They deliver great plays, they do their rewrites on time, they collaborate with gusto, and, in the case of Amy Herzog’s After The Revolution, they come in well ahead of single ticket sales projections. That’s important for us to state for the record: Women Make Bank. For years, the popular theater wisdom has been “Men Make The Money.” That’s how we might explain how over 80% of the national annual repertoire  is devoted to male playwrights.  They are the cannon; the stalwarts; the pillars upon which rests the great majority of our august subscription seasons.

Well, not for us, or not recently, and not this season especially, as Amy Herzog’s work opened not just our season, but a good dozen seasons for theaters across the country, whether it be Belleville (at Steppenwolf this summer), 4000 Miles (one of the most produced shows in the country this season), or After The Revolution (which ran as successfully at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre as it did at Theater J).

Our "After The Revolution" company, crew and staff at the closing night party.

Our “After The Revolution” company, crew and staff at the closing night party.

Important to note too that After The Revolution was staged by the amazing Eleanor Holdridge who was the subject of our first Director’s Forum on September 30 — who, in addition to being a great classical and contemporary director, has been a strong advocate for getting more women represented in our DC theaters, both as playwrights, directors, and as focal characters. The disparities have been staggering.

Again, this has been less the case for us here. Witness our Locally Grown: Community Supported Art Year-Round reading series. Below is the line-up for our 3 public readings this fall, together with an in-house workshop reading of Alyson Currin’s Return To Latin.  In taking in this grouping of accomplished female playwrights, take note of what a game-changer this is for our theater; that we have an ongoing and abiding interest in four new plays by local playwrights, all on their way to finding a mainstage production, perhaps all four on ours!  It could happen.  Because each of the works are wonderful.  Witness our audience members’ reactions to Renee Calarco’s play which was read yesterday in a brilliant presentation.  (see the comments below.)

locally_grownPeople of the Book

by Renee Calarco
Friday, October 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm

A New Play from the author of The Religion ThingCalarco’s play in development, People of the Book, asks 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. It’s a theme that I explored a bit in The Religion Thing, too, and I’m so grateful to Theater J for continuing to develop my work.”Renee-CalarcoRenee Calarco is a playwright, teacher and performer. Her plays include The Religion Thing(2013 nominee for the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play), Short Order Stories (2007 recipient of  the Charles MacArthur Award), The Mating of Angela Weiss,Keepers of the Western DoorBleedFirst Stop: Niagara Falls, and If You Give a Cat a Cupcake. Her 10-minute play Warriors was published by One Act Play Depot in 2010.

Her plays have been produced, developed, and commissioned by Theater J, Charter Theater, Geva Theatre, Project Y, Adventure Theatre, Doorway Arts Ensemble, Pinky Swear Productions, and the Source Theatre Festival. She teaches playwriting and comedy improv at The Theatre Lab, and playwriting at George Washington University. Renee is a member of The Dramatists Guild of America and a licensed professional tour guide.

locally_grown

Reading: A Grand Design
by DW Gregory

Monday, October 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: $10/person- Purchase online or available at the door

Synopsis:
Len and Claire sense they are in for some seriously bad karma when his offhand remark at a party inspires the break-up of long-married friends. But when an anonymous sniper appears on the scene, both couples are forced to reconsider the trade-offs they have made in life … and love …

A dark comedy.

The piece in development with Theater J is entitled A Grand Design, a three-actor piece inspired in part by the DC sniper shootings a decade ago. It is a dark comedy that, as Gregory puts it, “wrestles with the tradeoffs we make between security and satisfaction, and how those calculations are thrown into disarray when the shooting starts.” Discussing what drew her to work with Theater J, Gregory explains, “I started writing plays in the late ‘80s in Rochester, NY, and one of my inspirations was a playwright named Ari Roth [Theater J’s current Artistic Director], whose play Oh the Innocents was featured in a festival at GEVA Theatre Center. So it would be about coming full circle, for me.”

APDWGregoryDW Gregory writes in a variety of styles and genres, from historical drama to screwball comedy, but a recurring theme is the exploration of political issues through a personal lens. The New York Times called her “a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke” for her most produced play, Radium Girls (Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey), about dial painters poisoned on the job in the 1920s. A resident playwright at New Jersey Rep, she received a Pulitzer nomination for the Rep’s production of The Good Daughter.

Other plays include The Good Girl Is Gone (Playwrights Theatre); October 1962 (NJ Rep); andMolumby’s Million (Iron Age Theatre Co.), a comedy about the boxer Jack Dempsey, which was nominated for the 2011 Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play by the Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia. Ms. Gregory is also a founding member of the Playwrights Gymnasium, a process-oriented workshop based in Washington, DC.

locally_grownReading: House Beautiful
by Liz Maestri

Friday, November 22, 2013 at 2pm
Tickets: $5/person- Purchase online or available at the door

Synopsis:
In a decaying town, one lone house still stands. Inside, three generations of a family weather the end of an era.

Maestri’s current one-act in development, House Beautiful, demonstrates her clear sense of what interests her as a playwright.  “My work is often influenced by a fascination with things supernatural and found in nature.”  She was impressed by last year’s Locally Grown festival, remarking “Locally Grown is an important, exciting, and highly visible program…DC is my home, and I’m deeply connected to the city in most ways, so I look forward to becoming a more active player in my artistic home-base.”

55f927ced2afb22280906489f75c368eLiz Maestri represents the next generation of playwrights that Theater J looks forward to cultivating. Maestri studied playwriting with the “24 With 5” Collective at New Dramatists in NY, and received her B.A. in Theater from the University of Maryland (College Park Scholars in the Arts; Theatre Patrons Award winner).

Liz’s plays include Owl Moon, (world premiere Taffety Punk Theatre Company); Somersaulting (workshop presentation at The Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage and The Artists’ Bloc Downtown Series); Tinderbox (ReActs series/Forum Theatre); Fallbeil (Great Plains Theatre Conference, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Young Artist Program grant); and multi-disciplinary collaborations The Pressure Cooker for the 2012 Source Festival (Creative Communities Fund) and Genesis with E.M.P. Collective.

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.

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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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